Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 4: Listen

This week we learn that the Doctor really needs to find a hobby to keep his mind from wandering, as writer Steven Moffat desperately tries– and fails– to come up with another monster as cool as the Weeping Angels.

Some people are going to love Listen, while others are going to hate it. Me, I'm kind of on the fence. It had a couple of very effective and scary moments– particularly the thing sitting under young Danny's bed covers– but by the end it became much ado about nothing, as we're informed the "monster" probably doesn't exist after all.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
The Doctor becomes convinced that the reason we all talk to ourselves when we're alone is because we're not alone. He posits that there's some sort of perfectly camouflaged... thing that follows each of us around our entire lives, and lives under our beds and grabs our ankles when we least expect it. No, really, that's the premise.

Meanwhile Clara goes on a disastrous date with Danny Pink. She and the Doctor then visit Danny (courtesy of the TARDIS) when he's a small boy being threatened by one of the unseen things under the bed. The Doctor gives him a pep talk about fear and courage. 

Clara then visits the Doctor when he's a young boy and gives him a pep talk about fear and courage, turning the whole episode into a closed time loop.

Oh, and the things living under everyone's bed? They're not real. Or maybe they are. It's all frustratingly vague.

Thoughts:
• Moffat loves mining childhood fears for monsters he can use on the show. The Weeping Angels, the Vashta Nerada, the Silence-- they're all based on irrational fears we all had as a child. Fear of the dark, seeing things out of the corner of your eye, that sort of thing.

He tries his best to create another iconic childhood monster here. Unfortunately these monsters are much too vague to be interesting. And despite their vagueness they're still somehow too similar to his other creations-- especially the Silence.

• Moffat also loves making up off-kilter nursery rhyme prophesies about his monsters, which he does yet again here.

• The Doctor's theory that we all have a constant invisible companion throughout our lives is based on the fact that everyone has the same dream– that of a hand grabbing us from underneath the bed.

Sorry to disappoint the Doctor, but I've never in my life had that dream. Sure, I used to think there were monsters in my room, but I was awake then, not dreaming, and they never grabbed me as I dangled my legs over the bed. The Doctor's proceeding from a flawed assumption.

• The Doctor and Clara visit the orphanage where young Danny Pink lives. Once again we see the Doctor barge into a facility and everyone completely accepts his presence, without an ounce of suspicion. Yes, he shows his psychic paper to the head of the orphanage, but it's 2 am! Even with the proper credentials, don't you think the administrator might want to make a few calls to confirm the Doctor's story?

Similarly, young Danny Pink thinks nothing of the fact that Clara, a complete and total stranger, has waltzed right into his room in the middle of the night and crawled under his bed.

This phenomenon has happened hundreds of times in the series over the decades. People willingly accept the Doctor's presence without question even in situations in which he couldn't possibly appear. 

Sometimes I wonder if this is a function of the TARDIS. We know it automatically translates any and all languages for the Doctor, as well as those he encounters. Maybe it's also projecting some sort of "acceptance field" around him, to help him integrate into any situation.

Um... was the Doctor wearing a sequined top in this episode? In some scenes the white dots on his black shirt looked printed on, in others they looked sewn on. In a couple scenes they even looked like they could have been tiny holes in his shirt, like he was charging his car battery and it exploded all over him.

Whatever was going on with his shirt, he needs to toss it in the trash and never wear it again. Ever.

Once again I'm impressed by the evolution and growth of Clara 2.0. It's almost like she's becoming the Doctor and he's her companion. Nowhere was that more evident than in this episode.

It's an interesting take on the characters' relationship, but it's also a dangerous one. I'm afraid that when Jenna Coleman leaves the show, as she eventually will, we'll be left with an underdeveloped Doctor who's been playing second fiddle to his companion.

• One annoying thing I've noticed about the modern era of the show– each of the Doctor's companions has somehow been The Most Important Person In The Universe. Rose Tyler traveled through dimensions to rescue the Doctor. Donna Noble saved our entire universe. Amy Pond rebooted all of reality.

Clara Oswald tops all those. Not only is she The Impossible Girl– who saved the life of every incarnation of the Doctor, and even made sure he stole just the right TARDIS– now we find out she's the one who inspired him to become a Time Lord in the first place.

Sometimes I miss the days when the companions were just ordinary people along for the ride.

The Doctor insults Clara's looks again this week, commenting about her lack of makeup even though she's wearing some.

I'm assuming they're doing this in an attempt to show that this incarnation of the Doctor is more alien and doesn't understand petty human concerns and customs, but... it's just coming off as mean.

• Clara asks the Doctor if it's bad if she meets her younger self. He says, "It is potentially catastrophic." Except of course for all the times the Doctor's met himself over the years.

• The Doctor says, "Have you seen the size of human brains? They're hilarious!" 

It's a funny line, but it doesn't quite add up. The Doctor may be an alien, but his head's the same size as a human's. So it would follow that his brain is the same size as ours as well. Kind of makes his insult lose its impact.

Unless Time Lords' brains are like the TARDIS and are also bigger on the inside?

• Inside young Danny's room, the Doctor leafs through a book and says he can't find Wally. 

He's talking of course about Where's Waldo? British illustrator Martin Handford published Where's Wally? in 1987. When the book was imported to the U.S., editors said the name "Wally" wouldn't resonate with American audiences and demanded he change the character's name to "Waldo."

• As I said earlier, the scenes in young Danny's bedroom with the thing sitting on the bed were very well done. Definitely one of the scariest moments of the series, and they didn't even have to spring for complicated prosthetic makeup-- just a blanket.

That said, it would have been nice if we got even a hint as to whether the thing was real or not. I get that when it comes to horror, less is more, but this was a little too less.

• During Clara's do-over of her date with Danny, a spacesuit-clad figure walks into the restaurant and beckons to her. Amazingly, not one single patron seems to notice.

Did the Doctor use his perception filter, or some other piece of Time Lord technology, to hide the astronaut from the other diners? Or is the food just that good and they couldn't be bothered to look up?

• A while back I wondered about how things work on the Doctor's home planet. All Time Lords are from Gallifrey. But are all Gallifreyans Time Lords? Is Time Lord a profession, or the name of their race? 

Looks like my question was answered in this episode. "Time Lord" is definitely what the Doctor writes under "profession" on his tax form.

• This episode strongly implies that Clara and Danny are going to marry. Or at least become a couple. Either way, it looks like they're going to produce offspring. Or does it? 

It could all be a big ruse on Moffat's part. As we all know by now, he loves to lie. On the other hand, rumors are swirling that Jenna Coleman will be leaving the show at some point this season. I could definitely see her riding off into the sunset with Danny Pink.

Next week: The Doctor and Clara rob the most secure bank in the universe.

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