Doctor Who: Listen

Clara: 'Fear makes companions of us all.'

Beautiful! Without a doubt my favourite episode of the season, and one of my favourite episodes of all time. Virtually everything about it worked: from the domestic drama between Clara and Danny, to the timey-wimey shenanigans, to the ambiguity of the monster story. Was there ever anything there? Will we ever find out?

I loved that everything started with Clara. We've known for some time now that her relationship with the Doctor is unique. She's the only companion to have met thirteen of the Doctor's incarnations and saved them all. She is the Impossible Girl. What we didn't know is that she met his first incarnation twice: once when he was about to steal the TARDIS, and once when he was a small boy. By attempting to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences of the Doctor meeting himself, Clara in effect kicked off his fear of evolution-honed invisible adversaries. It's good to know that the Moffat-loop is still alive and kicking.

Clara was the monster under his bed. Whether the mythical monster under the bed exists was very much left open to interpretation. For every unusual event, Moffat offered up a perfectly plausible explanation: from power switching, to temperature differentials, to banging pipes. Was the figure beneath the blanket really just a mischievous child? Was the writing on the chalkboard the Doctor's or someone (thing?) else's? Each mystery was set up with atmospheric perfection, loaded with vagueness, and then executed to maximum effect.

What did the Doctor really see on Orson Pink's ship? Just as he was about to explain, in came Clara and cut him off. Fantastic decision to have Orson's freshly washed clothes hanging around the ship—when the door opened and the TARDIS' monitors started to go haywire, they looked just like wraiths. Was there anything significant about the Doctor trying to find Wally in Rupert Pink's book? Was he trying to use Martin Handford's fictional character to tell us something about the nature of monsters—that, although they aren't under every bed, that doesn't mean they're not under some?

Doctor: “Where are we? Have we moved? Where have we landed?”
Clara: “Don't look where we are. Take off and promise me you will never look where we've been.”
Doctor: “Why?”
Clara: “Just take off. Don't ask questions.”
Doctor: “I don't take orders, Clara.”
Clara: “Do as you're told.”

I loved that dialogue. The Doctor and Clara really gelled this week. Both are fiercely independent characters who share a unique trust. For a while, particularly after the Doctor's regeneration, it seemed as though that trust might be irrevocably damaged. But that's all firmly in the past. Earlier in the episode, the Doctor ordered Clara back to the TARDIS in the sternest way imaginable, resulting in Clara calling him an idiot. The Doctor was similarly less than impressed by Clara telling him to do as he was told. Yet both obeyed. Despite the frowns and lingering stares, both did what was asked of them, even though they had no idea why they were doing it.

Clara was right to listen to the Doctor. Less than a minute after leaving for the safety of the TARDIS, the Doctor was almost sucked out through a breach in the air-shell to his death. And, as a seasoned time-traveller, the Doctor knows that there are some things he's better off not knowing—particularly when they pertain to his own history. Thankfully, at this juncture, Clara's smart enough to know what those things are, and how best to work the Doctor. Abruptness is Twelve's way. He dishes it out, understands it, and responds to it. He's not deliberately rude, he's just economical with words.

That's why 'do as you're told' worked. It was short and to the point. Clara being a teacher is the perfect antidote to the Doctor's peculiar brand of harsh truth. The Doctor's really struggling to see Clara as a sexual being, which is resulting in frequent lapses in social etiquette. He also almost scared Rupert half to death with his honesty about monsters. If Clara hadn't been there, I'm not sure he'd have ever slept again. The introduction of Soldier Dan was an inspired piece of writing which served to calm Rupert's frayed nerves, explain why he changed his name to Danny, and provide a touching memento for the Doctor during the closing moments. And don't get me started on the irony of Clara being indirectly responsible for making Danny a soldier. What a different life he could have had. Of course, bearing in mind how his life's about to change, maybe it's a sacrifice we'd all make.

