Doctor Who: Listen

Doctor Who: Listen September 13, 2014

The Doctor Who episode “Listen” has leaped immediately onto my list of all-time favorite Doctor Who episodes. Spoilers ahead!

It had me at “listen.”

The episode opens with a view of a planet (probably Earth) from space. It then moves to the open door of the TARDIS. Then up to the top of the TARDIS, where the Doctor is sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, meditating. Eventually he opens his eyes and says “listen.”

That should have clued me in that this is more about an inner journey than an outward one. But the episode cleverly moves us outside ourselves and then back.

Doctor in lotus position 4

This Doctor, we learn, is going to have a distinctive mannerism, asking questions and engaging in deductions. The Doctor notes that there are perfect predators, and perfect defenses. But what if evolution developed the skill of perfect hiding – how would we know?

The Doctor decides to investigate this possibility, starting from the fact that the dream of waking up in your bed, putting your feet on the floor, and having something grab your leg seems to be universal. And so he decides to have the TARDIS take Clara to her childhood, when she had that dream, to look and see what is under her bed.

But Clara, distracted by a date with Dan Pink, when given telepathic control of the TARDIS, ends up in Dan’s childhood instead (and learns his name was Rupert, and that he dislikes it and changes it to “Dan” as in “Dan the soldier man”).

I loved when the Doctor took the man’s coffee.

Then they end up in the future, rescuing Orson Pink, probably her great great grandson, from a mishap in an attempt at time travel, when he ended up at the end of the universe, the only being alive. The Doctor thinks that perhaps then, when all our invisible companions are alone, they might be willing to be seen.

Neither attempt gives a clear answer, although both cases explore fear.

The episode was already fascinating. But then it adds something extra special.

Clara connects once again telepathically with the TARDIS to leave the place they were at the end of the universe, with the cloister bell ringing and unsettling sounds from outside.

The TARDIS ends up in a barn, and when Clara goes out, she hears a boy crying. She thinks at first it is young Rupert, then perhaps Orson. But hearing people coming, she hides under the bed, and hears the boy’s parents speaking, saying that if he is constantly crying and afraid, he won’t be able to be a soldier, never mind a time lord.

Clara realizes that she’s under the Doctor’s bed, and when he goes to get up, she instinctively grabs his leg.

In a wonderful loop, Clara turns out to have set the Doctor on this quest – but also, to have helped him conquer his fears. Just as she had heard the Doctor  tell Rupert, Clara now tells the Doctor that “fear is a superpower.” It makes you more alert, stronger, and faster. It is your constant companion, and makes companions of us all. She tells him that fear doesn’t have to make you cruel, but can make you kind.

And she knows that one day he will return to that same barn, very much afraid, and hopes he will remember these things.


The episode is unusual in not turning the shadow glimpsed out of the corner of our eye, or the tingling on the back of our neck, clearly into an alien presence. Instead, it explores fear, recognizing that the thing under the bedspread could be another child in the children’s home, that the sound outside the spacecraft could be the result of changing hull temperature. That the disappearance of the mug of coffee could have a more mundane explanation.

It explores why we are afraid, why we look for explanations outside ourselves, and suggests that fear can be part of a healthy life if we recognize what it is and embrace it.

I absolutely loved this episode. Did you?

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  • OK, just noticed a major continuity error – isn’t Gallifrey still completely cut off from the rest of the universe in a bubble somewhere? Clara’s visit there is a wonderful plot detail, but Moffatt could have saved the story until he told a story which brought back Gallifrey or at least made a connection of some sort between it and our universe.

    Of course, if Missy is a time lady, then perhaps Gallifrey is already back, and the Doctor not yet knowing this will be relevant later.

    • Kubricks_Rube

      Nah, anything was possible once some idiot turned off the TARDIS’s safeguards. But seriously, what a spectacular episode. It was essentially a psychological origin story for why the Doctor (thanks to the TARDIS’s psychic GPS) always finds himself wherever there really are monsters under the bed.

    • WillBell

      I believe only time war Gallifrey is outside the universe, regular pre-War Gallifrey still exists but to the doctor it is effectively gone because he can’t cross his own timeline (which Clara obviously did), just like how Gallifrey is still a thing in the universe before the time war. Gallifrey is effectively timelocked because anyone who wants to go there probably is familiar enough with the events of the time war that going there would be crossing their own timeline in a way. Notice how small Clara’s visit is, giving a pep talk to a child, the TARDIS probably knew how it would go down and did it.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        Yeah. I think they’ve always been a bit vague on the status of pre-war Gallifrey. Plus, continuity in Doctor Who has always been a little discontinuous.

