Doctor Who S8 E4 “Listen” (BBC One)

Posted on Updated on

Contains spoilers for the episode.

One of Steven Moffat’s undoubted strengths as a writer is to reject preconceptions and to fearlessly go wherever his instincts as a writer tell him to. While it’s worked to huge acclaim on Sherlock it’s an approach not without its risks, as consistently confounding your audience’s expectations while also demanding they follow you on this unfamiliar path can throw up resistance and ultimately even hostility. And if there’s an episode of Doctor Who that demonstrates this most clearly it’s this week’s “Listen” which at times seemed to actively seek to rile both casual viewers and long-term hard-core fans of the show alike.

listenFor the former group, “Listen” must have been a very strange watch – especially at prime time on Saturday evening surrounded by glitzy celebrity talent competitions and quiz shows. Less a mainstream family drama and more of an experimental psychological stage play, “Listen” eschews conventional narrative for mood and atmosphere through a series of connected vignettes where you have to really work hard to figure out exactly what’s going on if you’re to make sense of it. And things are little better for the latter group, the hard-core Who fans, who won’t have seen 50 minute this off-the wall since 1963’s “The Edge of Destruction”/”The Brink of Disaster” two-parter and who will have been even more provoked by the final five minutes in which Moffat once again inserts himself (via his companion character Clara Oswald) into the very core mythos of the show. Along the way, Moffat does something that is keenly uncomfortable for fans of the show: he takes our hero, the Doctor, and deconstructs him, taking him from all-powerful Time Lord to someone as vulnerable and as human as the rest of us. Outrageous!

No wonder the reaction to the episode was so mixed. Those who liked it really liked it, while those who hated it were apoplectic with fury because the show hadn’t delivered what they felt it should have done, that Moffat hadn’t had the decency to keep himself within appropriate bounds. I can kind of understand that having been off-side with Moffat’s approach myself on many occasions in the past; but at the same time Moffat’s audacity to dive in and find new directions for the show are what give it renewed life and vitality. To merely do the same thing time and again, or to stick within the established rules of the show without ever seeking to expand them, is to make Doctor Who an inert museum piece doomed to irrelevance. “Listen” makes it clear that this will never be allowed to happen under Moffat and that the show will always be trying to reinvent itself and find new things to try each and every week – whether you like the end result or not. Read the rest of this entry »