They’ve done it, they’ve found a way for Whovians to understand why normal people dislike Doctor Who. Just watch Steven Moffat’s latest vile creation, the sloppy, disastrous, and completely irrelevant (what a surprise) episode, entitled “Listen.” Jesus Christ, what happened here? This looked like such a good premise – what if you’re never really alone? What if everyone dreams the same dream? Creepy stuff, right? Finally, they’re pulling out the real material, not just relying on recycled robot plots, right? Wrong.
“Listen” is exemplary of everything Steven Moffat is bad at: not just plotting, characters, and sexism, but most importantly, the complete and utter lack of weight. I’m trying to think of a Moffat episode that doesn’t pull out the stakes at the end and let the whole plot go up in smoke, and I’m hard pressed to do so. It’s been a very long time since he’s done something worthwhile.
Look at his villains:
The Weeping Angels
The Vashta Nerada
Other villains nobody remembers Moffat is responsible for
The Angels don’t actually kill you really, they just displace you in time, so other than being sad because you lose all your loved ones (so it’s like a funeral but backwards), you get to live out your life.
The Silence doesn’t threaten you in any way, they just pose the question of whether or not people have free will. A clever-ish metaphor, if he had actually gone through with the metaphor, but instead he just kind of turns them into monster-of-the-week fare that looks creepy and sounds awesome.
The Vashta Nerada are actual villains who exist in one place in the world and that’s about it. So, good job, but a stand-off episode.
The “unnamed ghosts under the bed” – referring to the monster of this episode – have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the story. To be spoiler-free, I’m going to have to be vague, but Moffat once again relies on his ever so infamous Giant Reset Button in order to do a whole bunch of crazy stuff, but not have any lasting effect on anything so he can go back to playing with his toys all by himself without sharing them with the rest of the kids. This is beyond indulgent at this point, as Moffat is now in his fourth year as showrunner.
Clara’s storyline is just clumsy and awkward, as she stumbles through a cliched date with Dan Pink, who becomes another extension of Moffat’s recycled sidekick cache, neither of them saying anything authentic, rather spouting off bad date quips that could have been taken from the cutting room of a film student’s first short film. The Doctor beckons, and Clara responds, then The Doctor drops her back off to make amends, only to have her almost immediately pick up the awkwardness where she left it, only for her to join The Doctor again, only for her to go back to Pink again and resume the awkwardness again. And then they kiss and it’s supposed to be romantic but really we just like seeing Jenna Coleman be adorable. I have no idea who Clara is, and I have no idea who Pink is supposed to be, but at least they’ve got good chemistry together and I suppose I could see it going somewhere in the future.
The plotting, or should I say lack of it, however, doesn’t go anywhere. Moffat feels the need to make yet another call-back to his 50th anniversary special, in yet another convoluted “hint” (look, you can’t randomly say “gorilla” in a sentence, expecting the audience to suddenly be gorilla interested and then call yourself a genius) to wherever he thinks he’s going. By the time we get there, if there’s anyone still watching, I can almost guarantee that he’ll hit his reset button and none of this will have mattered.
Okay, I managed to avoid the spoilers here and said my piece. So what does work about this episode? Well…
Peter Capaldi is a mad genius and I love him so much.
Clara’s final speech is touching and moving and all that stuff. If only the rest of the episode had actually anything to do with it, maybe it would have been significant.
Pink and Clara together are really cute and if the writers get them sorted, they’ll make for good co-companions.
That’s about it. This is by far the biggest disappointment I’ve seen in my entire history of watching Doctor Who, considering my excitement to see a creepy episode and the amazing premise, and then weighing that against how good the actual episode was(n’t). Moffat needs to get his head back in the game and stop taking the easy way out. Also, there’s a reason story structure exists, and this episode is that reason. Don’t do what Doctor Who did, unless you’re an actor or something, and then yes, definitely do this. Otherwise, stay far, far away from “Listen.”*
There’s definitely something to be explored in the character of The Doctor where this episode is supposed to be going, but this is not the way to do it. We’re left with a completely useless time-loop of nothing that although it tells us something about ourselves, as the best Doctor Who episodes always do, doesn’t give us much of an emotional reason to believe it. It’s hard to learn life lessons from a monotonous drone, which is why we have storytelling, but this isn’t going to do it. Sorry boys, you need to break out the Story 101 textbooks before you can take on an idea of this size. I used to be a big fan of Moffat, and I still applaud his imagination – again, just look at the concept for this episode – but his weaknesses are showing more and more: the plot holes, the bad character development, the time-looping-as-responsibility-avoidance, and his inability to construct a meaning out of his drama, or in fact his inability to construct meaningful drama out of his premises.
As always however, I’m still a fan, and will be back to watch next week. I can take a bad episode here and there. If it seems like my review is exceedingly harsh, it’s because it is, and I don’t mean to stomp on anyone’s enthusiasm if they enjoyed this episode, but this is such a poor excuse for a story. Too bad. Maybe next time the staff will take their own advice and listen to the complaints of the fans. Who knows, they might learn something.
*Unless, that is, you want a lesson in what not to do, and then, I guess you could watch this.