Series eight of the new Doctor Who could well be the one which makes or breaks the entire programme since it’s return in 2005. After the extraordinarily successful David Tennant era and the Matt Smith era which saw the programme become a genuine worldwide hit, this was the series where the new Doctor broke the mold of the previous two, and it’s worth remembering that the Christopher Eccleston series wasn’t widely watched as later series so a sterner, harder Doctor is unfamiliar to a lot of viewers.
That’s why last week’s episode was so important. It was all in all a silly bit of fluff after two weightier episodes that showed this new Doctor to be less than the dashing hero we’ve gotten used to. It’s also setting up darker, and hopefully scarier episodes which brings us to episode four, Listen.
If the set-up for this seems somewhat familiar then it’s because it’s very much reminiscent of Blink, a series three story wildly held as one of the best for the current incarnation of the programme. It is indeed a fantastic episode, so does Listen compare to it?
The idea is that nobody is really alone. Everyone has something that follows them around during their lives but we never know it, instead we only get hints like the hairs on the back of your neck rising and that sort of thing. On the surface, this is Moffat retreading ground he’s done before and indeed, he does do this in this episode but it’s in entirely surprising ways. Listen is about the Doctor trying to find something out and in doing so he interrupts Clara who is recovering from an awful date, and takes her on a journey to the past and the future, but because she’s messed that date and it happens to be with the new regular character this series, Danny Pink, the Doctor and Clara are thrown to Danny’s past when he was a child in a care home in Gloucester.
While in the past the Doctor and Clara try to protect young Rupert Pink (who will grow up to change his name to Danny) from something under the bed, and it’s here that Moffat throws out a story which will annoy the hell out of viewers trying to put their kids to sleep tonight. It’s wonderfully scary but in that safe way that Who used to do so well. We don’t see the figure on Rupert’s bed who is hiding under his bedspread, but we’re scared because the Doctor and Clara are scared, though the Doctor is more curious than scared.
Then after another attempt at a date with Danny Pink, Clara is taken forward to the end of time itself to rescue Orson Pink, clearly a future relative of Clara and Danny who are seemingly destined to get together and have children. Orson is from 100 years in Clara’s future and is one of humanity’s first time travelers who was supposed to be sent into the middle of next week, but instead got sent to the end of time. It’s here at the end of time where Orson is the only person left, that he hides in his ship and locks his door from something lurking outside, but what is it and what can it mean for the Doctor, Clara and Orson?
Listen is a wonderful episode in a series which is of such a high quality it actually annoys me that Matt Smith was served so badly with poor scripts. Perhaps it’s the arrival of Peter Capaldi that’s raised Moffat’s game but this episode is glorious and most of all it’s incredibly unsettling at times, though there is a relatively uplifting ending, it’s still a vastly effective episode. There’s lots of lovely little touches from the Doctor and Clara talking about ‘pipes rattling’ which seems a clear reference to Ghostwatch, to a flashback from the 50th anniversary special which ends up explaining a location used in that episode.
At the heart of the episode are three wonderful performances. The first from Samuel Anderson as Orson/Danny Pink is great as he manages to play two different people highly effectively. The second from Capaldi is full of manic energy, but what this episode makes very clear is that the Doctor is hiding something at his very heart that at some point, we’ve all been afraid of. Capaldi really is making the part his own very, very quickly. The last performance comes from Jenna Coleman who frankly, was window dressing at best in the last series. Now she’s a character, which means Coleman is acting, and doing it well. She holds the episode together perfectly. Coleman is wonderful in this as she acts as not only the Doctor’s companion as it’s made very clear at the end of this episode, but as his moral guide.
Listen is brilliant. I never thought I’d say that about a Moffat episode after the last few years, and especially the debacle which was Matt Smith’s final episode, but I am. It’s refreshing to have Doctor Who return to being a programme interested in telling stories as opposed to spinning out plot for episodes on end with plastic characters who mean nothing. The improvement in storytelling, acting and characterisation this series in just four episodes is amazing and I hope it remains at this standard because this could be the best series yet since it returned in 2005.
As for next week, Abslom Daak.