If the younger viewers of Doctor Who weren’t already having nightmares, they certainly are now. Welcome to Listen, surely one of the scariest episodes of the series since, I’m tempted to say The Empty Child or Blink, but perhaps, ever?
The episode begins as we join The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) delivering an altogether excellent speech ruminating on how, theoretically, evolutionarily speaking, if animals have developed to hunt, and to defend themselves, at least one or two species throughout all of time and space must have developed the ability to hide. Perhaps we’re sharing the room with one of these hiding creatures right now? Perhaps they’re who we find ourselves talking to when there’s nobody around? Perhaps we’re never really alone?
With that realisation, The Doctor sets off to find trusty companion Clara (Jenna Coleman), returning from version one of a disastrous date with ex-soldier colleague Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). “I need you. For a thing”. They head off to account for every living thing’s ‘silent companion’, that familiar nightmare of the monster under the bed. The Doctor asks Clara to hook herself up to the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits, so that they can go back to her childhood and identify the first instance of the dream. Still thinking about the date, however, she is distracted, and the pair end up at a distinctly creepy looking children’s home, with a familiar looking child who is at this very moment plagued by the very nightmare they’re investigating…
This is precisely the kind of monster Moffat really excels at writing. We’ve seen it a few times now –the monster in the corner of your eye, just out of sight; the things that scare all of us. Here, though, we’re delivered an interesting new idea, as there is question as to whether the monsters actually exist at all. The Doctor and Clara travel to the end of time seeking it, in between further attempts at her date with Danny, but every instance of the creature they found had a plausible alternative. ‘Did we just save a child from another child in a bedspread’? Interesting, and hopefully one to be re-visited.
Not so much a new theme here but a continuing one, was the sense of The Doctor as somehow vulnerable. Here we meet a young version of him, comforted by Clara in the very barn we see the War Doctor visit in The Day of the Doctor. Genius-like link though this was for the overall story arc, it can’t help but conjure up another example of a day, literally, when The Doctor was distinctly un-Doctor like, reminding us that, at the moment at least, he still isn’t quite ‘himself’. Still warming up, there has been a distinct absence of mad brilliance from Capaldi’s Doctor as yet. It’s leaving a wonderful space for the feisty, clever Clara to grow into, flying the TARDIS, telling The Doctor do what he’s told and so on, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find Capaldi’s wittier dialogue laugh out loud hilarious, but we can’t help but miss the wild intelligence, the ‘always-rightness’ of The Doctor.
It was a cleverly constructed episode, with the burgeoning relationship between Clara and Danny providing a neat everyday contrast to the trip to the end of the universe and the scary are they/aren’t they monsters. There were perhaps, as is often the case, a few too many strands for the episode to keep hold of, but the ongoing themes of soldiers and war just about kept it all together.
I couldn’t help but feel some initial concerns with the more family-led aspects, particularly given the (in my view, ill-advised) Amy Pond baby direction of recent series, but hopefully this won’t take over too much and we can all get back to some good old fashioned time travelling and mystery solving.
Speaking of which, where was Missy?
Hopefully she’ll return in next week’s episode, Time Heist, which Becky will be reviewing for your delectation.
You can check out Becky’s thoughts on Robot of Sherwood here.
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