Haunt the Future

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. David Anderson
    April 23, 2018 @ 11:14 am

    In your run of six scripts for Robert Holmes, are you counting Pyramids of Mars? I assume that’s the other racist one. But it makes seven scripts. But then I assume you’re counting Hell Bent / Heaven Sent as one script to make six.
    Even so, I think it’s only arguable at best that it’s a better run of six than the run beginning with The Empty Child.

    I only felt at the time that Capaldi’s characterisation settled with Mummy. In this one he’s clearly as you say stir crazy or not quite over regeneration.
    I am not sure I’d agree that it’s wrong to shoot the first scene as a horror film: the impact of the story I think depends on the genre swap of the scene in the barn, which I think would lose impact if the prior genre shifts were more clearly flagged at the time. (Although one’s never going to disagree that Talalay should have directed.)


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      April 23, 2018 @ 2:21 pm

      I was counting Pyramids but not Brain of Morbius (which I view as a co-write with Dicks, unlike Pyramids where the entirety of Griefer’s scripts were discarded and Holmes started over.)

      Not sure what I was doing with Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, as I also said “three of the stories” were by Talalay. I could omit Husbands to make the count work, but that’s ultimately dissing it for being a light and silly one. Ooh. I know. There. Fixed.


      • David Anderson
        April 25, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

        Hmm… then for Holmes you’re cutting off at Carnival of Monsters and for my money Carnival is the best classic story that doesn’t have McCoy/Aldred in it.
        You could then push Moffat back to Deep Breath but then you’re rather losing the point of hanging the observation off Listen. You could push both back to Day of the Doctor and Spearhead from Space. I can see why you don’t want to start Moffat’s second glory period with Day of the Doctor given that from one angle that’s far less ambitious than Listen. But then you christen a ‘barn trilogy’ and you persuade me that there is a genuine period of Moffat’s thinking about what Doctor Who is which centres on that barn. There is I think an argument that Day of the Doctor is the point where Moffat finally moves Doctor Who out of the shadow of the Davies-era (even if two of Capaldi’s three series finales are going to be Davies-era-style finales).

        I hope I’ve strayed sufficiently off the original point for the post to be worth making.


  2. Elizabeth Edwards
    April 23, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

    Well, this was certainly an… odd experience. I’m very curious as to how this is going to look in the book, where the stuff that most immediately dates the entries gets taken out. Still, on the whole, liked this back in 2015 when I first read it, and I like it now.

    The only way I feel that this structure undervalues the entry as part of a serialized structure is that it fails to address the part where “Listen” doesn’t fit: as part of the conservative lead-up to where “Kill the Moon” changes everything. Which really does matter, I think. As I recall, KtM didn’t feel like the season kicking into high gear; it felt like another exciting, straightforward success of the kind I’d already seen. It was brilliant, but not revelatory.

    This, on the other hand? God, after Robot of Sherwood, this was brilliant. I’ll never love it quite as much as other Doctor Who fans (I made the mistake of reading the AV Club review’s opening paragraph, in which the reviewer stated that he thought it might have been the best episode since the Empty Child — as someone who was at that point sick of people saying Moffat was at his best under Davies, and whose favorite episode was The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, I dismissed it out of hand), it was so good. Capaldi made me fall in love with his Doctor all over again after loving him in Deep Breath. Clara was amazing. Moffat did small again and knocked it out of the park. It was amazing.

    Has anyone else noticed that Moffat started using flashbacks to previous New Who eras on a regular basis under Capaldi?

    Also, not that anyone actually noticed, but yes, I have changed my name. Sorry, El, but I was tossing the idea of transitioning around for a while when I smears your announcement, and the alliteration worked out so wonderfully in my head. Also, thank you for a three-month buildup of trans content on your Twitter before you came out; I needed to read both Magdalene Visaggio’s feed and Andrea Long Chu’s stuff to know it was okay. And, to be fair, yours. So, thanks again.


    • Elizabeth Edwards
      April 23, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

      When I read your announcement. Dammit.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      April 23, 2018 @ 2:49 pm

      Hey, I stole the name from my cousin, I can’t be too precious about it. Congrats.