But despite the Doctor's many shortcomings, he's becoming something of a father-figure to Clara. He even offered to vet Danny Pink for her. Whatever Pink's secret, both he and Clara seem destined to be together. I like that they're playing Danny and Clara's relationship with a degree of seriousness. Yes, it's whizzing along a little too fast, but I'm really starting to warm to Danny. I like the awkwardness between him and Clara. I like that they have secrets, too. And I loved that Clara abused her TARDIS privileges to turn their date around. Sometimes, who we at first appear to be, isn't necessarily who we are. Time travel is all about second chances, and Clara and Danny finally appear to be over their awkward first date. How long before he learns about the Doctor, I wonder? And how long before he becomes Orson Pink's time-travelling great-grandfather?

I thought the restaurant scenes fitted perfectly alongside the more futuristic elements. Clara completely owned this episode. She was perfect in it. Her words to the young Doctor were not only the catalyst which helped him overcome his fears and become a Time Lord, they were also the inspirational seeds which would bring the War Doctor back to the barn in 'The Day of the Doctor'. I know the John Hurt images were just reused footage, but they had such an emotional impact. Of course, in traditional fashion, the Twittersphere exploded over the ending. Some were screaming 'ret-con', whilst other were wetting their pants with unbridled joy at the continuity. (I was in the latter camp... a generally happier, if moister, environment.) News flash: the show's continuity has been screwed for years. Don't sweat it. The answer to everything is time travel. If they haven't fixed it yet, they'll fix it later.

Other Thoughts:

—I always crap myself when I hear the cloister bell ringing.

—Rather than being a message from a hidden species, was 'Listen' instead a reminder for the Doctor to listen to Clara?

—I haven't mentioned Capaldi much, not because he was bad, but because I can only reiterate what I've said in past reviews. He's brilliant. From the first episode, he knew exactly who his Doctor was going to be, and he hasn't put a foot wrong since. Ditto, Jenna. Before the season started I was afraid they'd have no chemistry. Now I'm worried they have too much and I won't want them to leave.

—An episode very much in the vein of 'Midnight' and 'Blink'. And just as good.

—Clara's 'Fear makes companions of us all' line was a direct quote from the Hartnell-era serial 'An Unearthly Child'.

—How many times has the Doctor used chalk this season? It feels like every episode.

—Despite being told that Orson Pink pioneered time travel in the 22nd century, 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' informs us that time travel was still experimental in the 51st century. See? The continuity is screwed. Don't worry—time travel!


Doctor: 'Why do you have three mirrors? Why don't you just turn your head?'

Clara: 'How long have you been travelling alone?'
Doctor: 'Perhaps I never have.'

Doctor: 'People don't need to be lied to.'
Clara: 'People don't need to be scared by a big, grey-haired stick insect, but here you are.'

Doctor: 'Once upon a time... the end.'

Clara: 'Is that what I look like from the back?'
Doctor: 'It's fine.'
Clara: 'I was thinking it was good.'
Doctor: 'Really?'

Doctor: 'What's going on with your face. It's all eyes. Why are you all eyes? Get them under control.'

Clara: 'Do you have you're own mood lighting now because, frankly, the accent is enough.'

Clara: 'You're an idiot.'
Doctor: 'I know.'


drnanamom said...

A much better episode and much more suited to Capaldi's talents. Jenna is wonderful. I never thought that Clara could become one of my favourite companions but she is really growing on me. I loved the awkwardness between Clara and Dan as well. thanks for the great review!

rebecca_s921 said...

I came to this episode expecting a big fright fest like "midnight" or "blink", so after watching it the first time I was a little nonplussed. On second viewing I was able to appreciate the episode and I love it as a result. A part of me is still slightly bothered by the episode never conclusively answering the questions whether there is a monster under the bed. On my itune downloaded episode at 19:47 there's a moment where the bedspread started to slide off of the creature's head, and just for a split second there's a flesh colored head with 2 dark circle for eyes behind Clara and it was very much out of focus. So still no idea if a glimpse of a monster or just one of Rupert's mates playing a prank.

