Saturday, 13 September 2014

Doctor Who: Listen

"Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly..."

Nice little tribute to Terrance Dicks there.

Hmm. Bit of a curate's egg, this. There are some clever character moments and nice twists, as one would expect from Moffat, and some brilliant use of structure. The artistry of the writing is really something to admire. And yet...

It wasn't scary. We were promised a scary episode, but what we got was a well-worn and old Moffat meme; the things in the corner of your eye. And,  after working with the Weeping Angels and the Silence, it falls flat here. We've seen all this before. Ultimately the episode's central trick fails. And all of the positive comments that follow should be taken in that light. Listen just doesn't work.

Still, there is a lot of great character and arc stuff here. Clara and Danny are clearly meant for each other- we even meet their descendant- and the interesting parallel between these two Coal Hill schoolteachers and their predecessors from that early evening in the Autumn of 1963 is deliberately foregrounded by their bonding over Courtney, a puzzling pupil in the tradition of one Susan Foreman. Perhaps the irascible first Doctor of every regeneration cycle needs a couple of Coal Hill teachers to humanise him. The old ones are the best. And don't think I didn't notice the line "Fear makes companions of all of us." It's a cleverly done parallel.

Moffat, he of Coupling fame, is of course brilliant at the relationship comedy stuff, and the scenes between Clara and Danny (Samuel Anderson has great comic timing) absolutely sparkle. But the elephant in the room is again Danny's military background, something traditionally set against the Doctor's supposedly strict no-guns approach (although he seems to have had no problems shooting Ogrons in Day of the Daleks and Frontier in Space) and presumably a reason for the Doctor disapprove of Clara's new boyfriend when the time comes.

Except... this episode deconstructs all that. The parallels between Danny and the Doctor are clear enough anyway, but the final scenes really hammer it home; the little boy sleeping in a barn outside the children's home, alone, is not Danny but the Doctor, and the presence under his bed is only Clara, once again inserting herself into his timeline. 

The Doctor, it seems, wanted to be a soldier before joining the Academy, and many years later he would return to that same barn, wearing John Hurt's face, to make that fateful decision during the Time War...

As an episode in itself, this fails. As a piece in a wider arc, it's brilliant. I can't wait to see where this is all going; the arc and character stuff seems to be nuanced, well-constructed and confident in a way we haven't quite seen before under Moffat, fantastic though his era has been thus far; I suspect that, this time, deadline pressures have been absent. This season is on course to be bloody good. It can absorb a failed experiment like this episode.

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