After renewing its title character in “Deep Breath,” the last three episodes have all been about examining aspects of the Doctor as a hero. “Into the Dalek” was about how he’s defined by his mortal enemies and his hatred of them. “Robots of Sherwood” looked at the Doctor in comparison to the mythological hero of Robin Hood. And now we’ve got “Listen,” a story that asks the question of what is the Doctor afraid of and where did that fear come from?
As an hour of television (or 45 or so minutes anyway), “Listen” is dark, creepy, off-putting and, for the most part, effective. The pervading sense of discomfort and of everything not being quite right worked very well and the idea of examining the Doctor’s fear as a young boy is an interesting one. I’m sure that fandom will be fairly polarized on the final ten or so minutes of the story, but I found that it tied in fairly well with the mythology we’ve seen established in the modern series (and the hints the Doctor has dropped about what happened when he looked into the vortex). Of course, the assumption that the young boy in the bed was the Doctor is probably the one Steven Moffat wants us to jump to and there may be a twist or revelation set to come later this season that undoes those assumptions.
From the opening shot of the Doctor sitting on top of the TARDIS (which I figured was only created for the promotion leading up to the season and wouldn’t necessarily be used in an episode) to the final frame, the story was replete with visual style. It also played with the mechanics of time travel when it came to Clara and Danny’s first date. I will admit I found it interesting that Danny is objects to Clara’s kn0wledge she can’t or shouldn’t have but is later willing to set this aside when she shows up at his apartment at the end of the episode. As the story progressed, I found myself wondering if Danny isn’t meant to be some kind of mirror for the Doctor and that could be part of the reason that Clara feels such a strong attraction to him — one that’s strong enough for her to go back twice to Danny after having some time to think about and ponder her actions. So far, it appears Danny isn’t in on the secret that Clara travels through time (unless I missed something in the final conversation between the two) and it should be interesting to see if and how long this particular secret can or will be kept.
I know I’m a bit behind on my viewing but I’ve tried to stay away from heavy fan-based discussion of the episode so I can avoid SPOILERS. However, watching “Listen” I can’t help but hear the vocal group who is dissatisfied with the season so far (I’m not one of them) being even more dissatisfied with this installment and how it all ties into the War Doctor. I’ll admit that I really liked the tie in to the War Doctor and the fiftieth anniversary story and that I have faith in Moffat to execute whatever long term story he’s trying to tell here.
The thought of the Doctor being scared of something under the bed and driven by the fear to confront monsters across the universe and through space and time works for me. Once again, Peter Capaldi nails his performance as the Doctor and he’s becoming more assured with each installment. Again, I may not be the right fan to ask about this since I’m also a huge fan of another actor who played the Doctor with a Scottish accent. (In fact, Sylvester McCoy is my favorite Doctor).
And yet as strong as the first thirty-five or so minutes were, there was something about the last ten or so minutes that felt a bit off. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but hopefully repeated viewings will help it become clearer.