14 September 2014

Doctor Who S8E4 "Listen" is all atmosphere, no weight

Aha. The scary episode. Monsters under the bed, in the reflection of the mirror, in the corner of your eye. Behind you. Sounds like good stuff. And it's written by Stephen Moffat, current show runner and writer of some really good episodes, including the infamous "Blink" and the excellent "Silence in the Library". After "Robot of Sherwood", this should be a refreshing change of pace, hopefully a call back to the scary episodes of the Tennant era which have been missing for some time now.

"Listen" is a hard episode to pin down. It opens with Clara on her belated (and eventually, disastrous) date with Danny Pink, before moving to The Doctor and Clara as they research a theory that The Doctor has about things that go bump in the night, the idea that evolution has never produced a creature that can hide perfectly - at least, not one that we know of. This research ends up involving a very young Danny Pink in the past and a descendant of Danny Pink in the future and (without giving too much away) a young child on a far away planet.

"Listen" is not the episode of Doctor Who that I have been waiting for, a statement that I am sure large portions of the Doctor Who viewers will agree with. Despite a strong opening and middle section, the episode takes turns and deviations throughout, taking away from the atmosphere that is being built up and replacing it with, well, nothing really. The finale of the episode is a far cry from the tone built up throughout. It's hard to explain without spoilers, but it sacrifices the central, interesting concept for yet another look at the Doctors past, a look that is entirely unnecessary and almost counter-productive for exploring Capaldi's Doctor.

Apart from that, the episode has it's good parts. The opening scene with Danny Pink and Clara Oswald is well done, giving the new character personality, aspects of which are both good and bad, and also showing us another side to Clara, who takes front and centre for most of this episode. Moffat reuses techniques we've seen before to provide the horror-ish elements of the episode and creates some really good scenes that are creepy and thrilling in equal measure, with a certain air off mystery surrounding them. But it really is all wasted by those final 15 minutes, turning an episode that could have been great into one of the most jarring (and, I assume, divisive) episodes the show has ever delivered, under whelming and disappointing in equal measures.

Although not as inherently bad as "Robot of Sherwood", I'm in a way much more disappointed in "Listen" as it really had the opportunity to be an episode worth rewatching, the kind of episode that Doctor Who has been missing since David Tennant left the show at the start of 2010. It's not the return to form that many were hoping for, and despite a solid opening and middle, "Listen" could well end up being this seasons most frustrating episode.

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