Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.4: Listen

The episode's writing is perfectly matched by a dynamic
direction that uses colour instead of using "cool" washed
out filters!
I know it's not a particularly subtle set of opinions that I hold about Steven Moffat - I don't like him as a person, or as a writer, for various reasons that I've mentioned over the past year and elsewhere probably too. A lot of his scripts fail for me because of a mixture of poor narrative structure (leading to umpteen plot holes and retcons) and his abominable politics which too often stereotypes women and minorities, as well as turning The Doctor into an outlet for his own prejudices. Why mention this here? Because, for the first time in a long time, I am walking away from a Moffat episode with the feeling that I watched something well put-together. Miracles do happen. Spoilers below, btw.
     It's very difficult to discuss this episode without spoiling it, although seeing as I was spoiled from the outset and liked it anyway might be somewhat telling. The episode goes out of its way to play on the "nothing is scarier" trope of the unseen, the evil hidden in the dark, the thing in the corner of your eye - common Moffat themes/repetitions, except this time the whole thing feels a little half-assed, and more effort is put toward's Moffat's strange blend of attempted character development and using Time Travel to stalk people, this time focussed on Clara's beau Danny Pink, his distance decendant and, for a brief moment at the end of the episode, The Doctor himself. The twist, as lame as it sounds in text form, is that the monster simply doesn't exist. It really all is paranoia, and all of the rational explanations for the various phenomena that they've experienced are the real deal. The villian was fear itself.
      Now, I think the episode was most definitely better when I knew the twist all the way through, even if it did lead to some hilarious moments of hindsight where what originally looks like genuine concern becomes hysteric melodrama. I liked the way that the themes and motifs of the episode were self-consistant and actually built up around a fairly (and I say fairly in the most generous sense) realistic set of character interactions. In this vein, it became less about the whole background suspicious evil thing and more about the development of each of those characters - explaining why Danny is a soldier, why The Doctor is afraid of the dark, and giving us hints to Clara's future. As annoyed as I am with the fact that Clara has effectively no control over her future now (she's gonna settle and have kids with Danny, because Moffat's eventual "happy ending" for all female characters is a life of domesticity), the fact that she actually had a consistent characterisation was quite surprising.
I liked this week but seriously, can we stop stalking our
companions as kids already? It's weird, Moffat.
      Of course there are always nitpicks, and most of the few complaints I have about this story come from the same direction as some of Moffat's bigger sins in other episodes - yet another Moffat episode goes by with The Doctor making constant comments about Clara's appearance, time travel and lazy predestiny is used as a stand-in for actual development of relationships and we muzzle in on The Doctor's childhood and inject a Moffat-original into the series' mythos. Luckily this injection wasn't as egregious as The Name of the Doctor, with Clara's influence on The Doctor's history being limited to a single psychological issue which only cropped up 11 regenerations after it started. (And no, I'm still not accepting Hurt or TenToo as regens. Fuck that noise.) Oh, and a few points of contention regarding Moffat's originality - Moffat uses the end-of-the-universe "we're not supposed to go this far/last planet in the universe" bit from Utopia and the knocking on the door stuff straight out of Midnight.
     While its message and its character focus was a little garbled, I can say that Moffat is making some small progress, and I didn't come away from the episode feeling outrageously offended by anything in particular. The episode's way of building up its threat and then tearing it down for a mixture of fun character moments meant that something was actually different at the end of it, characters got developed, there was CHANGE! And I know that shouldn't be much to ask from TV, but the fact I left this episode smiling has to give me some hope that Doctor Who's redemption is in sight. Even if it's just a star through a telescope.

Thanks.

Next Week: We rob a bank... or do we? It's Time Heist.

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