Review: DOCTOR WHO S8E04, LISTEN (Or, The Doctor Has A Question, Clara Has A Date, Both Go To The End Of The Universe)
"Listen" is Doctor Who at its best. And its scariest. The show hasn't been this terrifying in a while, and Steven Moffat's episode manages to have a bit of everything you could possibly want. It's gripping, funny and tense, providing possibly the most effective use of Peter Capaldi's more unnerving Doctor so far and continuing to prove that there's more to Clara than most expect.
Whether you like it or not, Clara's story is deeply tied to the history of the Doctor. It is through her once mysterious past that we came to know her as someone who has interacted with the Doctor throughout his lifetime, and she then played a pivotal role in 'The Day of the Doctor', where the Doctor truly puts to the test Clara's message that "fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly". To learn now that she helped set the Doctor on his path might strike some viewers as trite or convoluted, but if you've been enjoying the companion's development so far and acknowledge how much of a role she has had in shaping who the Doctor is, you'll see it as a piece of beautiful storytelling.
Plot-wise, "Listen" goes all over the place in a way that really feels like time travel without being too disorienting. We start out on Clara's first date with Danny, but from there the show takes us on a journey that finds the Doctor and Clara visiting some rather surprising places in time. If you're frustrated with the repetitiveness of some of Moffat's writing, this may disappoint as it has shades of "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace" while constantly being reminiscent of the writer's habit for twisty storytelling. I get annoyed by this when it doesn't work, but he's on top form here and he uses the twists to construct a meaningful and moving conclusion.
More than any other episode in this series, "Listen" is an example of Doctor Who doing something different. It takes the familiar construct of discovering an unknown creature and flips it into something else. The potential for a monster committed to hiding itself is wonderfully conveyed by Capaldi before the opening credits, but it's amazing to watch the episode obviously turn away from providing any answers by becoming something much more contemplative and more touching. It's more interested in the psychological implications of the possibility that this monster exists in our nightmares, and how that dream influences people. Also, by leaving things uncertain, it is ultimately a more thrilling and spine-tingling watch.
We get to know a little more about Danny Pink, but the show remains restrained enough to not throw him into the craziness of Clara's reality just yet. Through meeting someone else from later in her timeline, we've been given enough tantalising glimpses of what we can perhaps expect to happen next anyway.
"Listen" is far from conventional and it refuses to be predictable. This mode of Doctor Who isn't necessarily darker but it is more mature and more considered. This episode keeps its characters recognisably human, and through the Doctor's impossible desire to see something he knows he can't possibly see and Clara's enduring optimism, we're seeing the show approach concerns at the centre of its premise without deconstructing them altogether. This is a terrific episode, one of the most confident and captivating in recent memory, and probably Moffat's scariest yet.