[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 4, "Listen"

Courtesy of the BBC
When a show runs for as long as Doctor Who has, it runs the risk of occasionally producing an episode that reminds the audience of how rubbish other episodes have been in the past. This was entirely the feeling I had while watching Listen, the fourth in what is turning out to be a remarkably strong series for the programme. It ended up being a lot of things, atmospheric and brilliant among them, but what I kept coming back to was the notion of how much better the last two series might have been if this sort of episode had been a part of them. This was an episode that showed Steven Moffat might have learned his lesson.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that know it's OK to be afraid.

This episode will likely be pointed to as being the most adherent to the "going darker" theme of the series, a theme I maintain is entirely fictional, because this episode was tense and mysterious, but no less funny or pessimistic than the show is usually. Compared to last week, this was an eclipse, but last week was practically in Technicolor. It is an episode that draws an immediate comparison to Midnight, in tone and execution, and structured under the notion that there are still thing out in the universe that the Doctor doesn't know about and that bothers him.

The episode made wonderful use of fragmented time, the second such time this series this has been used. Most time travel shows (or, shows in general) rarely attempt using non-linear storytelling, mostly because as this very programme has proven, if not done perfectly, it's a mess. They are using the technique to the peak of it's perfection, and executing it in a way that allows all the the tension such a build-up produces goes entirely towards character development rather than plotting.

This was a character episode. We got to see, briefly, how the Doctor gets on when there isn't a doe-eyed human in the room to explain things to (he explains things to the room), and in turn revealed a little bit more of the Doctor's psyche. We know a lot about how the Doctor, but still ultimately very little about why the Doctor. We don't know much about the man's machinery. He's the Doctor to us, and we generally see him at his extremes. His hates, his loves, his wild passions. A neutral moment, a moment of everyday thought is practically unheard of in fifty years of programming. A couple series ago, he explained this away as skipping over these bits, and getting straight to the good stuff, but that was just him being clever. Truth is, the camera often turns on the companion's life, but rarely turns on the hero's.

But the episode belonged to Clara. And to the various Pinks along the way, but as I've said every episode this series, Clara shined. Clara carried the emotional arc. Clara carried the comedy. Clara acted as the vehicle for the action, she acted as the selfless hero, she acted as the responsible adult. This was all her, and she managed it wonderfully. We couldn't have gotten an episode like this out of her last year, but we should have, and I'm getting to that. Here, we got a full hour explaining to us that Clara is as decent a human as the Doctor has ever confided in, and that she deserves a place in his life. Into the Dalek might have called her the Doctor's carer in jest, but that's what she is. She is the heart of the TARDIS this series, keeping the Doctor in perspective.

Now, think about how amazing this episode might have contributed to either of the past two series. At episode's start, during the Doctor's monologue, and repeatedly throughout, I was reminded of the promise of the Silence. In fact, the Doctor said the word at one point, as well as some "corner of the eye stuff," and I was taken back to a few years ago when the Silence were bubbling with potential, and not just mutant priests. An episode like this could have been for the Silence what Blink was for the angels, providing them with an opportunity to be menacing and effective and developed in a memorable way.

But where this episode really needed to live, exactly as is, was in the mist of Clara's introductory season. Forget all the crossed time-streams and whatever happened to her on Trenzalore. You want to establish a character as having a dramatic and recurring influence on the Doctor's life, you do this. Taking Clara back to the before the beginning, to when all heroes begin as weeping boys, and then tying that into the War Doctor's story was a masterful cupping of occurrences that felt neither forced nor ham-fisted or ill-suited or crass. It all worked so well, and played out so beautifully. You felt Clara's hand helping to guide the Doctor, past and present. This was what was needed to sell all that Impossible Girl nonsense last year. This kept that notion simply, and executed it with patience and subtly. The opposite of all that blather last year. This episode undid a lot of the ill-will I felt for that storyline, because now I know how things could have been, and now are, and that gives me a quantum of solace, to borrow a perfectly good phrase.

Second reference to Clara's ultimate demise, though.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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