Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x4)

Well. This episode happened. At the writing of this blog, I've seen this episode twice and I still can't quite decide if it was brilliant or more of Moffat's ego on a rampage. "Listen," is definitely derivative of not only Moffat's greatest hits but of his predecessor's. There is the timey wimey of "Blink;" there are monsters under the bed like "The Girl in the Fireplace;" a creepy orphange like "Day of the Moon;" monsters in the dark from "Hide;" and all of this serves as a prequel of sorts to the 50th anniversary episode, "Day of the Doctor." And, of course, this episode is an entire riff on "Midnight" from season four when Russell T. Davies was still show runner. Now, I loved Midnight. It is hands down one of the creepiest, eeriest, most mesmerizing and most haunting episodes of the regenerated series. So when Moffat takes the monster from that episode--and make no mistake, this was the Midnight monster--and also take the central theme of that episode--fear of the dark and the unknown--and tries to do another take on it, I tend to react negatively because Moffat should be crafting his own stories. And yet. And yet...this episode does have a lot to recommend it. The production crew worked overtime on this episode; the music, the light, the little details in the sets were all wonderfully crafted. I had a deeper appreciation for the over all episode the second time around, but I must admit, the first 30 minutes or so drag and plod, though I think that might be the point. Like a nightmare, where the first little bit feels familiar and a bit random while you fall into a deeper sleep. And then, that's when the true horror begins. 

The episode is a series of postulates and conjectures. The Doctor has obviously been traveling alone for a long time. He shouldn't do that; it's bad for him. Living in the dark (seriously, how dark is the TARDIS this episode?), contemplating how alone he is, the Doctor begins to wonder: why do we talk out loud when we know we're alone? Maybe it's because we never are. From here, the Doctor wonders if there is a creature that evolution has given a perfect hiding ability. Is the Doctor depressed? I've been wondering this lately and his musings on the ability to hide in plain sight brought up this query again. This version of the Doctor is darker and refuses to acknowledge that he's a hero, but is this having a negative impact on his psyche overall? I had thought that he was more comfortable in his skin, that he's finally stopped regretting and stopped forgetting and realizes, for the first time in awhile, he's very gray and old and tired. Whether or not The Doctor is depressed, I'll have to keep an eye on, but the Doctor begins talking to this mysterious hiding creature. What would you do if you knew there was a creature with perfect hiding skills? Listen. The Doctor also begins to wonder if everyone in history has the exact same dream at some point in their lives: they hear something in their house, get up to inspect, and a hand grabs them from under the bed. And now the Doctor is curious. Is there something there? It's hard to say. By the end of episode, Clara makes her own hypothesis: there was never anything there. It's just that the Big Bad Time Lord is afraid of the dark. Because of Midnight, I do think there is a fear monster that lurks in the dark but it doesn't matter for this episode. The Doctor is afraid of the dark like so many scared boys.

The Doctor's fear of the dark makes him scary. He's almost quietly manic in this episode. Capaldi, as always, is totally on key. He stretches his grin too far; his voice is low pitched. Even his new duds, with the star spangled shirt, reflect that he is of the night. In other words, he is part of the nightmare. He is the horror in the dark and under your bed. Even when he's expounding the virtues of fear and how it's okay to be scared, he's almost like an intense drill sergeant telling you to "buck up!" Through it all, is Clara. She's the driving force of the episode. Whereas the Doctor keeps saying that we should be scared because there are things in the dark, Clara is making us see the light. She's calm and collected and trying to help instead of giving in totally to the fear. This is a nice change for her. One of the biggest criticisms of the Moffat era is that he doesn't know how to write strong females. These women in his show are always dependent on the Doctor for development and can't do anything without the Time Lord. Rose became a god; Martha crossed the world; Donna saved the universe. Even though Clara is the so-called Impossible Girl, it's all about the Doctor. But in "Listen," Clara gets to be the Doctor's hero in a very weird and unique way.

Speaking of Clara, quite a bit of this episode is devoted to her new relationship with Danny Pink. Their first date is quite rubbish until Clara travels back in time and meets the young Rupert Pink (who later changes him name to Dan). Now this was straight up Moffat. He often likes to play with predestination and in this case Clara is responsible for Danny's name and his career as a soldier and in that way, Clara solidifies her own history as Danny's girlfriend. The Young Rupert believes there is something under his bed; it's the dream the Doctor is investigating. There is a genuinely scary moment with a bed sheet rising from the bed and we are introduced to the idea that fear is a superpower. You can use fear; you can run faster with your fast beating heart and adrenaline. What is the blanket creature? I'm really not sure. It could be the Midnight Fear Monster or it could be a kid under a blanket. We'll never know, which adds to the overall dream like quality of the episode. Clara solves Young Rupert's fear by placing soldiers under his bed to guard him, and the special soldier is Dan the Soldier Man. Dan the Soldier Man is in charge and is so brave that he doesn't need a gun and he keeps the whole world safe. So there you go: Clara names Danny and gives him his path in life.

Because this is Steven Moffat, we need to jump around in time a bit (side note, but this obsession with time jumps is getting a bit old Moffat). And look! It's someone who looks exactly like Danny Pink. But his name is Orson Pink and he's Clara's future great-great grandson, or so we are lead to believe. Gee. I wonder how Clara will leave the show. Orson is lost at the end of the Universe and scared because even though everyone in the Universe is dead, there is something out there. Or there isn't. Everything that you hear and see has a rational and logical explanation OR there could be a giant fear monster just lurking out of the corner of you eye. The Orson bit drags on for a bit and I'm much more interested in what happens next because this is where I am both impressed and maybe frustrated. Welcome to Gallifrey.

I have no idea how this is possible. Gallifrey is supposed to be in hiding or vanished or time locked or something. Now, granted, we don't know this is Gallifrey until the big moment but it still doesn't explain how the TARDIS got to Gallifrey. The time machine lands in a barn, a very run down barn, and in this very run down barn is a bed with a crying boy. Clara, scared of being found, hides under the bed. The boy's parents...guardians...something come in and remind the boy that if he wants to come inside, he's allowed. You see, the boy is afraid of the dark, but he also doesn't want the other boys to see that he's afraid. Does this sound familiar? Cause if it doesn't, behold the big shock moment: "he'll never make a Time Lord." Hello Little Boy who became the Doctor. I don't know exactly how I feel about this because once again Clara is the Impossible Girl who pushes the Doctor in the right direction. She soothes his fears and tells him to Listen. As she lulls him to sleep, Clara tells the little Doctor that "this is just a dream...fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly... fear can make you kind and fear is like a companion...fear makes companions of us all." A lot of this should sound familiar and that's when it hits you, as the episode flashes back to a year go...the barn is the same barn the War Doctor (8.5) sat in while he waited to push the button and bring the moment that would end his people and his world. The Impossible Girl once again guides the destiny of the Doctor. Clara, of course, leaves behind a memento for the man who would be the Doctor: Dan the Soldier Man, who doesn't need a gun to save the world.

Miscellaneous Notes on Listen

--"Fear makes companions of us all" is a line from the first ever Doctor Who episode in 1963.

--Once again, some good quotes from this episode: "You said you had a date. Thought I'd hide in your bedroom in case you brought him home."
"Isn't it bad if I meet myself?" "It's potentially catastrophic"
"Do you have your own mood lighting because frankly the accent is enough"

--This is twice now that they've hinted at Clara's death. But they've also hinted that she'll marry Danny Pink and have a family. So...which is it?

--Clara looked very pretty this episode.

--Danny seems like a decent enough guy, but honestly outside of his own personal trauma and obvious romantic set up for Clara, I don't particularly find him interesting.

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