It’s one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever, but in Listen there isn’t actually a monster.
Unless of course you count an unknown something hiding beneath a red blanket on top of a bed.
Showrunner Steven Moffat succeeds again in tapping into our basic childhood fears. In the past he’s done statues that only move when you’re not looking at them. He’s had aliens we forget about once we can’t see them. Here he investigates the scary unknown monster that lives under the bed of every child in the world.
Who hasn’t had that dream of sitting on the edge of the bed, feet dangling, when a hand shoots out from the inky blackness beneath to grab your foot?
“Proposition – What if no one is ever really alone? What if every single living being has a companion, a silent passenger? A shadow. What if the prickle on the back of your neck is the breath of something close behind you?”
The Doctor goes in search of a monster that’s so good at hiding that we can never know it’s there. And we never do see it. It might not even exist. Could this be the first time in Doctor Who history where the perceived threat is entirely imagined?
And yet it’s terrifying.
When Clara is hiding under the bed with young Danny Pink, and something sits on the mattress above them, our pulses race.
Is this the monster sitting on the bed above them?
All we see is a red blanket covering….something.
Is it another child trying to scare them? Is it a squat little demon? And if the creature is an expert at hiding, the blanket trick is such a poor attempt at hiding that it can’t be the hiding expert can it?
We never find out though and the imagined creature is all the more scary for the lack of reveal.
We discover that the silent passenger that has accompanied the Doctor since childhood is fear itself. And fear is the most frightening monster of all.
Once again Jenna Coleman provides the resolution to the episode. Long time fans might be upset by their return to Gallifrey, her hiding under the “child Doctor’s” bed (grabbing his foot to create the nightmare he remembers so vividly), and gently telling the crying child that everything will be alright.
Of course the words Clara used were those she heard the Doctor say to young Danny earlier – so the source of the words becomes a typical timey whimey paradox.
And Peter Capaldi delivers his best performance yet. Moffat provides some great material for him to work with. He’s nailed the Doctor now and I look forward to many years of his portrayal.
However there are a few plot holes. If the Doctor‘s dream memory was actually created by Clara, why does everyone have the same dream?
“I think everybody at some point in their lives has the exact, same nightmare. You wake up, or you think you do, and there’s someone in the dark, someone close, or you think there might be. So you sit up, turn on the light, and the room looks different at night. It ticks and creaks and breathes. And you tell yourself there’s nobody there, nobody watching, nobody listening. Nobody there at all … and you very nearly believe it. You really, really try. And then … <hands reach out and grab ankles>. There are accounts of that dream throughout human history, time and time again, the same dream.”
But let’s not quibble too much about a thoroughly entertaining, scary and watchable episode of Doctor Who.
Now it’s your turn:
Do you agree with my review of Doctor Who Listen? Are the monsters real and hiding or simply in the Doctor’s imagination? Please leave a comment or share a link to your own review.