Blimey, where do we start with Listen? It’s been a long time since Moffat wrote an episode that wasn’t some kind of special, and Listen is all the better because of it; I think he’s at his best writing self-contained stories rather than series-spanning plot threads which often end up convoluted, which is why I still view his earlier episodes as the strongest. It opens with a great pre-credits sequence in which we see how The Doctor spends his ‘down time’: observing animals in the wild and meditating atop the TARDIS in space, apparently. I like the proper scientist vibe Capaldi exudes, coming up with questions and conjectures, and he even uses a chalkboard to top it all off. I’m really enjoying his Doctor; there’s a certain weight to everything he says, particularly in this opening, and he’s just as good in the rest of the episode. We see a slightly softer side to him when he talks to a scared child, but he still shows anger and fear when telling Clara to “do as you’re told”.
The main concept of the episode, that perhaps we’re never really alone, is typically Moffat-y in a good way. It effectively plays upon yet another of our inherent fears, in this case the paranoia of the things which go bump in the night; of course there’s a reasonable explanation, but does that mean there’s not something more sinister going on? That’s precisely one of the strengths of this episode: everything that happens could be explained rather mundanely, be it a child playing a (rather sadistic) joke by hiding under sheets or the air pressure of a ship readjusting. There’s no end-of-the-universe threat (apart from the actual end of the universe, but it’s on its way out anyway), and instead The Doctor’s hypothesis becomes an obsession to the extent that he’ll risk his own life to find out the truth. There are no straight answers, and I like that it was all left ambiguous.
The episode is framed within a date between Clara and Danny, whose mysterious soldier past continues to be brought up at every opportunity and is obviously leading up to something. How will the Doctor react to a soldier when they eventually meet? The extremely awkward date (and I’m sure we’ve all been there, right?) provided some comic relief and a bit of development between the two, and they eventually hit it off at the end. Although the future time traveller, Orson Pink, didn’t leave much of an impression, could he be as much Clara’s descendant as he is Danny’s?
One of the biggest surprises of the episodes was the reveal of The Doctor as a child, who happened to be hiding in the same barn the Doctor eventually goes to when ending the Time War. I really liked that touch, and John Hurt! I love John Hurt. It’s a shame we’ll probably never seem him again as The Doctor, but it's good he hasn’t been forgotten as just a one-off character, since he’s very significant part of The Doctor’s life. Clara teaching the child The Doctor’s own words was a nice moment, but I can’t help but wonder how much influence a single person can have on someone’s life, given that she affected every incarnation in some way after being split across time (or something along those lines anyway…). Also, how did they land on Gallifrey? I suppose after the 50th things could have changed, and that the planet post-war is hidden somewhere anyway (blimey, I’m really showing my geek credentials here, but I suppose this is one of the few places I’m allowed to!).
As good as the episode was, and it's up there with Moffat's best, it wasn’t flawless; it’s been compared to Blink but it’s not nearly as tight narratively or in terms of pacing, and you could play bingo with all the Moffat tropes, from timey-wimeyness to nursery rhymes. Still, this is a show which can explore ideas like no other (and does it well), and it’s great that it can go from the silliness of meeting Robin Hood to heavier stuff like this a week later.
Anyway, I'm really enjoying this series so far!
On a kind of related note, I made this t-shirt design based on the cool opening shot of the episode. It would have been quite easy to make, but because it’s designed to be printed there's a limit of 6 colours, so I couldn’t use colour gradients. Instead I had to use half-tones for the glow and ocean, which use a separated dotted effect to give the appearance of a gradient. It took ages to work out how to do it and was no fun at all. But still, that’s boring stuff and I’m quite happy with how it turned out in the end! It’s up for voting here on Qwertee; hopefully it'll get printed so I have some money for d̶r̶i̶n̶k̶s̶ textbooks back at uni. Not long now, really looking forward to being back!