Good Lordy Lord. As I believe the kids would say, ‘I can’t even?!?!’
For me, this is one of the finest episodes of modern Who. In fact, of all Who. The first time I watched it, after the credits rolled, I actually had to stand and pace the room. My insides were juddering; this was something special. With this episode, Moffat once again confirmed for me why, when he’s firing on all cylinders, he’s one of the very best writers Who has ever had. Perhaps even the best. Yeah, you heard me Robert Holmes fans..! (Yes, yes, Holmes is bloody brilliantly amazing too, alright?! They’re both champs! Holding hands (perhaps kissing) atop Mount Who) He can just make any surrounding episodes look resolutely ordinary.
The themes of this episode really hit home for me, and are something of a preoccupation in my own writing.
‘Listen’ is all about fear; more specifically, it’s about childhood fear. Fear of the nothing, fear of the illogical, fear of the dark and what might be quietly waiting in there, looking back at us. Childhood fears can be irrational, imaginary, and grip like a vice. They can bubble up and affect us as adults; you never truly leave them behind. In the Doctor’s case, his childhood fears actually seem to have partially shaped who he is and how he chooses to live his life. The Doctor became a man who, rather than give in to fear, rather than spend his life crying in the dark, will make a point of leaping into shadowed corners waving a stick around, just to see what might come slithering out. He’s learned to refuse to let his fear debilitate him. For the Doctor, fear is a superpower. In this episode he can’t quite accept that his fear is potentially irrational, that he may only be afraid of the imagined, and so tries to put a face (or tentacle) to his terror.
Now this won’t be for everyone, because there’s no monster at the end to clearly identify, only the monsters of the mind (OR ARE THEY?! *WOOOOOOOO…!*). No CGI or rubber creature to pull into the light and dispatch, the monster exists in the Doctor’s imagination (OR DOES IT?! *WOOOOOO….you get the idea). ‘Listen’ is basically an exploration of the Doctor’s psyche, into just what makes him tick. What makes the Time Lord scared? What makes him jump into the dark to see what’s there? This is absorbing, brave stuff for Saturday night family entertainment. Despite the fact Who fans like to trumpet the elasticity of the shows format, when it actually does attempt to step outside of its usual boundaries, a section of fans don’t like it (Hello ‘Love & Monsters’..!). Well TOUGH.
Some complain that there’s no clear resolution to the episode; was there a monster or wasn’t there? Perhaps there was. Perhaps there wasn’t. Perhaps there was one under that blanket, but not outside the door, or vice versa. But you’re missing the point. As I said, this is about childhood fears; the fear of the irrational. For that to keep its potency it must remain forever under the bed, forever in the closet, forever just out of view and shrouded from the absolute. Maybe it was all in the Doctor’s head. Maybe it wasn’t. But the FEAR was real, and will remain so.
OH! And the Doctor himself? He’s amazing, and brave, and wonderful…. and he was also a small boy, alone in his bed, crying because he was afraid of the dark. What a wonderful thing for children watching this show to see; that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, even a man as marvelous as the Doctor once wept whilst curled up alone and frightened in bed.
‘Listen’. It’s creepy, thought-provoking, moving, clever, funny: in short, it’s the very best of Who, and I love it.
So what did you think of Listen? And which episode of Doctor Who hit you hard?
Matthew is currently writing his own stories about creepy stuff scaring kids, ‘The Tales From Between’. Find them on Amazon by clicking the pic below.