Last week saw Twelve and Clara in a stand-alone episode. “The Robot of Sherwood” had some great dialogue and character insights wrapped in a candy coating of absurdity. I don”t know about you guys, but I was along for the ride right up until the last ten minutes. A leap of faith via suspension of disbelief is acceptable…even expected…but the “golden arrow” might be the new “jumping the shark.” Can this week”s episode “Listen”, written by showrunner Steven Moffat, right the ship?
We open with the Doctor meditating on top of the TARDIS above the Earth. He is listening for something. And he asks us to listen along, breaking the fourth wall to look right at the audience. This is a variation of a theme Moffat has played on before. Don”t blink, don”t breathe, don”t move. Be still. Listen.
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is monologuing at no one. Clara is nowhere to be seen and without her humanizing presence, Capaldi”s Doctor has devolved into a paranoid Grandpa, seeing monsters in the dark. The darkened mood lighting of the TARIDS adds to the spooky feeling of being watched. Of course, whenever the Doctor is involved there is a high probability the monsters are actually there, watching.
The monologuing continues and out comes the chalkboard. I”m still not sure if he”s been working on one complex equation the entire season or if old school mathematics are just how this incarnation unwinds. Chalkboards are cool now. Talking to himself – or more accurately the audience – Twelve questions why in nature there are perfect hunters and perfect defenders but not perfect hiders. Clearly he”s never heard of camouflage or seen an octopus seamlessly blend with the ocean floor. But I digress.
As the line of questioning continues, I can”t help but wonder if we”re headed for a jump scare moment. The Doctor clearly believes he is talking to someone or something unseen, the evolutionary pinnacle of a hidden predator. Are we bringing The Silence back into play? Perhaps not all of them were brutally murdered after Eleven”s proclamation and they seek vengeance? Or perhaps they just want to emulate the Japanese Ghost Child trope and creepily write “LISTEN” on the chalkboard as soon as the Doctor”s back is turned. Either/or.
P.S. I still adore the new opening credits. Steampunk ALL THE THINGS.
We return to Clara and Danny Pink on a date at a restaurant. Or more accurately, Clara remembering a date that has just happened. Based on her body language in the present, it did not go well. But it takes several staggered flashbacks to get to the heart of the problem. At first, all seems to be going well. Danny is wearing a pink shirt, I assume because you have to learn to own a name like that early in life. They are laughing and having a good time, making fun of co-workers and students and just generally behaving like normal, non-time traveling humans. And then Clara steps in it.
For whatever reason, she keeps coming back to the fact that Danny was a soldier and therefore probably killed people. Only in the most dismissive, flippant way possible. It is as if it never occurs to her that shooting at humans who are hellbent on also shooting at you might weigh on a person”s conscience and/or leave behind invisible mental trauma. Luckily, Danny is having none of it and launches in on how much he and his fellow soldiers were saving lives, not just kicking in doors and murdering people. Real life soldiering is more SimCity and less Call of Duty, it would appear.
But then Danny steps in it, saying “Sometimes people like you get the wrong end of the stick.” Now whether he meant women, or civilians, or middle-class white people, the world may never know. The date has been officially declared a disaster zone and ends.
Back in the present, Clara enters her bedroom to find she can barely fit through the door. In a delightful moment of “Doctor Logic,” Twelve was hiding her in bedroom in case the date went well and she brought the object of her affection home. Because obviously they”d never go to the bedroom.
The Doctor manages to balance being a curmudgeon with backhanded compliments and still come off charming, a testament to Capaldi”s acting skills. He goads Clara into abandoning her desire to wait for Danny to call and apologize to help the Doctor with “a thing” instead. With her fabulous strappy shoes in hand, Clara is bombarded with Twelve”s hypothesis that no one is ever really alone. That out there somewhere is a species of creature so adept at hiding, they have never been seen. What would such creatures want? And why stay hidden? And why grab the legs of people from under the bed and trigger the fight or flight reflexes of the hyperaware?
Clara, in return, asks the only logical question. “How long have you been traveling alone?” Because honestly, this kind of manic paranoia only pops up when the Doctor has been isolated for too long.
No matter, it”s time for a new plot device. The Doctor is going to slave the TARDIS to Clara”s timeline by sticking her fingers into what looks like Sexy”s brain. I fully expect the TARDIS to freak out – after all, it is well-established she hates Clara – but I guess we”re dropping that plot thread for the sake of expediency. Turning off the safety features, the Doctor asks Clara to think of the first time she ever had the dream about something under the bed. The plan is to travel to that point in Clara”s life and suss out what the creature is. Clara questions why they don”t just use the Doctor”s timeline but he”s dodgy, because reasons.
Just when Clara thinks she has a grasp on the memory, her cell rings. It”s Danny. But she”s not able to answer it. The Doctor is cock-blocking like it”s his damn job right now. The telepathic interface pinpoints something and within seconds the TARDIS is outside a spooky children”s home in Gloucester in the mid-90s. We”ve dropped in during the middle of the night and the grounds are covered in zombie fog. This should go well.
