Listen

12-episode set
Region A/1
12-episode set
Region B/2
(Doctor Who Story No. 250, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Douglas MacKinnon
  • produced by Peter Bennett
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 50 minutes
Story: Can a species evolve to be expert at hiding? The Doctor's obsessive investigations add multiple temporal complications to Clara's first date with fellow teacher Danny Pink, until untold secrets are heard at the ends of time....

DVD Extras for this story include:

  • Behind the Scenes featurette (11 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink),
    Remi Gooding (Rupert Pink), writer Steven Moffat, director Douglas MacKinnon, and sound effects editor Harry Barnes.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


Well, this is definitely showrunner Steven Moffat's best solo script for this season - not so much because this one's great, but because it managed to remain half-decent while his others tanked. What I loved most about this one were all the surprise twists in it, and the unexpected places the story took us to both physically and emotionally. But then there are all those under the bed fears - what a dull re-run concept. It's definitely mixed fortunes for this one.


The opening worked really well for me, with Capaldi looking as though he's exercising both his spiritual side and his intellect to explore new concepts and discover the unknown. The end result of this teaser points to one word: "Listen", which then repeats itself as the episode title for extra, extra emphasis. This took my mind straight to the heart of Stephen Covey's fifth Habit of Highly Effective People, and I was primed for something quite profound to unfold. It turned out to be nothing quite so grand though - merely Moffat and company rediscovering the initial backbone strength that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had provided to this show since the 1960's and beyond. Well we knew that already, and what took you so long to figure it out? Oh well....

Curiously, this story contains a lot of speeches that are so charismatically written that most of them will seem to be imparting great pieces of wisdom. This could be dangerous though, partly because they are actually very nicely suited to the perspectives and blind spots of each of the various characters they are given to... While this is good in terms of character writing, the danger is that more unsophisticated members of the audience may drink in too many of the false wisdoms presented.

The other reason this is dangerous is because "Fear" is once more put on too high a pedestal. Capaldi makes a big speech to young Rupert at one point, basically expounding on the benefits of an adrenaline high. What's vitally missing here is the downside of adrenaline - that too much of it can damage the immune system and deplete a person's long term health. The adrenaline brought on by fear is designed for short-term gain in an emergency at the expense of long-term considerations. For optimum health, a person should spend the barest minimum of time possible in the state of fear.

This brings me to my biggest beef concerning what people believe the core of this show is. Yes, it can deal with the conquering of fears and rightly so, but if we begin to believe that no matter how well we've conquered a fear in one scene or one episode, that we'll be back to focus on fears again in the next scene and the next episode, and the one after that, and the one after that, the victories rapidly become empty and hollow. Ultimately, the focus needs to improve and move on to other things, to prove that we actually have conquered something. This is partly why I find that the hypnosis that the Hinchcliffe era often exercises on fandom is something that should be resisted, and why the variety that Terrance Dicks advocated during his era, or the avenues of astronomy and legend and humour that Graham Williams aimed for are worth pursuing more vigorously.

I'll give the director a point for making the under-the-bed-and-blanket sequences more effective and creepy than I might have imagined them to be, but ultimately I'm kind of bored by the fact that we went to those concepts in the first place, after having given them a good enough outing already with "The Girl in the Fireplace" (story no. 175). If something that big is going to share the bedroom with the characters, I think they deserve to pull the blanket off and have a good look at it, and the characters feel false for not finding a convincing reason to avoid pursuing that tactic. Even if the Doctor's on some tack about respecting an unknown creature's rights, respect goes both ways, and the sanctity of a kid's bedroom has a higher priority over any other sentiment this episode manages to express.


Now that said, many of the imaginative locations used for this story did feel fresh and surprising while also providing unusual insight into characters. Moffat gets a lot of points for this episode based on the very skilful way he brings all those elements together with economy and impact and pace. It's far more cinematic than classic Doctor Who, and represents the possibilities of modern television being used well.

Also, the relationship between Clara and Danny is developed in very entertaining fashion - even though it was never a concept that I was truly invested in emotionally and could have happily dropped at any moment, at no point does it become dull. In writing scene for scene, the characters and the audience have to stay on their toes to keep it all sorted, while Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson do excellent work keeping up the empathy between the audience and their characters such that we can't turn away because we remain ultimately curious about what will happen next - in many cases what complication they will suffer next.

One point perhaps isn't as clear during the episode as it is afterwards on reflection of how the whole thing works out: Clara really does take over as the hero and lead protagonist of this story. Even though we get every reason to believe Capaldi's Doctor may be on the cusp of a great external discovery and fully capable of leading us all safely through, it turns out that he's actually a bit of a nutcase that needs to be carefully handled. The entire problem is centered in his own multi-layered persona, and he makes the huge mistake of missing that and blaming external factors instead. Perhaps largely because he doesn't seem to really acknowledge or come to terms with this at the end of the story, I think this really isn't a great showcase for Capaldi as a great Doctor. This is a contributing factor helping to make the sequence that concludes the main story feel more like the middle of a tale than the end. Plus, that sequence has a speech that is trying hard to be far more wise and profound than it actually is... It has good bits in it, but it also winds up re-cycling a bit too much continuing formulaic rubbish, no doubt to facilitate more fear-based episodes of Doctor Who. Ho hum.

But even if that keeps "Listen" down a number of pegs from my favourite story of the season, for the sake of variety and for staying true to the unusual concepts brought up in the rest of the story, this seemingly non-formula ending is a very good way to go in this case.


This is a strange one in the season, but in many ways, also an unmissable one. Perhaps it might have worked better in balance had Peter Capaldi been able to conquer more traditional Doctor-proving adventures prior to this one in the season. He still seems to be lacking a truly great adventure at this stage of the game....



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 34 Box Set
11 stories in 12 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.



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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Time Heist"



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