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Monday, 15 September 2014

Doctor Who S34E4: Listen.

Doctor Who
Series 34 Episode 4

Hello! We're back for the one-third mark of this year's Doctor Who. Oh, how the time flies when you're reviewing one terrible, one confusingly mediocre and one pretty okay episode. Last week we started doing Chibilou and Bee's Moffat Bingo, so let's see where we were up to on that at the end of Robot of Sherwood.

Not bad, not bad.

This latest episode, Listen, has had a slight bit of media attention on it. Only slight. Mostly because it was one of the leaked episodes, and a little bit because Moffat had some things he wanted to say about it. His comments are:

My impulse started in that was just the idea, 'What does he do when he has nothing to do?' Because he'd throw himself off a building if he thought it'd be interesting on the way down … he's fascinated by anything. And here he's with nothing to do, so he just goes poking things with a stick until something bites it.”

Which is kind of territory already covered – by Chris Chibnall in The Power of Three, just last series. But sure, go on. That episode featured a 'what does the Doctor do when he's bored' theme, but it wasn't the sole purpose of the episode, and it's more than possible to have multiple variations on a theme.

So, how does this episode hold up?

Um. Hm. I'll say this, it didn't make me explode with rage.

Oh, stop posing in front of blackboards.

It's well-paced, the plotting is for the most part coherent and not a tangled skein of rubbish and self-congratulation, there's a clear beginning-middle-end structure that rises to a climactic event towards the end. It has running themes that aren't overwrought, it's snappy and punchy and has a bare minimum of longwinded monologues. Mechanically speaking, it ticks all of the boxes, and that's good, because Moffat very frequently struggles with even the basic nuts and bolts of passable writing.  
To be honest, I like the basic concept too. An associate referred to it as 'pointless' and said that nothing was achieved, and aye, I can't really protest that assessment. But as a character piece, the idea of an episode where the Doctor is bored and chasing after nothing, like a Cold War era spy, is one that has a lot of potential.

It's potential not really filled here, because by and large the main focus of this episode is the blossoming romance of Clara and Danny. Mark well, I like Clara and Danny, and I like them together, but I can think of a better way to give them romantic development.

Like, for example, actually having them interact for the entirety of the episode. As it is, they interact for about ten of the most baffling minutes on prime time television, as they both temporarily seem to take leave of their ability to conduct normal conversations.

“Heh, I could just kill her sometimes,” Clara says.
“Me too!”
“Yeah, but from you it actually means something!”


Nobody talks like this. There is nobody who lies within the band of 'cognisant enough to joke about their currently talking to a veteran' and 'not cognisant of how poorly implications of potential genuine murder of a teenage girl generally go over with people.' That is conversational territory as-yet never treaded. What lies on those strange, dusty plains? Nobody knows.

Danny's response is equally bewildering, as he seems to collapse into a ball of sensitivity at it, as if he hadn't realised that people might perceive him, somebody trained to kill people, as being capable and willing of killing people. I've seen this schtick before, and I am always a little baffled by the idea that members of the British Army are delicate emotional waifs who cannot cope with being reminded of their jobs.

(Granted, as anyone who was following the coverage of the Bloody Sunday inquiry and the Army's official response to that, it isn't a portrayal wholly without merit, but still.)

But okay, fine. Clara and Danny are the two most bewildering conversationalists of all time, and like a pair of rare whales they must be preserved together so that they can breed – and oh, how neatly that brings me around to my second problem with this film's romance subplot.

Oh, take off the wig, we saw your hair in the restaurant scene.

Orson Pink. We're never told outright that he's Clara and Danny's great-grandson, but the implication is laid on with a shovel. This is a thing that Moffat does. Rather than allow a romantic subplot to form naturally, he tends to shove in destiny to save himself the work. River and the Doctor never stand a chance in this regard, as he has their first meeting be when they are already married. Amy and Rory can't even escape it, as the very existence of River makes them destined to get together and stay together. In the magical world of Moffatland, you will be informed in advance of who your soulmate is, and after that the actual process of courtship is merely an inconvenient formality.

So, there are those problems. Actually, I'm surprised 'romance preordained by destiny' isn't on the bingo. But there's another big issue with this episode as well: Hey there, last planet at the end of the universe!

We've – heard this concept before haven't we? But it looked a lot different? It was maybe part of a … Oh, it's on the edge of my mind … Oh, right, Russell T. Davies did it in his third series, in Utopia. It looked nothing like this planet.

Yeah, I'm confused and all, Clara.

Granted, there are ways you can work around it. The very very last planet as opposed to the last planet with humans on it, for example. Or this is the planet where humanity turned themselves into the Toclafane, only now the Toclafane are all gone and it's just a barren wasteland waiting to die. The episode establishes there's something out there, it could easily be a last few straggling Toclafane, or something completely unrelated on a planet that's dying elsewhere.

So it's not the worst canonical screw-up, but the fact that the Doctor (or Clara, who knows most of the Doctor's timeline, remember) doesn't make any remarks to the effect of 'I've been to the end of the universe before', or even reference that story in passing, steers it into the 'Moffat forgot how to canon' category.

There is a continuity tie-in to another episode, although it's one of Moffat's – I've seen it remarked before that Moffat is unable to reference episodes that aren't his own, and it seems to be true – in that the barn that the pre-Doctor is found in is the same barn that John Hurt's Doctor goes to to activate the Moment in The Day of the Doctor. So that's always nice. I like continuity. Do wish we'd get continuity links to episodes by other writers, though.

So, with another episode done, let's take a look at the bingo again.

… Jesus, I'm going to have this filled in before we even reach Episode 8, aren't I.

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