On the D/L – Doctor Who
Season 8 Episode 4 – “Listen”
It’s going to be hard to summarise this episode of Doctor Who because I’m not really convinced that it was actually about anything. The best I can muster is that the Doctor is madly raving about a theory that nobody is ever truly alone because of beings that have perfected through evolution being able to hide. This would mean that they have possibly never been perceived and have always been there watching. Clara is plucked from her first date with Danny Pink to help the Doctor sort through this theory which seems to hinge on the fact that every single person has at one time or another had the same dream, the dream that something terrifying is hiding under your bed so Clara and The Doctor travel through time and space to test this theory. As a result of the difficulty in summarising this episode, this review will have major spoilers because there’s nothing I can do about it in this instance, I’m unable to talk about much of anything featured in this episode without spoiling what happened completely so if you haven’t seen it yet then please do and then come back to read this.
I have to say this episode starts off pretty well, the Doctor’s insane ravings were actually something I really enjoyed. He is a man who wants to be alone but can’t be alone which causes him to nervously pace around the TARDIS talking to himself and writing down his thoughts. He is much more outwardly tortured than he has been since the series came back and it is actually a refreshing change. Capaldi plays the insanity really well giving the opening scene a bit of intrigue and the promise of a compelling mystery throughout the episode. Historically Moffat has done the horror angle on Doctor Who really well as evidenced by the gas mask zombies from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances or the weeping angels in the fantastic episode Blink so I was cautiously optimistic in this opening. Clara’s date with Danny is something that I could quite happily have skipped but these painfully kitschy scenes are just part of the DNA of the show now so I have to tolerate them. Not forgive them, they’re still painful to watch but I am tolerating them. The awkward first date was far too overblown with every awkward date cliché thrown in to really cement just how ill at ease both parties feel. At least Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson have some chemistry so their relationship has that going for it; it’s just a shame I don’t find it terribly interesting to watch.
When Clara is picked up by The Doctor she is out of sorts as her date was a disaster so her mind really isn’t on traveling through time and space. What kind of a life do you lead when time travel is something you don’t want to be doing? It boggles the mind really. For some reason The Doctor has Clara interface with the TARDIS telepathically so that it can scan her brain and take them to the exact time where she had the aforementioned dream. Something goes wrong when Danny calls her and the distraction causes them to land at the time and place that Danny first had the dream. Both Clara and The Doctor meet the young Danny -who goes by Rupert at this point- and investigate the fear he has of something hiding under his bed. This is where we get the standout scene of the episode where something sits on Danny/Rupert’s bed and covers itself in a blanket. It’s astounding how tense this moment is where the three of them regard this visitor with curiosity and fear; what makes it even worse is that it runs uncomfortably long with nothing happening building the tension more and more. I’m not easily scared by things I watch but I must admit to being really unsettled by this.
It’s after this point that things get really confusing. For some reason that the episode doesn’t adequately explain The TARDIS takes The Doctor to end of the universe where he finds and brings back a man named Orson Pink (Samuel Anderson with some makeup) only to take them all back to the end of the universe. It is strongly hinted -by hinted I mean all but blatantly stated- that Orson is a descendent not only of Danny/Rupert but also of Clara. They are forced to spend a night at the end of the universe because the TARDIS needs to recharge which allows plenty of time to be spooked by noises. In general this is a less effective version of the previous spooky scene but functionally accomplishes the same thing, the really confusing thing is that this scene doesn’t logically follow on from the scenes prior to it; in short I’m really not sure why anything is happening in this episode. There seems to be no immediate thread and nothing thrusting The Doctor and Clara into action, they seem to simply be doing things because they have to do something.
The last stop on this insane journey finds them in a barn where there’s a young boy crying. Two adults enter the barn and tell the boy that he can’t keep running off scared like that and needs to come back into the house leaving on the shock revelation that he’s a young Timelord, specifically The Doctor when he was young. Clara calms him down and tells him that it’s all going to be alright because fear makes people clever and strong. I’m still unable to believe this happened, apparently Clara is the person who inspires The Doctor to be the man he is at that point, symbolically leaving him a toy soldier with no gun because he non violently solves problems and even speaks a variation of the personal oath The Doctor took -from Day of the Doctor– therefore giving him everything he needs to aspire to.
I can’t even begin to explain how far beyond ridiculous this is. I’m wondering if we can just have Capaldi leave the show and Clara fill the role of The Doctor because she’s more or less been carrying the stories so far. In this episode she can telepathically tell the TARDIS where to go so she doesn’t actually need him any more for all he’s been doing this season. I feel like this moment is something of a betrayal of the character of The Doctor by basically telling the audience that he lacked the strength to make up his own mind on what kind of man he needs to be and was unable to face his fears on his own initiative. Unfortunately this also means that The Doctor is hugely losing the mysterious side of his character making the question of “Doctor Who?” seem far less relevant as the series continues, Listen is only the most recent example of that and I very much doubt that it will be the last.
This episode was incredibly uneven; a promising start and a genuinely creepy scene aren’t enough to save it from the fact that there was no cohesive narrative where things flowed naturally. It felt more like a collection of scenes that were building up to a final insane revelation that fundamentally changes things about the main character that really didn’t need to be touched. This makes three out of four disappointments so far this season, I really do feel sorry for Peter Capaldi being forced to act out these scripts.