Doctor Who - "Listen" (Season 8, Episode 4) Recap/Analysis | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Doctor Who - “Listen” (Season 8, Episode 4) Recap/Analysis

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Sep 15, 2014 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the latest episode of Doctor Who, then read no further.]

After the last couple of earnest but ultimately mediocre episodes, Doctor Who returned this week with one of its most compelling stories in recent memory. "Listen" was again written by Stephen Moffat, and carries his signature throughout, but it also takes major steps in establishing the new rules for this Doctor, something we've been looking for since the premiere a few weeks back. What's more, it offers an exploration of The Doctor that we rarely see in a standalone episode—I'd argue we learn more about him in this episode than the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" that aired last November.

"Listen" starts off with the Doctor posing a simple question—what if evolution created a creature that was capable of perfect camouflage? So perfect, in fact, that there would be no way of detecting it? The Doctor theorizes that we've all at some point experienced the same nightmare of waking up and feeling terrified of something under the bed, only to have our fears realized when a hand grabs our ankle. To examine his hypothesis, The Doctor travels to a point in Clara's timeline, only to be sidetracked by her wandering mind into the timeline of her date Dan. There, The Doctor and Clara meet the young Dan, still going by his given name Rupert, where they confront one of those fearful moments head on. In what will surely go down as one of Capaldi's defining moments, The Doctor coaches the boy on treating fear like a superpower that gives strength.

 

Later, The Doctor and Clara find themselves at the very end of the universe, where they find Orson, a time-traveling descendant of Rupert's completely alone, yet still afraid of whatever's left out there. Here The Doctor again tries to find whatever is hiding in emptiness, but is rescued by Orson. After escaping the end of the universe, Clara finds the TARDIS has landed in a barn occupied by a crying child. She hides under the bed, where she overhears that the child is in fact The Doctor. When he climbs out of bed to see if anyone is there, she grabs his leg and suddenly the quest makes sense. Clara gives the young Doctor a much needed and familiar lesson on fear.

 

"Listen" takes plenty of things that Doctor Who has been trying to make work over the last couple of seasons with less success and just gets them right for once. For example, Moffat reuses some of the same old tricks that worked for him in the past with his ideas for Doctor Who monsters, like the Weeping Angels or the Silence. The nature of the monsters Moffat creates still hinges on the same gimmick of hiding in the shadows, where danger lies in simply looking upon the beast. In "Listen," however, that nature is secondary to the quest, which asks why loneliness leads to fear. That kind of device works best as a background explanation for a larger picture anyway.

 

The real twist of course is that The Doctor is in fact on some sort of introspective quest. It's a different take than Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, whose arc, it could be argued, was essentially to escape from his identity, to make himself less known. Logically, it follows that his successor would now retreat into some universe-spanning soul searching, but he's certainly not running away from himself. This is the part that I really loved. The Doctor posed his search as a scientific query, but it was inspired not by some brilliant inquisition but a childhood fear with which he never came to terms. Beautifully done.

 

"Listen" sets a new benchmark for the series, one which I don't anticipate will be reached again anytime soon. But my early inclinations that the Twelfth Doctor's journey is going to be more personal so far seems right. If anything, this episode proves that such a story could really work to breathe in some much needed energy into the show. It's an incredibly risky move to explore The Doctor's early years, something that has been mostly avoided for the show's monumental run, but it felt right here. It's kept to a minimum, and still treated mostly with shadow and mystery, but it's such a perfect moment in a near flawless episode.

Think we can top this one this season? Let's find out. (www.bbcamerica.com/doctor-who/)

 

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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