SPOILER ALERT: Don't read ahead if you haven't watched Doctor Who series 8, Episode 4: Listen
At last! Steven Moffat gives us a Doctor Who storyline that is deserving of only one eye-roll at most. All jokes aside, 'Listen' was the highlight of the season so far. So in an effort to give the episode it's due, I'm going to set aside the frustrations I've had with the show-runner and dig into the episode's strongest points.
'Listen' is a very clever deception, building on the history the show shares with it's audience. The episode's exquisitely duplicitous sound editing plays up the paranoia we've all felt when things go bump in the night. Through the better part of the hour, 'Listen' successfully convinces the viewers in existence of a terrifying monster from underneath the bed, while revealing a humanizing character trait of our Time Lord.
Over the last few years The Doctor has often been portrayed as an all powerful, godlike last of the Time Lords, who is devastatingly good at escaping death. He is in fact so good, that a part of him becomes convinced that he will be the last man standing at the end of the universe. This sentiment is briefly revealed as Clara and The Doctor arrive at the end of the universe to rescue Orson Pink, presumably Clara and Danny Pink's descendant and the first officially recognized human time-traveler. Clara quips about Doctor being jealous after his presumption that he not Orson would be the last man standing at the end of the universe.
That is The Doctor's true fear, being alone as all those he loves fade away around him. An exchange between 11th and Amy from 'The Power Of Three' comes to mind:
I'm not running away. But this is one corner in one country in one continent in one planet that's a corner of a galaxy that is a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And this is so much, SO MUCH, to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I'm not running away from things. I'm running to them before they flare and fade forever. That's all right. Our lives would never remain the same. They can't.
It appears the opinions on the episode's resolution are split. Some feeling that the lack of an actual monster was disappointing but others, myself included, finding this episode breathing much needed sincerity into The Doctor's story arc. To Moffat's credit, one of the reasons the "Invisible Monster" works so well, is due to his record with the show. He created the Weeping Angels who can only harm, while you're not looking and the Silence, who make you forget the moment you look away. An "Invisible Monster" from underneath the bed that you're not supposed to look at is totally believable for an audience familiar with Moffat's monsters. This is why the big reveal that the monster, The Doctor's constant companion is not a creature from a distant land, but fear, a product of his own psyche, is so brilliant.
While we have been with The Doctor for 50 years, we know very little about his formative years. 'Listen' takes us to the Doctor's childhood and shows us the side the of Time Lord that has not yet been marked with loss and destruction. We see him as a little boy who is so afraid, it's not hard to understand why he has been running for so many years.
In a classically Moffat loop, the young Doctor is taught how to handle fear, by none other than his second most constant companion Clara Oswald. Clara, who scrambled through The Doctor's timeline, saving him yet again from becoming a "cruel or cowardly" man, making him into the kind alien who is so fond of humanity.
Jenna Coleman has become my sole draw to the show. While Clara is meant to be a surrogate for the audience, she has really shined as a character thanks to Coleman. Her presence has the same roots in emotion and sentimentality that were the highlight of Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor. One of the reasons Smith was amongst my favorites was due to his ability to immediately connect with children. At its core, 'Doctor who' is a show that is supposed to be targeted at children. Coleman is the one who is retaining that connection, especially as she takes on surrogate maternal roles in guiding both young Danny Pink and the young Doctor.
Hopefully this is the trajectory the show will stay on going forward. I will take similarly anticlimactic episode resolutions over the nonsense of last week's 'Robot of Sherwood' any day.
"Doctor Who" airs on Saturdays at 9:00 pm EDT on BBC America .