Doctor Who – Listen Review (or “Oooooh, You Can’t Mess With Fandom’s Makey-Up Rules, Apparently”)

Up until the emergence of “The Omnirumour” in mid 2013, I never really frequented Dr Who forums or mixed in those circles on social media. What that meant was that I never took part in the immediate post-mortem discussion of new episodes of the show.

That’s changed now obviously, and I’ve found that the old saying – “Opinions are like arseholes; everyone’s got one”  – is absolutely true.

Take last week for example; I didn’t rate the Robots of Sherwood highly at all, but I would never go as far as to say it was dreadful. But some people jumped on it like it was television’s worst moment, while others engaged The Hyperbole Hyperdrive and proclaimed it amazing.

And that’s fine; people are allowed opinions, but it’s the agendas I don’t like.

Case in point; a tweet from the brand manager of Dr Who said that he thought it was a “Perfect episode”. Now obviously, that’s utter bollocks by anyone’s standards, even if it is his job to be positive, and when I pressed him on it – because if you’re saying it’s perfect then it must be, by definition, the best episode of Dr Who of all time – he backtracked and said he meant he wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Meanwhile, there are people so blinded by hatred for “modern Who” that they try to insist that literally any new episode is shit; they don’t give things a chance. There’s even a “Fans of Classic Who Who Hate Nu Who” Facebook group.

What happened to reasoned debate? What happened to people taking each episode as they come and offering a critical, but fair assessment? Why watch a show when you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to hate it anyway? Or why bother to comment on an episode if you’re going to be so ludicrously positive about it that people can’t take you seriously?

Well I hope that I don’t come across that way and that I judge everything as fairly as I can.

As it turns out, this review – of the latest episode, Listen – is the 500th Article I’ve published on Stuart Reviews Stuff.

And thankfully – and fittingly – fate has dealt be a positive story to review.

Doctor Who – Listen Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor wants to establish whether there’s a form of life out there that has perfected hiding as a defence mechanism, while Clara tries to enjoy a date with Danny Pink.

Thoughts – Now We’re Talking

To cut right to the chase, I’ll just say that I thought Listen was brilliant; it really was a fantastic episode of Doctor Who.

What a fantastic, shit-eating grin

What a fantastic, shit-eating grin

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best episode we’ve seen since Steven Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies back in 2010 (not that that’s especially hard of course).

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise though; when he’s on form, Moffat is capable of writing some of the best stories of Doctor Who ever, as we saw with Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace. Does this rank that high? Probably not, but it’s too soon to say, considering this is being written on the same day that it was broadcast.

All I know is that on every level by which I judge this show – Drama, Pacing, Originality, Direction, Acting Standards etc – this was a success.

To be more specific, I’d break it down as…

Drama: The notion of the Doctor trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of that feeling that you aren’t alone is a clever one, and what I liked in particular was that it avoided falling into the Moffat cliche of him deliberately looking to scare children. It’s quite the opposite; by finishing the way it did – not specifying if there really were aliens living a hidden existence, and revealing that the truth behind it was that the Doctor himself used to be scared of the dark and had a “dream” of someone underneath his childhood bed that turned out to be Clara – was genius. A refreshingly different and interesting conclusion.

Pacing: It hit the ground running with that scene with the Doctor “talking to himself” (but actually to us) and just kept going for the entire 45 minutes at a smooth, enjoyable speed. I thought it was slick.

Originality: This felt different to other Doctor Who stories. If Robots of Sherwood was depressingly by-the-numbers, this stood out as something fresh. And to bring up the Doctor’s childhood was a top notch twist, in my opinion at least.

Direction: While nothing out of the ordinary, it still hit the notes it needed to hit with style.

Acting Standards: With a relatively small cast, the emphasis was on the two leads and they were both tremendous. Unlike last week – which I remain convinced was written for a generic Doctor character rather than Capaldi specifically – this one was the former Malcolm Tucker’s best story yet. He was sensational throughout, with a wide range of emotions and a character so engaging that he brought the viewer along with him for the ride. I can’t speak highly enough of him. And in fairness, Jenna Coleman was great as well. Each week, she becomes stronger and more assured in her role and compliments Capaldi beautifully. But her strength as a character also allowed Danny Pink to have credibility as a character too. I was impressed. I hope she’s not leaving.

Beyond that, annoying nods to Moffat’s “clever” season arcs were left out, unwanted references to 40-year-old episodes for cheap pops were avoided and the episode felt like it could appeal to almost anyone.