  3. Przemek
    April 23, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

    I love “Listen”. It’s one of those stories where I can clearly see the flaws but the story itself just blows me away emotionally every time I see it so I just can’t help but love it. Instant classic, no doubt about it. Moffat at his best. That barn scene and that Clara’s speech…

    Having said that, as much as I loved the barn scene the very fact that it exists sits uneasy with me. The TARDIS being able to just go to Gallifrey still feels wrong to me, not because of continuity issues but because it cheapens the whole “looking for Gallifrey” plot. After “Listen” the TARDIS not taking the Doctor to his home planet when he was clearly very upset about not finding it in the series finale seems needlessly cruel of her. And I find it really hard to believe that the Doctor would simply obey Clara’s order to never check where they’ve been. He’d go crazy from curiosity.

    (I also find myself kinda annoyed by the Orson Pink mystery. Sure, as you say, the episode never confirms he’s related to Clara but it feels like a cheap trick. At the very least it should’ve been addressed later, with a mention of Danny’s son from a previous relationship or whatever. I like my misdirections more elegant and organic than “Danny’s lookalike talking about time-travelling ancestors while holding Clara’s hand but haha, did we ever confirm who he is? No, and we won’t because you’ll never see him again!”).

    The barn itself is interesting because the Doctor doesn’t really fit the countryside setting. Are we meant to see him as a self-made aristocrat, rising from his humble beginnings while keeping his connection to the poor and the oppressed? I think that could fit somewhat.

    Regardless, I think the barn represents the part of the Doctor’s life when he wasn’t the Doctor. The childhood, the Time War, the time when he broke his own rules when he became vengeful and cruel after losing Clara. Which is interesting in the context of “the Doctor as a performance” motif that emerges during Capaldi’s run.

    Also, is there a fan consensus about the whole “monster or no monster” debate? I feel like “no monster” is more interesting and what the episode thematically aims for but this answer is pretty hard to reconcile with the blanket scene. No child would behave like that.


    • liminal fruitbat
      April 23, 2018 @ 4:02 pm

      Surely all (British) aristocrats fit the countryside setting, no? (Or in this case the desert setting.) You can’t be a proper aristocrat without estates.


    • Aard
      April 23, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

      Why can the Tardis visit Gallifrey? Well the planet was sent to another universe at a certain point in it’s timeline. So pre-Time war (what ever a Time War might be?) Gallifrey is still in the same place it always was, in the future/doctor present it is lost.
      So it’s certainly not cruel. Anyway should never let little things like time locks or the intricacies of temporal mechanics interfere with a good story when you can always find an explanation.


      • ScarvesandCelery
        April 23, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

        Heck, the episode even offers an explanation – the Doctor says “The Tardis isn’t supposed to come this far, but some idiot turned the safeguards off.” when talking about coming to the end of the universe – presumably these safeguards being off is the reason the TARDIS can go to Gallifrey, and them being turned back on is the reason it can’t go back again until “Hell Bent”


      • Przemek
        April 23, 2018 @ 9:18 pm

        She could’ve taken him to the past Gallifrey, then. I’m sure he would appreciate that.

        Anyway, I don’t really care about handwave-y explanations (as you say, you can always come up with something). Gallifrey was lost, it should’ve stayed lost until it got found. It’s like Amy and Rory: we can come up with thousands of ways for the Doctor to visit them in New York… but he doesn’t use them because that’s the story: they are lost to him.


        • Aylwin
          April 23, 2018 @ 9:41 pm

          Perhaps they don’t exactly go to Gallifrey, to the reality of it. The Tardis is operating on a telepathic interface, tracking a dream, and is drawn to the barn by homing in on the not-yet-Doctor’s dream. Clara repeatedly tells him that “This is just a dream”. Maybe she’s right. Maybe they have not gained access to the material reality of the Doctor’s past but to the dream he had in the past. Time-travel to Gallifrey may be impossible at the moment, but time-travel has always been possible in dreams.


          • Przemek
            April 23, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

            Okay, I like that reading a lot. The unease I’ve felt before is lifted somewhat.

          • homunculette
            April 25, 2018 @ 2:18 am

            related potential reading: it’s made clear in both Enlightenment and Timewyrm Revelation that the TARDIS can land inside the Doctor’s mind.

          • Daru
            May 7, 2018 @ 8:28 pm

            Yes homunculette – I like your read quite a lot, the idea that the Tardis could have landed within his mind, within his dreams or even his memory. Either way I don’t feel uneasy either if it has landed in Gallifrey, but a good thought!

