It’s taken me this long to get this review up because my mind is still boggled. Some of thay bogglation comes from a return to uni (I got asked twice how I as enjoying my first week in university, and gave directions to a first year who was at least five years older than me. It’s all wrong, so very wrong) and a majestic thrity-hour streak of sleeplessness, but the majority of it comes from this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Listen.
I’ve long considered Doctor Who to have two main stories running parallel to each other at all times. One story, which is usually the dominant one, is just the plot of the episode- the first, second, and third act of a usually self-contained script. The second is a larger plot by scale, but not by screentime- it’s the overarching mythology of Doctor Who, the thread that ties together decades of TV into a cohesive, singular character. It’s the Doctor’s story.
Listen, an episode that re-established Steven Moffat as the television genius that I’ve been missing in the last few years (yes, I didn’t like the last season of Sherlock. Handle it), was an exploration of the latter. Frankly, the story itself- the Doctor obsessively trying to catch a creature he has theorised that can hide from everyone- is no great shakes, though it provides some properly creepy moments. The b-plot, concerning Clara going on a date with Danny Pink, was irritating in so much as it forced conflict with some obviously provocative lines about his ex-soldiership, but tied in nicely with the main story that implies that Pink and Clara will do the familial nasty and pop out some sprogs later down the line (I also watched Samuel Anderson, who plays Pink, behind the scenes of the show, and can confirm that his engaging enthusiasm isn’t just in that character. Seriously, he might be one of the most likeable actors on TV, both on and off screen). It’s hard to explain the central plot as it was scattered across a number of places and times, basically following the Doctor’s obsessive search for something that may or may not exist. It’s a cool theory, and one that lets Capaldi take a microscope to the iconic role to great effect. In my mind, at least, he IS the Doctor now. Clara had a good run too, as Coleman is totally engaging and brings so much to the table as an assistant and as a character in her own right.
The story is really there to let us examine the Doctor a little more closely. He doesn’t even start the episode off with Clara, the pre-credits cold open featuring a monologue from a lonely Doctor who later refuses to reveal how long he’s been travelling alone for. Here, he’s mad in a way that he hasn’t been in a long time- not the David Tennant overworking brain, or Matt Smith mania, but obsessive and, possibly, wrong. But by far the most interesting part of his plot- and the most interesting part of the series so far- features the Tardis crash-landing in a barn. Clara steps out and hears a child crying, and goes to comfort him. It’s then revealed that the child is, in fact, the Doctor, as Clara delivers a speech to him that echoes exactly a speech given by the Doctor to a terrified child earlier in the episode. I imagine that, like me, a thousand Whovians exploded simultaneously-I properly, with no hint of irony, gasped- but it was more than just shallow fanservice or Steven Moffat deliberately picking the path of most resistance, which is how I’ve often felt about big reveals like this. This was organic, genuinely shocking, and rendered the whole episode more meaningful. They had successfully managed to move the much larger plot along without completely losing the story in the mix, pulling in events from Day of the Doctor an the rebirth of Gallifrey in a way that gave us a deeper look into the current Doctor, while setting up longer strands for Clara and Danny Pink in the future.
Reading all that back, it is a miracle that this episode didn’t get overwhelmed in it’s own substance. I can honestly say, though, that Listen ranks among the best episodes of the new series, taking my worry about a running of steam and pissing them to the four winds with glee. You know what, Moffat? I won’t have you, yet. Congratulations.