Although the Twelfth Doctor seemed to promise an enormous step away from the shenanigans of Matt Smith, the new series of Doctor Who has so far been a pretty light-hearted affair. But after a romp through Medieval England and a Victorian horse-back ride, Capaldi finally gets his first truly scary episode – Listen.
The episode begins with a fairly simple question: “Why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone?” The answer? “Because we know we’re not.”
It’s a thrilling premise wrapped up in one sentence, but it’s also a lot more than that. Clara is back at home, settling into her life while the Doctor continues to travel alone… and perhaps that’s what terrifies him the most.
Left alone on the TARDIS to ponder the very nature of being alone, it’s not long before the Doctor concocts a pretty wild theory, even by his standards. “If evolution were to perfect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view, how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and you wouldn’t know.”
Shouting into the darkness asking what it would do, it’s not long before an ominous message appears on the Doctor’s chalkboard – “Listen”. And thus Doctor Who begins a quest to find out exactly what lives unseen among us…
It’s the start of a pretty terrifying story that sees the Doctor encounter the oldest legend in the book – the monster under your bed. But while on the surface it sounds like just a scary story, it’s yet-another introspective look at how the Doctor thinks. He’s unable to face being alone on the TARDIS… and decides to set out to prove that he isn’t.
“What if every living being has a companion?” he asks. “A silent passenger, a shadow?” Of course, there’s only one way to prove their existence – to find one. And it seems the Doctor has a plan. “Everybody at some point in their lifetime has the exact same nightmare.” But is it really just a dream?
Dragging Clara away from her rather rubbish date with Danny, the Doctor wants to head back to a time when Clara had that very dream… all to find out what’s underneath her bed. But it’s not long before something goes a bit wrong – leading them not to her own childhood, but to a young Danny Pink.
Soon enough, Clara and the Doctor are taking a peek into the darkness… and when an unknown figure emerges under the bed sheets, Capaldi’s reactions only serve to make things worse.
Now, Steven Moffat uses some familiar tricks as he ramps up the tension… but while many assumed this episode might take a cue from the various appearances of the Weeping Angels, Listen does something a lot bolder – not showing us the monsters under the bed.
“Look away, look away now,” he shouts. “Imagine a thing that must never be seen – what would it do if you saw it?”
It’s an impressive episode that really lets Peter Capaldi shine in the role… and I get the feeling that it’s this kind of terror-filled episode that the Twelfth Doctor was made for. He masterfully adds tension in the moments when he should be reassuring Clara. And let’s be honest – Capaldi has that grim exterior that suits this kind of story.
But beneath this beautifully-crafted, scary story, there’s an awful lot more. Heading back through time and space in an attempt to understand these unseen creatures, Clara is forced to face a moment in history that reveals a lot more about the Doctor’s past. It’s another trip back to that barn – the one that appeared in the 50th anniversary. And it all becomes clear – there’s a lot more to that place than meets the eye.
Setting up a distinct parallel between Danny and the Doctor, it looks as though our favourite Time Lord may eventually have to face his demons. But how did he end up becoming a Time Lord in the first place? For that, we’ll have to wait and see…
What do you think of the series so far? Was Listen one of the better Doctor Who episodes? Let us know what you think in the comments below…