In "Listen," Steven Moffat once again entertained his fascination with the notion that what scares us most is what we can't see. But just when we thought he was going to introduce another baddie to add to his long list of aliens that prey in the dark, he pulled a switcheroo on us.
Or did he?
The Doctor: A
This week we saw Peter Capaldi projecting an awesome "detached scientist" vibe with his Doctor, still showing off that brilliant comedic timing, and wouldn't you know that the episode that finds him smiling the most we've seen so far was the one where he was scaring people and telling creepy stories. Enjoying his professorial/scientist thing, always testing his hypotheses. That chalkboard is quickly becoming his signature possession.
It's becoming increasingly apparent that the main focus of Peter Capaldi's Doctor is self-reflection, though he tries to hide it. This episode seemed to stem from one of the very first mysteries the Doctor ever encountered — a mysterious something from under his childhood bed. So after 2,000 years, why did he suddenly decide that he had to have an answer to this question now?
I posed that question to my wife immediately after the episode, and she suggested that the Doctor's older appearance now could signify a mid-life crisis. Maybe he's looking for closure for all of the unresolved issues of his very long life, and this is the oldest of them all. (Smart woman, she is.)
Whatever his reasons, he managed to cause the entire situation by dragging Clara along on this adventure that ended back where it began. So much of what Clara said during that final scene sounded as though she was setting him on his life's trajectory. She encouraged him not to run from fear, but toward it. She repeated the word "companion" several times, emphasizing its importance to him. She even recited the words "never cruel or cowardly," the very words the Doctor uses to define what his name means.
The Impossible Girl once again proved that she was indeed "born to save the Doctor" and still doing it all the time. The Doctor set her on this adventure, but she turned out to be the driving force behind it. The reveal that the crying child in the barn was really the Doctor was the most jaw-dropping twist all season. But it begs the question: if his most primal fear comes from the proverbial "thing under the bed," then what was the (child) Doctor crying about before he encountered "that thing"?
The Doctor has explained before that Gallifreyans become Time Lords after staring into the Untempered Schism, aka the time vortex, as children, and that it's a wild enough sight to drive some of them mad. The Master had this reaction, for example. So maybe he was crying because he'd already looked into it. Or maybe we're meant to question this because Moffat is planning to return to it. He's crafty that way. Either way, the exchange of the two adults seemed to be tantalizing hints:
"Why does he have to cry all the time?"
"You know why."
They certainly sound like a disapproving father (especially with all that "never get into the academy" stuff) and a concerned mother, but are we meant to wonder if the Doctor, like Danny, was an orphan? The two adults spoke of "the other boys" he could leave the barn and join; wouldn't they have called them "his brothers" if they were his siblings?
Anyway, back to Clara. It wasn't entirely clear on first watching how the TARDIS wound up taking her all the way back to the Doctor's childhood when it was supposedly slaved to her timeline. Upon watching it again (this one really benefits from a second viewing), there's a distinct moment where Clara is distracted by the Doctor just before the TARDIS lands. On the other hand, dozens of versions of Clara lived throughout the Doctor's life after she stepped into his timeline on Trenzalore. But everything present-day Clara has seen and done since then suggests that she has very few, if any, memories of what all those other Claras experienced.
Just as Clara changed the course of the Doctor's life in that barn, we now know that Danny became a soldier because he met Clara as a boy. (Technically, the Doctor scrambled Danny's memories and gave him a dream of "Dan the soldier man," but all that happened because Clara snuck up to his room.)
We are clearly witnessing the beginnings of an epic, long-intertwined romance between Clara and Danny. Orson, Danny's great-grandson, all but confirmed that Clara was his great-grandmother, since her fanciful stories of time travel influenced his own desire to become a time traveler. It seems likely that whenever Jenna Coleman decides to leave the show (as all companions do, sooner or later), it will probably be to start a life with Danny.
Then again, Steven Moffat just loves sweeping the rug out from under us, so maybe Danny's not what he appears to be.
The Doctor doesn't like soldiers. Danny "doesn't do weird." Boy is it going to be something when these two meet.
It was the same barn! The barn on Gallifrey the young Doctor slept weeping in was the same one he returned to centuries later, as the War Doctor, to use the Moment to end the Time War. Brilliant — much like the entire episode, it was definitely a high point for the season so far.
As for the other episode's major destination, hasn't the Doctor already visited the end of the universe? Isn't that where 10 went with Martha Jones and Jack Harkness at the end of Season 3, where he found the Master hiding? Or did something happen to alter that outcome?
The Doctor's investigation into a creature who was perfect at hiding, forever just out of sight, was a tantalizing one. But Moffat zigged when we expected him to zag, revealing these hidden shadow creatures to be nothing but a figment of the imagination. Or were they?
That's the big question mark hanging over "Listen." Let's look at the evidence that they were real:
• The word "LISTEN" scribbled on the Doctor's chalkboard
• The thing under the covers on young Rupert's bed
• Whatever made Orson terrified of spending one more night alone
• The knocking outside Orson's spacecraft door, and then the door opening
An alternate explanation was provided for each of these things, and in every case, it was suggested that maybe the Doctor is merely being paranoid, or scared of something that's not really there. But it's a nagging question, and it would be cool if the show revisits this is-it-real-or-not creature somewhere down the road.
The "creature under the covers" was probably the creepiest moment, moving so slow and menacing, so quiet. Was it really another child at the orphanage? Danny seemed awfully certain that no one else had entered the room. It was his room, he'd probably recognize the sounds it makes when someone enters. And there was that moment when they were standing by the window, when it pulls the covers off, and there's a blurred-out something standing there. It looked like that fuzzy shape in the bottom left corner:
Here's an even closer look:
It's impossible to say for certain, but the blur makes it look like something with eyes way too big to be human. On the other hand, it was the same height as Danny, making it plausible that it could be another kid.
What do you think? Was there ever another creature there? Did the Doctor write "LISTEN" himself on the chalkboard and immediately forget he did it? Was that knocking outside Orson's ship?
There's also the matter of the recorded dreams the Doctor researched. He claimed that throughout human history, a common dream was had by every person that ever lived: that terrifying thing under your bed that comes out and grabs you in the dark. It was the Doctor's own experience with Clara as a child that gave him this dream. But an explanation was never given for why humans share it. Hmm.
There are bound to be a few things in this surprisingly sweet and touching episode that Moffat returns to later in the season. So watch (and listen) closely.