In Doctor Who series 8, episode 4 , we learn the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is scared of the dark. “Listen” is a character episode that focuses on revealing more of the Doctor’s nature. It is less concerned with the plot, which is purposeful nonsense.
Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) get a bit of character development as well, though I do not understand it well. They go on a date, but take turns offending each other. First, Clara storms out, then uses time travel to try to fix the evening. Danny becomes suspicious when Clara calls him “Rupert”, and storms out. Neither “offense” seems terrible enough to leave, but at the end we see them make out. There’s a creepy reason for this I’ll reveal later.
The premise of the episode’s plot is flawed, which is the point of the episode. Steven Moffat wrote the episode, and he has a history of revealing the “cause” of basic fears; think of the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada. In “Listen,” Moffat subverts his own plot to show us something very interesting about the Doctor, but he builds the suspense in such a way as to make us believe in the premise.
The Doctor claims there are creatures with the skills of perfect hunting and perfect defense, and asks an empty TARDIS why there is no creature with perfect hiding. The Doctor’s premise is wrong; there are apex predators, but there is no perfect predator (not even that one: tell-tale shimmer). Assuming there is such a thing as perfect hiding is also wrong. However, when the Doctor puts down a piece of chalk, something picks it up and writes “listen” on his blackboard.
The Doctor picks up Clara after her date, and proposes a theory: at some point, every human has a dream in which the perfect hiders visit them. The dream is a hand from under the bed grabbing the dreamer’s leg. Clara asks if the Doctor has had this dream, but he turns the question back on her, and doesn’t answer.
Clara and the Doctor have a great moment when the Doctor turns control of the Tardis over to her. It means a lot to Clara, from the look on her face, but the Doctor does it with total trust. Clara tries to steer them to when she had the dream, but she’s distracted by thoughts of Danny. She takes them to the night when Danny had the dream.
The Doctor talks to the night watchman of Danny’s orphanage, while Clara talks to Danny. Here is the creeper part of the episode: Clara gets under Danny’s bed to show him there’s nothing there. Danny crawls under with her. He has never heard the term “stranger danger”. Someone sits on the bed. Clara and Danny crawl out from under, and see someone hiding beneath a blanket. This is almost certainly a metaphor for the unintentional erection Clara just gave young Danny, and also explains why he’s so into her as an adult (childhood formative experiences are powerful).
The Doctor breaks the tension, but brings it up again as he instructs everyone not to look at the creature until it disappears. This, to me, is where it became clear the “monsters” are not real. A perfect predator always kills, a perfect defense is impregnable, and a perfect hider does not randomly hang out on top of a bed, beneath a blanket but still in clear view.
Clara’s skepticism seemed odd to me, but at this point it seems like she is the adult, while the Doctor has succumbed to a childhood fear. This is the purpose of the rest of the episode. The Doctor risks his life to find out if the perfect hiders exist. Clara pilots the TARDIS to safety, but inadvertently plants the idea in the young Doctor’s head. She lands on Gallifrey, is forced to hide under the young Doctor’s bed, and grabs his ankle when he stands up. When she reenters the TARDIS , she points out the obvious: there is nothing in the dark but the fears the Doctor projects.
I really like this. It’s a twist on a typical story, and it reveals much about the Capaldi-Doctor. He is the oldest, most mature Doctor we’ve seen in the new series. He’s also afraid of the dark. The Doctor, despite all his glibness and bravado, has a child’s fear of the unknown. Every instance of the “creatures” is explained by something reasonable – rattling pipes, rushing air, the Doctor writing on his blackboard and forgetting it. It’s an anticlimax, but I dig it.
The episode ends with Danny and Clara together. Clara also meets Orson Pink, her (probable) great-grandson with Danny. I hope this is a setup. Danny and Clara are sweet and awkward, but I want something terrible to happen to that relationship and break up Clara’s (presumed) timeline. Orson Pink also hints that there is a family history of time travel, implying perhaps that Danny will travel through time. Or has he already?
What do you think of the monsters? Is there an obvious answer to their reality that I missed? Do you have a different theory? Let me know what you think in the comments below.