There is a small hiccup though. Clara had a happy childhood and was never in a children”s home. This fact does not deter the Doctor. Obviously she just forgot she”d been here. Maybe due to the trauma of whatever eldritch creature she saw in her dream. At the last moment, Twelve remembers the catastrophic possibilities of Clara meeting her younger self and orders her to stay put while he checks things out.
Which is how she”s standing outside, alone, in the zombie fog, when she meets the young Danny Pink. Only at the moment he is going by Rupert. Smarter than the average TV sidekick, Clara instantly recognizes the young child at the window for who is he, and is properly nonplussed that thinking of Danny while interfacing with the TARDIS brought them to his childhood. But then she remembers WHY they”re here and is off to make sure young Mr. Pink is safe.
While she sneaks upstairs, the Doctor is bringing out the psychic paper and messing with the night custodian of the children”s home. Of course Twelve is an inspector, and of course he”d show up in the middle of the night…no one expects an inquisition at two in the morning. Whether because he”s a bit of an ass, or because he”s actually unaware of how creepy it is, the Doctor plays mind games by stealing the custodian”s coffee mug and disappearing with the ease of a Time Ninja. Personally, I expect that employee to tender his resignation in the morning on the grounds that the home is haunted as hell.
Upstairs, Clara has introduced herself to young Danny. He can”t sleep because he”s scared. Scared of something under the bed. Continuing to show why she”s such a good teacher/babysitter, Clara crawls underneath the bed frame to prove there”s nothing to be afraid of and invites Danny to join her. This was a bad idea. She”s in the process of explaining how clever people can hear dreams but there”s nothing to be afraid of when it happens. Someone is sitting on the bed, pushing the box springs down menacingly. To her credit, Clara does not freak out. She very calmly tries to process what is happening. Maybe it”s a friend playing a prank, or perhaps the Doctor has entered the room and sat on the mattress.
No such luck. As Danny and Clara discover after crawling out from under the bed, there is something sitting dead smack in the middle of it. Something child shaped and hidden underneath the red blanket. Whatever these things are, they”re definitely taking a page from the Japanese Ghost Child trope. Instead of threatening to wallop it, Clara attempts to reason with the blanket monster which it takes as an invitation to stand up. Obviously these two are easy pickings in the creature”s mind, if they aren”t even bothering to arm themselves.
Suddenly, the Doctor. He gives perhaps the best speech about being afraid since Ned Stark, telling Rupert/Danny that being scared is good. Fear is a superpower: adrenaline is like rocket fuel. It makes you run faster, and fight harder, and makes you so alert it feels as if you can slow down time. Being afraid of the blanket monster is a good thing. That monster isn”t scared. What a loser. Just ignore him. It”s such a great bit of psychology.
The Doctor, Danny, and Clara turn their backs on the creature in an act of willpower that is borderline insane. At a calculated risk, the Doctor is betting all their lives on the fact the monster just wants to not be seen. A risk that pays off as it flees into the night…with Danny”s blanket. Even the audience doesn”t get a good look, just a blurry figure and a flash of light.
Of course, now Danny is terrified to go to sleep and rightly so. Clara attempts to negate his fears by placing toy soldiers all around the underneath of the bed and giving him the “boss one,” a soldier so brave, he doesn”t need a gun to keep the world safe. *cough*The Doctor*cough*. The young Mr. Pink dubs the brave soldier Dan, and boom there goes the Möbius timeline, neatly tied in a bow.
Twelve has had enough of the sentimental placating of children and promptly knocks Danny out with a finger to the head. A Time Lord version of the Vulcan grip. “Dad skills,” he says, nonchalantly…as if he talks about his past every day and this isn”t a monumental revelation about his life pre-TARDIS.
Now knowing she is at least partly responsible for Danny becoming a soldier, Clara insists the Doctor drop her off outside the restaurant so she can apologize. She enters moments after the first version of herself left and attempts to resuscitate her burgeoning relationship with an apology. Things are going well for a hot second before her mouth runs away with her and she calls Danny “Rupert.” Offscreen, a glass shatters in case the audience wasn”t sure she messed up.
Aside: If Clara reentered the restaurant within moments of her other self leaving, at what point did Danny call her cell phone from the restaurant?
Danny is perplexed and suspicious. How did she know that name? Clara dodges but man she is bad a lying. Danny hates liars and presses for the truth, which obviously she can”t give him because it”d sound insane. Just as their date is circling the drain for the second time that evening, an astronaut in an orange jumpsuit arrives on the scene. Danny doesn”t see it however, and leaves in disgust with Clara”s elusive behavior. Which is just as well, since you know, an astronaut.