    • cameronhorsburgh

      I thought that was the major reveal for the episode—Gallifrey is reachable. The search for Gallifrey is supposed to be one of the main themes of this season and I’ve been waiting for the Doctor to get on with the job. Hopefully this foreshadows that arc.

    • Andy Crome

      I think it makes sense in that the TARDIS was following Clara’s timeline – as she had been so intimately connected with the Doctor as the “impossible girl” she was able to access his own past (which may have included pre-time war/time locked/bubble Gallifrey), Besides, do we know that the shed was actually on Gallifrey? I can’t remember it being clear in DoTD whether it was there or on some other planet where the Doctor chose to activate the moment.

  • guest2

    I am trying to like this new Dr. Who but the continuing mean spirited insults to Clara are demeaning (not funny or necessary to plotline). When did kindness involve cruel words?

    • Jonathan Bernier

      That’s the point: he’s not always kind. The kind and bubbly Doctors that we’ve seen in Tennant and Smith are fine, but they’re not the only Doctors. Heck, the First Doctor, Hartnell, was a jack-ass from the start. In the New Who, Christopher Eccleston used to regularly call humans, Rose Tyler included, “stupid apes.” The Doctor has always had a dark side and a mean streak, and they’re reconnecting with that.

    • If this episode, I thought it actually was connected to the plot. He very curtly tells her to get in the TARDIS, because he is afraid. On the other hand, Clara teaches the young Doctor that fear doesn’t have to make you cruel, and she out of kindness tells him to do as he’s told.

      • Cryer

        As if the Doctor needed teaching anything about kindness. Clara has a LOT to learn from him, not the other way round. The Doctor is one of the kindest and most selfless beings in the entire universe and has done more for others than almost anyone. Whereas Clara is just…. Clara.
        I feel she gets a bit above herself sometimes.

        • She has taught the Doctor things, and I think the notion that the Doctor only teaches his companions, and never learns from them, is at odds with much of the show’s history.

          • Cryer

            I never said that he never learns from his companions. Of course that isn’t true. Ian and Barbara helped shape him into the man he is. Rose helped heal him after the Time War. I meant that in this case he knows much more about kindness and fear than Clara does. I don’t like how she just assumes that she understands the situation more than him and decides she’s going to teach him that.
            He is over 2000, she is just over 20. He knows a lot more about it than her. She is indeed a control freak and her character really lives up to that description in this episode.

          • I like Clara. I think that when the Doctor “learns” from his companions, it is not a matter of gaining new knowledge; it is a matter of questioning his own character. Clara has impulses, not based on knowledge, but based on a character that unquestionably takes empathetic directions. This is the aspect of character that the Doctor frequently loses sight of, which is why many of his companions have encouraged him not to “travel alone”. I think that the Doctor often learns to be “a doctor” from his companions. He teaches them as well, from his wealth of knowledge and experience, but as a father, I can attest to the fact that my children’s impulses have often reminded me to be a better person.

          • Kylie Michelle Fraser

            “I don’t like how she just assumes that she understands the situation more than him and decides she’s going to teach him that.”

            she does do that. 11 let her get away with it cause he had a huge crush on her, but knew it would end poorly as she’d leave eventually (they all do)

            in the first part of the season finale this come to a major head. he humbles her pretty hard.

        • Kylie Michelle Fraser

          uh, when she told him that story she learned from him earlier it taught him to embrace his fear. remember, when he looked into the schism, he ran away. he’s ALWAYS been afraid, but able to conquer that fear. it was a way of tying Clara even more into The Doctors timeline. but what she told the doctor she LEARNED from the doctor. .

    • I’ve never liked Clara. Perhaps if they’d kept her as a recurring character rather than promoting her to Companion, I’d have felt differently. But, frankly, I dislike her and whatever insults she gets are generally deserved.

      • I like her. I do think that the writers haven’t given her character enough depth via history and friends in her own time, but I have high hopes for her relationship with Soldier Dan.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    Loved it! Brilliant. The connections with the Doctor’s past, the exposition of Danny Pink’s history, the hints about his (and possibly also Clara’s) descendants. All so good. And I loved that it kept open the question about the thing on Danny’s bed. Was it just another child? Or was it a creature of some sort? And is the Doctor wrong about his theory of absolutely perfectly hidden creatures? Just because it was driven by a psychological compulsion doesn’t actually mean he was mistaken. Wraps together so much from the past whilst setting up for so many potential future story lines. I’m betting that by the end of this season we’ll be looking back at this episode as the core of the story arc.

