Question: why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone? Conjecture: because we know we’re not. Evolution perfects survival skills. There are perfect hunters. There is perfect defense. Question: why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer: how would you know? Logically, if evolution were to perfect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view, how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it? Even sense it? Except in those moments when for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud. What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do!?
The Twelfth Doctor
Are we ever really alone? The Doctor finds himself delving into questions of the past and future to find the answer to this question.
Listen does something remarkably different with Doctor Who giving us an episode with no real definitive conclusions. The story instead explores the Doctor’s psychology and background, with us seeing a sequence towards the end of the episode with Clara and the youngest First Doctor appearance we see on screen. I really love Listen, and what it tells us about the Doctor.
Steven Moffat’s script is really superb, full of humour, scary moments and real character development for this new Doctor. The premise of the story is another one of Moffat’s terrors that lurk in the banal things, like the statues and the dust in sunbeams, but the difference here is that we don’t get definitive answers about whether the creature even exists. In fact, the existence of the creature is really irrelevant. Moffat takes precedent from episodes that have come before, most notably Midnight, The Eleventh Hour, Hide and Utopia but develops them beautifully into something that delves into the Doctor’s backstory, and there are perfectly rational explanations for all of the events that we see. My particular favourite is the Doctor taking the caretaker’s coffee cup, but I like the uncertainty about whether or not there was actually a creature on Rupert’s bed. Personally for me, that is an alien under the sheet, but I can see it either way. We also have a rather bold decision to show a slither of the Doctor’s childhood in the closing sequence, but it actually helps to tie the narrative relating to the Doctor’s lonely childhood together, which had been hinted at through the revived series – mostly, it has to be said, in Moffat’s stories. I still remember the feeling of shock of being Gallifrey with no pomp or ceremony really, which is something I really like about this story. Finally, Moffat’s story seems to be fundamentally saying that it is alright to be afraid, as even the Doctor is afraid sometimes. Later on in Capaldi’s run, he says that he left Gallifrey because he was scared, and this story certainly gives this account credence. Boredom, the previously accepted reason, also works perfectly with the idea that he was afraid, as the two can sometimes feel similar.
Mackinnon’s direction is superb and feels really off-kilter at times, putting the audience on the edge of their seats, despite the fact that there is no monster for the TARDIS team to face. The scenes in the care home feel really creepy and escalate the rising sense of tension. In a way, this feels quite similar to Day of the Moon, with the Silence running the care home in America. His direction of the restaurant scenes is also great, especially when the spacesuited Orson Pink appears in the corner of the restaurant that Danny and Clara are eating in. The scene in Orson’s spaceship are probably the most visually striking of the entire episode, and really help to keep the tension and belief that there is something outside the capsule trying to get in. His subtle direction of the scene in Rupert Pink’s direction really helps with the general tone of the story, with the only look we get at whatever is on the bed being obscured, and the shots when it is covered by the blanket seeming really creepy.
Performance-wise, we get a great performance by Capaldi. That opening monologue in the cold open is beautifully performed and well shot by Douglas Mackinnon. He handles the humour deftly as well, and he does certainly convey a sense of alienness that makes Matt Smith look normal. He seems to really get what Moffat wants to do with this incarnation of the Doctor, and although he may seem mean and uncaring, he still retains that Doctor-ish twinkle. This incarnation of the Doctor seems unwilling to let things lie and is much more inquisitive about the mysteries of the universe. There is a real feeling in this story that this version of the Doctor wants to know everything, and Capaldi encapsulates this perfectly.The scenes between Danny and Clara in the restaurant are utterly believable and I found them to be quite reminiscent of Coupling, which Steven Moffat also wrote. The argument scenes are really well played by both Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson, and the fight actually feels believable. I think we’ve all been in situations where we have put our foot in our moves and as the audience, we cringe as Clara mentions the name of Rupert Pink. We have a small but perfectly formed cast here, which is quite nice and they all do play their part to bring Moffat’s script to life.
Listen. This is just a dream. But very clever people can hear dreams. So please just listen. I know you’re afraid, but being afraid is all right. Because didn’t anybody ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster, and cleverer, and stronger. And one day, you’re gonna come back to this barn, and on that day, you’re going to be very afraid indeed. But that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind. … It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed, or in the dark, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. So listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this: you’re always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like… a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay. Because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m gonna leave you something just so you’ll always remember. Fear makes companions of us all.
Verdict: Listen is a great exploration of a new Doctor’s personality, and of the Doctor in general. It retains a sense of eeriness and creepiness, despite the lack of a real threat and the small cast are perfect. 10/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink/Orson Pink), Remi Gooding (Rupert Pink), Robert Goodman (Reg), Kiran Shah (Figure)
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Behind the Scenes
- Listen marks the first non-archival appearance of the First Doctor since The Five Doctors, and the first time we see the Doctor as a child.
- Steven Moffat wrote a short story in 2007 called Corner of the Eye, which featured monsters called Floofs, who had the super-ability to hide.
When the Doctor is revealed to have stolen Reg’s coffee.
Where is he?
I can’t find him. Can you find him?
He’s nowhere in this book.
It’s not a Where’s Wally one.
Well, how would you know? Maybe you just haven’t found him yet.
He’s not in every book.
Really? Well that’s a few years of my life I’ll be needing back.
The Twelfth Doctor, Clara Oswald and Rupert Pink
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