Monday, September 15, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.04: Listen

Watching Steven Moffat's Listen I couldn't help but think of Russel T. Davies' Midnight. As I have with Steven Moffat, I had grown tired of RTD's writing for the show, but Midnight took me by surprise by actually being good. It was creepy, tense and the monster of the week remained mysterious even after the situation was resolved. Most of all, the episode showed how the Doctor's own personality traits can land him in a mess of trouble.

As with Midnight, Listen took me by surprise. This was a welcome return to the things about Steven Moffat's writing style that made him seem the perfect choice for Doctor Who showrunner in the twilight years of Tennant and Davies. Moffat takes simple things which, as children, we find frightening and turns it into something that will put a chill down even a grown-up's spine. When we're supposed to be alone, when everyone else is supposed be asleep, why do we still hear noises? Are we really alone? As with the best horror, the fear comes from the unknown, the unseen. Even by the end of the episode, the question of whether there really was a monster - or if it was just a flight of fancy on the Doctor's part - is never truly answered. It seems entirely plausible that there was a monster, but it's also just as possible that there wasn't. That uncertainty only heightens the creep factor of the story. And in the end, the monster itself isn't the Doctor's enemy. The Doctor's enemy is himself, his own curiosity and thirst for knowledge leading him on a dangerous path. He has to know, and is willing to risk his life in the process.

So, good episode? Yes. Great episode? Well, there *are* a few things that irked me.

First of all, as I had feared, Moffat is falling back on his romcom background, with the episode dipping in and out of a bumpy first date between Clara and Danny. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy romantic comedy, but I'd just like to see a bit less of it in Doctor Who. I suppose I should just accept it as a fact of the Moffat era though, given that it's hardwired into Moffat's writing style.

Then there's Clara. On the plus side, we're getting a bit more depth to her character now, Jenna Coleman is getting to do more with the role now that she's not a big mystery for the Doctor to unravel. The problem is that, once again, she's taking more of a leading role in the story than the Doctor is. There's nothing wrong with the role she takes on here, in fact it's one of the traditional roles of a companion in the revived series: she's there to save the Doctor from himself. The problem is, with this only being the Twelfth Doctor's fourth full episode, we want to see more of him being the main actor of the story. We want to see how this Doctor operates, how he deals with problems and how he thwarts the monsters. But as with Robot of Sherwood, he's never really given the chance. Peter Capaldi's performance in the role remains top-notch, but his character is not being given enough to do in the story.

As for the timey-wimey stuff and the scene in the barn towards the end...well, while I did like the callback to The Day Of The Doctor, there's no way they should even be able to travel there. Even though this scene takes place before the Time War, the past of Gallifrey shouldn't be accessible either. I did like Clara comforting the young Doctor, imparting sage advice that she had overheard the Doctor himself give to a young Roland (Danny) Pink earlier in the adventure, but it felt a bit self-indulgent on Moffat's part.

Overall, it's a good episode. I liked the concept and the way tension is built in the episode. I like how the truth as to whether there is a monster or not remains ambiguous and I like the way it showcases one of the Doctor's own self-destructive traits. But it doesn't give the new Doctor enough agency in the story, and still contains some of Moffat's bad writing habits.

Undecim Rating: +3

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