Back on the TARDIS, Clara is giving the Doctor what for. Could he not wait to be weird for two minutes? But it is quickly revealed the astronaut is not the Doctor, but what appears to be Danny…with a mini-afro. Turns out while Clara with on her date – by the way, her dress is amazing – the Doctor traveled forward in Clara”s timeline and found this Danny doppelgänger in her future. His name is Orson Pink and he was a pioneer time traveler who”d been lost during an experimental mission.
Clara is properly freaked out because she has been adamant about not wanting spoilers about her own life and Twelve just casually picked up what appears to be her great-grandson and plopped him down in front of her. If that wasn”t bad enough, Orson Pink is carrying a family heirloom – the “Boss One” soldier Clara accidentally gave her future husband (apparently) when he was an orphaned child. When Orson tells Clara to take the soldier, she tries to decline by saying it”s his family”s heirloom. “Yeah,” he replies, with the look of “I KNOW.”
No time to contemplate how time is more of a circle than a straight line, though. Orson was found by the Doctor at the end of the universe, when everything is about to end. The safety features on the TARDIS should”ve prevented them from coming this far, but he”d turned them off. And good thing too, or Orson would”ve been stuck there until his death.
Of course, they can”t just pack up and leave. The Doctor is intrigued. What happens to a species of creatures that hide when there is nothing left to hide from? He mentions the silence at the end of time. Or does he mean the “Silence”? Either way, he wants to know what”s out there and Clara and Orson are just along for the ride. At least as they wait, Clara points out the ridiculousness of the new spooky mood lighting in the TARDIS. It”s like the Doctor wants to freak himself out.
As darkness falls, a series of bangs begin on the airlock to the wasteland outside. Could be the metal settling. Could be something in the pipes. Or it could be the blanket monsters. Only one way to find out. Time to open the doors.
The Doctor orders Clara back into the TARDIS for her own safety and she tries to reason with the borderline suicidal behavior “Why do you need to know?” she asks, but he never answers. “Did we come to the end of the universe because of a nursery rhyme?” In a rage, Twelve orders her to “do as she”s told” or he”ll never take her on another adventure again. She acquiesces, but I get the feeling it”s more out of fear of what he”d become without her around rather than fear of not getting to “adventure” anymore. Once inside, she tries to keep an eye on things from the monitors but they go on the fritz. What she can see though is the Doctor is in trouble, either getting sucked out the airlock or being pulled out by an invisible force. Orson to the rescue, pulling the Doctor back into the TARDIS.
The problem now is they need to leave before the blanket monsters find a way into the TARDIS – assuming they aren”t inside already – but the Doctor is out cold. What to do? In a fit of desperation, Clara sticks her hands back into Sexy”s brain and manages to drive the TARDIS to another point in her timeline. To reiterate: Clara. Drove. The. TARDIS. A rare feat indeed. But where are they?
Telling Orson to stay put, Clara puts on her big girl pants and steps outside to perhaps accidentally rend space and time by meeting her younger self. Instead…she”s in a barn? And someone is crying up in the loft? What is going on? Unable to resist comforting a sad kid, Clara climbs up to the loft in strappy shoes but before she can say a word, other voices are heard. Where to hide? Under the bed obviously.
Wait. What is happening? No. No! Yes. It”s him. It”s the Doctor. OH MY GOD, the TARDIS traveled to the Doctor”s childhood. It”s a smorgasbord of new lore. The Doctor was a sad child. He was either an orphan or at boarding school because he wasn”t sleeping in his room “with the other boys.” Time Lords are a part of Gallifreyan society but not the entirety of it. Was this barn part of a school for potential Time Lords? And why would it not be on Gallifrey? It clearly means something to the Doctor if he”d return there for “The Moment” as the War Doctor.
And just when my brain is reeling with this unexpected influx of information, Moffat proves he can be a magnificent bastard when he wants. Hearing the Twelve yelling from the TARDIS, the baby Doctor goes to get up. This prompts Clara to grab his leg from under the bed to keep him from messing up his own timeline. SHE IS THE MONSTER UNDER THE BED! And she gives him the same speech about fear the Doctor gave Danny earlier, complete with leaving him the “boss” soldier. She even adds a dollop of “companion” symbolism.
Moffat literally just made Clara the reason the Doctor became who he is. She is single-handedly the most important person in Who lore now.
Fleeing from her accidental incursion with the baby Doctor, she gets back on the TARDIS to discover Twelve is awake. And wants to know where they are. In a glorious, just glorious, moment of role reversal she tells him not to look outside. To “do as he”s told.”
We end with Clara at Danny”s apartment to apologize again. Now that she can infer their future, it”s important to make this work. As they kiss, we cut to the Doctor looking at the word “LISTEN” on the chalkboard. Even if Clara was the monster under the Doctor”s bed, we”re still left to wonder what Danny”s blanket monster was and who wrote that message in the TARDIS.
So what did you guys think? Personally, I thought this was one of the best episodes of “Doctor Who” ever. Hands down, no qualifiers. The introduction of new lore, the solidification of Clara”s personality and relationship with Twelve, how everything tied together. Just excellent television, in my opinion. Sound off in the comments!