Episodes like this are why I watch Doctor Who. Episodes like this are why I watch television. This was vintage Moffat in the style of “Blink” and “Silence In The Library”, and he hasn’t done one of these in awhile. Psychologically taut, atmospheric, so fun, and so very clever.
Moffat is incredibly good at writing monsters and antagonists that one either can’t lay eyes on directly or are more dangerous when one isn’t looking. This allows him to focus on the fear and psychology of the characters and not spend so much time explaining the nature or pathology of a particular creature. Like both Daleks and Cybermen, Moffat’s monsters tend to have no moving or expressive facial features (Weeping Angels, clockwork droids, gas mask children, The Silence) if indeed you can see them at all (Vashta Nerada). So, more often than not fear of the creatures resides in one’s imagining of the threat the creature poses. It also provides a sort of blank slate for which to project the characters’ state of mind. In the case of “Listen,” the monster is fear itself, not even fear personified. The Doctor seems to have created a monster, subconsciously or not, precisely in order to personify his own fear. Much of this episode seems to treat fear as an organism all its own, existing apart from and living outside of one’s subjective mind.
Crucial to the effectiveness of “Listen” was the innovative use of sound. Here they utilized the medium of sound in a way not often seen or heard on television. The moment where they dropped the room-tone in the sequence at the end of the universe where The Doctor was describing the nothingness about them was particularly effective.
The unusual, almost Sherlockian structure of the episode contributed a lot to how much fun this episode was. It’s a similar structure used in the previous “Danny episode,” “Into The Dalek,” which does a lot to highlight some of Danny’s personality traits such as his nervousness and self-consciousness, particularly in relation to his past. It does the same for Clara, showing how she’s affected by Danny in a way we haven’t seen before.
Jenna Coleman put in work this week. I really liked this as a Clara episode. She was proactive, central to the story, and at her most clever; everything you could want from a Companion. I have no objection to Doctor-heavy or Companion-heavy episodes or vice versa, but this episode really exhibited the perfect balance between Doctor and Companion.
So far I really like the Clara-Danny relationship. Not only am I always happy to see more interracial relationships on television, it’s also a bit refreshing to see a genuinely adult romance on the conspicuously asexual Doctor Who. Lets see if they return to form and marry the two by the end of the season for good measure. Seriously though, while I was watching to date scenes I felt like I was in another realm of the show. As much as I loved Amy and Rory, the childhood sweetheart thing sort of precluded them from having any kind of onscreen courtship. The relationship grew on screen, but not from scratch. It was always about the maintenance of an established and in some ways seemingly inevitable relationship, not the forging of a new one.
Peter Capaldi has come into his part seamlessly, just as Tennant and Smith did. It feels like he’s been playing The Doctor for years now. He’s such a good actor, incredibly well-suited for the role, and so much fun to watch. Capaldi’s got a great face-there’s always something going on there and he can communicate a lot without seeming to do much. He uses his voice to similar effect. His normal register is compelling and makes you want to listen closely, but his fluctuations call just the right amount of attention to themselves and add so much to scenes. He did a similar thing with Malcolm Tucker but in a completely different way on a completely different show. And at the end of the day he’s funny-just really funny.
I thought “Listen” was an inspired bit of science fiction television and a brilliant writing job from one of the best writers in television today. It’s a classic Who installment that both stands well on its own and advances the overall narrative of the season and the series. This was probably the strongest episode since “The Doctor’s Wife.” It was a joy to watch from start to finish and I can’t wait to watch it again.