I've always loved the domestic bits in the new Doctor Who, and really enjoyed Clara and Danny's botched date. The moment the astronaut came into the restaurant as the date imploded for the last time, and Clara went into the Tardis complaining if this date could get even more surreal, only to have the astronaut take off the hemlmet revealing someone who looks almost exactly like Danny, had me laughing out loud. Clara really looked bugged eyeed and then the Doctor just had to lampshade it. It was priceless. It's not that I mind Clara and Danny eventually ending up together, but the episode so very strongly suggested that CLara will end up having children with Danny and Orson will be her offspring, I just prefer to have a little more mystery in that front, to give the Clara / Danny courtship a little intrigue. But then who knows what Moffat had in store for us in the future?

The other scene I love was when Clara inadvertently found herself under the young doctor's bed, then instinctively grabbed his ankle when he started to get out of bed. That 'oh shit' expression was priceless, then she calmed down and started calming down the young Doctor. What she said to him about the barn, along with the War Doctor footage, brought tears to my eyes.

Juliette said...

I enjoyed this one the most so far this series, and the atmosphere was brilliant. Being me, though, I was unnaturally bothered by the fact that isn't a particularly common dream throughout history (it couldn't be really, not everyone sleeps in beds!). Teeth falling out, dubious things involving one's mother, the naked dream, running or chasing something you can never catch or escape, flying, falling - those are common dreams. The monster under the bed, not so much. Though people have felt dark presences in their sleeping areas throughout history, hence fairies and alien abductions, so it would be fine if it weren't so specific...

Annie said...

That bothered me a little bit too Juliette, but I guess they just had to simplify it to make it work, I'm familiar with the dark presences but I think if they grabbed my leg I'd lose the plot! Great episode nonetheless, I absolutely back on the Dr Who train now.

Mark Greig said...

Simply breathtaking. One of best Doctor Who episodes I have ever seen, and one of the few to genuinely scare the pants off me. I'll be re-watching this one from behind the sofa.

lorogomo said...

They never actually told us that everybody has that dream, just that the doctor believes it....Clara and Ruper/Dany never stated as firmly as the doctor that the had the dream...

Onanymous said...

Wow, what an episode! Doctor Who can be silly and fun most of the time, but when it wants to, it can do genuinely creepy better than almost anybody else. Especially since they don't rely on gore or violence or even quiet-quiet-quiet-BANG! bits to do so.

I really appreciated the fact that we never got to see the monster. That which we do not see, or in this case, glimpse blurrily in the background, is just so much scarier. I also liked that there was reasonable explanations for everything, but that the slight what if was still left at the back of your mind.

Capaldi has been great since the beginning, but this was the first time he really felt like a Doctor I could grow to love.

mazephoenix said...

Moffat works best as a writer when he focuses on finding dread in everyday situations,which is why this worked for me.
Capaldi finally got some meaty stuff to deal with, and Clara was never better.
Nice glimpse of the War Doctor. Love John Hurt.
Best episode this season by a long shot.

Katerina said...

After commenting last week that Capaldi just didn't feel like the Doctor to me - speaking as someone who never watched classic Who - I thought it only fair to give him praise after this episode, which I did think was clearly the best so far this season. The writing definitely suits him better when they're not giving him over the top silly lines/scenes, which I just don't think is him at all. I'm still not crazy about him (sorry), but I could see the Doctor in him after this episode. And, after watching it, I'd be lying if I said I didn't' check the closet and under the bed before going to sleep in my room at my parents' creaky house, where I was visiting for the weekend.

I also liked the Clara/Danny scenes, loved seeing John Hurt again (too bad we couldn't have had him for a whole season), and the episode was properly creepy, but the Doctor seemed a little too helpless to me.

Billie Doux said...

Jenna Coleman and Tobias Menzies got "performer of the week" at TV Line.