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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
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