Sunday 14 September 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Listen

Doctor Who s08e04  - Listen

After a jovial forest romp last week, Steven Moffat returns to the writing chair this week to do what everyone agrees he does best in Doctor Who - straight up horror. Listen sees the Doctor and Clara embark upon their own little investigation (rather than stumble into trouble like they usually do) when the Doctor hypothesises that every living being has a constant companion - the creature they dream hiding under the bed. Unfortunately the Doctor drops in on Clara straight after her first date from hell with fellow teacher Danny Pink (last seen in Into the Dalek), leading them to become wrapped in his own timeline as well. As the pair search for the answers about the thing that goes bump in the night in both the past and future, Clara meanwhile tries to repair her relationship with Danny. The big question is whether there's really something hiding, or is a little boy just afraid of the dark?

Danny and Clara go out for that 'drink'
Best date since Nine and a Slitheen

Taking a simple real-life occurrence and weaving it into a horror story has always been Moffat's biggest strength when it comes to his horror writing. The fact Blink still tops many 'best episode' lists is proof of this,  as does the way many people hold the Vashta Nerada from Silence in Library/Forest of the Dead in such high regard. Listen is certainly no exception to this, managing to provide some pretty real chills and tension. The directorial style is once again superb, with the episode set against a dark gloomy atmosphere that you just can't help feel somewhat uncomfortable watching. I'm sure many Doctor Who fans won't be looking at a red blanket in the same way again for a while.

As we reach episode four the Twelfth Doctor is now reasonably established, but the episode shows that there's still a bit to learn about this new man. Listen continues the notion from Robot of Sherwood that once the Doctor latches onto an idea, he'll pursue it until the bitter end. This is a Doctor that actively goes looking for trouble, to the point where he will happily take the safety off of the TARDIS controls and then follow it through all the way to the end of the universe (which is looking very different to the one we saw all those years ago in Utopia). His obsessiveness over it is to the point where he's seemingly happy in temporarily tormenting others for the sake of getting the answers he wants. This wasn't an episode about the Doctor being a hero, as the end quite clearly challenges the notion that there was anything there to begin with. It was him in his downtime - and it was his downtime that spurred the darkest adventure of this incarnation yet.

The Doctor and Clara meet a young Danny (or should I say Rupert?)
Not great with children

The episode expands upon the introduction of Mr Pink, not only bringing in the character himself but also a younger version of Danny and a future descendant of him (who goes by the name of Orson). This is where the problems of the episode begin to unfold however, as Clara and Danny are forced together at a speed that by the end of the episode can only really be best described as 'forced'. Their date night banter does provide some laughs and does strike a good balance between the darker side of the story, but the breakneck speed the audience are supposed to get to know Danny isn't really doing the character any favours. And while we're on the subject - this episode once again gives Clara an opportunity to list off her flaws, which seems to be becoming a pattern for this season. At first it felt like a good thing - a sign that Moffat was becoming aware of the perfect protagonists he was writing and trying to address that. Now it's just beginning to feel like every character is just annoyingly riddled with paranoia and self-loathing.

"The Soldier with no gun"

But it's the episode's surprise 'twist' at the end that mainly doesn't sit with me right. There's no denying that I'm quite a traditionalist when it comes to Doctor Who, so when the modern iteration of the show does something different/more akin to what a modern audience wants to see I'm usually among the first to complain about it. It's a habit I'm largely trying to get out of, but the light being shed on the Doctor's past life and backstory is something I still can't get behind. The Doctor has spent nearly 50 years being a complete mystery to the audience, and yet we seem to now have had more revelations about the Doctor in Moffat's few years as show runner than the show's entire run before that. This has ranged from a forgotten regeneration to a wife, and now a glimpse of his childhood. The twist itself was well-handled (despite raising the question of either how it was so easy to get to a time-locked/missing Gallifrey even with the TARDIS safety off, or where the hell is was if it wasn't Gallifrey), but such things didn't need to be explicitly shown just to get the message across. Nor did the further implications that Clara is quickly becoming the most important person in the Doctor's life, again being a catalyst in him becoming the man he is now and being the source of some of important lines from the classic series. For all the distain I've shown to Rose Tyler over the years at least her importance was relegated to one/two incarnations of the Doctor - meanwhile Clara's moments hved ultimately shaped his entire life.

Orson Pink - giving away the future!
Nice wig Orson

So in what is very much a reverse of last week's situation with Robot of Sherwood, I've come out of Listen with very mixed opinions while on a wider scope it seems to be considered the best episode of the season so far. The idea itself was fantastic and the setting eerily brilliant, but at the same time to episode seems to go further off the rails as it goes - heading toward a conclusion that was inevitably going to be met with mixed reception. However one thing is certainly for sure - had this been a Matt Smith-era episode (or even a David Tennant one for that matter), Listen would have been a lot worse than it actually is. Capaldi continues to dominate his role as the Doctor, proving that he can handle the straight-up horror side of Who just as well as he can the slapstick side. Even if your opinion of this episode is similar (or lower) than mine, fans can at least feel safe in the knowledge that the Doctor is very, VERY safe in his hands.

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