Doctor Who Review: “Listen”


Spoilers, sweetie.

“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.

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: “Listen”

  1. Kelly Orazi says:

    Loved, LOVED this episode as well. I too, feel as though it was a bit split in half: the beginning scenes and conversations don’t have too much context, which is fine, but they don’t seem to have much to do with the episode’s final (very well done) conclusion. Mainly, what or who was the person beneath the blanket on young Rupert (Danny) Pink’s bed? It seems a bit of a weak argument to say that was just another kid playing a joke. The conversation about it “not wanting to be seen” and the promise not to look at it was just so strong for it to be nothing. Or if it really was nothing, then I think the episode would have been stronger without that bit. What do you think?


    • Briana says:

      I think you’re right in that we were really getting two different messages from the episode. In the scene with Rupert, I was very convinced we were looking at a “creature” and not a kid. First, as you mention, it was too intense. Also, I don’t think a kid could hold up the joke that long, particularly if two adults were taking it so seriously. And then there was a sort of a flash and a speeding-up that implied whatever was under the blanket wasn’t human. I could have dealt with just “not knowing” and wondering, trying to convince myself it was a kid playing a prank because that’s less scary.

      But then the end of episode really played against that whole scene, with Clara insisting the Doctor is just afraid of the dark–and it did feel as if we’re supposed to agree with her, not as if that’s just her interpretation and she might be wrong. I agree that makes the intensity of the Rupert scene just odd, and there should have been stronger hints it was a kid.


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