  • BoBo

    Doctor says there is no such a thing as perfect hiding. I say there is even in doctor who…

    weeping angels have perfect camouflage as statues

    Silents have one of the most perfect camouflage possible

    and look Perfect camouflage by evolution

  • cameronhorsburgh

    What an excellent, excellent episode! I can’t help but think that we’ve finally seen Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The Doctor of this episode is how we’re going to remember the Twelfth Doctor. For example, his deliberate ‘Conjecture:… Hypothesis:…’ style of vocalised reasoning is, I think, going to return. I just wish he’d found a quirky hat to wear.

    My daughter made an interesting observation: in ‘Into the Dalek’ the Doctor describes the inside of the Dalek as ‘the most dangerous place in the universe.’ When he collected Clara for the journey he told her they were simply going ‘into darkness.’

    She combined those two statements with this episode, and wonders if the fear of the dark—both moral and physical—is going to be the signature of this Doctor.

    (Compare to the Tenth Doctor, who jumped into a dark, apparently bottomless pit with hardly a thought. Granted, Satan was waiting!)

  • Mitchell

    This just seems to be on the wrong foot from the start. In the first one Matt Smith comes back to ask if he is old after regeneration. I would have thought that he would have asked if he was ginger. I like that the new doctor is a return to the shows roots being older and not a bunch of love stories, awesome. If this is going to be the Clara show with the doctor kept on the closet shelf, I am losing interest. I like the mystery of him and don’t want to see his childhood. The imagination is better than the reality. Something was under the sheet, bigger than a child, something was outside the ship, or no cloister bell. Hope to find out what it is. On the case of perfect hiding, I thought the Silence was all we needed to see.

  • Loved it!

  • Evan Hershman

    I loved it! The creepiest episode in a while, with a perfect surprise ending.

    I’m still pondering what was under Rupert’s bedspread, though… I think the intent was to leave us pondering.

  • disqus_izKB2mVZ9T

    Absolutely loved it too. Can’t fault it. It all made sense to me.

  • When Clara has the Doctor take her back to her date with Mr. Pink, the one she’d previously stormed out of, we see prior to her re-entry Mr. Pink thump his head down onto the table. Question: After Clara appears across from him, why do we hear the now-very-recognizable “clockwork robot” sound when Pink raises his head back up?

    Is he a robot?

    Is this just an audible motif or sound cue indicating the relationship being reset like one would reset a watch?

    Something else?

    • I didn’t hear that, just background noises in the restaurant. Do you have a video clip that you can point to to illustrate what you are referring to?

      • I do not have a video clip, however I have since seen others comment on this (with a degree of puzzlement), like the guy who has the “Emergency Awesome” YouTube channel. Please note: That’s not me, and I don’t know the guy – I just saw his review of the “Listen” episode.

  • MarkP

    I loved this episode. I love Capadi’s Doctor, and I’m a big fan of serious time plots (loved “Blink”), and thought Moffat did a brilliant job working all this out. I was actually thrilled by how it all fit together; I exclaimed out loud (even though I was watching alone — cue the spooky music) at a couple of points (when Clara grabbed the young doctor’s feet and when we saw the barn and the War Doctor). And I can’t help speculating how the Doctor’s toy soldier got into the communal toy box of Rupert Pink’s boys home in Gloucester.

    But I also have to confess to feeling a little Moffat fatigue. Besides all the exhilaration seeing how brilliantly the episode played out, there was a voice in my head saying “hey! the 50th anniversary year is over. It doesn’t all have to be intertextuality, metanarrative, fan service, and portentiousness anymore!”). Does every story have to scream “This changes everything”? I hope Capaldi’s Doctor gets to settle down and have a few adventures (not whimsical romps!), where he saves a planet from something horrible because he’s just, well, the Doctor.

    • I think the toy soldier starts in Rupert Pink’s collection, gets passed down to Orson, who passes it on to Clara, who gives it to the Doctor. But then does the Doctor recognize it in Rupert’s room? Or does he himself put it there?

      • MarkP

        I think it must be a time circle thing, and the Doctor will get it into the toy box somehow. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that the young Doctor just lost or destroyed it, or forgot about it. That seems unlikely (for Moffat, if not for the Doctor). Surely, all previous incarnations of the Doctor must have had this thing in a room in the Tardis somewhere, and — unless there are two of them from 1990-ish on — he must have had a reason to get it to Rupert. And do we really believe the Doctor doesn’t know that Clara has a connection to Pink, just because she lied to him about it? I’m not convinced.

        • MarkP

          Unless, of course, Rupert Pink is the next incarnation of the Doctor and he’s had the soldier all along! Ha!