Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review - "Doctor Who: Listen"

Warning: The following review will contain spoilers

Of all the episodes which make up the eighth series of Doctor Who, Listen was probably the one which was hyped-up the most. It seemed to receive the most publicity and advance praise. Looking on it now, it's probably the most well-made episode of the series thus far, but is it perfect? Let's take a closer look.

While travelling on his own, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) dreams up an interesting theory: what if we are never really alone? What if each person has a silent companion who watches them, never truly making their presence known. To see if his fantastical claim has any validity, the Doctor employs Clara (Jenna Coleman) to help. However, things go awry and the Doctor will be catapulted from the past to the end of the universe in search of answers.

Listen was written by Steven Moffat and if there is one complaint which I can level unto Moffat's writing it's that he seems to believe ambiguity creates sophistication. A number of his scripts feature ambiguous scenes or character motivations (see Deep Breath, A Scandal in Belgravia and even to some extent Blink). Listen is no different, in fact the question to the Doctor's problem is never truly answered. An explanation is given, but that explanation doesn't answer all of the other questions unresolved. That is surely my biggest complaint with the episode - it simply left too many things open. I am all for creative ambiguity, but it has to be done right and though Listen very nearly succeeded, it left a little something to be desired.

On the plus side though, the performances in this episode were brilliant. Peter Capaldi turned in what is probably his finest performance as the Doctor so far and the script for the episode seems tailor-made for Capaldi's Doctor. The level of intensity and total conviction which Capaldi brings to the role could only suit this Doctor and the pre-title scene in which he lays his theory before the audience is perhaps the episode's highlight; Capaldi simply marvelous standing in the TARDIS talking aloud as though he were addressing a live audience.

Interestingly, Listen truly seemed like an episode focused more on Clara and I'm happy to say that Jenna Coleman did excellently in the spotlight. She continues to be one of the Doctor's most independent, strong-willed companions, going toe-to-toe with the Doctor in a way no other companion has done before. Samuel Anderson also returned in the role of Danny Pink, Clara's romantic interest. He also played one of Danny's descendants, time-traveler Orson Pink. How Danny will eventually impact the series has yet to be determined, so it will be interesting to see his character unfold as Series 8 progresses. There are really no other characters to speak of - the number of players in this episode was incredibly small, the weight of the story upon the principle cast's shoulders entirely.

Listen also played with a few previously established Doctor Who concepts - something which is a real big concern for the more traditional fans. On a whole, the episode succeeded in adding new dimensions to the Doctor's character, but never giving away too much. The scene where we learn that the barn in which the young Doctor sleeps is the same location seen in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor added some new depth to that story, and really the Doctor's character as well.

In all, Listen was a good, albeit very different episode of Doctor Who. Traditional storytelling is replaced by character study, an interesting change from the norm. Peter Capaldi continues to be brilliant in the role of the Doctor and coupled with an eerie atmosphere, I have no trouble in saying that Listen is probably the best episode of the eighth series so far. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Next Time - Time Heist by Steve Thompson

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