It was all going so well. And then the last five minutes came along and let me down. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind sending Hat Jr to bed reasonably certain she won’t have nightmares, but I’m so done with Clara-based paradoxes saving the day. (And, I could even suggest an alternative, benign, creature-based ending…)
Let’s start with the good, of which there is plenty. Having made us afraid of the dark (with the Vashta Nerada), statues (the Weeping Angels), small boys asking if we’re their mummy (the gas-mask zombies) and cracks in the wall, Steven Moffat has (inevitably) turned to monsters under the bed.
The set-up for Listen is superb: thought-provoking, chilling and giving Peter Capaldi room to properly stretch his acting muscles. The pre-title sequence was properly thrilling in a way it hasn’t been in a long time.
We’ll skip the disastrous date, if you don’t mind. I’m all for the Doctor having a male companion again, but I’ve had enough canoodling in the Tardis now. The Doctor/Clara relationship is all the better for being a flirt-free zone – just for a while I’d like that extended to the whole series. Although it’s almost worth it for the Doctor’s reply to Clara’s “What are you doing in here?” – “You said you had a date, I thought I’d better hide in the bedroom in case you bought him home.”
So back to the spooky and the Doctor’s theory that everyone’s had the same nightmare and that it wasn’t a dream – there really was something under the bed. (I have to confess, I haven’t had that nightmare – I’d love to know what the Doctor would make of my recurring childhood nightmare, where I was chased across a sandy plain by a 30-ft crab though…)
Annnyhoo. Back in the Tardis, Clara’s plugged into the Tardis’s handy telepathic matrix and attempting to navigate to the moment in her childhood when she had the monsters under the bed dream. Except that Danny rings, she gets distracted and the Tardis takes us to Danny’s past instead – in a children’s home in Gloucester and possibly my favourite joke of the entire episode (when the Doctor steals the cup of coffee).
The scene in Danny’s bedroom is pitch perfect on first watch – sinister and mysterious, but with the extra idea that fear can be a superpower – but problematic on a rewatch, because it really doesn’t look like a child standing behind them (which is presumably what we’re supposed to fall back on after the big reveal). I can only hope that there really are benign monsters under the bed after all and that perhaps we’ll meet them one day…
Refreshing as it is to have a change of tone for the Doctor, I’m looking forward to the brusquer edges being knocked off him – I didn’t like him shouting orders at Clara and I get enough brutal honesty from Hat Jr for that not to be enjoyable either (Doctor: “People don’t need to be lied too.” Clara: “People don’t need to be scared by grey-haired stick insects, but here you are.”)
We’ll skip the second half of the disastrous date too, save to mention that I enjoyed the spacesuit rug pull very much.
A quibbler would point out that the Tardis has been to the end of the universe before (possibly she feared Captain Jack’s famously omnisexual tastes extended to sexy blue boxes), but I’m too busy enjoying the line about “some idiot turning the safeguards off” to quibble at the moment.
I also enjoyed the tense atmosphere in Colonel Pink’s spaceship – even if it did borrow rather heavily from Russell T Davies’s scariest story, Midnight – right up until the Doctor was unnecessarily aggressive (he could have sent Clara into the Tardis before he unlocked the door – he didn’t have to wait until she was in danger and then bellow – having her dish out firm, but gentle orders later, doesn’t make it okay).
And so to Gallifrey (presumably another consequence of not having the safeguards on). If there’s one good thing to say about this ending, it’s that it’s a nice lesson in how different things look in the dark – I wouldn’t have realised this was the Bad Wolf barn without Clara’s prompting. We’ve all imagined scary things in the darkness, only to realise they’re just shadows or dressing gowns or a Smash Hits poster that’s lost some of its Blu Tack.
The rest of this, I’m not so keen on. Yes, it’s a neat idea that the Doctor has been chasing non-existent monsters in a timey-wimey paradox and that Clara is actually the cause of his nightmare, but as I said, I’m bored of Clara-based paradoxes. Couldn’t we have had friendly creatures that listen to us when no one else will (which is why we speak out loud even though we think we’re alone)? Couldn’t they be guardians of the young, the old and the vulnerable who no one would believe?
Still, this is by far the best episode of the series so far and I imagine there are plenty of people who won’t have minded that ending at all. We can only hope the upward trajectory continues…
Posted by Jo the Hat