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        May 22, 2018 @ 10:41 pm

        The Time War used to bother me a lot. How can two time-travelling armies fight each other if they can just keep going back in time to undo each other’s victories? And because it’s called a Time War, I always assumed it was fought by the means of time travel.
        But then someone offered a really good explanation. The War may have started as a series of time travel interventions that eventually led to the Time Lock. The Lock means not only that you cannot enter or leave the War but that nothing can time travel within the Lock.
        What this means is that there is no before or after the War. The Time War is essentially an alternative history of the universe, inaccessible to “us” in the current universe.
        So yes, I do think it’s cheating for the TARDIS to be able to visit Gallifrey, even if the Doctor is still a child. To me it’s clear that a time-travelling army could affect the War no matter how early they visit Gallifrey or Skaro. So every moment of Gallifrey or Skaro or the whole universe must be Locked in the Time Lock.
        Of course, we now know that Gallifrey itself is somewhere else. But Gallifrey is not only a place. I think the history of Gallifrey is also “located” in this other “place”. So maybe the TARDIS went there, and not to the original Time Locked spacetime where Gallifrey was.


  4. ScarvesandCelery
    April 23, 2018 @ 5:36 pm

    “There’s a curious lack of consistent thought that emerges when you compare Listen and Robot of Sherwood to Death in Heaven. Robot of Sherwood makes clear that the Doctor does not consider himself a hero, and Listen has him furiously agree that he’s an idiot, and yet these claims are treated as major self-realizations in the season finale.”

    I don’t think either of those scenes really contradict the “I am an idiot!” resolution to the “good man” arc – the “Robot of Sherwood” quote is included in the montage that plays right before the “Death in Heaven” speech, it’s clearly meant to be an example of the Twelfth Doctor questioning whether he’s a good person or not. And the Doctor’s always happily identified as an idiot (see also, for example, Kinda), but the twelfth Doctor doesn’t connect that to the question of whether he’s a good or bad person until the finale. I’d argue you need the twelfth Doctor self identifying as an idiot before the finale as set up for that being the resolution his “am I a good man” self questioning.


    • David Anderson
      April 23, 2018 @ 8:23 pm

      Yes – in my experience that kind of inspiration seldom comes from new ideas but usually comes from putting together ideas one’s already had but not attached much importance to.


  5. homunculette
    April 23, 2018 @ 6:24 pm

    I actually think Mackinnon does a really good job directing this episode. Listen depends upon flitting in and out of different genres and emotional registers, and Mackinnon threads all of this together extremely well. One of the best moments in the episode is Orson Pink walking into the restaurant and beckoning Clara – the fact that everybody just continues about their business as if he wasn’t there contributes significantly to the almost dreamlike feel of this episode, and I think the opening sequence is staged extremely well. I don’t know if this is down to Mackinnon or not, but Listen also has maybe the best sound design in an episode of Doctor Who. I can’t remember if there’s any Murray Gold in it at all. Instead, what sticks out to me is how much room the performers have to breathe and take time, particularly in Orson’s time capsule. Those scenes are some of my favorite in all of Doctor Who.

    For me, Listen is the closest the show ever got post-1989 to recapturing the feel of something like Ghost Light or Greatest Show, where it seems to be operating on a logic that you don’t totally understand but that makes sense anyway. I think it’s Moffat’s best piece of writing for Doctor Who by quite a bit.


    • Ciaran M
      April 23, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

      Yeah, the idea that this episode is poorly directed is pretty close to flat-out wrong. Heck, half the reason this episode holds together is because of its direction.

      The opening, on first watch, should feel like a horror movie. That’s the whole narrative momentum of the episode. There is enough there that you can piece together that the Doctor is isolated and fraying, but if the story led with the ‘the Doctor’s going craaaaazy’, a lot of the dramatic heft of the story would have been robbed, as there would be no structured reveals, no tension between what is real and imagined, nothing. The Doctor’s portion of the episode would be waiting for Clara to catch up with the audience.

      I also disagree with the idea that the date should have been shot to juxtapose the horror. That would make it seem like the difficulties Clara is having on the date are her whacky adventures with the Doctor, whereas the point is that Clara and Danny are having problems because they are scared, nervous, and have personalities that can clash in uncomfortable ways. Clara’s story isn’t distinct from the Doctor’s, it’s parallel to it.


    • Chris C
      April 25, 2018 @ 10:40 am

      I’m always up for dragging Mackinnon (god I hate that neon lighting in Orson’s ship), and feel this episode would have sung even more in the hands of someone like Toby Haynes, but I have to agree he gets the opening sequence more or less spot on – Moffat hasn’t actually given away yet, ~1 minute into the episode, that the horror movie is just a feint. So straightforwardly staging the horror movie the Doctor believes himself to be inside is the right choice, and the scene is electric anyway.


