Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Doctor Who Review: Listen

“Listen” is one of the best Nu-Who episodes of all – up there with Blink, Girl in the Fireplace, Vincent and the Doctor and A Christmas Carol. It’s really the first proper Capaldi Doctor story – there’s a nagging feeling that the previous 3 were written without being sure about what the 12th Doctor would be like – so his character was worked into the story. With “Listen”, the story is all about his character. The whole premise, about whether there could be a silent, untraceable being shadowing your every move and being the basis of a recurring mass nightmare, comes from the idle and slightly tortured mind of the 12th Doctor. Leave the 11th Doctor on his own and he’ll invent a new recipe for fish fingers and custard, or go off and get engaged to Marilyn Monroe – leave the 12th Doctor alone and he’ll delve all the way into the long, dark teatime of the soul.

This episode is so many things – it is a dark character study of the 12th Doctor, it is a straight horror story, it is a romantic comedy and a romantic drama, it’s a far future time travel piece of sci-fi. Most of all, it’s simply a great piece of TV drama, written with all of the skills that we know the Moff possesses, directed to full on spooky effect and with three principal performances that hit all the right buttons.

Jenna Coleman continues to impress in Series 9, now that she has real material to work with and a better defined relationship with the Doctor. Clara hung out with the 11th Doc because she fancied him and was swept up in the excitement of it all. Clara allows herself to accompany the 12th Doctor because she feels a duty to him. She knows he’s a good man, she knows he is a remarkable man, but the Doctor is still struggling to realise it himself. Bringing a romantic element to her life is a masterstroke. How much longer will she tolerate the fantasy life over real life? Samuel Anderson as, first of all, Danny and then later Orson Pink is very good, stepping easily into the main supporting character . As Danny, his sensitive portrayal of a man haunted by his past and trying to make a normal life for himself is a contrast to the Doctor’s own struggle, and maybe Clara’s dilemas too. This slowing of the pace, that we saw so effectively in the restaurant conversation in Deep Breath, is carried on here. Clara and Danny’s date cuts between cute comedy and abrasive conflict, but both actors keep their mutual attraction bubbling along. It’s an adult relationship – two people working through the surface stuff because they know there’s a deeper connection; it’s no rush of flowery romance and it’s better because of it.

Pushing the storyline along, and dragging Clara along with it, is Capaldi’s 12th Doctor. Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor was the young man, with an almost childlike demeanour, who bore the weight of ages. Capaldi is the opposite – physically and in much of his temperament, he’s an old man – wrinkled, grey, thin and cantankerous. But his personality is so much less mature. He’s a boy, trying to find his place in the Universe, although aware that his place is so much more than most people’s places. “Listen” takes us back to the physical boy, with a neat link to the Day of the Doctor, and reveals a wee slice of what made the Doctor what he became. According to the “Time of the Doctor”, Capaldi is sort of a brand new Doctor – the beginning of a whole new cycle of regenerations. This story backs that up – he’s still new, still coming to terms with himself. Peter Capaldi, with those eyes, that furrowed brow, those spindly limbs and hissing teeth, is unlikely to become a cuddly Doctor. Caring squeezes out when it absolutely has to, when he meets and empathises with the young Danny – the 12th Doctor is on your side, but it’s not always easy to see it. It will take growth and emotional maturity to really empathise with real people and situations. He knows he has to be outraged by injustice and evil, but he doesn’t necessarily feel it.

The 12th Doctor and Clara have one of the most intriguing relationships that the show has ever produced – unlike last series, Clara is not a mystery to solve – she’s the Doctor’s friend, here to help him. He needs her. His abrasive, blunt and merciless character is covering up his fears. And Clara knows it; she can see the child within and it’s her responsibility to help him find the man, the Timelord, that she knows that the Doctor can be. In “Listen” she actually meets that child, but she’s also starting a relationship where she, once again, will be the one helping someone find their way out of the dark.

And amid all this deep character stuff is a monster to be avoided, people to be rescued, mysteries to solve, paradoxes to be confused by – this is Who at its best; pulp horrors and romance and action, all mixed in with something far weightier about who we are and where we come from and how we come together; we have nightmares, but we ALL have nightmares – and we can all help each other face the fears and come out of the dark.

And now, Flash-fic-Fan-fic:

HungerTime – Part Four

The Tardis landed. The Doctor leapt out brandishing his spoon. “Where is she?” he bellowed at the empty, snow-filled street.
There was a thumping of feet from behind him. He turned in time to be floored by three Claras.
 “Doctor!” said Clara.
“You’re not the Doctor,” said Oswin.
“I need a Doctor,” said Victorian Clara.
“This can’t happen,” said the Doctor, “Three of you. All at once.”
“Rich coming from you,” said Clara.
Snow swirled, sparks flew. The Doctor raised the sonic. It screamed and exploded. A terribly familiar pepperpot shaped formed in the snow.
“Running time,” said the Doctor.

If you want more Doctor Who reviews, go to - my reviews of the Matt Smith/ 11th Doctor stories are under Series 5,6 and 7 - and a whole load of reviews covering all 50 years of the show are elsewhere. Go on, you know you want to.

Now go and buy my ebook The Royal Wedding from Hell

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