Review by Paul Bowler
Clara continues to balance her everyday life as a teacher with her time travelling adventures with the Doctor in the TARDIS. Now, with Clara off on her first date with former soldier-turned-teacher, Danny Pink, the Doctor is left wandering inside the TARDIS alone, lost deep in through as he travels through space and time. So, what is it that really scares the Last of the Time Lords, and what terrors are lurking under the bed? Ghosts from the past and the future begin to spill into the Doctor’s and Clara’s lives: the petrified Caretaker in a children’s home, the last man in the known universe afraid of a door that must never be opened, and the lonely child that doesn’t ever want to join the army. The Doctor and Clara must embark on their most frightening adventure yet, one that will take them to the darkest edge of the universe itself and beyond…
Listen takes this fourth episode of series eight well and truly back into the realm of darkness, in this chilling tale written by show runner Steven Moffat, and Directed by Douglas Mackinnon, whose previous directing credits on Doctor Who include The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (2008), The Power of Three (2012) and Cold War (2013). Steven Moffat has brought us some of the new series most fearsome creations: the gasmask children from The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005), the terrifying Weeping Angels debuted in Blink (2007), the shadowy Vashta Nerada lurked in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead (2008), and the Silence warped perceptions to invade stealthily in The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (2011). Now he’s gone one step further, addressing possibly the most primal fear of all, the inimitable, creeping horror of what might really be there when we think we are alone, that unthinkable something that’s always secretly present, waiting to reach out and grab us from the shadows under the bed.
We join the Doctor as he ponders to himself in the TARDIS: “Why do we talk out loud, when we know we’re alone?” Peter Capaldi’s grave tone here as the Doctor speculates about the possibility of evolution spawning a creature that is always secretly with us but somehow remains unseen, instantly captivates the imagination and draws you into this episode. Here we see the Doctor alone with his own musings while Clara is away on her date night, but what does this more volatile incarnation do when he has no great menace or alien invasion to fight, alone and with only dark his thoughts for company, what is it that really frightens the Doctor?
Clara finally gets to go out on her date with Danny in this episode. However, when the conversation moves to Danny’s time in the army, they inadvertently wind up offending each other, and when Clara returns home she’s soon off on her adventures with the Doctor in the TARDIS again. Although she’s initially sceptical about the Doctor’s theory that every living being has a silent companion, and that we’ve all shared the same nightmare, where we’ve woken up and thought there was something nasty under the bed, Clara eventually agrees to help. The Doctor gets Clara to use the TARDIS telepathic interface so that the time machine can extrapolate her time line and lock onto the same nightmare from her own childhood, but Clara’s thoughts drift back to Danny momentarily when her phone suddenly rings, causing the TARDIS to arrive instead outside a children’s home in Gloucester in the mid-90’s. The Doctor sets off to investigate alone, encountering a frightened Caretaker, Reg (Robert Goodman) along the way in a scene that also features the return of the psychic paper that was often used by the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors, while Clara goes to visit the young boy, Rupert Pink (Remi Goodin), who has just waved at her from his bedroom window.
Jenna Coleman continues to make Clara a hugely resourceful, intelligent, and really interesting character, especially now she’s teamed with Capaldi’s new Doctor, and her role in Listen become even more vital than either of them could’ve expected. When Clara meets Rupert Pink, the boy is frightened there’s something hiding under the bed, and she realises Rupert is really the young Danny Pink (he changed his name when he was older because he didn’t like it), they both hide under the bed in order to convince him there’s nothing there, but it soon becomes apparent they are not alone when an unseen entity rises from the bedspread. These scenes, where the Doctor arrives and gets them all to stand by the window and turn their back on the horror that must never be seen, is brilliantly directed by Douglas Mackinnon, the tension here is almost palpable. I think it’s ingenious how the Doctor handles this fearsome encounter, and the scene afterwards, where Clara places the toy soldiers under Rupert’s bed to guard it and he names the Colonel “Dan”, is another magical moment, one that inexorably links Clara’s time line with Danny Pink in the most sublime way imaginable.
