Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 842: Listen
When previewing this episode for Doctor Who Online last year, I commented;
”Since 2005, Steven Moffat has been the king of ‘scary’…In many ways, Listen feels like a return to Moffat trying to scare us, and it’s safe to say that he succeeds.”
I was watching it in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon first time around, and found it suitably creepy. This time around, I’ve been watching it after dark, and there was a moment, when pausing it to go and grab a drink, where the empty house really did start to make the hairs on the back of my neck creep up. The atmosphere and tension in Listen is extremely well crafted, and there’s something brilliant about Moffat being able to go back to writing this type of story, after a few seasons where he’s been confined to the great, big, story arc moments.
A lot of the atmosphere is generated simply from Peter Capaldi being, as Clara says, a big grey stick insect. Yesterday I was full of praise for the way that he was able to make me smile and laugh, being the Doctor with a twinkle in his eye and a great line in humour. Today I could rave about the way he can equally do ‘darker’ performances like the ones we get here. I’ve spoken in recent months about both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s ability to do darker sides to their Doctor, and how well they can do that, but there’s something different about Peter Capaldi’s darker side - there’s something genuinely scary about the Doctor himself, and it’s not just the eyebrows. That opening TARDIS scene, in which the Doctor sets out the premise of the adventure really puts you in the right frame of mind to keep on edge for the next 45 minutes.
The episode itself, while creepy, goes to great lengths to make sure that there’s always an alternate explanation for everything we’re seeing. It could be that the Doctor himself wrote ‘listen’ on the board in a moment of absent-mindedness (if this were a William Hartnell story, we’d be able to assume that was exactly the case and the adventure would be over in five minutes). The coffee mug disappears and the telly turns off… because the Doctor stole the mug and the telly has been faulty for ages. No one could have entered the room without Clara and Rupert noticing… but then the Doctor managed it, and maybe it’s just another child hiding under the blanket trying to scare his friend? For me, this is where Listen is most successful - in leaving you to make up your own mind about the events. As far as I’m concerned, I think I’d always go with these alternate explanations. but then… well, you never know.
And yet… I don’t know, I’m just not feeling it today, The only word I can find to describe my experience of watching this one again is ‘slog’. It’s hitting all the right beats, and managing to be creepy and thought provoking, and features some great character moments… but I’m simply not enjoying it as much as I did the first time around, and not as much as I was expecting to this time around. I don’t know if it’s a problem with me, or if the story just doesn’t hold up so well once that initial thrill has been experienced, but I’m afraid today’s score is going to end up being a little lower than it probably deserves to be…