Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Monster Under the Bed of The Doctor


While I have the script for Listen and Time Heist, I opted not to read either.  Granted, anything would have been better than the frankly-insulting Robot of SherwoodListen was not an episode I was eager to take on.  I was told by those who had seen it (how is left best unanswered) or read it that it would be highly controversial.  It would divide the fandom.  It would shatter fifty years of continuity.

Truth be told, I can see how all that is possible...and so much more!  I didn't hate Listen as much as I was told I would.  I, however, cannot shake the feeling that Steven Moffat, penning yet another Doctor Who, is so besotted with his own ideas that basically what has come before (Classic and NuWho) is entirely irrelevant to him.  As far as he's concerned, Doctor Who began with HIM, with HIS ideas, and we're just suppose to accept that and move along in whatever direction he wishes us to take.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) wonders why there are no 'perfect hiders' and whether or not we are ever truly alone.  How would you know if there is someone with you, all those bumps in the night and creatures under the bed.  The Doctor appears to have gone bonkers, rambling to himself (or perhaps, us the audience) almost incoherently about those dreams about monsters grabbing us when we get out of bed.

Meanwhile, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), the Doctor's first part-time Companion, is on her first date with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a fellow teacher.  The date is a disaster: Clara makes snide remarks about Pink's war past to which he gets rightfully defensive.  He dug wells in the war (I figure Afghanistan, possibly Iraq) and he never gets any good press about that, only about the killing.  In any case, she walks out and goes back to her place only to find the Doctor in her bedroom. 

He figures if her date went well, there would be no reason for her and Danny to be in her bedroom.  Clara tells the Doctor she too has had the dream about the monster under the bed.  With that, The Doctor whisks her off to her past (which she does not want to do) to find the exact moment when she had this dream and see if there really is something there.  He does this by linking her to the TARDIS telepathic link (which is curious given that in earlier episodes the TARDIS makes it clear it doesn't like Clara, but why worry about such things like continuity on Doctor Who?). 

To the Doctor's surprise, they find themselves in the West Country Children's Home in Gloucester.  Perhaps it isn't too much of a surprise, as Clara is temporarily distracted by her mobile (read, cell phone), and a certain maths teacher who might call her.  Here, the Doctor and Clara see a young boy named Pink...Rupert Pink (Remi Gooding).  He is afraid of the dark, and of monsters underneath his bed.  Clara attempts to convince him there are no monsters under the bed, but wouldn't you know it...there actually IS a monster, only it's ON his bed rather than UNDER it.  Clara's Companion, the Doctor, tells Rupert that fear is a superpower, and eventually whatever was under the covers disappears.  To protect Rupert, Clara puts a series of toy soldiers round his bed, with one that Rupert names "Dan the Soldier Man" to be the leader.

Back to Clara's dating life, for she's gone back to find Danny still at the restaurant, for it's been mere seconds from when she left.  A second attempt at a first date also goes disastrously wrong, as Clara calls Danny 'Rupert', and now can't reveal how she came to this information. 

Fortunately, an astronaut comes in unobserved into the restaurant to get her out of this.  This astronaut is Orson Pink (Anderson in a dual-role), who may be a descendant of Danny...and possibly Clara!  He is the first human time traveler, and now he is at the edge of the universe, and is frightened of the sounds from outside.  He has with him a family heirloom: an old toy soldier.  There appears to be something outside, but the Doctor is knocked unconscious when he opens a door that Orson made clear shouldn't be opened.  Clara then whisks everyone away to another place in another time.

Clara hears a child crying in the barn they've landed in, with Orson looking over an unconscious Doctor.  As she climbs up to the bed where the boy is crying, Clara hears two people coming in and quickly hides under the bed; she hears two people, a man and woman, argue about why he keeps coming to this barn and cry so much.  The man argues this child will never get into the Army if he keeps crying.  The woman says he doesn't want to go into the Army, but to the Academy.  "Well, he'll never get into the Academy and be a Time Lord," he replies.