In an attempt to right things with Danny, Clara gets the Doctor to return her to the restaurant moments after she stormed out, but just as her date goes pear shaped again for the second time in one night, a space suited figure walks in and beckons at her to return to the TARDIS. Believing it’s the Doctor (having seen his previous incarnation wear a similar space suit in the 2013 story Hide), Clara confronts the figure in the TARDIS, but this is not the Doctor, it’s a time travelling pioneer from one hundred years Clara’s future, Colonel Orson, the pilot of the first human time shot – who also happen to bear a striking resemblance to Danny Pink. The Doctor takes Clara and Orson back to the planet where the Time Lord found Orson stranded in his capsule, a world at the very end of time itself, where even though nobody even exists anymore Colonel Orson Pink always keeps the door locked to keep out the horrors that bang relentlessly on the hull at night.
Samuel Anderson returns as Danny Pink in Listen, and the character has a lot more to do this time around. Although Danny remains a good source of humour, especially during his date with Clara, it’s good to see the character featuring in some of the episodes dramatic moments as well. Danny is inevitably drawn into the Doctor’s and Clara’s adventures in this story- albeit unwittingly because of the TARDIS homing in on various elements from of his own time line. Indeed, the former soldier is clearly smitten with Clara, something that’s sure to impact on Clara’s friendship with the Doctor, especially considering the Time Lord’s moral stance where it comes to soldiers travelling in the TARDIS are concerned. Listen is a great episode for Danny Pink: we learn more about Danny’s time as a soldier, travel back in time to meet Rupert Pink in the children’s home, and learn about the voyage of future descendant Colonel Orson Pink (also played by Anderson) who unavoidably becomes entwined with the Doctor’s quest to unravel a mystery at the very end of the universe.
The Doctor orders Clara and Orson into the TARDIS as he prepares to open the door and face what ever is outside. Orson presents Clara with a very special family heirloom before he rescues the Doctor and brings him back inside the TARDIS. With the Doctor incapacitated and the Cloister Bell tolling as the sinister forces outside try to get in, Clara uses the telepathic circuitry to fly the TARDIS to safety. Clara steps out of the TARDIS and finds they have materialised in a barn where a child is crying in a bed underneath the covers, the child is the young Doctor, and when Clara has to suddenly hide under the bed to avoid being seen she accidentally sets in motion a chain of events that will change the Doctor’s destiny forever.
Steven Moffat has excelled himself with this episode, and the way these final scenes link into the 50th Anniversary special are simply stunning. From the moment we see a brief glimpse of the War Doctor (John Hurt) from The Day of the Doctor (2013), it becomes apparent that this barn from the Doctor’s childhood is also the same place he would one day revisit on the Last Day of the Time War to activate The Moment. The scene here as Clara sets the Doctor on his path in life, with its moving dialogue resonating beautifully with the origins of the series itself in the very first Doctor Who serial An Unearthly Child (1963), and the gift of a toy solider so brave it doesn’t need a gun to save the world is utterly brilliant and extremely moving.
Peter Capali and Jenna Coleman both give terrific performances in this episode. The dynamic between Cara and this darker, more unpredictable incarnation of the Doctor bring an added edge to their friendship. Clara isn’t afraid to stand up to him though, and the Doctor even threatens that she will never travel in the TARDIS with him again when she refuses to follow his orders at one point. He’s not someone that’s used to being told what to do, certainly not by his companion, so it is perhaps fitting then when this incarnation of the Time Lord that adamantly doesn’t do hugging, finally receives a well deserved hug from Clara at the stories resolution.
Listen is a brilliantly crafted tale from Steven Moffat, one that draws its influences from a similar dark vein as Blink, playing to our most primal fears and anxieties – and there are some really exciting and fast-paced action sequences as well. It also cleverly explores the Doctor’s character in a very different way, while also delivering a very poignant message that actually turns out to be quite poetic. Peter Capaldi is magnificent in this episode, he brings so much to the role, and his 12th incarnation of the Doctor is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Dark, sinister, and with an exquisite timey wimey twist, the stories unsettling premise blends seamlessly with the striking visuals created by Director Douglas Mackinnon to make Listen a truly memorable episode. A blanket on a bed suddenly becomes the most terrifying monster of all, the TARDIS interior seems hauntingly cavernous, and the unseen terror knocking on the capsules door are just some of the many highlights amidst the plethora of creepy moments in Listen that are sure to have you checking under the bed tonight.
Don’t look round… Listen!!