“Listen” is one of the best episodes Doctor Who has given viewers in a while. Deliciously creepy, it manages to once again introduce us to a lurking type of monster we cannot quite identify but somehow feel is there. Anyone who thinks the Silence are scary will be equally as chilled by “Listen;” this is definitely not an episode to watch with the lights off.
I was not entirely convinced of this merit at the start of the episode, however. Having the Doctor sit on top of the TARDIS and suddenly whisper, “LISTEN!” is certainly dramatic, but the moment has literally no context. The following scenes fare only slightly better. It is unquestionably delightful to see the Doctor walking about, muttering to himself, and positing wild theories. However, his theory about creatures who live only to hide also has no context, no catalyst that the viewers see. Later in the episode he mentions having noticed in a number of historical sources that a lot of people seem to have the same dream: one where they wake up, get out of bed, and have a hand grab their foot from beneath the bed. It would have been nice to hear about this research much earlier, or to have the episode open with the Doctor having that dream himself, then doing the research—then coming up with his theory.
After this exposition, however, “Listen” progresses beautifully. The Doctor’s hunt for the elusive beings he thinks are always with us, unseen, is wild and frightening—not least because the Doctor is right in that many of us do have that dream, or that sense of being watched, or that feeling of hair standing on the back of our necks when no one is there. Even more terrifying: the viewers get no closure: no sense of, “Oh, now we know what those creatures are, so now we can deal with them.” The thing on Rupert’s bed may have been a friend playing a trick, but we can never tell ourselves that for sure.
Yet “Listen” is not all chills. There is also some fantastic time jumping, which always helps to bring some fun and whimsy to the series. I love it when characters get to go back in their own timelines to fix a few small mistakes. I also love when the Doctor inadvertently looks about in their future. “Listen” gives some delicious hints about where Clara’s life may lead her, although, again, viewers cannot be entirely certain. Does Orson Pink have that toy soldier because Clara gave it to the young Rupert Pink…or because Clara will marry Danny Pink? [Although the fact that Clara goes back and gives the young Doctor the toy, before Rupert can own it, may complicate things. Or we may be meant to ignore such timeline inconsistencies.] Further episodes may be more revealing, especially as Danny’s been given enough airtime it seems reasonable to assume he will end up in the TARDIS himself.
Finally, Peter Capaldi has really found his stride as the Doctor now. It is possible I am more sympathetic because the Doctor is never outright mean in “Listen,” unlike the previous episodes where he seemed uncharacteristically callous and unconcerned whether humans lived or died. The Doctor certainly has some insults left to throw here, but that all comes back to a bit of obliviousness and lack of tact that is entirely in keeping with the Doctor’s persona (insulting Clara’s makeup, for instance).
“Listen,” in my opinion, is the best episode so far this series. It brings back just about everything Doctor Who does best—monsters, time travel, questions about what it means to be human—and does not muck them up by relying too heavily on referencing past episodes or by trying too hard to be philosophical. “Listen” is a truly forward-moving episode for series 8, and I am optimistic about where the rest will bring us.