Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 4 review: Listen

Posted: 22 September 2014 in entertainment, television
Tags: , , , ,

Steven Moffat’s attempt to return to the creepy atmosphere of his earliest work on Doctor Who fails to live up to expectations as he undermines proceedings with an unnecessary glimpse into the Doctor’s childhood.

Do you have your own mood lighting now, because frankly, the accent is enough.

Listen was founded upon an intriguing premise. A hidden species coexisting alongside all others from time’s very beginning to its very end. So perfectly hidden in plain sight it can only be glimpsed in dreams and nightmares when the conscious mind is inactive. An unseen presence in the ilk of a His Dark Materials daemon – a constant and necessary companion on life’s journey. The potential existed for the introduction of a monster as memorable as the Weeping Angels. A modern day A Ghost Story for Christmas complete with creaks, shadows and chills.

Doctor Who - S8 E4 Listen

Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor is the perfect incarnation to head up a tale of something wicked this way comes. His Scottish accent could easily render the recitation of a telephone book scary. His angular frown-lined face is perfect for throwing in moody relief. An ideal fellow to lead a ghost tour of the Edinburgh Vaults in fact. Yet, despite his unsettling persona, he’s as much a champion against the darkness as any of the other more “user-friendly” Doctors. He’s also overwhelmed with the kind of insatiable curiosity that ultimately doomed the Fifth Doctor in The Caves of Androzani. The Doctor must know the answer to any mystery – no matter what the cost to himself.

Fear doesn’t have to make you cruel and cowardly. Fear can make you kind.

Unfortunately by mid-episode the potential of Listen fell flat. What initially promised to be one of the Doctor’s most creepily affecting adventures of recent times drifted off into a rambling voyage through space and time. Creaks, shadows and chills eroded by writer Steven Moffat’s obsession with exploring the identity, nature and destiny of the Time Lord. He took this same route too frequently in 50th anniversary year with The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Perhaps a better title for Listen would have been The Facial Shadows of the Doctor.

By tale’s end Listen was a psychological examination of the Doctor himself. Complete with the revelation his path to the Time Lord Academy hadn’t been a certain one. He might easily have become a solider. Is such a “human” look inside the Doctor’s psyche really required? The Doctor exists best as an enigma. Occasional oblique verbal glimpses into the Doctor’s past are the best and tend to render him even more mysterious. Even granddaughter Susan (Carol Ann Ford) travelling with the First Doctor (William Hartnell) never offered proper insights into his personal nature. In those early days the play was quite rightly the thing.

An exploration of the Doctor’s pre-An Unearthly Child heritage was originally scheduled for the Seventh Doctor’s final season in 1989. Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow would have chronicled the Doctor returning to Gallifrey and the place he feared most in the entire universe: his ancestral home of Lungbarrow. There’d have been revelations about Old Gallifrey, Time Lords being artificially birthed by Looms, and the Doctor’s link to a mysterious Gallifreyan historical figure known as the Other. However, then-producer John Nathan-Turner vetoed the script on the grounds that too much about the Doctor and the Time Lords was revealed too quickly. Elements of Lungbarrow subsequently weaved their way into Ghost Light and the so-called “Cartmel Masterplan“.

Doctor Who - S8 E4 Listen - Twelfth Doctor

A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun.

For the second time Clara (Jenna Coleman) intersected with the Doctor’s first incarnation prior to the events of An Unearthly Child. After encouraging him to steal a Type 40 TARDIS with a knackered navigation system in The Name of the Doctor, Clara’s now on hand to scare the hell out the Doctor in his childhood. The Twelfth Doctor’s obsession with the idea of monsters lurking under the bed all stemmed from Clara grabbing his ankle to prevent his young self crossing timestreams with his older self.

As if the presence of the First and Twelfth Doctors wasn’t enough a third incarnation was thrown into the mix with a flashback to the War Doctor (John Hurt) from The Day of the Doctor. Had everyone been on the edge of their seat since the 50th anniversary special wondering why the War Doctor chose to take the Moment to that particular dilapidated barn? Well now the truth’s revealed. It was the childhood Doctor’s refuge away from the world.

Does the presence of all these variant Doctors qualify Listen as another multi-Doctor adventure?

On the subject of the War Doctor… What’s happened to the Doctor’s quest for Gallifrey? A cornerstone of the 50th anniversary special has faded away as soon as it was unveiled. As was the case with the Doctor avowed desire to step back into the shadows (The Wedding of River Song) and the Daleks’ knowledge of the Doctor’s existence wiped from their collective memory (Asylum of the Daleks). Too many dead ended story threads in recent years.

I’m against the hugging.

Phenomenal mental acuity wasn’t required to deduce that the boy in the children’s home was the younger Danny (aka Rupert) Pink. Not content with messing around in the Doctor’s formative years, Clara’s now tinkered with the childhood of Rupert/Danny, inadvertently guiding him towards a soldier’s life in the process. Sometimes it’d be best if the Doctor didn’t permit her aboard the TARDIS. She’s interfering in the timelines more than the Time Lord these days.

With the burgeoning romance between Clara and Danny reaching the initiation of intimacy is this the dawn of the family line resulting in the pioneering time traveller Orson Pink? Surely it can’t be coincidental that the individual encountered at universe’s end is Danny’s descendent?

Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor has quickly proven himself to be a exceptional presence and, against the odds, Jenna Coleman’s Clara has become a fully rounded character alongside this new incarnation. Though the stunning quality of Deep Breath has yet to be replicated Capaldi and Coleman are making Nu-Who eminently watchable as it nears its decade anniversary in 2015.

The potential of Listen to enter the pantheon of the greatest Doctor Who horror outings was massive. Everything indicated a return to the spine-chilling tingles of Blink, where the seemingly mundane concealed near-supernatural elements of terror. Ultimately the episode ranks as “pretty good” rather than “classic”. Its downfall came in setting aside claustrophobic scares in favour of unnecessary secondary character exploration.

And who or what wrote “Listen” on the blackboard in the TARDIS?


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