Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 4: “Listen” Review

by William Hohmeister

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.

DannyPinkClara (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 Listenboardperfect 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 listenbedto 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 Listenhandadult, 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.

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood” Review

by William Hohmeister

Confession: I missed the last 30 seconds or so of “Into the Dalek”, so I didn’t hear Clara say that she didn’t have a rule against soldiers. This lightened my attitude toward her a bit, and made the ending more tolerable, since she clearly feels something about leaving Journey Blue behind.

Robot of Sherwood” is surprisingly good. I expected to dislike it; the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) meet Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) and robots. I don’t like the Robin Hood legend, and robots appear as villains too often in Doctor Who. But this is my favorite episode of series 8 Doctor Who so far. It does pretty much everything right, even the goofy ending.

Clara gets to pick the destination this time, and she insists on Robin Hood (Kevin Costner). The Doctor claims he isn’t real, but lands in 1190 Sherwood Forest. Robin greets the Doctor with an arrow and tries to mug him. The Doctor pulls out a dueling glove and a large spoon.

They duel on a log over a stream and the Doctor knocks Robin into the water with a fancy move. The episode is full of Robin Hood tropes, and the duel means you’re in with Robin’s gang. He takes Clara and the Doctor to his hideout, where Clara joins the ranks of Companions creating history by dubbing Robin’s group the “Merry Men.” She and Robin talk, while the Doctor takes hair, blood, and “other” samples from the Merry Men for testing. The Doctor is convinced Robin is not real, and remains so for most of the episode.

The Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller) and masked Knights kidnap peasants for labor and steal gold from the rest. When a peasant mouths off, the Sheriff kills him with a great pre-mortem one liner: “You’ll live to regret that… Actually, you won’t.” He also sets up the classic trap for Robin Hood (Sean Connery), an archery contest.robot-of-sherwood-doctor-bow

The best scenes in this episode are all silly. When Robin enters the contest, he wins by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow in two. Before he can claim the gold arrow as his prize, the Doctor splits that arrow. He and Robin one-up each other until the Doctor gets exasperated and blows up the target. The Sheriff arrests them, and the knights reveal themselves as robots. The Doctor is smug and glad, and surrenders quickly.

The rivalry between Robin and the Doctor deepens in the dungeon. Clara acts as the moderating voice, but even she gets fed up. A guard picks her as the leader, and takes her away. While she interrogates the Sheriff, Robin and the Doctor try to escape. They knock out the guard, but both try to grab the keys and accidentally kick them away. The Doctor says, “Well, there is a bright side here. Clara didn’t see that.”

Clara is at her best in the interrogation. She leads the Sheriff on without ever becoming as sleazy as he is, and gets his plans, his history, and his motivations. She pretends to have met the robots as well, and the eagerness with which the Sheriff believes her is pathetic. The Sheriff is my favorite villain so far because he is believable. He feels ill-used and lonely, but he’s also a total creep when he hits on Clara. He seems somewhat insane, as he rambles on about a vague plan to conquer England, then “the WORLD!” with the robots’ spaceship.

The Doctor and Robin stumble into that same ship, and the Doctor searches the computer. He finds references to Robin Hood (Tom Riley), and tries to tear him down as a fake. He loathes the idea that Robin might actually exist. The Sheriff finds them, but Robin escapes with Clara as the Doctor is captured again.

sherrifThe Doctor creates a riot with the kidnapped peasants, and nearly breaks out before the Sheriff appears. He claims the Sheriff and Robin are in on the plot together, but the Sheriff points out: “Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.” Seriously, the Sheriff is super-cool. He baffles the Doctor with common sense. The Doctor is forced to realize he’s wrong about Robin.

Robin and Clara reappear to save the Doctor. The ending has an odd misstep: the Doctor and Clara stand and watch while Robin duels the Sheriff. The episode is paced so well that this really stood out. Robin knocks the Sheriff into the vat of molten gold, but the ship takes off. Without more gold it won’t reach orbit, and the exploding engines will take out half of England!

The gold arrow is so, so goofy, but it fits the episode. I see it as a reaffirmation of heroes doing impossible things. Before leaving, the Doctor and Robin talk about heroes. The Doctor despises heroes and legends. Robin and the Merry Men are both. They fight impossible odds, laugh at death, and show up just in time. Robin says he’s not a hero, but by pretending he inspires others.

This shakes the Doctor up. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a real character arc, so this is especially welcome. Both Robin and the Doctor started off as similar characters, but with a drastic difference: Robin believes in heroes, the Doctor does not. Robin Hood is impossible to the Doctor. He knows from long experience that silly heroics don’t save the day.Robot_of_Sherwood_RobinHood

The gold arrow saves the day, though, against good sense and gravity. It shows that heroes are rewarded. The scene is ridiculous I think because believing in the Doctor and Robin Hood is ridiculous. The success of the arrow mirrors their own possible success as actual, big damn heroes.

Other things of interest: What is the Doctor writing on the blackboard as the episode begins? It looks similar to his scrawling in “Deep Breath.” And where was Missy? I expected her to pick up the Sheriff. We see his hands, covered in dripping gold, reaching out of the vat. I hope he comes back. Finally, why do only robots believe in the Promised Land?

images © BBC