TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E4: Listen

From the trail at the end of Robot of Sherwood, it looked like this episode would edge into the scarier side of Doctor Who stories. The Doctor reciting a nursery rhyme; footage of a hand reaching from under the bed to grab at an unsuspecting ankle. Since the episode was written by the showrunner (Steven Moffat) himself, it seemed that the suspicions would prove to be correct. How does Listen stand up and is it a memorable, scary episode? Read on to find out!

When ghosts of past and future crowd into their lives, the Doctor and Clara are thrown into an adventure that takes them to the very end of the universe. What happens when the Doctor is alone? And what scares the grand old man of Time and Space?

This episode includes what is possibly the smallest cast for a Doctor Who story ever. Excepting Clara and The Doctor, there are six speaking roles – two of which we never see but only hear and one of which has perhaps a minute or two of screen time. Since the cast is so small, I’ll start off this review there for a change.

I’m not sure if it’s the way in which the character is written or directed or whether I’m just not a fan of Samuel Anderson, but I find the character of Danny a little bland and frankly, an unworthy love interest for Clara at this stage. He has some great foot-in-mouth moments (as does Clara) which Anderson pulls off nicely, but otherwise I find myself completely disinterested in the character. The same can also be said for Danny’s descendent who makes an appearance in this episode – but this time there are no endearing miss-steps of speech to reform the character. By contrast, young Remi Gooding, playing Rupert in the episode managed to portray the emotional range required of him with aplomb in his scenes.

Both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi are on top form. I mentioned in an earlier review (Into the Dalek) that I really enjoyed the relationship between the two but thought that too much effort was being spent on giving the Doctor snippy one-liners. Listen has many one liners for the Doctor, but this time I thought the execution was far more successful and a great continuation of this more “alien” Doctor who is one step removed from humanity. Both the regulars really stole the show for me and I could watch the two banter for hours. Unlike our Time Lord, I DO approve of banter!

There is also a lovely bit of dialogue in the episode about the emotion of being scared and how that can be a very positive force. As someone who suffers from anxiety attacks – anxiety being irrational fears and eliciting the same adrenaline surge, “fight or flight” effect on our bodies as actual danger – I found this to be particularly uplifting. Yes, even as an adult, I can be affected by simple messages in a Saturday tea-time television program.

Coming from the pen of the man who is renowned for making the ordinary scary – children in masks, statues, shadows, cracks in walls – the concept behind this episode’s danger should not be that surprising. Why do we talk out loud sometimes? Is it because we know we’re not alone? What is that out of the corner of my eye? This is classic Moffat. I think the same can be said of the episode as a whole. Listen showcases both the best and worst of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who writing. It has great character dynamics, excellent dialogue and a suitably terrifying perceived threat but it also perhaps gets a little convoluted by the end of the episode and there is part of me that could easily have done without the TARDIS’ final trip before dropping Clara home.

I found this episode’s slower pace to be quite a refreshing change from the usual break-neck adventure that Doctor Who normally presents. Combined with some excellent direction by Douglas Mackinnon, I didn’t once feel bored by the steady progression of the tale from start to finish. The episode started building tension from the pre-title sequence and this continued right up until the episode’s thematic climax. What really aided the tension was the fact that the threat – the creature that is always with us – was never seen. The imagination is the most powerful tool and that is something that both Moffat and Mackinnon clearly realise.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Listen. It was a suitably tense affair that looked at the Doctor’s need to know and why it is that he has such a need to know. I’ll be honest, the final revelation was not one that sat well with me. I think it worked in so far as the episode itself went but possibly crossed over a line of mystery that I don’t think should be crossed. Some things should remain hidden. I can’t let my own nerdish prejudices stand too much in the way of what was otherwise a fine, tense and above all, creepy episode.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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