*This review is cross-posted to the Krewe du Who blog*
As always, DO NOT READ unless you're caught up on Series 8 of Doctor Who! As River would say: *spoilers*
...in which (for the first time this series) I genuinely enjoyed the episode! Finally!! To be clear, I do have criticisms, but overall this is my favorite episode of this series. This week we got the best bits of Moffat's writing: Witty dialogue/funny interactions, the awkward beginnings of a relationship (pretty sure he's channeling Coupling here), and the old bait-and-switch in which we assume someone is talking to or about a specific character only to find it's someone completely different.
I really enjoyed watching The Doctor alone on the TARDIS at the opening of the episode. At some point, we all find ourselves alone with our thoughts; often pondering over random questions that pop into our heads. Sometimes they're just fleeting thoughts that pass through our minds like a breeze, but sometimes we find ourselves so intrigued that we end up searching for answers. It's the very essence of science and learning: Seeking out answers. And what is The Doctor if not the very embodiment of the quest for knowledge? Well, he's also an old man in a box who's gone a bit crackers, so his quest for answers tends to turn into an adventure. In this case, that quest went so far as to essentially turn The Doctor into the closest thing this episode had to a villain. Everything that happened was directly because of him. He asked the question. He tore Clara away from her evening to help him, and connected her to the TARDIS. He put everyone in danger at the end of the universe to see what was beyond the door. I found it a lovely twist that he set everything in motion.
This was also an episode filled to the brim with ontological paradoxes: The Doctor ponders a dream that everyone has about a being under the bed which grabs your ankle. He picks up Clara after a horrid first date with Danny Pink, and off they go to investigate. They go back in time and accidentally meet Rupert Pink, who has just had that very dream and is frightened of the idea of something under his bed. The Doctor gives Rupert a moving speech about fear being a superpower. Clara then uses toy soldiers to guard under Rupert's bed, focusing on a specific one without a weapon as the most powerful, which Rupert names Dan the Soldier Man. The Doctor then puts Rupert to sleep and gives him a dream about being Dan the Soldier Man. Rupert grows up to become a soldier himself and changes his name to Daniel, eventually ending up on that awkward first date with Clara. The Doctor and Clara then go into the future and encounter Danny's descendent, Orson Pink, who carries with him the very same toy soldier as a family heirloom, and ends up giving it back to Clara. The three of them then travel back in time and Clara meets The Doctor as a scared child, crying in bed. After having to hide under the bed, she inadvertently grabs the boy's ankle when he goes to step out of bed, and must convince the boy that he's just having a dream and to go back to sleep (thus creating that very dream/memory for The Doctor). She then gives the boy the very same speech about fear being a superpower that The Doctor gave Rupert, and leaves him with Rupert/Danny/Orson's toy soldier. All of this creates a wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey paradox in which future events dictate past events with dictate those future events that created the past events, and on and on and on in a never ending loop with no discernible origin. I believe this one hour episode of Doctor Who may actually hold the record for sheer number of ontological paradoxes in a single story. (That's just a guess, but I'm feeling pretty solid on my math here.) It may have been just a bit much, but it was a great way to keep the audience guessing throughout the episode.
One of my issues with the episode, however, was that I felt it lacked a proper resolution. It seemed like we, the audience, were given two choices at the end: Either the monster was all just a figment of The Doctor's imagination/fear stemming from Clara grabbing his ankle as a child, or the monster exists and we have absolutely no resolution whatsoever. If there was no monster, why does everyone have that exact dream/fear, and what the hell was under the blanket in Rupert's room?? At best, it could have been another child playing a prank on Rupert, but that's a seriously weak explanation given that the kid would have had to have been extremely confused about there being random people in his mate's room late at night playing along with his/her prank. If not for the blanket bit, then the story would have been resolved with the explanation of Clara grabbing The Doctor's foot (and I think that would have been brilliant). It's possible that the mystery of what was under the blanket will be addressed in a later episode, but given the massive plot holes Moffat has left in the past I'm going to say that's not bloody likely.
My other issue with 'Listen' is that it is yet another story that establishes just how integral Clara is to The Doctor's very existence. Not only has she literally saved the doctor in every one of his regenerations, but she's now single-handedly played a pivotal role in molding The Doctor's personality. She created his fear of the thing under the bed. She told him that fear is a superpower, and that he will one day use it to be kind instead of cowardly (right back in that very barn, in fact). It's not even a leap to extrapolate that by leaving him the weaponless toy soldier, she is the reason he hates guns and chooses to solve problems with his intelligence and a screwdriver. I fear that much like with Amy Pond, Doctor Who is becoming The Clara Oswald Show. How long is it going to be before she gets her own opening, just like Amy?
Perhaps one of the best things about this episode, however, is that for the first time this series has me speculating. Sure, lots of people are throwing around ideas about Missy and "the Promised Land," but that hasn't really inspired me. Now that Danny Pink has started to get really interesting, though, I'm intrigued enough to (uncharacteristically) throw my own theory into the mix. There are tons of theories going around about Danny. Is he the new companion? Will he be replacing Clara? Does he already know The Doctor? Is he actually a Time Lord, or even The Master? After 'Listen' aired, many more theories sprang up about Orson being the great-grandchild of Clara and Danny. Orson is undeniably related to Danny; that part is obvious. He did tell Clara that time travel runs in his family (dating back to one of his great-grandparents), so that speculation is not without merit. It could, however, just as easily be a reference to future episodes in which Danny himself will be traveling around in the TARDIS. Danny would then be a time traveler, and since Orson is clearly his descendent, it would tie up that reference with a neat, little bow. I want to believe, however, that it goes a bit deeper than that. I don't think Orson is related to Clara. I think he's related to The Doctor. More specifically, I think he's a descendent of either Susan (The [first] Doctor's granddaughter) or Jenny (The [tenth] Doctor's daughter).
While a case can certainly be made for Susan being Danny's relative, her controversial story has become so convoluted that it's difficult to say if she was ever actually related to The Doctor or even able to have children, nevermind when. As much as I'd love to see that connection to Susan and the original series, it's pretty unlikely. I do think, however, that since her creation was during the New Who era, and her story was left decidedly open ended, Danny could very likely be related to Jenny. Not enough proof for you? How about the fact that Jenny was created as a soldier, that Dan (the Soldier Man) Pink is just one part of an obvious emphasis on soldiers this series, Jenny coming back to life at the end of 'The Doctor's Daughter' was reportedly Moffat's idea, and when The Doctor put Rupert/Danny to sleep by simply touching his forehead, he explained the ability as "Dad skills"? This is, of course, all just wild speculation on my part, but I think it's a pretty solid theory and I'm finally excited to watch the rest of the series to see how this plays out.