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die hard is a xmas movie | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Listen”

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[previous: “Robot of Sherwood”]

warning: spoilers!

So, the monster under the Doctor’s bed when he was a kid was Clara. Well, why not? She’s been responsible for every other important thing in his life.

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And while we’re at it, why not another example of Steven Moffat’s recycling his own ideas — whatever you do, don’t look; the monster in the shadows; the impossible astronaut — and other Doctor Who-ish things: the knocking from outside in a place where nothing’s supposed to be alive; the stranded time-traveler who’s related to someone else in the episode. As long as it’s all a fairy tale anyway, it doesn’t need to actually hang together as a narrative, right?

Because: awwwww. The Doctor as a little boy! Fear is a superpower! Toy soldiers!

Anyway, none of it’s really real, right? Everyone has the dream about their ankle being grabbed from under the bed, and Clara appears to confirm that she has had it… but, no, it’s actually just the Doctor obsessing over something that happened when he was a kid. Except he found mentions throughout history of people having the same dream. And the thing under the blankets. And the thing knocking from outside at the end of the universe. And the writing on the chalkboard.

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There’s pleasantly tantalizing ambiguity in a story… and then there’s this.

Hey, maybe it’s a metaphor for warantless wiretapping by our overlords! The CIA and GCHQ are the monsters in the shadows listening to us?

Or maybe it’s all about how we create monsters that aren’t there, for some reason, to torment ourselves. But this is a strange thing for the Doctor to be doing to himself, because he lives in a universe full of real monsters, truly horrible beings for whom dealing out death and destruction is all in a day’s work. The Doctor is the last person for whom it makes sense, narratively speaking, to be delusional about monsters. He does not need to invent monsters for himself. And if that’s what he’s doing here, we need a lot more help to understand why he’s suddenly in such an odd frame of mind.

We go in circles while we wait for something to happen here. Clara’s timeline — which is controlling the TARDIS (the TARDIS that supposedly hates her, but I guess that’s not a thing anymore, or even a plan) — takes them to Danny’s childhood, which is not part of her timeline, and to the end of the universe, which is not part of her timeline, so that the Doctor can confront a fear that he didn’t even know was going to lead them to the end of everything. Except Clara is connected to that fear in him, which isn’t real except it is.

Then again, the TARDIS could take them literally anywhere and anywhen, because as soon as Clara is there, it’s part of her timeline!

Is everything connected, or not?

Is random creepy mood still creepy or moody when it’s just a thin soup of Doctor Who ookiness yanked from any context and tossed into a pot to stew?

Random thoughts on “Listen”:

• Astronaut in a restaurant!

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Because no one would notice, right?

And wait a sec: Was this some pointless, random cruelty on the Doctor’s part? He discovers a man who has been stranded at the end of universe and says he can take him home, but instead he first takes the man into his own past — we’re left to imagine how the Doctor explains to Orson why he needs the traumatized man to do this bizarre thing and wear his helmet into a restaurant and flag down some woman he doesn’t even know — and then takes him back to the place where he’s been stuck. Why? The Doctor wants to find out who’s left after the rest of the universe has died? Fine. He doesn’t need Orson there to do that. He doesn’t need Clara, either.

But then we wouldn’t have gotten to see an astronaut in a restaurant.

• Let’s talk about the unintended creepiness of having an episode revolve around the Doctor bluffing his way into a home for vulnerable children in the middle of the night.

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Because the sexual abuse of children in British care homes (and in other situations) has been a huge nightmare of a story in the news. Unlike last week’s episode, in which a scene of a beheading was deleted because it accidentally coincided with a reality that could not have been foreseen in a way that might have upset people, this real-life horror has been in the public consciousness for several years now. (Just this weekend, actress Samantha Morton went public with her experience being sexually abused in a care home in the early 90s.) And there’s not the tiniest hint of awareness of that here… in fact, it’s just the opposite, with the Doctor cavalierly turning up in a child’s room.

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We all know the Doctor is a Good Guy (even if he has been behaving in some very odd ways since his regeneration), but this is a fairly astonishing lack of awareness of how this scenario might be seen in this very sensitive cultural environment. I don’t think Moffat intends to make the Doctor dark and creepy in this way. But he kind of did. It’s one thing to ignore context within the episode, but quite another to ignore the much larger context that, particularly, an institution like Doctor Who exists within.

Oh, and there’s this: The Doctor hates soldiers, but he psychically put the idea of the Dan the soldier in young Rupert’s head?

• Speaking of the Doctor being creepy, apparently he will not be able to refrain from making awful comments about Clara’s physical appearance. This upsets me more and more with every new denigration of her. It’s a cruelty I never would have expected from the Doctor. And it serves no purpose whatsoever.

[next: “Time Heist”]


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