Far and away the best episode so far this season, Listen has gone beyond the scope of the 12th Doctor and has launched itself into one of the best standalone episodes of the rebooted Doctor Who series.
Almost definitely earning a spot among The Four Scariest Monsters list (or at the very least viable enough to bump it up to a top 5 list), Listen plays on our most basic, innate fear in the best way possible – the monster under the bed, the thing right behind you, the odd noises at night. Fear. Itself.
Before we get into the good stuff, I am still struggling with one thing about the 12th Doctor. I want to tell you that I have grown accustomed to the new ultra-horn sound of the intro. I want to tell you that I love it as much as I love the new imagery. But today is not that day. Today I still cringed at that high pitched, screeching horn that is so abrupt. Maybe it ultimately suits 12 in some kind of music-embodying-people way, but it does not suit my ears. At least not yet.
The opening scene was stellar and immediately immersed you into the story. It hit you right away with that mix of excitement and fear, letting you know that you are in a for a great episode. The following awkward scenes with Clara and Danny were somewhat off-putting and a bit frustrating, but it was a good balance to the palpable chemistry formed between the Doctor and Clara. Their relationship has taken off exponentially and despite general Clara criticisms, I have to say their banter is truly entertaining and they’ve really come to compliment each other awesomely well.
Speaking of awesome, it’s Orson Pink. Not Awesome Pink. I went back and listened again, still pretty much sounded like Awesome Pink (which they should have went with, to be honest), but no, it’s Orson. Also, it doesn’t help the confusion when the same actor is used for two different people. I was still waiting for him to at any moment reveal that he knew who Clara was the whole time and it was all just a ruse. Not this time!
Instead, we get far better – Clara gets to meet Danny as a child, before he’s “Dan the soldier man.” Very excellent how they tied that all around the episode. Clara protects Rupert in the beginning, then discovers the same toy figure in Orson’s belongings and learns that it’s an old family heirloom. Orson also saying that “time-travelling runs in the family,” indicates that Clara could be Orson’s great-grandmother. A very delightful timey-wimey Doctor Who twist!
Then Clara plants the story of how being scared is actually a super power into
the child-Doctor after she heard him, as an adult, tell Rupert the same thing. Moffat had to have been giggling when he wrote that because I was definitely giggling when I heard it. Then Clara somehow knows where they were and that the Doctor would return to that barn (as shown in The Day of the Doctor) to maybe end the Time Lords and Gallifrey forever. That was just sheer brilliance, I have to hand it to Moffat, he nailed this episode.
A few questions from last week’s episode were cleared up, though not necessarily explained – namely the return of the sonic screwdriver. It still appears to be what 11 was using, but no word on how he got it back or if he’ll be getting a new one. The writing on the chalkboard continues, though this time he’s making legible notes indicating that it’s less idle-time -filling and more meaningful. Now exactly how meaningful it is and whether or not it’s meaningful enough to warrant a spot in the storytelling consistently is another thing that remains to be seen.
However, a few more questions popped up, as is expected as we progress further into the season. Who actually wrote “LISTEN” on the chalkboard? Was it the Doctor originally, but he truly didn’t remember because of all the timey-wimey stuff with Clara and Danny? What was under Rupert’s bedspread and ultimately escaped with it? Clara was the Doctor’s monster under the bed (foreshadowing?) but was she Danny’s? Did she mind-meld with the TARDIS and set up the rest of the unknowns in the episode? It seems highly unlikely. It’s more likely that there actually was a thing, or things, that were the perfect beings at hiding and we could potentially re-visit them in a future episode.
As soon as the monsters under the bed bit was unfolding, I had to immediately draw my feet up from dangling over the couch. This episode’s reach is further evidenced by the many nights I will, as a full grown woman, jump from the well-lit hallway to my bed. I’m not letting any of my extremities near the end of the bed to be grabbed and have horrible, unknown things happen. Listen struck gold playing on basic fears that pretty much every person ever has experienced. Far more scary than any monster someone else can show to you, your imagination gets to drive straight into your irrational fears and plays them like a composer knowing exactly how to get a response out of you. Your fear plays the best symphony in the history of ever.
But the fears aren’t just played upon and exploited, Clara and the Doctor both turned fear into something more: giving comfort and reassurance that everything is going to be okay, even if we’re scared. Because sometimes, despite the unknown bad things, you just need someone to tell you everything is going to be okay. If you just listen.
I give this episode 12 out of 12 Doctors. What did you think?