It’s episodes like this that bring the phrase ‘timey-wimey’ to mind. Yet for all the tongue-in-cheek time-travel tricks pulled in this week’s episode, at the core was a pretty strong story, with few weaknesses.
Listen was a Doctor Who episode of the like we’ve seen before – taking a basic, unsettling concept and twisting it into something more sci-fi and supernatural. So where Blink dealt with things moving when you, well, blink, and last year’s Hide concerned ‘haunted houses’, Listen was about that age-old idea of something hiding under the bed. The episode took the concept, and well and truly ran with it, taking in the near-past, the end of the universe (a different one to Utopia and other episodes it would seem) and the Doctor’s childhood as it did.
The story was perhaps the best and worst thing about the episode. It certainly maintained the creepy vibe it was going for, with some great writing to build tension literally out of nothing, playing on the audience’s apprehensions. It also did well to bring the emotional context through the Pinks across time, with Danny Pink clearly being built to be an important character. Hopefully this isn’t simply to provide a love interest subplot for Clara now that the Doctor is ‘off-limits’, and it actually leads to a more significant and central plot development, akin to how Clara herself was ‘foreshadowed’ in her mysterious reappearances across time.
However, the episode ended tying itself in a knot somewhat. We saw Clara become the ‘something hiding under the bed’ as the young Doctor got up, thus planting the seed in his brain. Yet if this is supposed to provide a psychological explanation to the episode’s phenomenon of never being alone, it left the actual mystery completely unanswered. Because, leaving aside the scenes at the base on the last planet, where the Doctor appeared to encounter ‘something’, there was definitely something behind young Danny. The weird sphere pulls off the blanket, and there is certainly a physical creature there, grey and small, something not explained by the end.
Listen was Moffatt 101 – an entertaining story built upon a fair few inexplicable elements. The main reason that this week’s episode worked at all though, was down to Peter Capaldi. Once again, his Doctor was outstanding, a manic presence, but it was more down to Capaldi’s sheer ability to make something out of every line he’s given. He was able to create such menace out of his dialogue about ‘never being alone’ – something that was not so much him completely in character, but more Capaldi just showing himself to be a very competent actor at getting the most out of his material, in much the same way he often showed on The Thick of It.
Listen was a good episode rather than a great one, though it certainly maintained the high standard of this series so far.