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Posts Tagged ‘Listen’

Okay, for anyone who’s been following along: the trip to Spain was very nice, thanks, although obviously I got sunburnt (the birthright of any Englishman abroad, surely). Thanks to a little research, I did actually manage to have a brief tour of locations from The Two Doctors in the heart of Seville – not that I would necessarily have recognised any of them had I not looked them up in advance. At least it went better than a similar look round Gibraltar in search of locations from The Living Daylights, the next day, mainly because I neither had time to prep properly or look around on my own.

One of the advantages of being abroad and cut off from iPlayer was that I got a definite sense of the critical reaction to Listen before I actually watched it (I suppose I could achieve the same by just not actually watching the episode on transmission and hanging on for a few days – yeah, like that’s going to happen). The response was generally positive (though, mystifyingly, you could really say the same of Farrago of Sherwood), and this was oddly relaxing, even though I know I’m wildly out of step with many elements of mainstream Who fandom nowadays.

I can’t help feeling that doing a ‘normal’ episode was a heroic gesture on the part of Moffat, as it arguably constituted a no-win scenario for the guy – muck it up and he would just hand more ammunition to people crying out for him to get a move on and, er, move on (yes, that’d be me), produce another Blink and the same people would just be calling him the 21st century Christopher Bidmead or Eric Saward: much better suited to simply writing one or two scripts a year than actually setting the programme’s creative direction. I do still have a certain fondness and respect for Moffat, so I was expecting to take the latter line.

Actually, this is not the easiest response I’ve ever written, as I’ve only seen Listen once so far. Normally I’m quite happy to watch an episode twice in the space of not much more than 12 hours, but this one had such a strong and unusual flavour to it, and elements of it hung around in my head for so long, that I’m almost reluctant to watch it again too soon: I want to savour and reflect on the first impression it left on me.

Most of which was very positive indeed, I have to say. I could, as the kids say, totally get with a Doctor so fierce and driven by his desire simply to find things out, even if his obsession in this episode initially seemed to whip itself up out of nowhere. I liked the pace of it, the talkiness, the strength of the atmosphere created by the story. I especially liked the fact that throughout I had absolutely no idea where it was going. In short, if this was to become the house style of Doctor Who from now on, I would be a much happier person.

But, alas, I have to address the final third of the episode, which – wouldn’t you guess – I had Issues with. These fall into two main groups, at least one of which is heavily spoiler-infused, and so here is a nice picture from the episode to give you a chance to avoid them.

listen

The canon-cop stuff first, which is possibly less important: I know the story was at pains to point out that the TARDIS’ final journey of the episode was a freak occurrence, and usually safeguarded against, but is anyone remotely convinced by that? If the past (or future) of Gallifrey was this easily accessible by TARDIS, surely someone would have hit upon it before now. As far back as the 1980s the people at FASA had shrewdly deduced that getting access to the past of Gallifrey would be one of the Master’s main objectives. The value of the chance to pop back and warn previous generations about things like the Vardan-Sontaran invasion or the Time War would surely have occurred to other Time Lords, as well. Like most people I had assumed that the inaccessibility of Gallifrey’s future and past was a ‘physical’ barrier, possibly connected to the Time Lords’ privileged position as the effective gatekeepers to the time vortex. I suppose you could argue that this was a self-imposed ban and the Time Lords aren’t there to police it any more, but I don’t buy this, unless TARDIS travel into Gallifrey’s own past is so tremendously dangerous that even a race as self-serving and devious as the Time Lords were reluctant to risk it. Even then, the Doctor has taken humans into their own planet’s past without apparent risk on innumerable occasions, so why should it be any different for natives of Gallifrey? I fear this is once again Moffat writing something for the benefit of a particular episode, without considering the wider implications for the rest of the series’ universe.

I’m also becoming a little concerned about the running theme of this series, which seems to be a concerted attack from all angles on the character of the Doctor as we know him. The fact they’ve chosen to do so after creating such an old-school version of the character is especially worrying.

Look at it this way: Deep Breath is largely about Clara (and to some extent the Doctor himself) questioning if he’s really still the same person. Into the Dalek was primarily concerned with the Doctor’s capacity for prejudice and hatred. The episode which is not to be named depicts him as petty and stupid. Listen is partly about his obsessive, dangerous curiosity, but much more about the fact that he is motivated by the need to conquer his own fear. Self-doubt, prejudice, hatred, pettiness, stupidity, fearfulness: an odd suite of characteristics to focus on in your protagonist.

It may just be that they’re looking for new angles on the character, but come on: there’s a whole new Doctor to play with, you should hardly be short of those, and they don’t all have to be negative, surely? And let’s not forget the lessons of the past – thirty years ago they experimented with a less openly-heroic Doctor, a more (apparently) flawed version of the character – and what resulted was arguably a prime factor in getting the series cancelled for 15 years.

It all leads me to wonder just how committed everyone involved is to the Capaldi Doctor – could it be that they are all just covering themselves, keeping their options open preparatory to a quick and – oh dear – More Radical recasting of the part? I do hope not, not least because – in this episode in particular – Capaldi has really shown he has the chops to be a truly iconic Doctor. Hopefully the next few episodes will give us a slightly more positive take on the character.

 

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