A Dose of Alfred Hitchcock: Doctor Who’s Listen

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So far, I haven’t really liked this season of Doctor Who. The plots have been interesting, but I haven’t “felt” Capaldi in the part until now. Thank God, he finally convinced me in Listen that he can be a good Doctor if given room to breathe. After the second week’s interesting travel inside a dalek (frankly, I’m bored to death with daleks, but that was a unique take and I loved the concept), and the total stupidity of the Robin Hood episode (although funny, it was too high camp for my taste), I was teetering on the edge of “ehh… and I used to love this show,” but Listen redeemed it for me. This is the first episode in a long time that has delighted me from start to finish, most likely because it’s both a character-driven piece and it deals in non-absolutes.

Honestly, I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll plunge in and let it sort itself out.

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The parallels Moffat is drawing between Danny Pink and the Doctor are significant. Clara is literally standing between two soldiers… one suffering from PTSD and one who denies and represses everything, while refusing to acknowledge his greater role in the universe. Both of them struggle with the same thing (am I a good man, Clara?) but their approach is radically different. The Doctor questions and tries to find himself and Danny tries to justify himself by talking about the good things he did overseas. If you think the Doctor is anything less than a soldier, remember, just a couple of weeks ago the dalek called the Doctor “a good dalek,” with the implication that he is, for all intensive purposes, a killing machine who orients his destruction toward preserving others. I feel that is important and will come into play (or at least, should) with Danny, who is so traumatized that he finds it hard to deal with the “soldier” persona.

In some ways, the Doctor fits our perception of a soldier, whereas Danny is the personification of a soldier. We expect soldiers to be “hardened” and the Doctor is hardened; but in reality, soldiers are human beings with emotions, so Danny is a far more realistic representation of someone who has faced the horrors of war. Even the response to him as a character among the fans shows a decided skew in our perception of men – he’s not “manly” because he cries. He’s not allowed to be emotionally sensitive, because he’s supposed to be a (hardened) soldier. But… are hardened soldiers all they are really cracked up to be? The Doctor is one, and he sacrificed a man’s life in the dalek episode without a second thought. He has a callous view of death and very little patience for emotional reactions, but Danny is prone to emotional outbursts. These two are destined to meet, and hopefully, to help one another toward some form of emotional wellness. I suspect that before long, Danny Pink may do a bit of time traveling (after all, it “runs in the family”) and that these two soldiers will rub off on one another in hopefully good ways.

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The episode itself, I felt, was ingenious because it is ambiguous. Moffat explores the themes of fear, of sensing something is there and suggesting there is a presence with us at all times, then throws out an answer to us that is not a real answer, because it is contradicted by all the former evidence. The suggestion is: we make stuff up to explain our fear of the dark. But… there really was a monster in that room. All of them saw it, and so did we. They did not imagine it. So what is it? Moffat never tells us; he leaves it to our imagination… which is far more capable of coming up with truly frightening things than if he had showed us some creepy-looking mask. Alfred Hitchcock knew that the power of suggestion was more terrifying than a monster. True suspense is the product of not knowing. This episode kept us in suspense… what is in the walls? The old house? Under the bed? Under the sheet on the bed? Outside the locked door? Something. Not nothing. Something. What is it? Moffat doesn’t know. But it’s there. Behind you. In the shadows. Under your bed. In the corner of your eye. You know it’s there. He didn’t explain it away. He leaves it there, in your mind, in your suspicions, in the hair lifting on the back of your neck, to torment you because… there is no answer. Is it there, or isn’t it? If it’s not there, why do we fear it? If it is there, what is it? This is the ultimate intuitive-thinker paradox, a theory caught between physical evidence and what our unseen senses (our second sight and intuition) tell us.

Going into personalities, I think this Doctor is an INTJ, a deviation from his ENTP characters the last few seasons. He is much more driven to find answers; he wants absolutes rather than is content with the unknown. He wants to know what the monster is, so he risks his life to find out. It’s a nice contrast with ENTP Clara… and she often finds solutions and connections before he does, because while he internally fixates, she connects threads in her external environment. Her Ne-Fe allows her to read people, whereas his Ni-Te is driven toward formulating theories and bringing in logical parameters. If it has no logic, he finds it harder to accept it, thus his increasing frustration in the fact of Robin Hood’s existence. Interestingly, Moffat even shows the downfalls of being an ENTP in how Clara interacts with Danny. Her usual turn everything into a joke personality doesn’t work with him, but causes her to step all over his feelings and then get angry when he lumps her into a collective group of People Who Do Not Understand. That insults her, whereas her flippancy about… well, everything insults him. Oh, dear.

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Coming full circle to Gallifrey was an interesting touch that further ties into the storyline about Clara having influence over “all areas” of the Doctor’s timeline. She fractured in time and space, and has been chasing down the Doctor for centuries… but this is the first time she has encountered an alternate version of him, as herself, in her current timeline. She started the nightmare about the creature under the bed… but she also didn’t. She started it for the Doctor, but not for everyone else. So her theory about the Doctor inventing explanations to explain his fear of the dark (and his tendency to talk out loud to… no one) explains his dream, but no one else’s. Yet another suggestion that the creature truly exists, but no one knows what it is, or why it is there. Do houses settle and creak at night, or is something in them? Moffat establishes theories and then unravels all of them in front of us, forcing us to think about what he wrote and its meaning. Which version of the story is the truth? Ultimately, what you decide probably indicates what kind of a person you are.

(Random thought: though it’s heavily suggested that the boy is the Doctor, thanks to the speech he gave Pink and that she gave him in turn, what if it isn’t the Doctor? What if that child has something to do with the greater arc this season? What if it’s … the Master?)