Almost…

Ooooh, You Can’t Interfere With Fandom’s Makey-Up Rules

I’m going to be honest here; I have cheated a little bit.

The first thing I did when I finished the episode was to have a quick check on Twitter and Facebook, and wouldn’t you know it, there are some fans out there who are being negative about this episode.

And why is that?

Because they – *gasp* – showed us the Doctor as a child.

Apparently, some people have decided that this is a n0-no.

Give me strength…

I’m the first person to criticise messing around with established continuity, but when I do, I feel there’s some level of reasoned thought behind it. I thought Terry Nation’s rewriting of established Dalek lore in Genesis of the Daleks was poor because he should have

"Oh my god, she's talking to the Doctor as a child!!! I'm going to get all upset about it and rate this story 0/10. That'll show them"

“Oh my god, she’s talking to the Doctor as a child!!! I’m going to get all upset about it and rate this story 0/10. That’ll show them”

known better, and I thought the “Half-Human” nonsense from the TV Movie was just stupid.

But showing the Doctor as a child? What’s the problem? The bases were covered by having it established that under Clara’s control, the TARDIS could operate outside its normal parameters – meaning that it could find its way to Gallifrey – and more importantly, it worked within the confines of the story.

And perhaps more importantly, it was a plot development that doesn’t have far-reaching consequences. It was important for this episode only, and that’s what counts. It made *this* episode make sense. Actually, it also made some sense of The Day of the Doctor too.

So what’s the problem?

The answer is that there isn’t one, so may I just say this to people who have got themselves upset over this incident…

Get over yourselves. You don’t “own” Doctor Who and you don’t get to impose fandom set ground rules.

Rant Over.

Random Observations

  • Once again, the humour in the exchanges between The Doctor and Clara was a highlight. Though thoroughly convincing as a serious – nay menacing – actor, Peter Capaldi’s history playing Malcolm Tucker means he has an understanding of comic timing and expression that his predecessors perhaps lacked.
  • Highlights on that score included the scene with the TARDIS in Clara’s bedroom and the one where he introduces her to Orson.
  • But what makes him so good is that he’s also able to flip that switch and be dark and serious too. The scene where he demands Clara go back into the TARDIS was superb.
  • The writing of that scene was brilliant too, because it made sense of the Doctor’s motivation for wanting to find the answer to his question.
  • And it was then followed up by the scene with Clara hiding under the young Doctor’s bed.
  • That bit where she grabs onto his leg was one of those “Aha, it all makes beautiful sense” moments. I love those.
  • This episode plays up to Steven Moffat’s strengths as a writer. And I think that’s what makes his run as series show runner so frustrating. It’s clear to me that his strengths lie in these one-off episodes, and when he’s charged with overseeing an entire season, he struggles under the weight of writing these tiresome 13 episode arcs and of trying to be too clever by half.
  • Anyone who seriously suggests that Mark Gatiss is a good writer should sit down, watch the Robots of Sherwood, then watch this and explain to me how they can think that way.
  • So what was underneath the bedsheet? Not knowing is actually better.
  • And you might say “But hold on, wasn’t this supposed to be some sort of universally shared dream? Where’s the resolution”, but I think that was covered. The suggestion – as I saw it – was that the truth of the matter was that it is probably just in your head. The true story was the Doctor’s insecurities from childhood.
  • In my criticism of the show as it currently stands to the Brand Manager, I made the point to him that it doesn’t always have to be about aliens. Doctor Who is a more flexible beast than that. This proves it. How crap would it have been if the episode had ended on aliens pouring through that airlock, only to be very quickly defeated by a triumphant Doctor? That would have been flat and predictable.
  • Hey, it’s the same space-suits as in The Waters of Mars.
  • Ok, I’ll criticise it a little bit and question how the last planet has a sun when the idea put forward in Utopia was that the last of the suns was dying. Pedantic? Maybe, but I have to be even-handed.
  • Did I see a Sensorite in the next time trailer? At last!!!!

Doctor Who – Listen Review: Final Thoughts

So I think it was excellent.

On almost any level, this story was a home run.

It’s frustrating then that the show can’t be like this every week, especially when the guy in charge of it is responsible for writing an episode of such high quality.

But alas that hasn’t been the case for some time.

Hopefully next week retains the high standard set here.

Oh, and one more thing; if you’re going to watch Listen and genuinely dislike it because of the scene with the Doctor as a child, I have three simple words for you.

