Clara Oswald’s on a first date with Danny Pink. It’s maybe the most important date in all of Time and Space. More important even than 26/06/10.
Or maybe it’s not. Or maybe it’s simultaneously significant and inconsequential. Just like how the episode that it’s centred around is all at once a good story told well and also a tiresome recycling of Moffat’s best moments. ‘Listen’ somehow manages to be a paradox: familiar, tired old components that stack together to make a fresh, different – and genuinely scary – story.
Bored, alone, and, as Clara guesses, perhaps having been travelling alone for too long, The Doctor finds he’s talking to himself and begins to question why. Why do we speak out loud when we’re alone? Is it because we’re not really alone? If so, what’s listening to us? By the time the titles roll, ‘Listen’ has delivered its creepy thesis. Everything onwards is an experiment in (dis)proving The Doctor’s postulation.
What an experiment it is, as we ricochet along timelines both personal and universal, colliding with Moffat tropes and clichés like a cosmic pinball. There’s the concept of a creature that outwits humans on some visual level (like a Weeping Angel, The Silence, Vashta Nerada, Prisoner Zero) and might be hiding under your bed (like in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’), plus creepy rhymes, the feeling of isolation in childhood, mysteries behind locked doors, and the inevitable bit of timey-wimeyness. It’s the greatest hits of Moffaty bits.
But it works. Just about. It shouldn’t, given how familiar the ideas are, but it does.
That’s probably more to do with Moffat’s uncanny ability to hot-wire adult brains and bring out the impressionable six-year-old in all of us. Nowhere is this talent more evident than one scene in a child’s bedroom, which is one of the most chilling sequences the show has had since ‘Midnight’. Or maybe it isn’t. The ambivalence is the beauty of it.
What there is no question about is the strength of the concentrated cast. Capaldi’s Doctor is slowly thawing, but every so often there’ll be a sharp glacial edge that snags the viewer’s complacency. Samuel Anderson is so natural it’s hard to believe this is only his second episode, especially so given his role here.
It’s Clara who makes ‘Listen’ what it is. This is the story of three people, but it’s she who drives it. Drives everyone. The best thing about ‘Listen’ is seeing how comfortably Jenna Coleman has grown into the role of Clara without ever being complacent.
As you may have had winked at you by others, there is a huge surprise in ‘Listen’, and it will have the fans (and really only the fans) talking and then asking their own questions. In fact it overshadows the whole episode to such an extent that people will probably neglect what has gone on in the 40 minutes before.
That would be a shame. ‘Listen’ isn’t perfect, but it’s also not forgettable, especially in the grand scheme of Who lore.
Airs at 7.30pm on Saturday 13 September 2014 on BBC One.
What are your hopes for the episode? Let us know below…