Last week, following “Robot of Sherwood”, I lamented the tendency of some episodes to be all concept and no story; empty vessels into which were poured jokes, rusty plot elements, and double cream. The best installments, I said, fingering a glass of ginger wine and smearing the divine nectar across my lips, had to deal the double whammy of being about something and advancing the characters. Apparently you agree, allowing Gatiss to write his Robin Hood episode so “Listen”, your follow up, would look robust by comparison.
In some respects this was your archetypal contribution. Had someone described the episode to me, rather than allowing me to watch it, I’d have punctuated their commentary with cries of “ahh, fuck off” and “again?” Who wanted yet another Moffat special in which character biographies were advanced using the shortcut of time travel, childhood fears were ultilised as plot devices and the story was envisioned as a circle, pivoting on your favourite storytelling fuck up, the ontological paradox? Man, how you love them. They’re your equivalent of my Coke addition.
The Doctor, we learned, had his own monster under the bed experience as a sniveling Gallifreyian junior, an episode that profoundly conditioned his psyche. Thanks to an ankle grab and nocturnal pep talk from Clara, who’s very welcome to hide in my bedroom by the way, our man was inclined to seek out monsters wherever they lay, with a companion by his side: a stand in for the fear he carried with him but had successfully turned into a dragon slaying asset, or something.
That was a neat bit of psychoanalytical gubbins, Steven – the second such excavation following “Deep Breath” (it’s now clear you got The Interpretation of Dreams as a Christmas gift), and it was a character deepening moment, but how and why did Clara get underneath the Doctor’s bed in the first place? The answer, we knew, was because the old man had pondered the question of silent monsters festering in his psyche, dragged Clara into the hunt, plugged her into the TARDIS and had followed the trail, but, and here comes the complaint, such thoughts were only buried in his brain because Clara had put them there. Yet again, effect preceded cause without a self-contained inciting incident. Time’s a line not a circle, Steven – at least, it is if it’s going to make any fucking sense. I held no ambitions to go into politics before tonight, but now I’m inclined to begin my slow march to the office of Prime Minister in whatever’s left of our vandalised country once the imbecilic Scots Nationalists have finished with it, just so I can pass a law forbidding show runners on time travel series from using your gambit.
But this was, as I said, the show on paper. The show on screen was more satisfying. That’s because this 45 minuter treated both the Doctor and Clara as characters who required a little shading and the actors did their bit. Clara’s no longer the hyperactive imp of old, rather a likable, warm woman with plenty of vim and humanising qualities, like insecurity and borderline social retardation. Her disastrous date with the wet but inoffensive Danny nee Rupert Pink, added some depth to her character, foreshadowed her future and put her on a trajectory that showcased her tender and protective side. In short, she’s now officially a person in her own right and one that has a lot more business being around and burning up the valuable minutes of our lives than the walking tub of plot balm from the previous season. Meanwhile the new Doctor has acquired a psyche, and one you’re keen to probe. Granted, most of what you’ve postulated and attempted to force into our minds over the span of this episode and “Deep Breath” sounds a lot like bullshit, and attempting to explain a familiar character’s simple heroic qualities with a trawl through their subconscious is, I hope you realise, the bane of our age, but any project to add layers to the Doctor’s character is broadly welcomed. Just don’t flashback to his toddler-self fingering his heroic anus in a future episode. There are limits.
So “Listen” felt like the most substantial chunk of the series so far because it delved into the vulnerabilities and hang-ups of the Doctor and Clara. Is Danny the new Rory, a flaccid love interest for the main companion set to become a TARDIS regular? Well if he is, Steven, can I suggest you add spunk to this impossibly socially conscientious former grunt, before his placidity bores away two million viewers? He’s a nice idea; a solider who joined up to help others through non-violent means (though I’m inclined to think he should have been an aid worker) – therefore a sort of young, moderately attractive mirror of the Doctor that will allow Clara to fuck a moral crusader after all, but man alive is he dull. Look, we know he’s nervous in these early episodes; I couldn’t take a woman like Clara out and not fuck it up either; but he needs a spine and some personality, fast. That, or we discover in episode 5 that he’s actually a dangerous schizophrenic whose thoughts turn to murder when he’s under intense pressure. I can cope with a metrosexual companion, all I ask is that he turns with the weather and becomes an unstoppable menace within the bowels of the TARDIS. Deal?
Engaging though it was, I’m not sure much of “Listen” made sense. I think you got away with most of it. I couldn’t understand why a creature that devoted its existence to not being seen would be so conspicuous, or for that matter how the TARDIS could travel back to Gallifrey, circa two thousand years ago, if it was in a pocket universe. Isn’t it time-incubated, or something? If the planet of the past is readily available, why didn’t previous Doctors just go there and prevent the Time War, or visit previously in the new Who era? That’s the monster under my bed, Steven. I hope you’ll turn up at some point and help me turn my back on it.
Yours in time and cyberspace,
P.S: Lots of jokes about Clara’s wide face this week. I like her face, but I accept I’m strange.
P.P.S: The Doctor’s devilish grin is a winner, let’s have more of it.
P.P.P.S: The Doctor’s worn a different outfit in every episode of this series. Is this because he’s finally decided to utilise his whole wardrobe or did the money men ask for it to help sell several action figures?
P.P.P.P.S: No mention of Missy this week, indeed, no one died, unless you count the monster that vanished in a green flash.
P.P.P.P.P.S: Wait a minute, holy shit – that was a real monster! Someone tell kids everywhere. They’re real, Clara lied. She’s a liar. A liar with a wide face!
The Old Adventures:
- Dear Steven Moffat: Robot of Sherwood
- Dear Steven Moffat: Into the Dalek
- Dear Steven Moffat: Deep Breath
The Matt Smith Years:
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Time of the Doctor
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Special)
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Name of the Doctor
- Dear Steven Moffat: Nightmare in Silver
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Crimson Horror
- Dear Steven Moffat: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
- Dear Steven Moffat: Hide
- Dear Steven Moffat: Cold War
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Rings of Akhaten
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Bells of Saint John
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Snowmen
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Angels Take Manhattan
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Power of Three
- Dear Steven Moffat: A Town Called Mercy
- Dear Steven Moffat: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
- Dear Steven Moffat: Asylum of the Daleks
The Distant Past:
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (Christmas Special)
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Wedding of River Song
- Dear Steven Moffat: Closing Time
- Dear Steven Moffat: The God Complex
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Girl Who Waited
- Dear Steven Moffat: Night Terrors
- Dear Steven Moffat: Let’s Kill Hitler
- Dear Steven Moffat: A Good Man Goes to War
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Almost People
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Rebel Flesh
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Doctor’s Wife
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Curse of the Black Spot
- Dear Steven Moffat: Day of the Moon
- Dear Steven Moffat: The Impossible Astronaut
- Paradoxica: An open letter to Steven Moffat (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang)
- Doctor Who-ha! (The Eleventh Hour)