Get a grip.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here

 

 

 

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17 Responses to Doctor Who – Listen Review (or “Oooooh, You Can’t Mess With Fandom’s Makey-Up Rules, Apparently”)

  1. hi
    I have to say I disagree…(opinions eh..)
    The story was too loose. The whole date thing was irrelevent.
    The doctor was trying to determine if a hidden life form existed. Did he? No idea. IT DID matter what was under the bed sheet. The story implied that the drs dream was universal….but ignored all that by trying to personalize it for the doctor having clara grab his leg. sorry…that dont cut it. The space suit was EXACTLY the same space suit as the bowie base..(same badge) and it was seen on the TV so the doctor didnt give it to him. The soldier figure….pointless.
    so many threads left untied.

    The story introduced an idea….hidden monsters and forgot about them. Had no problem with the kid doctor although how clara knew it was the same barn as day of the doctor I have no idea.

    I truly am mistified at the positive feedback for this episode. Capaldi was cool……listen wasnt.

    • sgmilne says:

      Those criticisms are fair enough Peter, and I see where you’re coming from on some of them, but I think the idea that it would have been too easy if the resolution was that the universally shared dream did turn out to be aliens. To me, that was the Macguffin of the episode.

  2. Perry Armstrong says:

    I’m inclined to think the vaguely spherical shape under Rupert Pink’s bedspread was Mike Wazowski, who, robbed of his ‘moment’ by the Doctor, decided to quietly skulk away instead of launching into his usual comedy routine.

    • Ian says:

      I’ve decided, since the episode couldn’t be bothered to tell us, that it was either Davo, Colin or Sylv under the bedsheet.

  3. drwhonovels says:

    There were references to 40-year-old episodes, though, with Capaldi reciting Tom Baker’s very first line, and Clara, of course, feeding Boy Doctor a famous line he’d later use in his first serial.

    Also, my thought was the shape under the blanket in Rupert’s room — whose hair we see very briefly — was the Boy Doctor, whose hair we also see late in the episode.

  4. Rob says:

    “What happened to reasoned debate? What happened to people taking each episode as they come and offering a critical, but fair assessment? Why watch a show when you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to hate it anyway? Or why bother to comment on an episode if you’re going to be so ludicrously positive about it that people can’t take you seriously?”

    THIS. THIS I completely agree with.

  5. Colin Hicks says:

    *applauds*

    Can’t find a word of this I disagree with.

  6. J.S says:

    There was so much Moffat-fluff and it’s gotta stop.

    The monsters under the bed; Ripped right out of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ where it was done infinitely better.

    The Doctor/Companion going back in time and influencing a main character; EVERY STEVEN MOFFAT COMPANION! For Christ’s sake, Steven! Companions are capable of having normal lives and free will!! Why can’t Danny Pink be a soldier because that’s what HE wanted to do!? Not because Clara affected him as a child! That turns Danny from a grounded person (which contrasts him with Clara for an interesting dynamic) into a cipher for timey-wimey. And I’m completely and utterly SICK of it. It’s not clever. It’s not smart. It’s not original. It’s LAZY.

    A creature/entity you’re not aware of but has influence over you and your surroundings and is like a shadow; The Silence. It’s like the friggin’ Silence.

    Also, there WAS some creature or entity lurking around in the episode. The creature that wrote “LISTEN” in the TARDIS (it was INSIDE THE TARDIS!), the thing under the bed-sheets (it can’t have been a child for numerous reasons) and that thing at the end of the Universe behind the door. What was that?!

    Moffat’s “just because” narrative sensibilities; Clara recognising a young Danny by his wave *bangs head against wall*. Clara calling Danny Rupert because…the plot requires her to.

    Clara going back in the Doctor’s time-line and influencing his entire life; the entire arc of Series 7 and ‘The Day of the Doctor’. If any other companion had done it, it could have worked. But for Clara, it’s utter over-kill.

    Fan-service that fans will eat up but in the end amounts to NOTHING; The cut-away to John Hurt.

    The fact that it’s the same hut adds NOTHING. The Danny Pink descendant adds NOTHING.

    I liked Capaldi’s speech about fear making you powerful. It was incredible writing. But it felt de-valued when Clara repeated it later. How would you feel if Clara went back in time, met the 4th Doctor and tells him “The moment has been prepared for”? It’d rob those words of any sort of power!

    I hated Clara in this episode and how she treated Danny in the restaurant. It was Rose Tyler levels of hateful condescension. I was yelling at the screen when she visited him at the end saying “No, Danny! Don’t forgive her! She was a complete bitch!”.

