Steven Moffat has always had a divisive reaction when it comes to the Doctor Who fanbase and Listen was, yet again, another episode that split opinions. It’s Moffat doing what he’s done a hundred times before, playing on normal and ordinary fears and making them into the extraordinary. There were echoes of The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, and other such wonderful Moffat-written episodes, and although it doesn’t quite meet the high standards set by those highlights, it does allow for a pretty good episode that has a very different tone from its predecessor, Robot of Sherwood, which was a fun, campy romp through Nottingham with Robin Hood himself.
This episode is difficult to explain because it’s, well, quite complicated. Not Season 6-level complicated, but fairly complex nonetheless. It
involves the concept of time loops, something that has been employed in multiple shows and movies in the past. However, there’s also multiple ways that this episode can be viewed, with this episode revolving around the Doctor attempting to fix issues from his childhood that were unintentionally caused by Clara. However, it’s far more complicated than that, as one would expect, with Moffat giving us one of his most typical (but in a good way) episodes so far.
Moffat excels when it comes to writing dialogue and this episode was no exception, with some clever exchanges being employed. This episode further developed the relationship between Clara and Season 8 newcomer Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), whom Clara, travelling with the Doctor, met as a child before they both ‘officially’ knew each other. (Also, Danny’s first name is actually Rupert). However, their first date didn’t exactly go to plan, allowing Moffat to handle relationship drama that he seems to often include in his episodes (for example, the previous two companions of the Time Lord were both a married couple, Amy and Rory) and make it far from straightforward. This also allowed a nice diversion from the otherwise darker tone of the episode, with plenty of comedic moments.
Listen is one of the most powerful episodes of Season 8 so far. There’s a nice throwback to the Day of the Doctor and a surprising revelation concerning the Doctor’s past that’s handled well. While there was no ongoing development with Missy’s storyline again this week, it didn’t matter because Listen was so solid as an episode. As mentioned earlier, it’s not going to become an instant classic, but it’s far from the worst episode that the series (or even this season) has given us.
Moffat manages to include plenty of clever elements in this episode. There are some nice touches where we find out that it was Clara who unwittingly planted the idea in Danny’s head about not only his career but also his new name, and the fact that it was Clara herself who actually set the events of this episode in motion was handled well. On top of that, we didn’t get every single question answered, with plenty of unresolved issues that are left for the audience’s imagination.
This episode is also noticeably slower than the other episodes that Moffat has written involving time-travel plots. The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink for example were fast paced, but this made a good change from that approach. It’s slower and, as a result, more effective, and it will be a lot creepier for those watching it in a darkened room with the lights off, just before they go to bed.
In conclusion then, Listen is probably one of the stronger episodes of the season, if not the strongest so far. It’s not quite on the levels of other Moffat written episodes but it’s still very much a strong one, and thanks to another brilliant performance from the small cast (Listen consisted only of Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson and Remi Gooding, who played young Rupert in major roles), this episode comes recommended.