OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film



“Perhaps they’re just all waiting,
Perhaps when we’re all dead.
Out they’ll come a’slithering,
From underneath  the bed.”

The Internet is already full of fans who are divided on this episode, either loving it or hating it with almost no middle ground. That’s kind of par for the course with Moffat’s episodes, and one does have to factor in the level of Moffat-Hate that is out there. I have never understood the hate thing myself, seeing plenty to love in his run, and for every “bad” episode – and if you’ve read my reviews, you know I am quite happy to call out the stuff that doesn’t work –  there are some real Russell T. Davies stinkers I can refer you to. So while that’s nothing new, and the majority seems to be in the love-it camp, I have been surprised to read how many people are confused by “Listen”, not in specific ways, but overall.

Doctor Who Series 8

I’m surprised because to me it seemed really straightforward: The Doctor knows fear intimately, but has never let his fear rule him, always channeling it into being who he is. For all his questions this season about who he is, it seems to me that’s really him looking back at himself and the choices he’s made. Is he a “Good Man”? He tries to be. He always has, and because of that the Doctor is, despite his protests to Robin Hood, a hero. And as any real hero can tell you (and there are many wonderful books by and about real heroes in our world), fear is something they live with. Maybe Bertrand Russell said it best when he wrote “None but a coward boasts he has never known fear”, or Joseph Campbell when he wrote “A hero is someone who has given his life or her to something bigger than oneself.”  Both of those could refer to the Doctor easily.

Here, he’s asking himself, and clearly he has spent some time alone as Clara points out, what the origins of a specific fear is. Not so much what might be under the bed, despite the prevalence of that image, but what might be in the dark? And he’s asking for himself, looking back at an unclear memory of his own fear as a child, from a time when he seemed to know only fear and sadness. A child whose own fear, and the promise that fear can be overcome, created a man who would fight monsters to save others from their fears, staring into the darkness for the benefit of entire worlds.

Now, how much you like Moffat’s timey-wimey tendencies will certainly have an impact on how you feel about this revelation, because what he’s given us here is not only the Doctor essentially creating himself, but also the last hurrah of the Impossible Girl. Well, maybe on the second part. I hope so, actually, because Clara has been much more interesting this season without the mystery hanging over her, and I liked her even then. I was quite content to have that part of her be in her past, but if it must come back, then this is the way to do it. Why? Because this Clara, the real Clara, does what all her fragments scattered throughout the Doctor’s timestream did, and finds a point in the Doctor’s timeline where he needed someone to save him. Not from the machinations of the Great Intelligence, but from his own fears.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep4

I’m OK with that. I’m OK with the Doctor’s own words being the words Clara tells the child who will become the Doctor who will say those words that Clara will tell the child who will become the Doctor who will… etc. etc., timey-wimey. It’s an elegant thing to me, and Clara’s words are some of the best of the many monologues the show has had throughout its two runs, not because they loop the circle of the Doctor’s life, but because they are words that are lost to the Doctor’s memory, just like Clara’s words to Rupert. They are the words of a dream barely remembered, but still the words that, like many dreams, linger and shape us. Those words didn’t make the Doctor steal the TARDIS, or fight the Daleks on Skaro, they just made him know that maybe the dark isn’t the scariest thing out there.

Of course none of this would have worked without Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. We get the professorial Doctor here, and moments of fear and anger and real understanding from Capaldi, in what is yet another wonderful performance. Yes, to a certain degree, I am one of those who finds himself a fan of whoever is playing the Doctor, this is true, but still. Capaldi is really just perfect for the role, especially for those of us who remember the older, “darker” Doctors of the past. Jenna gets to give us the funny, awkward and kinda sad beginnings of Clara’s strongly implied future or doomed-to-tragedy romance – depending on which theory of Coleman’s exit from the show you want to believe – with Danny, as well as be the “carer” for the Doctor. Of course, that’s a little misleading, isn’t it? Because the when the Doctor is talking to Rupert about how fear can make you strong, that’s not him not caring, is it? No, that’s a man telling a frightened child that it’s OK to be afraid, but that you can use your fear and find strength in it. Clara’s words are words of comfort for both small, frightened boys, but the Doctor’s are words of encouragement.

“Dad skills” indeed.

Which, by the way, is one of several nods to the Doctor’s past here, and one of the rare references to his own children. We also have the First Doctor’s “Fear makes companions of us all”, and the Fourth Doctor’s “Sontarans perverting the course of human history”, in what seems to be a recurring trend this season of referencing the Original series. Personally I’m happy to see that, especially since there seems to be a segment of fandom who seems to only view the show through the lens of the New Series. These are the ones who you can find on the message boards complaining about Capaldi’s age, or how the Doctor isn’t as “cool” as he was, or how the show is going downhill, and as an old school fan who loves both versions of the show – yes, even the wobbly sets from back in the day – that’s the kind of thing that makes me hope those fans will maybe take a look at the Original Series and find the many joys that are there.

Of course, there’s that very vocal, very tiny from all real analysis, segment that seem to just live to complain that such things can never penetrate, but for the majority of fans, those are glorious Easter eggs to discover.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep4

Of course, as I mentioned above, there are tons of rumors abounding about the possible exit of Jenna Coleman’s Clara at the end of the Christmas episode. The prevailing two seem to be marrying Danny and leaving the show or — and there appears to be a rather sizable number of fans who think this — leaving by dying in some tragic and powerful manner. While never forgetting the tendency of Moffat to love his paradoxes, this story more or less tells us that Clara and Danny will have at least a child or two, so that Colonel Pink can exist in the first place and pass the broken soldier back to Clara in an acknowledged recognition of family. If so, it’s an interesting look into a future that is clearly going to have a bump or two to deal with, based on the rocky start, and also the Doctor’s attitude towards the military mindset. Now, if you’ve read my review for “Into the Dalek”, I have my reasons to believe that the Doctor’s negative attitude is more self-directed than anything else, but we’re clearly being set up for a clash between the two men in Clara’s life. One I am honestly looking forward to, because I’m enjoying Samuel Anderson’s performance.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep4

Other nice moments? The way that Clara was out of focus when talking about the soldier who was so brave he didn’t need a gun, while the Doctor was pointedly in focus. This would come back into play when Clara gave the toy to the child Doctor of course, but it also continues this series theme of how the Doctor is perceived by those around him and the man himself. Then there’s the bit where the Doctor and Clara discuss what the sounds in the spacecraft mean, and the comfortable companionship they display, before it’s shattered by the Doctor’s insistence on Clara going back into the TARDIS. And the teasing (and it is teasing) between the Doctor and Clara about her eyes and face, especially when it’s coming from the man with attack eyebrows. And the care in his voice when he tells her that he would like to be sure of her date’s prospects. And the hug she gives him. And the barn, of course.

Of course, one cannot end this without giving my opinion about our mysterious… well, adversaries really isn’t the word, is it? There isn’t actually a villain this week, no monster to fight, and I’ve seen plenty of arguments that make pretty good cases that there really isn’t anything outside the airlock, and that there is another child under the blanket. And yet… we didn’t hear anyone come in before there was something on the bed, did we? That was pretty rhythmic and consistent knocking sounds, weren’t they? And the Doctor has a tendency to attract the unusual, the mysterious, the unknown, doesn’t he? I think there was… something there. Not another child playing a game, and maybe not quite what the Doctor was searching for, but something. In the end, the Doctor and Clara and Rupert and the Colonel all believed there was something there, and that makes it real… doesn’t it?



Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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