Doctor Who Recap: “Listen”

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We’re still getting to know the Twelfth Doctor, and “Listen” explores an important piece of his new persona: vulnerability. So far, this Doctor seems more off-kilter, more internal, and in Peter Capaldi’s own words, “more alien” than previous incarnations. So it suits his regenerated character that this initial exploration of his vulnerable side would look not at his failure to connect with other beings—which we’ve visited many times with previous Doctors, and will likely visit again—but something more basic: his childhood fears.

Clara comes home from an abortive date with Danny Pink to find the Doctor in her apartment, eager to test a hypothesis. What if there was a creature so good at hiding that no one has ever seen it? His theory is this: everyone has, at some point, dreamed of a creature under the bed—what if that creature was real? To suss this out, the Doctor wants to visit Clara’s childhood and literally look under her bed. But her timeline gets mixed up with Danny’s, and they end up visiting the ex-soldier at the children’s home where he lived as a boy—where it seems there is, indeed, some kind of menace under the bed. The Doctor’s determination to learn the identity of this menace will lead them to the end of the universe—and then back to his own childhood on Gallifrey, where he spent his nights crying under the covers in a barn.

It’s rare to see the Doctor outwardly show fear of monsters—usually he faces danger by either fighting it head-on or gleefully running away. But “Listen” provides a touching reminder that before he became a Time Lord he was just another scared child. And that child still exists today—though he usually stays buried under wit and bravado and bowties. The Doctor presents fear not as something that needs to be conquered or even faced, but as normal—and even powerful—emotion. When comforting the weeping child-Doctor, Clara tells him, “Fear can make you kind.” The episode’s lesson seems to be that the power inherent in our fears lies not in the strength it gives us to fight slimy monsters, but to be good to each other. It was also interesting how this episode presented both Danny and the Doctor—two traditional hero types—as scared children. Clara, and her powers of providing comfort, came to the rescue of both men.

“Listen” also raises many questions about the future of Clara and Danny’s relationship. Judging by their date, it’s hard to imagine they have much potential. Clara makes a tasteless joke about Danny being a killer—he’s insulted. Then he makes a comment about “people like her”—she storms off. But when they encounter Orson Pink, an astronaut from the future who looks exactly like Danny, he suggests that time-travel runs in the family. And while it’s not clear if that comment is a reference to Clara or Danny—or both—it’s clear from Clara’s late-night visit to Danny’s apartment that their romance doesn’t end here.

As a final note: this Doctor really gets a kick out of insulting Clara’s appearance. There’s definitely some Malcolm Tucker in that impulse—if much, much less profane.