Doctor Who Review: S08E04 - Listen
Well that was rather brilliant.
It’s a Moffat episode (through and through) so the online debates are following the tediously predictable path but this is a case where Moffat is playing to his strengths, not letting his ideas get away from him.
Traditionally in Doctor Who the “time” aspect of the show has been limited to getting the Doctor to wherever he needed to be for the story to happen. That’s generally not how Moffat has approached things however. He is the person who coined Timey-Wimey after all. For a while this was refreshingly different. Then it became expected from him. And in some cases it just became overly confused.
In Listen Moffat treads a fine line as we move backwards and forwards through time to tell the story. But in this case it’s relatively easy to follow and it makes an internal sense. There is in fact a lovely symmetry to the resolution we get here.
Another thing that Moffat is terribly fond of (with good reason) is the notion of the monster we can’t see. What he has tapped into several times previously is the fact that the scariest thing in the world is the monster our brains imagine out of shadows. Thus we got the Weeping Angels, Vashta Nerada, Prisoner Zero and The Silence.
The human brain is the ultimate pattern matcher. And when it can’t match something… it just makes it up. And the monsters that it makes up aren’t cool or cleverly designed. They’re just fucking terrifying.
Listen is both a scary story exploring this again and a meta analysis of the concept. In the end… The Doctor scared himself. I’ve seen people complaining that we don’t get to find out if there really were monsters outside the ship or that we don’t get an explanation for who the thing under the blanket was in Rupert Pink’s bed. They’re wrong. We get explanations. We get multiple explanations. That’s the point. The uncertainty is what scares us. It’s what scares the Doctor. In some ways it’s maybe why he does what he does. How better to face fear than to go looking for it.
It’s interesting to me that the 12th Doctor is perhaps the most pro-active Doctor we’ve ever had. Yes all the Doctors have been curious and prone to sticking their nose in where they didn’t belong. But here the Doctor essentially meditates on a problem and then goes to find the answer. Only the 7th Doctor has really shown any evidence of that sort of planning previously.
Also of note is that once again Clara gets a lot of face time. She’s very much the agent of this story. Yes it’s the Doctor’s obsession that’s driving, but Clara is the one who actually gets things done. Her interactions both with a young Danny Pink and a young Doctor make for a nice bookend to the story.
There’s also obviously a long game being played with Danny Pink. Clara is very carefully keeping him separate from the Doctor and yet the fact one of his descendents is the first human time traveller cannot be a coincidence. I’m very curious to see exactly where that is going.
And because I can’t help myself, more praise for Peter Capaldi. His driven and manic Doctor in this episode was another captivating performance.
While I find a lot of the criticism of Moffat to be overblown (and entirely too personal) there are some legitimate issues with his work in the last couple of seasons, not least of which is over-exposure to certain tropes. That said, one should never forget that Moffat can absolutely nail Doctor Who when he’s on his game. Listen is the best episode of Season 8 (so far) and a top notch Doctor Who story.
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