Don’t Blink. Don’t Breathe. Don’t Look. Just Listen.
In Capaldi’s fourth episode as Doctor, Steven Moffat managed to reach back and resist his worst tendencies and brought us the finely tuned, “Listen”. And I’m back on board, for now at least.
I recently wrote about my decision to lower my standards and learn to enjoy what Doctor Who has come to be. After “Deep Breath” (ugh), and “Into the Dalek” (fine) I wanted to at least like the show I once loved and continuing to hope for better felt more and more like a fool’s errand. I like Clara well enough – at least what Jenna Coleman does with her, and I’m enjoying what Peter Capaldi is bringing to the character. A different sort of scattered and well — unapologetically rude — and somehow both more and less human than his recent predecessors. So I keep watching.
Then “Listen” happened. I had heard mutterings around even cynical corners of the internet that “Listen” was truly a treat, even then I remained uncertain. But for once, I was not disappointed by the Doctor Who hype.
I could feel Moffat trying to build out Clara in the first few episodes of this season, giving her a personality and more independence from the Doctor – but the labour in it felt obvious. “Listen” allowed Clara to exist as a character in a way that felt natural. “Listen” looked at Clara’s life and where she fit into her tiny corner of the world in a way that was completely detached from The Doctor. It also explored the Doctor’s life, his internal fears and thoughts without making his story hers as well. Clara felt like a real and true person – and not because of her strengths or weaknesses on display at once, but because of her agency propelling the story, the choices she was allowed to make both big (intervening and influencing a child Time Lord, and a young Rupert Pink) and small (completely putting her foot in it on a date with Danny… multiple times)*. And Peter Capaldi had a brilliant chance to truly show us what this Doctor is about – aside from rude.
*What is it about Danny that makes people so completely incapable of *NOT* asking him about killing people? A little sensitivity…anyone?
“Listen” was clever in its simplicity. Tapping into a human truth, the uncanny feeling we get when we’re lonely, what if we’re not alone after all, what if there really is something lurking under the bed. If we don’t look – maybe it’s not real at all (ugh – denial!).** Similar, though not quite to par, to the outstanding “Blink” – the concept is basic at the heart. The bells and whistles of time travel, rules of the TARDIS complement the story rather than bog it down in an obnoxious show of cleverness.
**Personal Note: The “hands under the bed” was an actual recurring fear/nightmare I had as a child. You too? – S
“Listen” was strangely sweet in it’s honesty. The honesty about fear – of the unknown, under the bed, about dating, and about loneliness, about life, and secrets, tied up together in a strange tale of time travel that gives Clara a glimpse into her future – and into The Doctor’s past. Building her into his childhood through this loop actually felt earned as the episode built to that final moment – as the Doctor pushed in an increasing frenzy to figure out his theory, solving the mystery of himself drove him further into Clara’s future ended up in his own past. It was a bit of wish fulfillment – in believing he’s not alone he created a reality where that was true.
And what do these life-spoilers mean for Clara – and how she moves forward in her relationship with Danny? That we’re asking questions about how these events will affect Clara’s life – looking to the future of her and not solving her is the thing that’s moving us in the right direction.
A couple more stray thoughts:
- Clara’s dress. Damn girl!
- I love the openendedness of the Monster in little Rupert Pink’s room. What was it? and where did it go? Not every puzzle needs to be solved.
- I love the unhinged shooting of the date scene(s), the non-chronological cross-cuts between action and reaction were fun, disorienting and really set the mood for what was happening and what was to come
- AND that is how you do a surprise cameo! The War Doctor fit in perfectly with the story – felt both surprising and welcome. My feelings regarding the Matt Smith cameo in the premiere were just about as far from this as possible – where that felt like condescending pandering to an audience that couldn’t be trusted with a new face – this was an exciting treat that fit thematically with the story (and in retrospect seems more obvious now with the whole barn thing)
What did you think of “Listen”? Do you think we’ll see more stories like this coming up? And what’s next for Clara and Danny?
Images Courtesy of BBC America