  6. Isak Glaser
    April 23, 2018 @ 10:01 pm

    “Listen” is my favorite Doctor Who story, but I’ve never rewatched it: that’s not deliberate, I don’t generally rewatch a lot of Doctor Who, but reading your review I got to remember everything that floored me the first time I watched it. I just felt an electric current going through my body from start to finish, though it’s difficult to articulate why now: I’ve gotten slightly worried now, that I’ll rewatch it and somehow sully that memory, of how great Doctor Who should be.

    In a sense, what I loved about “Listen” was its top-notch structural experimentalism (The opening of the Doctor meditating on the TARDIS; the maelstroem of time-travel; and the pointed non-reveal of the hypothetical creature), but unlike some other experimential episodes, here serving the purpose of facilitating a primal message of other people making us as great as we can be, alleviating our fears. I can’t even honestly say that I remembered the message too well, but I remembered the feel of watching it blossom fully at the end, and just being at peace: had Capaldi not had another great episode, I still would have considered it worth it.


    Also, the Barn-Trilogy is a wonderful conceptualization of the weird things in common between those three stories: the way they all play against expectations whilst they (the barn elements specifically) still anchor a cohesive story: they’re never some slapdash excursion to a barn because they had a cheap location, but instead the barn becomes the place where grand expectations are taken down to earth, where things become interesting again.

    We see this in reducing the entire Time War to three Doctors and a Companion arguing about and with a sentient [bomb]; we see this when the Doctor’s glorious return to Gallifrey is a return to a place where he had his greatest fears, as a place stripped down to the very barest functions of a home: four walls and a roof. Not dissimiliar to the feel that Twelve was a Doctor stripped down to the essential details. And it is from there that he launches a rebellion against all those grandiose elements. Oh, and here in “Listen”, we (for the first time?) get to see the Doctor’s origin, so to speak, and it is the most obvious and counter-intuitive and barest we can imagine: a small child, who is terrified. And who is shown kindness. And same as we don’t need to see the big battles of the Time War, or a more “epic” return to Gallifrey, we don’t need to see anymore of the Doctor’s origins than just that.


  7. mx_mond
    April 24, 2018 @ 10:01 am

    This is a weird episode for me, because I can’t connect to it emotionally at all and it doesn’t quite cohere for me thematically between it’s various subplots.

    Or at least that’s what happens when I think about this episode with the Doctor at it’s center. If the focus shifts to Clara, however (she already starts to take the Doctor’s place in the narrative!), a symmetry emerges. This is her between the two men in her life – one normal and down-to-Earth, the other her weird space dad. Both of them wounded and difficult, both making demands of her, requiring her to play a mother figure to them both to calm them down.

    I expect through the date Moffat wanted to have a look at a realistic relationship of people who are not immediately perfect for each other, who both need to try very hard to make it work. For me, however, it mostly showed that Danny and Clara were doomed from the start. I get the feeling that Clara really liked Danny, but she embarked on a relationship with him because she was still torn between the life she was really drawn to and a misguided sense that she should have a normal life as well. So she tried to have it all.

    It’s also worth noting that, in addition to the Doctor agreeing he’s an idiot, we have another seed planted for the character’s eventual evolution. Two episodes ago the Doctor wondered whether he was a good man. Here, Clara tells him he can be kind. Much like the hero and idiot aspects, this will become important later on.


  8. milan
    April 25, 2018 @ 5:47 am

    The way of direction matters a lot for the viewers.


  9. Daru
    May 7, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

    As homunculette suggested above, there is quite a bit of openness, or at least a crack in the door for the possibility that we have entered the mind of the Doctor, not just in the barn scene, but in other parts of the story. I love this thought a lot, not to make going to Gallifrey “OK” (as I am fine with that), but one of the things I was fascinated and excited by in this series was the travelling into conceptual spaces, or such spaces crashing into ours. Such as the allusions to the Land of Fiction in Robot of Sherwood, the worlds of Flatland meeting ours in Flatline, subtle but not so well executed Blakean ideas in Forest of the Night ( I was so excited by that title!), genre twists in Kill the Moon, a dark Heaven in Dark Water and dreams in Last Christmas.

    This really is the kind of Doctor Who that grabs me and I can watch again and again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.