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Finally, there is Clara, who has been a little inconsistent this season, wavering between emotional overreactions and total insensitivity. I know the feeling. The awkwardness with her and Danny over dinner was raw realism at its best; I’ve been there, done that. I think most of us have conversations in our past that we’d like to forget, when we made a total ass of ourselves by trying to be funny only to unintentionally hurt someone. Most of us have also had truly painful dating experiences, where everything is misunderstood and we grope desperately for something, anything, to talk about. Awkwardness is a part of life and Moffat explores it in truly cringe-inducing detail. In the midst of what if and wild, imaginative theories, Moffat threw us a little grim reality and a reminder that although Clara is extremely clever, she is not perfect at life. No one is. She can be as blunt and insensitive as the thousand-year-old Time Lord, but in a different way… and she feels sorry about it later.

Clara’s refusal to confess and tell the Doctor her connection to the Pink family intrigues me. Why is she hiding it?

8 Replies to “A Dose of Alfred Hitchcock: Doctor Who’s Listen”

  1. I just watched this episode this morning, and I agree. I can feel the Twelfth Doctor growing on me. He was perfect in this episode, and I liked the questions left hanging, as well as Clara’s firm command to the Doctor to never return to the barn. I also liked the tie-in to the War Doctor. Moffat really nailed this episode, and you’re right, part of the perfection is that we were never shown the monster under the bed. I look forward to more of Clara and Danny’s interactions. Now that she understands him a bit better, I think they’ll get on together better. I also think the truth is going to come out eventually.

    1. I loved this episode! It’s wonderful in that truly playful but also thought-provoking way. Moffat done good this time around. I think the episodes are improving week by week, even as Capaldi grows on me.

      Wait until you see last night’s episode, where he’s the caretaker in the school and runs amuck of Danny. It’s the first time I’ve truly loved Capaldi as the Doctor.

  2. I did wonder if it was possibly the Master–that would be awesome. This was a great episode, yes, definitely. I did like the Robin Hood one, simply because it was bizarre and crazy and funny like so many others. I think it was a wise move to have a campy one with a in-depth one to follow. And I totally agree–the first two episodes were lacking. The exploration inside the dalek was terrific, I loved that–it was really interesting–but I still felt disconnected to this Doctor. There was still something wrong, not HIM. But getting into Robin Hood, and definitely this one, I feel like I recognize him again, and I’m enjoying the season again.

    The parallels between Pink and the Doctor is a really good point. Excellent. I’m curious where Clara’s story with them both goes. I like the feeling of the challenges this season, and the changes, have brought.

    And I am so curious about that “unknown presence” aspect…I love suspense. And it’s so true that fear of the unknown, or the possibility of something existing that we can’t identify, is so much more effective than plain reaction to recognized threat. And yes, Alfred Hitchcock really knew how to work that! Psycho is a really good example.

    1. I strongly suspect it was the Doctor simply because she gave him the same speech the Doctor gave Danny Pink… but it’s always fun to theorize that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

      I decided to rewatch the dalek episode last night and while it is a solid episode, the actors haven’t yet reached a sense of comfort with one another… or maybe it’s the fact that the Doctor is just plain unlikable there. “Listen” gave us a smiling Doctor, an enthusiastic Doctor… and the first several episodes gave us an exhausted, confused, frustrated Doctor. More of the former, please!

      Soldiers must be a theme this season… since the dalek episode had a female soldier that he refused access into the TARDIS. “I’m sure you’re very nice, and kind but… I wish you weren’t a soldier.”

      Suspense is awesome. I think it worked here as effectively as it did in Blink, although Blink suspends us in it for longer.

  3. I’ve really enjoyed this season…it has been a breath of fresh air for me because as much as I grew to love Smith as Eleven, it was past time for him to move on and give way to a new face, IMO. I ADORED the Robin Hood episode, yes it was high comedy but it was funny and over the top and faithful to the legend, and I loved that. And this episode was fantastic…especially because it is ambiguous, as you point out. Great idea about the boy possibly being the Master!! I hadn’t gone there at all.

    1. I may grow to love the Robin Hood episode more in time. I did like elements of it — particularly the boys bickering in the cell, so the prison guard comes and takes Clara away as their leader. Hehehe.

  4. I honestly hated this episode and so did my bf. They basically did a “boogeyman under the bed” episode. It felt like a silly after school special rather than Dr. Who. I used to watch this 90’s show “Are you afraid of the dark?” back when I was a kid and this episode reminded me of that. Last week’s episode of Robin Hood was much better. Campy but better. I know you disagree. 😉

    I’m also getting quite irritated at the political correctness pushed on by the BBC. I just binge-watched Dr. Who episodes this past week. I’m getting tired of it because they’re just doing too much of it. BBC writers apparently assume we have no morals. I had a full life where my parents taught me values and ethics before I ever watched an episode of Dr. Who. I came to the fandom pretty late too. How does the BBC think I ever survived without them?

    At times I feel the show is watered down for the sake of “social justice” or “political correctness.” I try to ignore it but they overdo it. I have nothing against tolerance and love. In fact God created all the races and people and wants us to love one another. Proof:

    “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Acts 17:26

    “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

    “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12

    I just have a problem with the BBC giving us a lopsided view of the universe.

    1. You know, you should let the world know how you feel. It doesn’t pay to keep all your emotions inside all the time. 😉

      Funny, the way you saw this episode was how I felt last week. The Robin Hood episode was so over the top ridiculous (fighting on a bridge with a spoon? really? what is this, Monty Python?) that I felt a little bit embarrassed for the crew.

      Yeah, the BBC is politically correct. Always has been, always will be. You either have to get used to it, or give up watching their shows. I love the Doctor, and I love the nuns and nurses at Nonatus House, so I ignore the political correctness as much as I can.

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