Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doctor Who Is NEW: Listen

Over the course of Steven Moffat's time with Doctor Who, he has made us afraid of ordinary things that we didn't think to be afraid of. The ticking of a clock isn't scary except when the clock is broken and something is still ticking. Statues don't pose a danger but who knows what they're up to when we're not looking at them. And what if that shadow isn't a harbinger of death but death itself? What threats lurk from things we don't even remember, what dangers abound in what we've forgotten?  

Steven Moffat has made us afraid of clocks, statues, shadows and things we don't know about. What can Moffat make us scared of now?


Now I don't mean we've all become brave and no longer hiding behind our sofas. I mean that Steven Moffat means to make us afraid of nothing.

In other words, he wants us to be afraid of the thing that isn't there. 

Thus we have the theme for the 4th episode of Doctor Who, Series 8. How well does this work? We'll delve into that topic after the spoiler warning.

Yikes! Angry Eyebrows!   

Sorry about that.

Anyway, let us away.


by Steven Moffat 

The episode begins with the Doctor in the TARDIS talking to himself about why people talk to themselves. The Doctor posits the theory that there is someone else there, an evolutionary created perfect hider. Perhaps a hider who has sent the Doctor a message on his chalk board: "Listen". 

While the Doctor is trying to figure out why he's talking to himself, Clara Oswald and Danny Pink are out on a date and having trouble talking to each other. Clara leaves and returns to her apartment where the Doctor has parked his TARDIS in her bedroom. Oblivious to Clara's personal issues (as usual), the Doctor involves Clara in his search for the perfect hider by focusing on a dream...or rather, a nightmare that everybody has: the dream of something grabbing us from under the bed. The Doctor plugs Clara into the telepathic circuits of the TARDIS to guide to a time when she had that dream. But Clara's too busy thinking about Danny and the TARDIS winds up outside a children's home where we find Danny Pink as a child. Only his name back then was Rupert

Rupert has had the dream of the thing under the bed and he is understandably scared. Clara seeks to reassure the boy until they are joined by someone or some thing sitting under the bed spread. The Doctor is there too and eventually urges Clara and Rupert to not look at the thing under the bed spread. Eventually it disappears, vanished by the Doctor, Clara and Rupert refusing to be scared of it...or the kid who was pranking Rupert got bored and left. 

Clara and the Doctor put Rupert back to bed with a very succinct bedtime story. Then the Doctor takes Clara back to mere moments after she left Danny at the restaurant. Ah, a 2nd chance to make things right. Except things get weird and awkward and it's Danny's turn to leave. Clara follows what she believes is a space suited Doctor into the TARDIS except its not the Doctor. It's...Danny? 

No, Orson. Orson Pink, a person from further down Clara's time line and Earth's first time explorer. Orson was to go a week into the future; instead he wound up at the end of time where the Doctor finds him. Orson has been stuck at the end of time for 6 months and is a little shaky from the experience. But the Doctor goes back to the point because he surmises that in a time and place where all life has ceased to exist, the perfect hider has no reason to hide. 

Well something appears to be at the door and the Doctor goes to investigate but instead almost gets sucked into the lifeless wastes of a dead universe. Orson Pink saves the Doctor but he's unconscious and Clara figures they need to get out of there so she links up with the TARDIS's telepathic circuits to take them somewhere else. 

Clara leaves the Doctor in Orson's care as she goes outside to investigate where they are now. It's an old barn and huddled under a blanket is a young boy, crying. Clara hides under the boy's bed when a man and a women enter, discussing the crying boy as they ponder his future in the army or at the academy. The academy? The man scoffs at the notion at this boy one day becoming a Time Lord.

Wait! The boy in the bed, crying under the blanket, is that...?

The man and women leave. The boy gets out of bed and Clara reflexively grabs the boy leg and immediately realizes what's happening. Clara quietly reassure the boy there is nothing to fear and his climbs back under his blanket to hide, Clara tells him about being scared and how it can make us do fantastic things, a speech that Clara heard the Doctor give young Rupert earlier.  

Clara makes her way to Danny's apartment where the third time is the charm and what I mean that is we're going to leave this lovely couple and check in with the Doctor who draws a line under the word "listen" on his chalkboard. The Doctor has his answers. 

The end.

Wait! What?

OK, we have, for better or worse, a very surreal episode. It's an episode that is not driven by an external threat but an internal compulsion for the Doctor to solve a riddle, a mystery of something that may not even be there. The Doctor is on less than sure footing with this mystery. 

Also on uncertain ground is Clara Oswald and Danny Pink during their first date. Both are awkward and unsure of themselves as they can't seem to stop themselves from tripping into each other's minefields. 

This episode may or not be a Steven Moffat classic but it is certainly thought provoking. It's less a story with character development and more a story that is all about character development. Indeed the "supernatural" elements of this episode can be explained away with rational alternatives. From the "thing" under Rupert's bed spread to the "knocking" at the door at the end of time, there are rational explanations. We've seen enough science fiction and horror to know that the rational explanation is not the right one; Steven Moffat upends that trope by strongly insinuating that those rational explanations may have been actually right. 

Steve Moffat made us afraid of nothing.  

There is an answer to a question we didn't know was a question. In Deep Breath, the answer was given as to why the telephone was hanging off the hook outside the TARDIS at the end of Time of the Doctor. In Listen, we get this revealed: why the War Doctor was heading for THAT old barn in Day of the Doctor. Really, I didn't know that was a question but now we have an answer. 

After a promising start for Danny Pink two weeks ago, I found the character this episode to be a bit too awkward and unhinged. It was all a bit charming before but here, not as much. I figure this is leading to something but I think we need to see an episode where Danny has more than a few moments on screen to really develop as a character beyond just being awkward. 

Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald is, as always, lovely to look at so it seems unfair that she has the additional benefit of being very good at bringing Clara to life. As I noted in yesterday's post, I see Clara becoming a stronger character in Series 8. And Listen continues that remarkable growth. To say Clara is becoming a stronger character doesn't mean she's a perfect person; what it means is Clara is a more nuanced person. Clara seems to be a bit rubbish at an adult relationship with Danny but is perfect in her empathy and sweetness when Danny is a young boy named Rupert. Clara relates to children, first as a nanny then as a teacher. Her one consistent relationship with an adult is with the man-child known as the Doctor. Even in this current darker, edgier persona, the Doctor is childlike in his relentless curiosity and impatience. Clara can deal with the Doctor but with adults like Danny Pink, poor Clara has a lot to learn. 

And Peter Capaldi continues to astound as the Doctor. 2,000 years old and the Doctor also has a lot to learn, about people and the universe they live in but also about himself. Capaldi's Doctor has a wicked sense of humor and an intensity that is more than a bit scary. I'm honestly unsure what this Doctor will do or say next. And that has been a fun and exciting thing to experience. 

I noted earlier that I was unsure if Listen would rank as a Steven Moffat classic. But Moffat has delivered a very unique story, a story where almost nothing happens but the characters know more at the end than they did at the beginning. Journeys through time and space are nothing compared to the terrifying prospects of a journey of self-discovery. Listen may have a bit weird but ultimately, that's why I liked it. 


Next Saturday AND Sunday, Doctor Who Weekend rolls around again. 

In the first post, I look at companions finding love. Clara and Danny may not be Amy and Rory but they're faring better than some other companions who have been thrust into relationships. Romance Is Overrated, next Saturday.

Then my 2nd post is a review of the fifth Series 8 episode of Doctor Who, Time Heist. 

Until then, be good to one another.

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