8.4 – “Listen”
The Doctor has a hypothesis; what if we are never truly alone? What if there is someone or something always present with us, leading to us talking out loud and creating that tingling sensation on the back of our necks? With great enthusiasm, he drags Clara away from a particularly bad date with Danny Pink in order to test his theory.
This is the moment that I’ve been waiting for since Doctor Who returned in August; the episode where the new actor in the lead role finally hits his stride, shows you just exactly what he’s got up his sleeves and is given the perfect story in which to deliver the goods.
And yet many people will watch this episode and say things like “It’s got no story,” or “It’s all about Clara again.” Both of these statements would be absolutely incorrect though. If you’ve made these statements yourself after watching it, I may have to eat you. That Jenna Coleman absolutely shines throughout this episode is not in dispute and it’s wonderful to see her given the chance to really flesh out her portrayal of Clara this series. But don’t be fooled by her presence – “Listen” is the story of how The Doctor’s greatest fear from childhood takes shape in his adult mind and festers for years until, in his Twelfth incarnation, The Doctor finally has to put the brakes on everything else and go figure this shit out. It’s his story. He has to know what is lurking under the bed and inside the darkness. He has to discover what the tingling on the back of your neck might be and why we talk out loud when we know we’re alone. He has to push things almost too far in order to satisfy his curiosity. Clara is beside him at all times and indulges his whimsy and obsessiveness, but it’s not her story.
In a departure from my usual style, I’m not going to go into much detail on the episode’s specific events in this review, because I truly believe that you just need to watch it and experience it. It’s rather unlike anything else that we’ve seen before in Doctor Who as it’s very much a mood piece that demands your attention throughout and asks you to get caught up in the atmosphere and the suspense. The only specifics I will mention are these; every weird thing that gets introduced during the episode – the thing under the bedsheet, the noises in the ship at the end of time, the knocking on the hull door – has a rational explanation which The Doctor himself, more often than not, vocalises to us. And that’s the point; there’s no monster, there never was. The episode was all about how The Doctor was afraid of the dark as a child and how, as an adult, he’s convinced himself that there must have been a logical reason for him to be afraid, a monster or something strange lurking in the dark. But there isn’t. Sometimes, the unseen enemy is nothing more than your own irrational fear.
There is a wonderful little twist towards the end that had me smiling from ear to ear with approval for a story well told and a left turn very well executed which, again, I will not spoil here. It just works perfectly in an episode where everything falls perfectly into place; the acting, the direction, the music, the atmosphere and tone and the script. Peter Capaldi is utterly captivating from start to finish, taking us on a journey into the mind of The Doctor, discovering what his greatest fear is and showing us how obsessive he can be once he gets hold of an idea. The passion he has for the adventure and the boyish grin he wears knowing something scary is going to happen, his speech about fear being a superpower, his insistence on protecting Clara and potentially risking his own life all for the sake of “having to know”…all of these things are what will finally sell any naysayer who doesn’t see The Doctor in Capaldi’s performance.
“Listen” easily ranks alongside the very best stories of New Who; it has suspense and atmosphere, it has brilliant performances from our two leads, it’s beautifully shot and the twist in the tale works perfectly. But more importantly than any of that, this is the episode where Peter Capaldi finally comes into his own, with a powerhouse performance that cements his portrayal of The Doctor. An excellent 9/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett