Fear Makes Companions Of Us All (Listen)

(147 comments)

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The best cosplay I've ever seen at a convention was a gender-
swapped Link and Navi in which Link led her partner around
on a leash, having scrawled "no you listen" on his chest.
It’s September 13th, 2014. Lilly Wood and Robin Schulz are at number one with “Prayer in C,” while Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith, and Script also chart. In news, Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide, the US has been finding a new way to announce that it’s at war with ISIS, and it’s down to the wire with the Scottish Independence referendum, although really, we should save that for next essay.

While on television, Doctor Who does Listen. At the moment, and I’m writing this paragraph about ninety minutes after transmission, this seems set at near universal praise. 85% rating it an 8-10 on GallifreyBase, with a staggering 42.6% giving it a ten out of ten. The immediate post-episode reviews all seem to love it. Blog and Twitter comments are raving, although people who tend not to like Moffat’s stuff seem to really hate this one. Which is to say, ladies and gentlemen, that we seem to have an instant classic.

I’ve watched this twice now. And it deserves that and more. It is undoubtedly a “big Steven Moffat statement” of an episode, conceived on the level of The Day of the Doctor or Deep Breath. It is ostentatious and meticulous in the way that Steven Moffat at his best is. This is a writer who knows that he is at the height of his professional career and is cackling madly about it. It is also, unmistakably, him writing the cheap and disposable one with no budget - and doing it, by his own admission, because he wanted to “prove he could still write.” 

He’s used the production schedule of Doctor Who very slyly here, doing a story that a twelve episode season requires, as a piece of BBC-produced drama, if it’s going to throw a whacking big CGI dinosaur into the opening three seconds of the season premiere for no reason other than to set up some jokes and a death scene for the Doctor to start investigating a mystery. It’s just that he then wrote it like it was The Big Finale. It draws all its structural tricks from Nick Hurran and Ben Wheatley, and shares its approach with Time of the Doctor and His Last Vow. Except there’s no actual monster - it’s all creepy edits and lighting changes. It could be the Silence. Maybe it is, and we’ll pay that off in some future episode, because this is only episode four and Doctor Who has plenty of surprises left in its back two-thirds. We’re still in the “introduce Peter Capaldi with episodes by the old hands from Seasons One and Two and Five, or who worked on The Sarah Jane Adventures.” The actual new writers and experimental phase comes later.

All the same, this had been getting buzz. It’s the one nobody could quite keep themselves from talking about when it leaked, whether they just read the script, or whether they were friends of Marcelo Camargo. Because it’s so ostentatiously brash. Clara is the monster under the bed for the Doctor, and teaches him a crucial line of dialogue from 100,000 BC to calm him down. In the barn where the climax of Day of the Doctor happened, where he was hiding because he didn’t want to be a soldier and was scared. And that’s a detail - the climax of an episode that’s mostly about other things. It’s willfully baiting a certain segment of the audience, to the point where it almost counts as trolling. Those who complain that Moffat messes around too much with Doctor Who continuity will predictably hit the roof.

Let them. It’s nothing Lance Parkin and Lawrence Miles weren’t doing in the 90s. Moffat turns it to a particular purpose and tone - one of predictably fairy tale beauty. The rhythms and cadences of the best moments in Harry Potter. The same stuff he always does. But he’s still good at it. And, I mean, there’s a way in which this typical counterargument to the Moffat era just crumbles at its own mass of evidence. Yes, you’re right, there are an awful lot of recurring tropes of the Moffat era that appear here. 

For instance, people teased it for referencing the title of Blink, which it does. The monster you have to not look at to let it get away is, of course, just another iteration of the Silence and the Weeping Angels. The date is just Coupling. Going back and meeting the companion as a child. John Hurt. There’s a nursery rhyme. Monsters under the bed. Silence. The “tap you on the head and make you sleep” gag from Deep Breath. Romantic relationships based on meeting people out of order. Soldiers with PTSD. The Doctor and romance. 

Except at some point one has to say, this is an awfully long list. I mean, that’s twelve separate things Moffat does over and over again. And we could have gone on. That starts to look more like variety than tedium, you know? I mean, at the end of the day Moffat did just drive the series to where it was the #1 program on British television again, something previously only accomplished by Russell T Davies. And instead of walking off stage and doing Miracle Day, he stuck around. Sure, Time of the Doctor got a mixed reception, but Deep Breath went over pretty well, and this probably will too. We’ve got to admit, whatever the guy’s doing, whatever his formula may be, he’s visibly a major television writer at the height of his powers right now. 

Through all of this, though, what jumps out is just how precisely measured Listen is. Moffat plays to his strengths ridiculously. He hasn’t done a tone of relationship comedy in the last few years, but it was his bread and butter for a decade, and he hasn’t forgotten how to do it. Clara and Danny are a cute couple, and though the episode seems to suggest that they’re probably not going to last (and neither are Clara and the Doctor by the way), Moffat writes them so that it’s easy to invest in them. Clara is at once visibly a real human with real desires and emotions and the embodiment of “generic companion.” 

But again, the suggestion of blandness has depth. She may be the generic companion, but she’s good in an awful lot of situations. She’s great talking down Rupert, and then hands it off smoothly to the Doctor, then takes control back again to help put Rupert to bed before the Doctor does a “dad trick” and returns her to her date so she can try again. There she has a bit of a maternal instinct, which she then goes back to at the end. In between, she’s a self-identified bossy control freak who’s trying to let go and be reasonable and adult in her relationships. Her magic friend’s gotten a bit weird, but he still takes her to cool places like the end of the universe. Sometimes, she becomes the monster under the bed for the greatest hero in the universe, so that’s neat too. All of this feels like facets of a human being. Jenna Coleman has demonstrated that skill from the start, popping up in a random role in Asylum of the Daleks, then playing two different Victorian children’s book heroines, and being absolutely charming as she steps between them. Then she becomes a companion where this is her entire point - she becomes millions of different mini-companions throughout Doctor Who. Now she gets to balance being the lead in the 2014 edition of “Coupling meets Chalk” (good God, who expected we were going to get back to that as an influence in Moffat’s career) with being a Doctor Who companion, in the same scene, with that completely over the top space suit in a restaurant gag. I mean, again, yes, this is repetition, but at some point the sheer size of the thing makes it strange to call that a down side.

Capaldi is similarly good at doing a whole lot of things. The decision to start him with Deep Breath and just have him run through a whole bunch of different things building to the thing that everybody wanted as soon as they heard the idea, which is a scene like “I have a terrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you,” or “there are three people in the universe, and you’re lying to the other two,” or “then you will never travel with me again” (And of course, he can be pushed to such excessive threats just by a desire to poke the darkness at the end of time with a stick in case there’s a monster in it. Which is somewhat silly. It’s easy to see how he could lose Clara, to be honest) pays off again, and he takes the time here to once again just find a lot of different ways to play things.

He’s very good, is what I’m saying. We’re just a few stories in, but there’s the real sense that he’s figured out how he wants to do this. He’s playing his dream role, and he’s decided to just do it. There was always the implicit comparison to Pertwee, based on a vague physical resemblance and the decision to have that first costume shot be explicitly modeled on a Pertwee publicity photo. But inasmuch as he’s playing the role like Pertwee, it’s in deciding to follow his decision to just be the Doctor. He enjoys playing certain types of roles, and so he’ll play the Doctor like those roles, at times seeming to start over with his characterization every scene. (Along with Pertwee, this is basically how Eccleston played the part.) But equally, he’s an actor who’s enjoyed a diverse career, and so much like Moffat’s repetitions or Clara’s repetitions, this results in a sort of predictable diversity, which is satisfying if you like that kind of thing. Millions of people continue to, so again, Moffat clearly knows how to satisfy an audience. If you’re one of the legions who like this stuff, you’ll like this. And if you’re one of the vocal and non-trivial number of people who hate this stuff, you sure will hate this. 

I like this stuff, and I like this. It still feels complex and interesting and fresh and fun. I am loving my Doctor Who. For my money, this is very probably the best opening four stories of any Doctor Who season ever. Hell, for my money this is the best run of seven stories ever. Even if you don’t pick any of the stories as among your top ten. (Though I do pick at least one to be, personally. Amusingly, it’s probably the least popular) 

There are already a lot of people declaring this a classic. There probably always will be. It feels a lot like it must have at the height of some of the other legendary Doctor Who eras. Those eras where the show was usually at least watchable fun, might blow it once a season, and would guarantee you at least one or two stories a year that were absolutely brilliant. You know. The great eras. When, over three years, you had The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons, The Brain of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin, and Talons of Weng-Chiang, and those might not be the best six. Or when you got Remembrance of the Daleks, Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Ghost Light, and Curse of Fenric over the course of seven stories, and two of the other three were brilliant in their own strange ways. When everyone making the show is confident of what they’re doing. Such eras always end, but this one is still visibly going strong. Moffat has decided he’s going to go for being ranked with Robert Holmes as arguably the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time, and the truth is, there are people who will make that argument for him. I may well be one of them, whenever it is I get around to being the arbiter of history and writing a book about it. Which I will, inevitably.

Four stories in a row now, and in each case it felt like the production team was in complete control of what they were doing. Like they knew what they wanted to do, and were capable of doing that well. Three out of four, the public has gone with them emphatically. It’s easy to imagine this having a long, exciting legacy as children’s television. What more can you possibly ask for from Doctor Who?

  • I love what they did with Orson Pink. I thought the entire sense of future with him was perfectly timed. A hundred years from now. 150 years after Doctor Who. The Jack the Ripper murders were closer to An Unearthly Child than Orson Pink is to us now. And yet it still feels reachable, and like something that extends out of the present day. The first of the great time shots - terrible time travel experiments that overshoot and fling you to the end of time. There’s a neat trick here, in that the time travel can possibly only send you forward, so it’s entirely plausible. One model for how time machines might work is that you can’t go back earlier than the first time machine, so time machines that can only propel us into the future where we can’t possibly change the past are always a possible invention. It’s a very clever use of the sci-fi ends of what Doctor Who can do.
  • The guy in the children’s home whose coffee the Doctor steals is played by the same actor who plays Mr. Matchbright opposite Alan Moore’s Mr. Metterton, which is to say the Devil to Alan Moore’s God in Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’s short film cycle Show Pieces. In this episode, of all episodes. Fans of my wider work can imagine just how much this feels like the universe made me a birthday present. Also, apparently he played a Mandrel in Nightmare of Eden. I am not making this up, though IMDB might be. 
  • I really want to highlight how beautifully careful the barn sequence is. On the one hand, it does everything that's self-evidently a terrible idea in playing with the Doctor’s origins. On paper it sounds like an unfathomably bad idea. But in practice, Moffat keeps the world vague enough, makes Clara’s intervention at once a crucial part of the origin and a minor one around which there can be far more, and meticulously avoids actually doing any of the things that would make this a bad idea. 
  • So, how impolitic is it to say that it’s blatantly clear that the “damaging” leaks of the scripts and workprints were nothing of the sort? The truth is that quality material isn’t hurt by seeing the inside of the sausage factory. Had the workprints pointed to a trainwreck, that would have been one thing. But as with Rose, the consensus of those who saw the early releases were that they were quite good. And they have been. This isn’t a comment on any of the ethical issues involved in acquiring illegally obtained digital files of any sort, but it is one on the degree to which having digital versions of your work freely available hurts your ability to have it be commercially successful, which is to say, to no degree whatsoever, as long as the work itself is good.
  • I’ll be doing Slate’s Doctor Who podcast next week, alongside my regular review here. That’ll be Time Heist, which is by Stephen Thompson, so was hopefully rewritten into something nice like Reichenbach Fall was. If nothing else, it’s apparently making Abslom Daak canon. 
  • Yes, there will be a Capaldi book, and this will be the Listen entry in it. No, there’s no time frame on that, but I am 100% convinced that the second Tom Baker book will be out in late September/early October. I have turned the last round of copyedits in to the copy editor, so she just has to go over those. The cover is done. And I need to get one more essay written, but there’s a thing I have to do for that, which is an awesome thing, assuming it comes through, which I really, really hope it will. Seriously, if this essay comes off, it’s going to be a real treat for people. 
  • Rankings so far:

  1. Listen
  2. Deep Breath
  3. Into the Dalek
  4. Robot of Sherwood

Comments

Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm completely unspoiled on this one. No idea what to expect. I'm hoping for a Moffat scare fest. Can he do another Blink?

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Chris 2 years, 6 months ago

Don't listen. Listen and you're dead. Plug your ears. Don't stop shouting "la la la la!" And don't listen. Good luck.

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J Mairs 2 years, 6 months ago

So basically... subtitles tonight?

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm also completely unspoiled too! That feels exciting, knowing nothing before going into an episode. My partner really gets scared by the scary Moffat ones, so will be passing her a cushion tonight!

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Chicanery 2 years, 6 months ago

What a weird episode. Major lore points, like in canon confirmation that Time Lord isn't the same deal as Gallifreyans, the Doctor being of an agrarian background and humanity somehow being psychically linked to Gallifrey. I've no idea what any of it means beyond the basic presented fact of it (I don't want to say plot because it was a completely plotless episode, which is not a bad thing), but it sure was interesting.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 6 months ago

With my analytical hat on, I'd call it the ultimate expression of the principle that the scariest monsters are the ones that are actually on screen the least.

Without my analytical hat on, I'll just say "Yeep!"

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Bob Dillon 2 years, 6 months ago

Fear makes companions of us all

set fanboy to squee!

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Spacewarp 2 years, 6 months ago

Wow. Just that. Wow.
So many surprises. So many "Oh blimey!" moments. I really wouldn't like to be on GB now to hear certain fans bitching about what they thought was wrong with that episode.

Of course there was nothing wrong with it. Capaldi's performance and ability is really opening up the limitless potential of what can be done with Doctor Who.

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Bennett 2 years, 6 months ago

"It doesn't matter if there's nothing under the bed, or in the dark. So long as you know it's okay to be afraid of it."

If there's one thing you can expect from a Steven Moffat script, it's that it will defy expectation. I went into Listen expecting psychologically unsettling scares akin to Blink or Day of the Moon. And those were delivered. In droves. But what I did not expect was a sensitive, intimate statement on fear and its acceptance.

Yes, intimate. That's an apt word I think. Certainly like nothing Doctor Who has ever done before (superficial similarities aside), but completely and utterly what Doctor Who is.

Don't want to say much more right now for fear that it'll dull the emotional impact while I'm still processing it, which is the best problem a television episode can leave you with.

Absolutely glorious.

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

If we're playing the continuity game, though, doesn't Time wipe out Name? No grave on Trenzalore...

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

The approach to fear makes an intriguing comparison with Moffat's own "even monsters who hide under the bed have nightmares" business from The Girl in the Fireplace, and the whole notion of the Doctor as a reassuring imaginary-friend figure chasing away the bogeymen. Harder-edged, more mature, more realistic, less fairytale. Which is not necessarily to say better, but interestingly different.

And probably just as well, given the choice of settings. That sort of pat reassurance might have been rather crass, if you're going to do a story involving the idea of something frightening in a children's home. Not wanting to get too grim about it, but you know.

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Andrew 2 years, 6 months ago

"Once upon a time, the end. Dad trick."

And for the second time in four episodes, Clara says she doesn't want a preview of her own death (first occasion was to Strax).

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Brightcoat 2 years, 6 months ago

>Moffat's own "even monsters who hide under the bed have nightmares" business

I'm PRETTY SURE that dates back to at LEAST "Love and War"...

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 6 months ago

There is no continuity in Doctor Who.

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dm 2 years, 6 months ago

As someone who has been very critical of a lot of what this particular writer has done, I really loved that.

Did anyone else see it as a bit of a self-critique? The opening was Moffatt: frantically Scottish and writer's blocked, in a one-man writers' room, desperately trying to come up with one of his award winning, childhood-fear-as-puzzle-box-monster episode ideas. The 43 minutes that followed were about scrapping that whole approach for something much weirder, more interesting and more moving. There's obviously a lot more to think about, but that's the first thing that came into my head.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 6 months ago

"Listen":

A children's nightmare has come unstuck in time.

(But for those of you seeking more detail, I'll provide...)

The trick of "Listen", the monster within it, is that there is no monster -- there literally is nothing under the bed. Under that bulge in the coverlet is an absence -- a nothing. A nonexistence. A very old child's nightmare taken form through the limitless power of that same child's psyche.

And only on Earth. Always, only on Earth. The Doctor is half-human, they (don't) say.

And what of our new additions to the Pink family? "Rupert" has always made me think of the color purple; something regal. Purple and pink, a blending of royalty and femininity -- a sensitive soldier, perhaps? Obviously, our Mr. Pink (not played by Steve Buscemi) would want to hide his sensitive nature when as a soldier, and so becomes -- "Dan the Soldier Man".

And Dan the Soldier Man -- a soldier without a weapon -- journeys on. Into the stars...

"Orson". Our Son? Or, perhaps, more of a reference to another Orson -- Welles? An oblique War of the Worlds, one could take it as? The world of the TARDIS -- a place of infinite wonders and terrors -- and the world of Clara -- grounded and comforting to a fault. A tug of War, between worlds?

A tug at War. A tug at the War Doctor's heartstrings, to come back to the place he had once lived in -- and feared? -- and was comforted.

And he... he needs you. To listen. To talk, so he can listen.

And to invite comfort into the centre of his child's mind, and find peace -- find sleep -- in the night.

A difference sort of silence, but none less holy. None more heavenly. And in Arcadia, I...

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Jack 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh my god that was -lovely-.

No deeper thoughts, no readings, no in depth review.

That was lovely.

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iWill 2 years, 6 months ago

Glad somebody else spotted the Slaughterhouse 5 parallel with the word "Listen" at the start of the episode. Robert Shearman uses the same trick in "One Last Love Song", the trick being to draw attention to the artificiality of the story- how very postmodern. But anyway.
Also worth noting are the parallels between this story and "The Corner of the Eye", a story Moffat wrote for the Doctor Who Storybook 2007. I recommend that particular book as a whole, actually, but Moffat's story concerned a man living on his own and being visited by the Doctor, who tells him of a "Floof"- a species that can always, always hide, and is constantly living in the background of the human race, quietly meddling. Now, this is interesting considering that Moffat's similarly titled Blink was built out of a similar prose piece- "What I did on my Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow". As in Blink, ideas and fragments of dialogue are borrowed- in TCOTE the Doctor mentions the idea of hair standing up on the back of your neck- "Hair doesn't stand! That's the Floof breathing down your neck!". That, as well as ideas of the noises of the "house settling" find their way into Listen more or less intact.
But here comes the important bit: in TCOTE, we SEE the Floof. In fact, after finding out that the Floof has killed somebody, the Doctor does his lonely-God thing, and yells at the Floof- "Stand in my sight!". And the Floof DOES, cowed by the fury of the Time Lord and all that jazz.
But in Listen, the Doctor takes completely the opposite approach- he tells Clara and Rupert (hey, another child who grows up to change their name!) to look AWAY from the thing under the blanket (which, by the way, though blurred, looked vaguely like the illustrations of the Floof from TCOTE). Here, the Doctor asks Rupert, and my extension the audience, not to demand to know, but to accept fear and the unknown, the better to deal with it, and eventually come to terms with it (an Absurdist idea, hence Vonnegut's, Shearman's and Moffat's opening tricks).
This ties in to another important aspect of Listen, that it essentially acts as a rejection of Blink- the Doctor asks us to turn our back, to accept that certain things cannot be rationally explained, and that dealing with some of the most truly terrifying aspects of the universe requires that we must first accept them, rather than constantly keeping our eyes open, terrified that a second's weakness will leave us defenceless. It reminds me of something Phil wrote on here about Lawrence Miles' paranoia (as embodied by Blink) and Paul Magrs' Hedonism (as embodied by Listen, in which Fear itself is something to revel in and use to your advantage). Hedonism wins. Don't stare. Stare and you're dead.
Anyway, I really rather liked this episode, and I apologise for the rather ambling stream of consciousness that was this comment. Thank you, and I'm glad so many other people enjoyed this one.

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therichfox 2 years, 6 months ago

An excellent outing from our new Flying Scotsman. Best yarn so far!

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

Holy shit! I'm going to need time to process that one. First impressions. A stone cold classic. I need to watch it again. Wow!

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 6 months ago

About to rewatch, but it's hard for me to not love a story whose climax reveals that the greatest hero in the universe was, and still is, a little boy who can't sleep because he's scared of the dark. Beautiful.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, the children's home setting risked problems worse than even Night Terrors had. Instead, it felt surprisingly well-pitched despite the high wire act that Rotherham forced it into. To the point where you can start to imagine Capaldi's Doctor actually confronting that sort of monster, because he seems able to function not just as a character who will save people, but as one who will teach them and give them the tools to save themselves.

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Ombund 2 years, 6 months ago

It was like a live-action remake of your Mary Whitehouse essay - Listen will have scared the bejesus out of any kids watching and they'll be all the better for it.

Needless to say, it was astounding.

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 6 months ago

As soon as I saw the toy soldier with no gun, I knew this was going to circle back to the Doctor somehow. Really well done, this episode. Nice callback to Day of the Doctor, too.

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Chris Andersen 2 years, 6 months ago

Listen is as good as Blink, but Blink is a better episode for introducing non-fans to the show. To really appreciate the quality of Listen you *have* to know a few things about The Doctors background.

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Ben 2 years, 6 months ago

I've yet to see this one. Tomorrow night, I'm expecting. It looks promising, though. One thing about Capaldi is that - aside from being skinny - he's upturned just about every idea of what a NuWho Doctor has to be like. He's funny, but much in the same allergic-to-silly way as Graham Chapman's Colonel. Anyway, radio-style horror seems just his forte.

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Ed Azad 2 years, 6 months ago

Hater? Haha. Guilty. The barn made me hit the roof.

But at the same time, I should know better. I think Moffat is appropriate for his place and time. Previous showrunners knew that Doctor Who, despite its lack of boundaries, was actually a fairly formulaic show. What keeps it fresh is the quirky companions and how they react to their situation. Moffat goes one further and points out that the quirks and characters are, in themselves a narrative false beard. All original characters are self-evident author inserts, and Moffat doesn't bother to hide that. I'm not sure he's even capable of hiding it, being as he's too savvy.

His episodes are designed to piss off the right people, which includes me. So I'll continue to sit here fuming, waiting to see where he takes me.

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storiteller 2 years, 6 months ago

That was staggeringly beautiful, coming from someone who is still occasionally afraid of the dark. Especially the woods at night.

They only touch upon this, but it also resonates with Moffatt's themes of imagination. and storytelling. Because while imagination drives fear - you can't have a fear of the dark if you don't have an imagination - it can also bring us great beauty and healing. The stories we tell are sometimes scary and that's a good thing.

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Jack 2 years, 6 months ago

Humanity isn't linked to Gallifrey psychically.

The first time Clara tried to control the TARDIS, she was distracted by thoughts of Danny. The TARDIS took her to Danny. The second time, the Doctor stirs just as she's doing the same thing. Distracted by thoughts of the Doctor, the TARDIS...takes her to the Doctor. In both cases, the TARDIS, imprinting on Clara, takes her to when both Danny and the Doctor have the dream of someone reaching from under the bed to grab their legs. That simple.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

A wonderful review as always, Phil. And as usual, my own take on the episode is here on my own blog.
http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2014/09/the-worldly-power-of-fear-doctor-who.html

I'm particularly interested, however, in one aspect that neither of our running reviews of this season has yet touched on, which is reiteration. Because Listen sees Danny Pink and Samuel Anderson joining Clara in finding himself playing a reiteration of his central character this season. Now, it's a common convention in drama to cast the same actor with a different wardrobe and makeup as the descendant or distant relative of an already-established character. And it also serves as a motive for Clara to try once again to connect with Danny, with Orson's actions toward her clearly demonstrating that Clara is his great-grandmother.

But given the hints that Moffat has dropped over the last while about how Caecilius and Frobisher will play a role in the precise nature of Capaldi's Doctor, I'm inclined to interpret this multiple casting as purposeful. There has always been reiteration in Doctor Who, simply because there are a finite number of good television actors in the UK and many directors and producers are keen to hire people they've worked well with before. Just think about how actors like Michael Sheard, Philip Madoc, Cyril Shaps, Jacqueline Hill, and Colin Baker played multiple roles in Doctor Who, just like Capaldi. Now this year, we'll get to see, in a meta-textual invasion of the narrative, this principle of reiteration played out in Doctor Who's own storyline.

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Jesse 2 years, 6 months ago

They don't actually SAY that kid is the Doctor. I'll bet he's really THE RANI.

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Jesse 2 years, 6 months ago

(Sorry.)

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Jesse 2 years, 6 months ago

OK, here's a serious comment, re: this: teaches him a crucial line of dialogue from 100,000 BC to calm him down. What line is that?

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Bennett 2 years, 6 months ago

"...with Orson's actions toward her clearly demonstrating that Clara is his great-grandmother."

This is definitely the suggestion, especially when juxtaposed against Clara and Danny's budding companionship. But a closer look shows some deliberate ambiguity - with Orson referring to his time-travelling antecedent as a great-grandparent.

All we can say for sure is that Orson is in some way relevant to Clara's timeline, and that Orson considers her "family". Whether that is literal or honorific is still open to interpretation, and I suspect will remain so until the resolution of this series.

I love not knowing.

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Bennett 2 years, 6 months ago

It's the final line of the episode, which comes from this key exchange in the aptly-named episode The Forest of Fear:

BARBARA: You're trying to help me.
DOCTOR: Fear makes companions of all of us.
BARBARA: I never thought once you were afraid.
DOCTOR: Fear is with all of us, and always will be. Just like that other sensation that lives with it.
BARBARA: What's that?
DOCTOR: Your companion referred to it. Hope.

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Jesse 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks! It's been many years since I watched that.

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HarlequiNQB 2 years, 6 months ago

Once in a while (often a long while), there comes an episode that reminds me of exactly why I love Doctor Who. the reason I continue to do fan art for the franchise (and, occasionally, book covers) when I rarely do it for anything else. Listen is one of those episodes.

Doctor Who episodes are usually flawed diamonds; there is something beautiful to be found in every episode, but it is often surrounded by things that make it less than ideal. Sometimes it's just a little bit - a creaky set or effect, a chunk of dialogue, exposition or plot that's just ever so slightly ham fisted and brings the rest of it down. Sometimes it's a lot, but it's partially saved by the bit that makes you grin. maybe that bit is a sequence, like the Doctor lighting the Olympic torch, or just a single line of dialogue, but there's something.

Listen just worked, everything in it gleamed like a fresh cut and polished stone. It did some brave things, and it did the well. It also made me very happy because there was no real villain, no monster under the bed, for all it made us believe that was coming, and for a show where almost anything can be done it manages to get away with a villainless episode all to often (I like to think that one of the few flaws in Vincent and the Doctor was that there was a 'monster' in it, when there was really no call to have one - it would have stood fine without it).

I watch Doctor Who because it's rarely all bad, but I *love* Doctor Who because of episodes like Listen, which make me feel like I'm 12 again.

Random Musings Follow

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HarlequiNQB 2 years, 6 months ago

So, with that speech at the end, I guess Clara has finally completed her tally of saving every Doctor, since it's heavily implied that her speech helped War get through his time in the barn. Or was that just me?

Phil notes that Moffat's bag of tricks contains 12 things. Two thoughts on that. First, since Garner's death I've been working my way through the Rockford files. the list of Tropes that occur in every episode are such that in a Rockford drinking game you'd need your stomach pumped about 15 minutes in. Jim is knocked unconscious, Jim's trailer is ransacked, Jim is arrested, Jim is threatened by goons, etc, etc. But despite this, each episode manages to be pretty fresh, with some lovely twists and turns that keep you guessing. Those shorthands to story telling are remixed in an incredible number of ways. Moffat's much the same. Many of the best artists use a very limited palette; with 12 pigments you can mix a near infinite amount of colours (and yeah, I would fall back on an art metaphor wouldn't I?).

The actual 'monster' on the bed wasn't explained in any way was it? I wonder if that will be a hanging thread, or one that's picked up before the end of the season.

I am again, this season, reminded that Moffat is an excellent magician. People criticize his plot arks quite often, and rightly so (11's makes no sense whatsoever when taken over the whole length), but I can't help but think that this is missing the point - The arc of the plot is not there to make sense, it's mostly there to distract you from the thing that's going to drop your jaw when he pulls a rabbit from his hat. Look at this silence thing, isn't it terribly important, and this thing where Amy is and isn't pregnant. and who's this woman that keeps appearing in doors and walls. Watching that? Good, not here are some things completely unrelated to that so you're looking in this direction instead, and now Amy's not Amy! Mel is River! That Amy's not Amy gag? Here it is again with the baby (got you twice)! He's doing it again now, he's dropping hints early on (The Promised land, the Doctor's noodling with blackboard and chalk, the aversion to Soldiers when Clara's falling for one), and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, and that's OK, because when it comes it's going to be a lovely rabbit, and I'll applaud all the same for knowing how the trick was done.

Bloody hell, for there being no monster, no villain, no physical adversary, this was a properly scary episode. I think it creeped me out more than Blink and Midnight put together. And my goodness it was dense - that was 2 hours of story telling condensed into 45 minutes without feeling rushed. That's another magic trick right there, except the previous times he's tried it it didn't feel like it quite worked; here it did, spectacularly.

That's all he wrote: except to say that yeah the cover for volume 5 is indeed finished, except for the final layout (which happens when I get the page count). I think Phil's quite fond of it.

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jane 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh my.

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

People say Midnight felt like RTD doing Moffat, and I feel that this, similarly, is Moffat doing Midnight*. The comparison to the Silence is telling, as is the reuse of the central theme of the Vashta Nerada, that the irrational fear of the dark isn't irrational.**

This was a wonderful episode. The idea that the Doctor grew up in a children's home is a fascinating insight and, without a word spoken, adds a new (if somewhat predictable) wrinkle to his relationship with the Master. Intentional invocation? The more Moffat says he's not going to do something, the more certain we are he's going to do it, which of course means it can't possibly what's going to happen.

The exchange about Waldo*** not being in every book felt like foreshadowing that the entire hunt was a wild goose chase. That said, Waldo being real and being in every book so sounds like something Doctor Who would do. Some kind of memetic being that exists within the medium of the written and drawn, like a cross between the Isolus and the Land of Fiction.

The most interesting shot of the episode was the oversaturated and be-lens-flare'd shot of the thing on the bed. It looked CGI, which is an interesting effect. The uncanny valley invoked without anything actually being on screen. Hats off all around.

Normally the sanctuary base costume still having the badge on it wouldn't bug me, but they left it perfectly in focus and right in the edge of the screen, on the line of vertical thirds, right where it was impossible to miss.

Two stranded human time travelers**** rescued by the Doctor and Clara in as many seasons. Both are the (implied) descendents of their rescuers. I wonder if it means something.

This entire episode is an extended form of the two sentence horror story "The last man on earth was alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." and its sister story "The last man on earth was alone in a room. There was a lock on the door." simultaneously.

My version of the dream everyone has was that I couldn't let limbs hang off the edge of the bed, or get to close if it was a bad night.

*Moffat doing RTD in general is The Eleventh Hour, naturally, as a smokescreen for people who thought the entire cast and crew leaving and all the stories being wrapped up and the main character dying meant that maybe the series was over.

**I just yesterday rewatched an episode of The X-Files I'd not seen in ages. A bunch of lumberjacks cut down a 500 year old tree, and inside find the eggs of microscopic mites that fly through the air eating (nearly skeletonizing) people, but which are deathly afraid of the light and will remain dormant in it. The phrase "These are our forests" is never spoken aloud, but it's heavily implied.

***"I wonder what color the cookies are that the neighborhood pharmacist eats with his fries. Maybe I should take the truck down and bring some chips and candies with me."

****I just finished reading "The Time Travelers" on our good Doctor's prescription, so maybe I'm just particularly sensitive to this idea.

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

Haven't had time for a second viewing but some overnight thoughts...
The episode seems to simultaneously examine Freud's meditations on the Uncanny (das Unheimlich) and also liminal spaces and the transgression of those spaces. The Doctor is seen at the start of the episode sitting on top of the TARDIS a place we have never seen him go before, from where he breaks the fourth wall to tell us, the viewers, to 'Listen'.. He transgresses Clara' s, life, her date and ultimately her bedroom and then breaks into a children's home! And Clara herself transgresses that most sacred of Whovian spaces, the Doctor's own mysterious past, gifting him, in passing, the avatar of his future persona - The soldier without a gun. There are also themes around naming - Rupert/Danny, Doctor/War, Oswald/Pink and of course fear. The Doctor worries at 'the greatest fear being fear itself' cliche and almost seems to bully it into being true. The scariest image in the whole episode being a candlestick bedspread. Pure nightmare fuel.

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

That should have read candlewick bedspread. I was thinking about the Doctor going all gothic in the Tardis with the blowing out the candle thing. Actually it seems Twelve is turning out to be the most Goth Doc since the Fourth.

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Ken Finlayson 2 years, 6 months ago

Following Nathan's tip-off in the "Into the Dalek" comments thread, I've been getting up very early on Sunday mornings to watch the ABC simulcast of this series. I was looking forward to this one with doubled anticipation: the usual excitement associated with a new episode, but also that sitting alone in a dark room in a dark house would be the perfect setting for another Moffat exercise in frightening the audience.

And I got that, but I also got something more. Wonderful! I really do think it's a classic.

I've heard some complaints (not here) about the lack of resolution about the monsters. Which is the point, really, the episode is making. It doesn't matter if the monsters are real -- the fear is real. And that's okay.

Off now, to watch it a second time.

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

Bombshell realization. 150 years from today is September 14th, 2164. The year the Daleks invade Earth.

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Sean Case 2 years, 6 months ago

The Monster at the End of This Episode was lovable old Clara all along.

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

@Matthew Blanchette

Hey, I never said there was. I said "If we're playing the continuity game", which is what jonathan inge was doing. "Aspects of her exist throughout space-time" is a statement about something that can only be said to exist as a matter of continuity. It has nothing to do with Clara as a character, as the person we see on screen - that was pretty much the point of that whole arc, no? (And all the more so given the extent to which Clara has only actually emerged as a character since the whole Mystery Girl thing was laid to rest.) It's just a statement of a putative fictional-universe state of affairs created by something that once happened in another episode. And what lives by continuity dies by continuity.

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Gallifreyan_Immigrant 2 years, 6 months ago

I like to imagine that your comment is so short, not because there's nothing to say, but because there is no many alchemical meanings and symbolism that you're like " Well, where the hell do I begin? Oh my."

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh my golly.

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

Coming after the callback to The Daleks as a formative influence on the Doctor two weeks ago, in the context of the whole "Coal Hill teachers teaching the Doctor to become who he should be" thing, it seems like another hint of the writers reading the Eruditorium.

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

Hey, I just realised that if you put the two Pinks' names together in chronological order you get "Danny Orson", which sounds almost like "Danny Ocean" - and next week's episode is about a heist! Coincidence?! I think not !!!

Ahem.

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

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Aylwin 2 years, 6 months ago

Hey, how come I never thought of that about the Vashta Nerada? Best X-Files episode ever! Good catch!

I think even a remotely feminist reading kind of torpedoes the premise of the first of those two-liners as a horror story, and points it more in the direction of romance. Gun, meet frock...;)

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timber-munki 2 years, 6 months ago

Really good episode.Liked the reference to Dick's 'never cruel or cowardly' description of the Doctor.

A couple of random thoughts:

The no budget decsion ran to not making new badges for the Sanctury Base 6 space suit from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.

'Rupert' is British Army slang term for officer.

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Mike 2 years, 6 months ago

'Listen' is also the first word in Dylan Thomas' 'Under Milk Wood'.

Not particularly relevant but I'm sure someone can find something interesting to say about that. I can't think of anything at the moment as I'm struggling to deal with the complex and intimate (as someone above beautifully put it) story that we've had the pleasure of watching.

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 6 months ago

I also thought about The Corner of the Eye, and I chuckled to myself when the "Floof" could be glimpsed. In fact, as soon as all the "corner of your eye" stuff was being bandied around, I thought back to TCOTE straight away. A very good episode indeed.

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

There will be a Capaldi book? Wonderful! does this mean you are finding Series 8 as interesting and invigorating as Series 5 which if memory serves was instrumental in your blog becoming a book series in the first place?

Apologies for the poor sentence construction, I've typed this from a hateful iPad which won't allow me to edit text without deleting back to the point where changes need to be made. Highly overrated device :-(

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

Certainly the first. The second swings into kinky territory regardless of which side the lock's on.

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Unknown 2 years, 6 months ago

The short-short story is Fredric Brown's, and in the longer story it appears in ("Knock"), one of the occasions where there's a knock at the door, yes, it's the last woman on Earth knocking.

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

Clara saying of Dreams that "If they were real, they wouldn't need a name" stands out as calling to mind certain themes regarding names, reality, fiction, and lands thereof.

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Jack 2 years, 6 months ago

I like to think the reaction is like mine way up there, that this is such a lovely episode that it really doesn't require in depth readings and criticism as soon as its done. It merely needs to have been experienced.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Yeah I am in total accord with the feelings above. I do feel that deep readings will be possible but I want to let the story sink into me, and maybe the depth will be one that is more about the immersion in the episode as you suggest.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh man yeah, really with you on this train of thought - this whole episode is about the transgression of space and the importance of the impact of the liminal upon our consciousness.

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Bill Reed 2 years, 6 months ago

His name is Orson, and Danny dug well(e)s! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Time Lords?

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William Silvia 2 years, 6 months ago

I don't think repeating the same dozen or so plot points is variety. Steven Moffat has written 22 full length Doctor Who stories (not counting the obvious such as the S8 finale, etc, as these have not yet been aired), plus several shorter specials, and has overseen three and a fraction seasons. During this time he has included the Doctor being involved in his companion's childhood or vice versa 8 times (Reinette, Amy, River, Kazran, Clara, Danny, the Doctor in an aborted timestream, the Doctor again), involved a monster whose entire identity is based on perception six times (The Angels three times, the Vashta Nerada, the Silent Priests twice, not counting "Time of the Doctor"), killed or quasi-killed a companion or pseudo-companion in 8 scripts ("Girl in the Fireplace", "Forest of the Dead", "The Impossible Astronaut", "A Good Man Goes to War", "Asylum of the Daleks", "Angels Take Manhattan", "The Snowmen", "Name of the Doctor", arguably but didn't count "A Christmas Carol"), insinuated the permanent death of the Doctor 4 times (Series 5 plot, Series 6 plot, "Let's Kill Hitler", Series 7B plot) and encompassing a significantly greater number of episodes.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Sure, but it seems to me you can make the same sort of argument about the overall careers of Douglas Adams or Robert Holmes.

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jane 2 years, 6 months ago

I thought "Orson Pink" was making fun of Orson Scott Card.

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John 2 years, 6 months ago

Most writers, for that matter? I mean, if you read a Jane Austen novel, you can expect that the plot will have to do with love and marriage among the Southern English gentry of the early nineteenth century. If you read a Hemingway novel, it'll probably involve explorations of masculinity with some combination of hunting, fishing, fighting in wars, and bull fighting.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

I dont know how it matches up to Blink for newbies, but my roommate's girlfriend took her inaugural trip in the TARDIS with a Sherwood / Listen double feature last night. She loved them, and now Capaldi is HER Doctor! :)

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

By the way, she's 20 and not a genre fan....so if anyone thought Capaldi would scare off that demographic, consider that notion, at least in one case, disabused.

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jonathan inge 2 years, 6 months ago

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David Anderson 2 years, 6 months ago

The contrast with Midnight is instructive. Midnight is properly scary, and was written at a time when properly scary moments was Moffat's thing. But the closest Moffat ever comes to the bleak distrust of ordinary people in Midnight is in The Beast Below, and even then Moffat judges that people are still worth saving.
Emotionally, Listen is worlds away from Midnight. Midnight says fear makes people cruel and cowardly. Listen says fear can make people kind.

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5tephe 2 years, 6 months ago

Oooh. I do like that reading. But for my money, Clara has become the authorial stand in at this point. Not that they can't both be, of course.

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Scurra 2 years, 6 months ago

It makes a lovely pendant concept with last week, where the question of whether or not "Robin Hood and his Merry Men" were real was also left carefully open for much the same reason.
Moffat has talked about how he's over the whole Doctor Who as Fairy Tale thing now, but I'm getting stronger "fabulous" vibes from this series than I ever did before.

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Chris Andersen 2 years, 6 months ago

And let's not get started on Shakespeare shall we?

I commented to my daughter (who is also a big Moffat fan) after watching Listen that Moffat (and the people working with him) have a great talent for taking cliche'd tropes and turning them into excellent stories (the origin of River Song sounds grown-worthy on paper, but was a great *YEAH* moment when actually realized on screen.) She said that cliche'd tropes wouldn't be cliche'd tropes if they didn't speak to something that we all understand. The fact that so many bad writers use cliche'd tropes to prop up their writing does not mean that the use of cliche'd tropes is evidence of bad writing.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 6 months ago

Happens on iPhone too...I've developed a habit of just waiting until getting to the computer or typing it in notes and copying and pasting it.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

Midnight (along with Children of Earth) expressed very well what I came to realize was a profound vision of pessimism in Davies' notion of humanity. He was a brilliant writer of heroism, but whenever there was tragedy, it was always a matter of a downfall.

Moffat's fundamental optimism is why his era has become my favourite (next to Andrew Cartmel, anyway).

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 6 months ago

RTD certainly had his own tricks too. And, as mentioned, pretty much every writer ever has certain themes they wish to explore, and typically the fun comes from comparing all of these and coming up with what he or she is trying to say.

A case could be made that it were time for change if all of Moffat's seasons were similar, but they're...not. S5 borrowed a lot from the structure of RTD with some twists; S6 was completely different, S7 threw the dial the other way to all stand-alones of different genres with, again, twists; and it's too early to tell in S8, but it's also a "new Doctor" series and follows that mold accordingly.

There are similarities with some themes and lines (characters less so), of course, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Matt Bogen 2 years, 6 months ago

The first word of BEOWULF, "Hwaet," can be translated as "Listen!" Monsters are always with us...

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5tephe 2 years, 6 months ago

Forgive my lack of in-depth continuity, but this episode does seem to be implying that "The Academy" is a military training school. I've never thought of it that way before, always assuming that it was more like a classic English University.

Oh, and something that has just occurred to me: How come the TARDIS can suddenly visit Gallifrey? Pre-time war, or not. I thought the whole point was that it was Time Locked, and cut off from all reality inside a big crack somewhere....


(Sorry - SO SORRY - to bring that up here, of all places. But I don't even have a Gallifrey Base login. This is the only place I talk or read about Doctor Who.)

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Bennett 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm pretty sure the suggestion is that "the Academy" is the alternative to military training school. The dialogue of that scene is:

MAN: He can't run away crying all the time, if he wants to join the army.
WOMAN: He doesn't want to join the army. I keep telling you.
MAN: Well he's not going to the Academy, is he, that boy? He'll never make a Time Lord.

As for how the TARDIS infiltrated the Doctor's past, I think it's a case of take-your-pick. You could put it down to the safeguards being turned off, you could put it down to the TARDIS reaching Gallifrey in its pocket Universe, you could put it down to the Doctor's timeline remaining directly accessible because he survived (but not somewhere he could fly the TARDIS himself).

Or perhaps its just a case of the no-going-to-Gallifrey-ever rule having played its course by The Day of the Doctor and being jettisoned so it doesn't stand in the way of a good story. And within the story the logic was carefully preestablished - Clara thinks of the dream, Clara gets distracted by someone, the TARDIS finds when that someone had the dream.

I guess it's also worth noting that the barn scene is so mindfully ambiguous, you could argue that it isn't even set on Gallifrey. For all the hue and cry that I've thankfully just seen the edges of*, Moffat treaded as lightly as he could in the Doctor's past while still telling a story of significance.

*Like you, this is pretty much the only place I talk or read about Doctor Who. It's nice here.

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brownstudy 2 years, 6 months ago

re Moffat's bag o' tricks -- reminds me of an interview with Martin Amis, when asked why he always wrote about (adultery? betrayal? some theme I can't remember). He said most novelists have only one story they're always trying to tell, and each novel is another attempt to tell that story better.

Reminiscent a bit of Gore Vidal's contention that every writer has a specific cast of characters or types in their head that they write for. Some have a large cast of characters (like Shakespeare) while most only have 4 or 5. Vidal said that with experience, one gets better at dressing them up and casting them in different roles.

All of which to say -- Moffat's bag of tricks may be finite, but he has proven himself very clever at dressing them up and making them feel new. Part of the pleasure now is seeing how he rings those changes.

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5tephe 2 years, 6 months ago

Ah, thanks Bennett - I had read it differently, with them both talking about the same place. Silly, it's obviously meant as an alternative.

Still, I'd never imagined Gallifrey even having a military before the Time War. I always assumed they were more evolved that that. I always imagined the War from their side involving clandestine Tom Baker-like excursions into culture's histories to re-write enemies continuity. With the Daleks chasing around and doing the same thing, only more bluntly and while screaming "EXTERMINATE!"

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps it's not an army of soldiers? However, I don't seriously believe that, especially with the Danny Pink / Journey Blue solider-averse subplot running.

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

that was 2 hours of story telling condensed into 45 minutes without feeling rushed

I would have preferred to have seen 'Listen' on the big screen than 'Deep Breath'. It doesn't need a longer running time, but on the big screen this would have been even more terrifying than it already was on TV.

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Tileman 2 years, 6 months ago

I think it was the time war that was off limits not gallifry as a whole. Something addresses in fathers day.

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Tileman 2 years, 6 months ago

Did anyone else get a boarding school vibe from the barn scene? Paralleling time Lord / gallifrayan society with Britain a lot. But we were reminded only last week of the doctors aristocratic status - so the young Dr is expected to join the military as family/ class expectation. Entering the academy is a way to escape ( contrast with Rupert Pink at the other end of the class spectrum joining the army to escape ?).
We can also have fun speculating about the colonial/ imperial aspects of the gallifray the young doctor was born into - and the one he fled with his grand daughter?

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

The figure under the red blanket is shorter than Clara. Maybe it's a Clara-echo who is at that point a child?

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

I'll dispute that principle until I die, it seems. The only remotely scary moment for me was the only one when something was on the screen at all, i.e. Red Blanket Time.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

"I figured I should hide in the bedroom in case you brought your date home" (paraphrased, probably) was one of the best jokes of the night.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

On my first viewing, I was seriously distracted by the fact that big cats and pufferfish are held up as examples of "perfect" hunting and defense, but the Doctor never names any of the countless species that use camouflage to be "perfect" hiders. Combined with the litany of "well, what about THIS supposedly-but-not-especially universal fear! Doesn't THAT freak you out?" moments, I was really worried for a while.

Fortunately, these things turned out to be almost irrelevant by the end, so I enjoyed my second viewing thoroughly. I have to jump in with the "this was beautiful" camp on this one. Best of the season so far.

I'm surprised not to see more discussion of the parallels with "Hide," of which there are tons. This seemed almost to be Moffat's attempt to emulate and surpass "Hide" and "The Doctor's Wife" simultaneously, and I have to say he made a pretty solid run at it.

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David Anderson 2 years, 6 months ago

Oddly, I don't think I found it frightening. Perhaps I've never had the under the bed dream. I think it's because the monsters, whether or not they're real, start by writing 'Listen' on a blackboard, which sounds like a plea or a piece of advice. So they're established as being possibly benevolent or in need of help. And indeed it turns out it is benevolent.
Also, I think almost any other resolution would have fallen short of the premise. Moffat's already done the Silence. (The continuity fan in me realises that there's a really good reason why the Doctor behaves as if he's forgotten all about the Silence.)

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Nick Smale 2 years, 6 months ago

How come the TARDIS can suddenly visit Gallifrey?

Maybe it's bad-wolf Rose/the Moment again? When 10 and 11 visit the barn in "Day of the Doctor", there's a line "these events should be time-locked, but something let us through". Can the TARDIS can now visit the barn at any time in its history?

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Nick Smale 2 years, 6 months ago

The bricks were familiar, but the building Moffat architected out of them felt completely new. For the first time in years, I felt that I was watching a Doctor Who story unlike any that had been told before.

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Shane Cubis 2 years, 6 months ago

Hi Ken!

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Tim 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm surprised no one has commented on how many elements in this story were a reworking of elements of "Hide".

Going back and forward to observe moments in time.
The orange space suit
The early time traveller lost away from his time due to an experiment gone awry.
The terrifying monster turning out ultimately not to be a danger at all.
The tone in general.

I don't mean this as a criticism of 'Listen' just a general observation that Neil Cross seems to have inspire Moffat to take up those elements and rework them to produce a classic.

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Tallifer 2 years, 6 months ago

I believe that the barn was not on Gallifrey, but on what I shall henceforth call the Barn Planet, where there also happens to be a boarding school for Time Tots. When the War Doctor went to the barn, the sky overhead was completely free of warfare, whereas Gallifrey at that every moment was under a complete encircling siege by millions of Daleks assaulting the sky-trenches with their space-boats and space-bombs and space-rays.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 6 months ago

I took "Listen" as the answer to "What does a hiding creature do?" which is pretty creepy if you think about it.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 6 months ago

The actual 'monster' on the bed wasn't explained in any way was it? I wonder if that will be a hanging thread, or one that's picked up before the end of the season.

Paul Cornell says on Twitter that we're given two possible explanations, and the whole point of the episode is that one of them isn't true, therefore...

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

...therefore there is one very strange and disturbed little kid in that home.

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SpaceSquid 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm going with Garfield and Friends.

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Adam Finch 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm interested in your comment that "three out of four the public has gone with them emphatically". That's not really the case - AI is down and only once (Into the Dalek) has it met the average AI for BBC Drama. Why do you think people aren't enjoying the series as much? What is it that's causing the slight but tangible cooling?

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Adam's question reminded me that I wanted to ask: which of the last seven episodes is the unpopular one that's made your top ten? I'm assuming it's "Time of the Doctor," but I would have thought "Robin of Sherwood" would have been the least popular of the last seven, and I'd be surprised if that's the one you meant.

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Pôl Jackson 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm seeing a theme in these first four episode of a change in the Doctor after Trenzalore. On Trenzalore, the Doctor stopped running. Now he's trying to figure out what that means. He's examining his own fears, and trying to figure out what it is he's been running from.

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Ethan Iverson 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm a satisfied Patreon backer, Phil. Great work, love the books here on my shelf as well. Great to hear that there will be a Capaldi book...

I enjoyed the episode. No CGI monsters! Yay!

Two references not cited yet: BUFFY, for the "I'm a supergirl who just wants to go on a date" trope, and Douglas Adams's RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE: "This," he said, "really is the absolute end, the final chilling desolation, in which the whole majestic sweep of creation becomes extinct. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the proverbial 'it.' "

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 6 months ago

I think it's a mistake to conflate 'the public' with a panel around 0.1% the size thereof, as that's what actively determines AI.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Nah, it's a fair point - surveys are valid methodology, which is in effect what AI is. But in this case, by "the public" I meant the reviewing public, not AIs.

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

Further thoughts on the themes of transgression and liminal spaces in this story.
The astronaut figure transgresses Clara and Danny's date restuarant to summon Clara into the Tardis. Symbolizing the very nature of Moffat' s writing - science fiction and romantic comedy transgressing genre boundaries. The Doctor transgresses scientific reason as he employs a backwards attitude to the deductive process. 'If evolution does thisthen this must exist', to almost conjure the nightmare under the bed into being. The body of the TARDIS itself is transgressed via those visceral, fleshy, telepathic circuits which force Clara to not only attempt to transgress her own childhood dreams but also her putative partner's: after which she transgresses the linearity of genealogy by meeting her and said partner's potential great grandson. Note that Orson Pink is wearing the very space suit the Doctor wore when he met the Devil. (Not merely budget constrained recycling of costume surely. The chest patch logo is left on and clearly shown).

Finally (!) The Doctor attempts to transgress the very limits of where he can go. The end of Time. Literally presented as the image of a door. At the end of time is a door? So what's behind that door? (It's the old metaphor which 'proves' the infinite universe. If the universe has an end what is it? A wall? Then what's behind the wall?) Is it significant that the effect of the Doctor clinging on as the door tries to pull him outside is visually reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor and Rose In Doomsday clinging on to the magnetic clamps as the Cybermen are sucked out of our universe? Rose lost her grip and joined her father on the Cybermen's parrallel earth (already positioned as a kind of allopathic afterlife where Rose's dead dad and Mickey/Rickey's dead nan live) Is the thing under the blanket going to be revealed in the finale to have been a qlippothic Cybertot? (Only joking. Probably).

The symbolism of the hand holding the ankle is interesting too. (jane can probably riff on this better than I) coming from under the bed symbolizing the subconscious world of dream and so, by Jungian inference, myth; The image recalls Achilles, whose mother held him by the ankle as she dipped him in the River Styx to confer on him invulnerability, the prime requisite of the superhero. The only place he remained vulnerable was his heel which was not immersed, becoming the trope namer for a hero's weakness - The Achilles heel. The river Styx was also the route to Hades. The afterlife.
Are we getting signposts that the Doctor will meet the Devil again in some kind of Cyberman afterlife?

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

*Whoops. Correction. Of course it was the Daleks being sucked into the vortex in Doomsday but it was the Cybermen who were presented as the titular Army of Ghosts the undead soldiers transgressing the barrier between worlds who I suspect we are about to meet again.

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Alex 2 years, 6 months ago

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Alex 2 years, 6 months ago

Er... press and hold on your finger on the text of your iPad to bring up a little magnifying glass and a blue cursor. You can then move it to where you need and edit your text that way.

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

Hi Alex - already tried that :-) my iPad does put the cursor where it should be, but when I type or delete, nothing happens. Thanks though!

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Ferret - I have similar frustrations posting comments from iOS, which does not play well with Blogger. (I had to abandon Safari on my desktop as well, because it played poorly with Blogger, but my iPhone and iPad are less well suited to that.)

In my experience, if you exit out of the comment box - as in, click away so the keyboard disappears - and then click back and start off by positioning your cursor where you want it, you can edit text freely. It appears that the cursor stops working right after you've hit backspace, and that exiting and re-entering the text box resets it.

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John 2 years, 6 months ago

We should also be aware that at this point, the British audience is not the only audience for the show.

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John 2 years, 6 months ago

We meet Gallifreyan soldiers in both The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time, don't we?

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

Also, there are hints that The Doctor fled Gallifrey to flee a civil war or some other conflict - perhaps it went on for quite some time.

"Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet."

Perhaps Moffat wants to explore that area of Who Mythology too - I wouldn't be too surprised considering what he's covered during his tenure.

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William Silvia 2 years, 6 months ago

"Some idiot turned off the safeguards."

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GarrettCRW 2 years, 6 months ago

But it's Wade who's afraid. ;)

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Googs 2 years, 6 months ago

I find this blog and all the commentators vastly intelligent and rarely "shouty" and find all the posts and comments dead-on. I like to think I'm also not-shouty and am also a fan of Moffat of his writing and era.

So I humbly ask this as I really don't know who else to ask anymore - I thought this was an absolutely terrible episode (although there are many "bits" that I thought were great). And while opinions are of course going to always vary (I happened to have enjoyed the romp that was "Robot of Sherwood" for what it was, which I know I'm in the minority), what has shocked me is the superlatives of opinions - this is being called "best episode ever" by some. Sometimes including all of Classic Who!!

I've been trying to pinpoint why or where I feel so "tricked" in the story and left unsatisfied, and I haven't yet, so maybe this isn't helpful. To go back to "Robot of Sherwood," I knew I liked it a lot, but I also could see why someone would dislike it very very much.

With "Listen", I think it has something to do with the vagueness of the entire script, which I understand is part of the point, but I just found it frustrating, or more directly, insulting. So having felt tricked, the conclusion we reach at the end fell flat for me. Maybe it's that, as someone else described it, this feels like a Shaggy Dog story (not the 'pun' version of the term, but the 'story with no point/ending' version)? Or that for the purpose of exploring this theme of fear, the characters all act a bit illogically throughout.

I also accept that sometimes there is a greater narrative at play here, particularly with Moffat's era on the show, so maybe my vagueness issues will get resolved later in the season.

I honestly am not a hater, but I really am curious if anyone has theorized why there might be polar reactions to this episode? For those on either side of the opinion scale, let me humbly suggest that everyone "gets" it and that is not the source of the divide. Is it as simple as accepting what happens in the first few minutes (or not) and going for the ride? Or maybe I'm being selfish and I want to like this as much as everyone else!

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

I can understand your reaction. I think it partly depends on the importance you place on elegance vs. logic. I'd agree with you that the characters don't always behave in ways I'd consider reasonable or even consistent with the way I perceive them.

The Doctor does not behave like a scientist here, for example -- he overlooks some obvious examples of Earth fauna, he takes a layman's view of evolution, he guesses at the existence of a species he's never knowingly encountered before on the strength of close to zero evidence and uses bizarre methods to investigate it. We're meant to understand that he's biased, driven by a childhood nightmare (and, perhaps, the presence of Clara-echoes throughout his life) to wild assumptions about the nature of the entire universe, but it's unsettling to see him go about it this eccentrically. It's a bit disturbing to see him so catastrophically incorrect about the nature of something; compare to "Hide," where he doesn't know but fairly methodically goes and finds out and eventually learns the truth. It's a lucky thing this ISN'T a new monster or they'd all be dead.

Then there's Clara's date with Danny. I'd say this is less illogic and more just a bit heavy-handed, but I find it hard to credit that in 2014 a woman like Clara would just casually, if inadvertently, make a reference like that to how many people Danny must have killed. It's less of a problem for me -- you're not going to spend the whole episode on the gaffe-laden conversation so these stupid blunders have to be pretty obvious -- but it bothered me the first time through.

And then there are the offhand semi-explanations for the thing under the blanket and the door opening by itself. Unless there's more to come -- there really IS something inhuman under the blanket and this is an unjacketed-Doctor moment (did you like when Danny caught Clara's "continuity error" -- "you were wearing a jacket before"?) -- these do seem like elements that could have been more ambiguously presented, so they don't leave us with annoying questions.

Really, this is a relationship episode disguised as a sequel to "Blink," and not only do relationship episodes polarize people but fakeouts do too. This whole thing is really about having Clara make the Doctor who he is and then having the Doctor make Danny who he is in a big timey-wimey pretzel. There will hopefully be some payoff to that, but it needed an excuse to travel into our heroes' pasts in order to make that happen, hence the wild goose chase.

I don't know if I've answered your question, but the short version is I can dig where you're coming from.

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Googs 2 years, 6 months ago

I think this does help! Thanks for the response. I also know the idea that this 12th Doctor might be "mad" has been rejected by many (well, I guess he'd be more "mad" as in a full-on breakdown rather than his usual "mad"), but that would explain some of this behavior, particularly the opening moments with him atop his TARDIS and then the conjecturing.

I also had the thought that while people compare this to "Blink," I do think this is more connected to "Midnight." But not because we never see a villain (although that is true), but rather it's a "bottle" episode exploring an idea. Clearly, "Listen" doesn't fit the location restriction of a "bottle" episode, but it's still very closed-in and contained, no matter where they went (which could also be a logistical budget and set situation, but I think the intention was there as well). I think the difference for me is that "Midnight" served both its story and the theme it tackled, whereas I don't think "Listen" pulled off both. I should add - I think fear as an idea was explored marvelously in this episode (along with the relationship explorations you reference as well). I'm just not sure the story ended up working for me.

And maybe it is more about ambiguity as opposed to a fake-out, but I personally got stuck in Rupert's bedroom. I may be wrong, but I feel like all of the previous incarnations of the Doctor would run towards answers, and sometimes quite literally the villain/monster. So for the Doctor to not turn around and look at this new thing, this possible new species, simply didn't ring true for me. I could've also answered my own question here, and that 12 simply doesn't have that same inclination.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

I thought it had (or at least pretended to promise) the atmosphere of "Blink," the scope and purpose of "Midnight," and the structure of "Hide," and since the latter two of those three are among my favorite new series episodes, I was disposed to like it even though it was imperfect.

I'd agree that the Doctor we know and love would have turned around and looked. Even if he had had more than dubious zoological reasoning to suggest that it might be dangerous to look, why go to all the trouble of finding the "creature" and then make no attempt to investigate it in any way? Why then seek it out a second time and then make no attempt to accommodate its supposed reluctance to be seen?

The answers have to be psychological, I think; he's not thinking about this thing the way he normally thinks about the "beautiful" things he encounters. Clara says he doesn't want to admit to being afraid of the dark; maybe he wants to suggest to himself that it's real, tease himself that it could be, but not actually confirm it? Maybe he remembers how "it" talked to him as a child and believes it's benevolent but shy, and he's afraid to scare it away? Whatever the case, his approach seems deeply ambivalent, and a sort of exception to his rules the way that "Midnight" was.

He never actually seems scared, does he?

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brownstudy 2 years, 6 months ago

Paul Cornell will start posting his thoughts on this season's episodes at the Tor blog. His first post is here: http://torbooks.co.uk/2014/09/15/five-brilliant-things-about-doctor-who-series-8-episode-4/ . It's brief but pithy.

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ferret 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks - that does work, even on Chrome for iPad... laborious but effective.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

What I really got and enjoyed from this episode was that it felt like a real character based story, one centred around how the Doctor, Clara and the others feel. Often characters have felt left aside and sidelined by plot or CGI or other elements. Encyclops you say that "The answers have to be psychological" and yes I would also expand that idea to the story where the whole plot is based around and filtered through the individual psychologies of the main characters and their responses - like the Doctor being far too alone (not that he sees it) and getting lost in one of his obsessions. I don't think the story overall (apart from the bed scene) was scary as such, but it felt centred around sharing feelings such as uncertainty, a very internalised discomfort, nervousness and at times deep sadness. It felt like the tale touched quite a broad emotional landscape.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for posting this - brilliant! His thing number two just blew my mind with being so obvious that I kicked myself for missing it:

"The Doctor *is* right, though, in thinking someone is always with him when he’s alone. We the audience are."

Absolutely! All of those characters in the land of fiction are being watched and obsessed over again and again over time. Even the ones that don't exist within Who we still try to watch - that's gotta be raising the hairs on the back of their neck eh?

Well done Paul.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

When I say 'ones' I meant to say episodes.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

"it’s down to the wire with the Scottish Independence referendum, although really, we should save that for next essay."

Sitting here in Scotland on tenterhooks about the outcome. The campaigning here has been as divisive as some recent Who episodes and that's been a shame to see - with people I know proclaiming they are right and no others are, as they rampage through the countryside destroying the other side's banners. Friends I know have turned on others for holding the perceived wrong view. I've found that a good, information-sharing based, positive discussion has been missing so I've distanced myself from most of it.

This afternoon my partner and I will go vote in our town hall and it will be interesting to see where things lie tomorrow morning. Either way with what I have seen, there possibly will be unhappiness, and as the poles are so close a feeling of division left simmering in the country.

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storiteller 2 years, 6 months ago

I had the exact same reaction to the bit about the audience! With Phil's thematic reading of the Land of Fiction and the role of the audience, I was really surprised he didn't come up with that first. But then, it's one of those things that's subtle, but then so obvious once someone else points it out.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes once it's pointed out it seems totally obvious, especially with the meditating Doctor telling us to "listen!" at the start of the episode and looking straight to camera.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, of course we're not ALWAYS with him -- even less so now that the number of "in between adventures" has skyrocketed. In fact we hardly ever see him alone, even these days. But definitely some of the time he thinks he's alone, we're there.

This goes fairly well with the idea that the blanket monster is just a kid who's a bit afraid herself, hiding under a blanket from the scary stuff in Doctor Who (Ogri, Fendahleen, Cybermats, Mr. Sin), unable to interact with the characters but unable to look away. And only slightly less well with the idea that at the very end of the (Doctor Who) universe, there will still be viewers there, sadly turning off the TV (the flickering monitor) because it's all over. And with the idea that Clara's final monologue is really directed at all of The Kids, who might be finding this new brusquer Doctor and Clara getting involved in kissing a little less cuddly than the aged Toymaker on Christmas.

It all fits really well. It's also just slightly corny, and doesn't actually have a viable diegetic meaning, so I think Moffat struck just the right note with it: you can work it out, but it doesn't actually matter if you don't.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

And of course if we are his constant hiding companion, then we are fear itself. OooOOOOoooooo!

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Then, of course, there's this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iAAe_7_HOw

Or, if you'd rather watch John Cale perform it rather eccentrically than stare at the album cover:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9TXH_zR7C8

"Fear is a Man's Best Friend," indeed.

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Anton B 2 years, 6 months ago

Ahem ^
Anton B September 14, 2014 at 1:35 AM
The Doctor is seen at the start of the episode sitting on top of the TARDIS a place we have never seen him go before, from where he breaks the fourth wall to tell us, the viewers, to 'Listen'.
Sorry I thought it was clear that the inference was that the constant hiding companion was the viewer.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

But didn't the Doctor visit the end of time before, when he met the Futurekind?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

Apparently omnirumour-focus Phil Morris (with his customary punctuation) had this to say about "Listen":

"Childrens homes people hiding under the bed rotherham and jimmy saville come to mind 4.8 million viewers won’t be long now… I am glad you enjoyed it thousands didn’t childrens homes jimmy saville rolf harris victims certainly didn’t have a good friend who was obused at a children’s home certainly didn’t enjoy it.”

Is Phil making a bid to be our era's Mary Whitehouse?

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh yeah encyclops totally, especially with the compressed storytelling going on now I can see that the Doctor as of course we don't see all the stories, so good point.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Sure Anton, cheers - but hadn't got until I posted the comment after reading Cornel's review. Thanks!

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 6 months ago

Or someone shrunk by a tissue compressor?

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 6 months ago

Another thing that might be interesting here...the fear of the dark and hiding under the bed is known as a 'childish' and 'irrational' action, which is being compared to here with the sexual tension and frustration of a grown-up Clara trying to interact and form a relationship with Danny Pink.

Yet the Doctor keeps intruding into her life when she least expects him to show up and brings her back into a nightmarish world, yet it also helps her reflect on her relationship with Danny and realize that he was a child once and that he is just as scared as she is about starting a new relationship.

So the dynamic of the Problem of Susan has changed and morphed with the Problem of Clara, yet it's not so much of a problem if she knows how to handle the situation and can maneuver between both worlds and uses both worlds to help her out.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 6 months ago

(I just want to post an idea I had here that might be related)

There is that exchange between Danny and Clara, which becomes more explicit at the end of the episode: "Can you hear dreams?" Danny asked. "If you're clever enough." And of course, the dream here is Doctor Who with the sound of the TARDIS--there was a comment above here that mentioned how Doctor Who is a dream to help people sleep.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 6 months ago

In the episode, with their backs turned to the 'monster' under the blanket, the Doctor said, "Imagine a thing that must never be seen. What would it do if you saw it?....Promise never to look." That was probably death, or a form of death, maybe even Clara's death.

Another thing, possible spoiler or at least speculation--the second to last episode of this series is called 'Death in Heaven' and part of me wonders if the Doctor is 'Death' in Missy's form of Heaven. Or if the ghastly form underneath the blanket might be revealed in that episode.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 6 months ago

And the toy soldier without a gun is a Colonel, the Colonel--for a moment, I thought about William Hartnell, who I know had played British Army officers before he was cast as the First Doctor. And it made me wonder if he ever had a film or television role as a colonel. But no, only sergeants, majors, sergeant majors, maybe a lieutenant, and police inspectors. No colonel. And John Pertwee was a British officer or a spy of some kind, was he not?

Which now makes me think about UNIT's reappearance later this series and what role the Doctor might have to play there. Hmm...

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Daibhid C 2 years, 6 months ago

My sister asked about this, and my recollection was that the Futurekind were the end of "history", not time itself. In Utopia there is still life, people are hanging on, there's even a plan.

The End of Time comes after that, when there's simply nothing except a few rocks floating in the void.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 5 months ago

Late, but...apparently Psychology Today is taking an occasional look at the series, and had a few things to say about "Listen."

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/201409/doctor-who-listen-your-fear

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