New Who Review – “Listen”
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”
The idea is so close to implausible, it only makes it more plausible. What if there really is someone in the shadows? What if that isn’t just a passing breeze across the back of your neck? What if there is something under the bed?
The Doctor is unreasonably convinced of something, Clara is a non-stop chatterbox on dates, and Danny Pink’s real name is Rupert. And if you want to learn more, you have to not be worried about spoilers, and just…
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas MacKinnon
The Doctor is roaming about the TARDIS alone (we assume) slowly convincing himself of a patently ridiculous concept – the idea that there are invisible creatures who follow people around, and it’s they were are talking to when we are alone, and talking to ourselves. He’s doing quite a good job of it. Meanwhile, Clara has met new teacher and former soldier Danny Pink for drinks and dinner, and she’s done a proper mess of it. So when The Doctor picks her up to investigate his theory, her slight distraction causes The Doctor’s experiment to go awry – specifically in the sense of the subject. They travel back, not to her childhood, but Danny Pink’s, who is having a bad dream…possibly…in his room at an orphanage. The adventure proceeds to other members of Danny’s family, the end of time, and a barn that we didn’t know we’d seen before.
For all the things people like to say about Moffat (mostly bad), when he gets it right, it’s almost unholy how good it is. By going back to the ideas he loves to hit – making something commonplace patently terrifying – he’s made another classic. He’s like the boorish boyfriend who eats all your spinach dip and leaves the seat up, and you wander why you’re going out with him, but then he shows up with flowers, puts exactly the right song on the stereo, and you remember.
THE MONSTER FILES – There’s quite a bit of argument if there was any monster in the episode at all, but the concepts touched on are very much a recurring theme for Steven Moffat. The idea of there really being something under the bed was first touched on in The Girl in the Fireplace, where The Doctor first tries to protect young Reinette. Things in the dark became the Vashta Nerada in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. The Silence and Prisoner Zero are both examples of beings you only see out of the corner of your eye. And they ALL started in a prose story of the same name Steven wrote in 2006. “Corner of the Eye” was a story for The Doctor Who Storybook 2007, and introduced us to the Floofs, a race who, exactly as The Doctor has theorized, evolved to be perfect hiders, so much so there’s no record of their existence.
The out of focus figure we see in Young Rupert’s room seems to match the description in the story, that of a short bald humanoid. But again, the story is left tantalizingly nebulous enough that yeah, it could have been one of the other kids. Note that every other seeming example of “evidence” is (potentially) explained – the chalk just rolled off the book, The Doctor took the coffee, etc.
Oh, yes, the TV…I forgot about that one…
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
The quote that starts this article is the first (and last) line of the story “Knock”, written by Fredric Brown. It’s based on a nugget of an idea found in the notes of novelist Thomas Bailey Aldrich, One could draw comparisons between it any any number of classic sci-fi and horror stories involving Armageddon and such things. the first adaptation of Matheson’s I Am Legend was literally called The Last Man on Earth.
“TARDIS telepathic interface” – This is one of the sections of the control panel that was redesigned for the new series and Doctor. Aside from the new bits on the walls, the control panel was made much sturdier, built to last.
“…to the moment of your death” – This is a dark version of the conversation Clara had with Strax in Deep Breath – he saw all the “young men doing sport” in her subconscious, and was about to announce her age at death, were like here, she stopped him abruptly. Two scene where Clara doesn’t want to know about her death. That leaves one more before we can declare it enemy action.
“Isn’t it bad if I meet myself?” – It caused the church where Rose’s parents were attending a wedding to be sealed off from reality when she held herself as a baby in Father’s Day. There’s been a number of moments where The Doctor and/or one of his companions met and even spoke to each other for a few moments, but most of them were within, or in the proximity of the TARDIS, which likely prevented any timey-explodey results.
“Your door must be faulty” – This is the first appearance of the psychic paper in this series. That, combined with the relative absence of the Sonic Screwdriver is another sign of the rules of the show changing. People were getting quite upset with the two items being used like magic wands at every opportunity. Save for the over the top uses last week, we’ve seen the Screwdriver used much more sparingly, and more back to its initial (for the new series anyway) job of opening doors and assembling/dissembling wiring and the like.
“Wally…he’s nowhere in this book” – In England, the character we know as Waldo is called Wally. And the idea that there’s an unseen character in every book is a hilarious microcosm of the plot of this episode.
“Turn your back on him” – This is The Doctor’s first conversation with a child in this incarnation, something that as a rule he’s well known for. He’s kind and helpful, but hidden behind the pep talk is just a desire to get your Rupert to be brave enough to turn around. Once again, true motives disguised by flowery prose. Perhaps not changed too much.
FEAR WOULD BE THE MAIN PROPULSION – The Doctor’s speech about fear is perfectly correct – the fight-or-flight mechanism has gotten humanity out of a lot of jams.
“Once upon a time…The End” – aaaand piano. This is the response The Doctor was expecting when Vastra asked him to project an image of perfect calm into her mind Deep Breath.
“Mind you…Rupert Pink” – Could you hear the glass dropping in the background? Perfect sound design.
“Last Man Standing in the universe – I always thought that’d be me” – As with the Who’d Die Last contest last week, we’re seeing a lot more of The Doctor’s competitive nature coming out.
“DO AS YOU ARE TOLD!” – That’s what The Doctor’s friends do, as pointed out by River Song.
“It’s not a plan, it’s a thing” – The Doctor has a Thing in Vincent and the Doctor, which he described as “Like a plan, but with more greatness”
“This is just a dream” – The Doctor spent a long time talking to the young Amy Pond in her sleep at the end of The Big Bang, telling her about his life and how grand it’ll be. Clara spends her whole life saving The Doctor over and over – now we know it started quite early.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – The advance of the season’s narrative was much more in the further introduction of Mr. Danny Pink. He’s clearly a very sensitive man, as in he’s sensitive about his past, and reads too much into things said to him. Also, he seems to be all thumbs and elbows when talking to Clara, and she to him, usually a sure sign that a pair are going to become a couple. The
“Family stuff” – But we learned in this episode…Danny’s an orphan.
“Make a promise…you’re never going to look” – These events as a kid can color your experiences in your future. Both psychiatrists and readers of Dianetics believe that. Remembering it or not, Dan the Soldier Man got quite a kick in a particular direction this evening.
A soldier so brave he doesn’t need a gun.. He can keep the whole world safe” – Clara, in her Victorian iteration, once told a fairy tale about a man who rides around on a cloud in the sky keeping everyone safe. Clara is very good at making people feel protected.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – To break into the best bank, you need to assemble the best crew. By any means necessary. Time Heist, coming up this Saturday.