Doctor Who: Listen Review
Steven Moffat has two tricks that he really likes to use when writing episodes. The first is creating and/or solving problems through wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey time paradoxes. I’ve lost count of the number of times that we’ve seen that. The second is trying to scare little children of everyday things. We’ve done statues, shadows and this week, we’re supposed to be scared of being alone in the dark.
Moffat decided to hybrid timey-wimey with everyday horror in Listen. In many ways, it’s a spiritual successor to Blink, the first time we met the Weeping Angels. Maybe it was a bit too familiar, though.
In Blink, the big evil was stone statues that could come to life when you weren’t looking and fed off of some sort of temporal energy given off when you’re displaced in time. This time, it’s something both more familiar and more abstract at the same time. That feeling you’re being watched. That strange noise in the middle of the night. That tingling on the back of your neck.
Unlike Blink, Listen isn’t a Doctor-lite episode. That’s probably for the best too since we spent the majority of the episode exploring Clara and The Doctor’s mind. The implied message of Clara’s distraction because of her date that sends us on our adventure is that she’s trying to have a life outside of the TARDIS. Other companions have dropped life outside of the TARDIS to travel with The Doctor while Amy brought her life outside the TARDIS on-board with her. Clara is still trying to establish her personal life and has to deal with the whims of her crazy time-travelling grandfather substitute.
As for The Doctor, we get another master performance from Peter Capaldi. The opening monologue about talking aloud when there’s no one else around sent chills down my spine. A perfect combination of a writer, director and actor coming together to make a spectacular opening scene that draws you in for a very chilling and scary ride.
Actually, the combination of Capadi, Moffat and episode director Douglas Mackinnon did a fantastic job this week. The trio found the right tone with the acting, writing and directing to keep the fear and the tension going. The dark, brooding speeches match the quiet, ominous performance by Capaldi and the camera work setup by Mackinnon made it look like there was something just out of view to justify the paranoia in the Doctor’s voice and words. Someone is going back to study this episode for tricks to direct a horror episode.
The wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey comes from us exploring the past and future of the guy Clara was on her date with. The obvious implication is that Clara’s future lies with that guy. It feels like a familiar time travel trope but looking into the future of a Companion is so seldom done on Doctor Who that it actually felt fairly fresh.
However, Moffat’s other little favourite timey-wimey Clara trope where she’s basically responsible for The Doctor’s existence. It was bad enough that they basically retconned 50 years of the show to make Clara the most important person in the show’s continuity but now they’re basically retconning her as the person that empowered The Doctor to become a Timelord.
I know that we want to get over how important Clara is to The Doctor but her importance shouldn’t be predicated on being the reason that The Doctor is The Doctor. Clara showing up and saving Eleven a couple of times before being established as a companion was enough to establish her importance. We don’t need her to be the be all and end all of the Who-verse for The Doctor and us to accept her.
Over the last four episodes, Clara has been given a character that isn’t just savior of the Who-verse. She has a life. She has feelings. She’s not pining for The Doctor but is his sidekick without being his crutch. Twelve’s Clara is a lot closer to a real and actualized character than Eleven’s. It’s given Jenna Coleman a chance to shine in her role and I bet more people are warming up to Moffat too.
Overall, I liked this episode. Granted, if you’ve read what I’ve said about my fondness of Blink, that shouldn’t surprise you. Moffat kept it simple with the horror du jour and the episode benefited as a result. He also didn’t turn it into an action show which is something that they’ve done with the Weeping Angels episodes since Blink. He’s really been on a role getting his hands into these episodes to establish Twelve properly. Not that a bad job was done with Eleven. I just think a better job was done here.
Other random points of note:
- Now that we’ve had horror episodes called “Blink” and “Listen” when are we going to get episodes called “Speak/Scream” or “Touch/Feel?” Those are the next logical titles for horror episodes.
- When Jenna Coleman leaves, which seems to happen with annoying frequency as more actors and actresses use the show as a stepping stone to fame rather than a lengthy end unto itself, they should borrow the First Doctor’s speech to Susan as a send off. Either that or they kill her off again.
- At the very least, they provided some importance to the barn The War Doctor brought The Moment to in The Day of The Doctor 50th anniversary special. I may complain about a bit of retconning but that part works.
Next week, we’re robbing a bank. The Doctor and Clara are going to the Bank Of something or other to pull a little heist in Time Heist. Episode director Douglas MacKinnon says that he went back to “every heist movie there’s ever been” to find inspiration for next week’s episode. For a bank, though, it sure looked like this place had some weird new aliens hanging around. Maybe this will end up being a bit more than just your standard heist adventure.