Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doctor Who: Listen


I haven't been blogging much about Doctor Who this season. It took a truly bizarre episode to draw me out. I can't decide whether I like "Listen" or not. It was obviously meant to be  "masterpiece," and it has its moments, but it's also unfocused and has one of the weirder climaxes I've ever seen on this show. It is a brilliant failure.

The reviewer at Tor.com nailed the main problem, which is, essentially: It's me, not you. As a viewer, if I had started watching Doctor Who this season, I'm sure I would have been blown away by the amazingness of this episode. But I've seen every episode back to "Rose," and what Steven Moffat did here is all too familiar. I'm starting to think he needs to step aside as show runner because he has run out of ideas. He only repackages his old ones. Granted, they're good ideas. But at this point, they are run into the ground.

Here the Doctor theorizes about monsters that are so good at hiding that you never see them. They are the monster under your bed and in your closet, and the ones that follow in your footsteps and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The Doctor desperately needs to see them.

But here's the thing: We've already seen them. They are the Silence. They are also closely related to the Weeping Angels. They are the thing that Matt Smith's Doctor said in his first appearance to look for out the corner of your eye.

Then there's the climax. First off, the TARDIS shouldn't have even landed on what was presumably Gallifrey because that planet is time-locked. But somehow Clara accidentally bypassed the laws of the universe and landed them in the Doctor's past, and then gave a sweet speech to the young Doctor while he was dreaming that stuck with the Doctor 2,000 years later. But again, been there, done that: Smith's Doctor already pulled that trick with young Amy Pond. Capaldi's Doctor's speech about fear would have had much more impact for me if it hadn't originated with a time-loop.

And speaking of fear ... Orson Pink (whose name I thought was Awesome Pink until I saw recaps online) and his Nothing Monsters at the end of the universe were the most interesting part of this episode for me. But even that, intentionally or not, has been done before and done better. If you have a Kindle, download the free short story "The Nothing Equation" by Tom Goodwin. It's not as famous or influential as another of Goodwin's stories, "The Cold Equations," but it had more of an impact on me. Orson Pink could have easily been the protagonist of that story.

There were good parts. I enjoyed the Doctor's opening monologue. I like Clara and Danny together, though I hope they get over the awkward stage soon. (And who accuses a guy of being a killer on a first date? Really?) Clara telling the Doctor to do as he's told, after he did the same to her earlier in the episode, was wonderful.

And I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point this season, we circle back to find out that a future Doctor wrote the word "Listen" on his chalkboard, was the one hiding under the blanket in young Danny Pink's bedroom, and was knocking on the door at the end of the universe. Because Moffat loves that kind of stuff.

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