Critiquing Capaldi: “Listen”

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Confession: Despite Doctor Who being unquestionably my all time favourite TV show, I probably wouldn’t go as far to call it the best show on TV. Doctor Who does mean a lot more to me than any other piece of fiction, and I do often consider the show a part of me, I wouldn’t know what I’d be without it in my life, but if I’m trying to be as objective as possible: Is it the best show on TV? Probably not. Sometimes it can be a bit silly for it’s own good, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it a tad inconsistent, and let’s face it, some episodes are absolute pants. There are plenty of TV shows, generally short lived ones for statistical reasons, which despite not loving as much, or possibly ever even watching, I could apply this possible hyperbole to. Doctor Who, while I would definitely say in general is great TV, is probably not one of them.

However: Doctor Who, at times, can be the best show on TV. There are some series, episodes, hell, even some scenes where I can honestly say, hand on my heart without a fraction of bias, that TV, or even visual media even, doesn’t really get better than this. TV which is so good that it doesn’t really continue being TV, it’s more of a visual experience. Listen is one of those stories.

So why does Listen work? What separates the story from being good, like the first two stories this series, or even great, like the last one, to being an absolute masterpiece, not just of Doctor Who, but of television in general? Personally, I think the whole key to Listen is that the story knows what the strengths of the show are, and it uses all of them to it’s full potential.

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Firstly, Listen makes very prominent use of our two lead characters, The Doctor and Clara, as played by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Capaldi and Coleman are arguably the greatest actors to ever play their respective roles, and what better way to prove how they shine, by limiting the guest cast, and placing them in the spotlight for almost the entire duration of the episode. When they’re not on screen together, which I feel are the episode’s strongest moments, one of them is on camera. They constantly show that both were perfectly cast in their respective roles, and are extremely enjoyable to watch. There’s not really a guest cast to steal their limelight for better or worse, instead Listen puts most of it’s focus on the two people who really make this series worth watching, and although needless to say, they’re both bloody brilliant in it.

The other character which features prominently in this story is Danny Pink, and admittedly, a fair bit interesting stuff is done with his character. The scenes when he is a child are particularly strong, and the character does develop some layers of personality. I still admit I find him a bit bland overall, out of the three leads he definitely feels the most like a “character” than a real person, but, at the same time I think Samuel Anderson himself does give a good performance, as does Remi Gooding, the child who plays Rupert. I still think he has little to no romantic chemistry with Clara, but I also think that’s almost the point. If Clara’s date had gone brilliantly, the episode wouldn’t exist, or at least not in the way it does now.

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Let’s talk about Clara now for a minute. I’ve already praised Jenna Coleman, who is absolutely phenomenal, and an absolute privilege to have her in the show, but it’s time to praise Moffat’s writing of the character. While not exactly explicit in the text yet, it’s easy to tell that Clara is starting to become more and more like the Doctor. This episode revolves her unintentionally messing around with various points of history, and being the sole reason for a lot of the events that are happening or have happened, such as Danny becoming a soldier, and even somewhat inspiring the Doctor. If interfering with time isn’t the Doctor, than nothing is, and the importance of the character in this story, in a lot of ways being the sole reason for it’s existence, shows that this is as much the companions show as it is the Doctor’s.

Moffat’s writing in this one is absolutely phenomenal by the way. He too in a lot of ways doesn’t try anything particularly new, instead, he uses what he is good at, and makes prominent use of it. The story does contain many of his common tropes which helped to make him one of the revival’s best writers. The story contains a frightened child, a monster which works based on how you perceive it, time travel paradoxes, and the influence of the Doctor at different times in a person’s life. This story really is “Classic Moffat”, and does demonstrate his ability to engage with the audience by scaring them, unsettling them, but by also humouring them, as there are a couple of moments here which really do make me laugh, usually from Capaldi, furtherly proving himself as not only one of the best Doctors, but one of the funniest.

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Taking something completely ordinary and making it scary is what Moffat does best, and he sort of does that here. Which brings us onto the story’s debate, was it a monster, or was it a child? Personally, I don’t think the episode wants you to care about that. As I think the point the story is trying to make is that it’s not what you’re scared of that counts, it’s the fact you are scared, and how you can use that fear to your advantage and almost as a “superpower”. Optimism in the face of darkness is something Doctor Who does brilliantly, and this is no exception.

Other things this episode does well, well it looks fantastic. Douglas MacKinnon is one of my favourite directors, and here is his best work to date, using some absolutely brilliant shots and camera work. The lighting and atmosphere is perfect, the music when used is great, and it’s paced marvellously. I don’t think I took my eyes off the screen for a full fifteen minutes, and that’s only because my brother came into the room shattering the illusion. It’s seriously gripping.

Overall: Deep, dark, and lovely. A pure masterpiece, and a fine example of what the show can do at it’s best. In some ways, it’s so good, that I don’t really want more episodes like this, as this episode is special because it’s one of a kind.

Previous Score: Score: 7

New Score: 10. Easily.

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