Sharp writing, superb acting and surprising character revelations make this tightly-paced episode one of the best in a very long time.
I've been waiting a very long time for an episode like this. Since June 5, 2010 to be exact. That's when the wonderful Vincent and the Doctor aired. That episode managed to draw you in with Matt Smith's trademark manic fun, but then gut punched you with the raw emotion of exploring van Gogh's struggle with depression and suicide. Listen is another triumph in storytelling for the series, but for different reasons. Though the story mainly focuses on Clara trying to balance a personal life and the Doctor's demands of companionship on his latest insane adventure, by the end it quietly, but powerfully ties together many elements introduced in the series over the last few years to give you a brand new insight into what really drives the Doctor. And that's quite an accomplishment to pull off for a series that has been going on as long as this one.
If you want to tune in yourself, you can can new episodes of Doctor Who on Saturday nights on BBC America -- though cord-cutters will have to pick up the current season on iTunes or Amazon Instant. If you want to catch up on earlier seasons, they can be found on both Netflix and Hulu.
To get you up to speed, in the previous episodes:
- Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor and he's rather cranky.
- When the Doctor gets into the mind of his worst enemy, he finds they are not very much different.
- When his companion Clara wants to meet Robin Hood, the Doctor discovers that jealousy is ugly, but comedy works well for the series.
The Perils of Having a Personal Life
At first, I was going to snarkily rename this season The Continuing Adventures of The Clever Girl and Her Companion Old Mr. Grumpypants. Since the new season began and Peter Capaldi took the lead on the show, the Doctor has been his usual difficult, erratic, condescending self, but without the the charm and and smoothness of his last two incarnations. At the same time, Clara suddenly got a lot more interesting. She went from doe-eyed, unquestioning disciple of the Doctor to wary companion who must rein him in when he runs off into the narcissistic deep end of his madcap adventures. This led the first three episodes of the season to focus more on the newly-capable Clara and less on the Doctor who seems to be madly rushing from adventure to adventure in a dark, aggressive stab at self-discovery
This week's episode at first looked like it was shaping up much the same as the previous ones. The focus was clearly on Clara as she tried desperately to lead a normal life by going on a date with fellow teacher Danny Pink, while her association with the Doctor, and her own nervousness, kept tripping her up. This is a story formula that worked quite well during the early years of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but in that case it made more sense given Buffy was the lead of the ensemble (yes, it was definitely an ensemble show, it wouldn't have worked without the Scooby gang.) The Doctor, in the meantime, became obsessed with the idea that evolution had produced creatures that perfected the art of hiding as the ultimate survival technique. These perfect chameleons were always present in our lives, sometimes being glimpsed in the corner of the mirror or in one's bedroom in the middle of the night taking form as the collective nightmare of the monster under the bed. The Doctor thought that if you just stopped to listen, you might be able to hear them communicate.