Doctor Who 08:04

Well, I think this cracks the code. Don’t you?

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If you’ve been following these write-ups, you know that I’ve taken show runner Stephen Moffatt to task on more than one occasion about how he has handled the Doctor Who franchise; the gleefully schizophrenic writing, the shoddy treatment of the female characters, and so on and so on. So imagine my surprise when watching this episode that not only was it a well-written, well-acted piece, but it may just be the best thing he’s ever created during his tenure as show runner.

In fact, there’s been a theory about Moffat that has been floating around for a while that was really driven home with “Listen.” The theory goes that he’s interested in the fears of children and spinning them out into adult-style terrors. Be it the child-like fear of abandonment (“The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances”), terrorizing staring contests (“Blink”), shadows (“Silence In The Library”), or seeing how long you can hold your breath (“Deep Breath”), there’s a child-like notion to Moffat’s version of horror. And while this episode dealt beautifully with the notion of things hiding under the bed, it dealt with so much more.

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The thing about this episode, aside from being a refreshing chamber piece that only focuses on three people free of bombast, is that it actually shows the fears that make the Doctor and Danny Pink tick. In the latter’s case it’s the monsters under the bed that haunt Danny from childhood to modern day all the way to his descendant Orson Pink. What’s even more intriguing is just how the Doctor and Clara’s meddling have made him into the man that he is today, which lends an incredible amount of weirdness in his date with Clara. That scene, each time it’s revisited, goes from squirm-inducing rom-com to general weirdness.

Meanwhile, Moffat has taken this opportunity to push us into the psyche of the Doctor. While each regeneration gets at least one episode to say “this is who the Doctor is now” it seems that this is going to be Moffat’s thesis for the entire season. After all, this is the first time we’ve seen a Time Lord use up all of their regenerations. Who’s to say what effect that has had on his psyche? After all, why would be following up on a notion that he thought of 2000 years ago?

Then there’s the last scene; while I loved it and it was beautifully done, it certainly is going to spurn debate on it for years to come. That scene in the barn instantly gives the Doctor a more tragic note to his origin (and makes literal what Moffat’s scripts for the show have hinted at for years). The “lonely god” has become the “lonely boy” who is afraid of what is underneath the bed. And it is that fear. that “constant companion” as both he and Clara refer to it, that drives him onward. But if he’s chasing after an irrational fear, what does that say about all of his adventures through space and time? The implications are quite staggering.

At the center of it all is Clara, who unwittingly inserts herself into the history of the Doctor in a way that even he doesn’t know about. Series 8 has shown more of Clara’s controlling side leavened by her great compassion and her teacher’s instincts. But it has also shown Clara the dangers of casual time travel; that you can condemn two boys on two different planets to basically the same fate; indirectly in Danny (née Rupert)’s case and directly in the Doctor’s. As soon as she grabbed the young Doctor’s ankles, their fate was sealed. It’s a testament that Clara can spin the very words the Doctor says to young Rupert into an appropriate consoling speech for the Doctor.

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“Listen” raises my hopes even more for this season. With an intriguing look into the psyche of three damaged people (all brought to life by Capaldi, Coleman, and Samuel Anderson’s nuanced performances), this is a slightly disturbing take on the mythos of the Doctor. And yet, like the Doctor’s fears, it compels you onward.

Random Notes:

* Danny made mention of a family. Knowing Moffat’s economy of storytelling, I have a feeling that this will be important.

* Clara is way to casual in slipping between her normal life and her life with the Doctor. It’s intriguing, given that she’s one of the first companions in recent history who doesn’t travel with the Doctor full time. I look forward to seeing the thin line snap regarding this.

* While I said earlier that this might be his best episode he wrote as a show runner, Moffat’s best script for Doctor Who would hands down be “Blink,” with “The Girl In The Fireplace” a close second.

NEXT TIME: A good, old-fashioned bank robbery.

Photo & Video Credit: BBC

Originally Published on 15 September 2014 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my television column for l’étoile.

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