    The end of the Universe angle was done better in ‘Utopia’ and ‘Hide’ and the knocking unknown entity was done better in ‘Midnight’.

    This episode reaked of artifice. It came across as Moffat shouting “Look how smart and complex my narratives are!”. When really the complexity is alienating audiences and adding nothing to the characters or their emotions. In fact, the complexity is devaluing their traits and putting them second when, really, they should be front and centre.

    Sometimes, simplicity IS complexity. Why couldn’t Danny Pink be normal? Why couldn’t the Doctor just understand fear and motivate a child instead of Clara going back in time and teaching him? Why can’t Clara and Danny just have a normal none timey-wimey date?

    It’s coming across as self-indulgent and I’m getting sick of it. I’m sick of Moffat waving his ego in my face and telling me how impressed I should be with it.

    How about you stop TELLING me how impressed the audience should be. And actually START impressing them?

    • Cam Eleon says:

      You just put into words pretty much all my problems with this episode. Ironically, after this episode, I do find myself liking Clara less and less-even with all her prior Doctor saving shinanigens before-and Danny/Rupert (aka Tin Dog Mark 2), despite all the sympathy, still comes off as a wet cod. I love Capaldi’s work as the Doctor even if the episodes have been mostly retreaded territory. That said I did like RoS more than most due to it being a throwback to a lighter Classic-style story.

    • hey says:

      Well, I don’t see how he can start impressing anybody when he’s clearly incapable of doing it. The man is a hack.

  7. Slavin Ivanov says:

    Hmmm, a very peculiar episode. What was under the blanket, really?
    Overall a good episode. The Promised Land arc wasn’t touched at all (or was it?). While having a Monster of the Week episode is nice, it was even better to have the reveal be that Clara is to blame after all.
    Was the knocking a Midnight reference?
    On a related note, I can easily imagine Mulder and Scully investigating an X-file involving monsters under the bed. The premise sounds a bit Sarah Jane Adventures though.
    The next episode looks great! 🙂

  8. I take it that you are happy with Steven Moffat taking away any mystery with the Doctor. He has Clara involved with every Doctor, has Clara meet the Hartnell Doctor and tell him which TARDIS to steal, which contradicts The Doctors Wife (Ex-Produced by Moffat). With Clara saying lines that will some day be “repeated” by past Doctors. He makes it FACT that the TARDIS is a living being, when only hinted at in Classic Who.
    And there has NEVER been a companion in NuWho that was from the past, or future.
    Moffat hasn’t got a clue!

  9. jasonhowitt says:

    *spoilers* honestly I liked this episode, however the way how I see it is Clara is the one under the bed for the doctor, but when Clara was under the bed with two kid something was on the bed and even when the doctor was in the room the “monster” stood up and thy looked away, then when the monster leaves its like it never happened, how can Clara be the monster when something was under the sheets, so I believe its either they messed up the story and had to compromise or I had misunderstanding.

    Other than that mishap enjoyed the episode

  10. richard cubitt says:

    so it’s ok to have an opinion, as long as it isn’t that you don’t like new who

  11. Flynn Sullivan says:

    I’ve got to agree with J.S. The time travel to Gallifrey was cheesy(thanks Clara) and made no sense whatsoever by THE SHOW’s laws, not the fandom’s.
    I’m tired of a companion who is both superheroic and super-bossy. And I’m tired of figuring out how Moffat’s changes work in the overall series.

    • Flynn Sullivan says:

      And even without the cheesiness or the lack of a serious explanation for the TARDIS being on Gallifrey(whilst the Time Lords of the past somehow failed to notice the universe reboots of late), the story lacked a point. Why is the Doctor obsessed about a “dream” he had 2000 years ago? What has Orson Pink got to do with it? And why does Orson think there’s something outside the airlock? And why would a potential nervous wreck be picked for a mission like this?
      Why is the story so disjointed? Why is there no atmosphere to the whole thing? It’s just stuff. Stuff that happens because writing.

      Robot Of Sherwood kept a flowing narrative, an easygoing spirit and a new relationship between the Doctor and the historical figure. It was fun, it made sense, it worked with Capaldi’s character(his reluctance to believe in Robin’s existence, for example). Clara had that great scene with the Sheriff.

      So yes, I love Robot and think it’s a classic(first Mark Gatiss story to hit that mark) and find Listen to be a clumsy failure. But that’s my opinion.

  12. I think the problem is the interaction between Clara and the Boy Doctor. Anything said to the Boy Doctor becomes an influence in his life. Therefore, Moffat is changing the Doctors future!

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