She is on Gallifrey, and the child is THE DOCTOR!  The Doctor suddenly rises and calls to Clara, and his younger version wakes up to see who is calling.  In a fit of panic, Clara grabs the child's leg from under the turn into the mythical monster under the bed.  She coaxes the child to get back in bed and tells him this is all a dream, and offers words of comfort.  In the end, she leaves the child a sign of hope to face his fears...a toy soldier.

Real men don't just WEAR Pink,
real men ARE Pink!

I know many Classic Who fans outraged at what they see as more Moffat meddling in the Canon.  I'm not outraged.  I actually think I'm past caring, and that is one place to start my reflections on Listen.  

Is there something wrong with having Clara become the central character, and more curious, the prime mover of not just listen, but apparently the whole of Doctor Who?  Yes.  We've been through all this before when she was 'The Impossible Girl'.  IF we are to believe NuWho Canon, it was Clara who told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take, and who apparently rescued him again and again through his various incarnations.

Never mind that in The Doctor's Wife, the TARDIS herself said SHE picked the Doctor, or that Clara could not reconcile herself to having a 'new' Doctor despite having served as 'guardian angel' to all the Doctors save the so-called 'War Doctor' (which we'll get into in a bit). 

Now we're in a situation where what had appeared to be settled for fifty years in regards to the Doctor's past (he was a Time Lord from Gallifrey who went to the Academy and scraped by academically) may now suddenly be up-ended on a showrunner's whim (he was destined to join the Gallifreyan Army until Clara, unseen, altered history by inspiring the future Doctor to become the figure he became).  There is frankly something insidious about how Steven Moffat is battering down all that came before him to create a show in his image. 

That isn't the awful part though.  It's Moffat's stubborn insistence that the so-called 'War Doctor' is a really important figure in Canon.  The 'War Doctor' created havoc since his first appearance in Day of The Doctor, for in one instant the chronological system that had worked so well was thrown into confusion and chaos.  We have the bizarre situation of having to go from the Eight Doctor (Paul McGann) to the 'War Doctor' (John Hurt) to the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and pretend we shouldn't call the Doctor between Eight and Nine anything other than 'War'. 

Nonsense, says I.  After Eight goes Nine, which makes Hurt the Ninth Doctor, period.  That idea has become Canon with the more muddled Time of The Doctor, which made Smith's version not the 11th, but the 13th and final regeneration (and it threw the Valeyard, which was suppose to come between the 12th and final regeneration, out the window/under the bus.  OK, the Master said in Trial of A Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe that the Valeyard would come between his 12th and 'final' regeneration, not specifically his 13th regeneration, but given that the Master himself had already exceeded that '12 regeneration' rule Canon had already established, Time Lords could, unless the High Council offered a Time Lord a new regenerative cycle, a Time Lord had 12 regenerations only.  That being said, if Smith was the 13th Doctor/12th regeneration, the Valeyard SHOULD have appeared.  However, that's from Classic Who, which in Steven Moffat's mind is relevant only insofar as it relates to what he does, not to the show itself.  Forgive the digression). 

Now we have Clara coming in to basically guide the Doctor and tell him to not be afraid of the dark.   Even more curious, we have her leaving a family heirloom: that toy soldier.  PLEASE don't tell me that Clara, Orson, AND the Doctor are all related!

That wouldn't just go against Canon.  That would be INSANITY!

In any case, the issue about Canon in Listen is a major one.  There are other issues with Listen.

Once we got the 'astronaut entering the restaurant' bit (which made me wonder, how'd he go unnoticed in a crowded room?), I thought Listen had become another story altogether.  I think it had to do with the fact that we wrapped up one part (visiting little Rupert/Danny...seriously, does Moffat have something against two-parent homes where every Companion that the Doctor visits as a child--Amy, Clara, Danny--pretty much HAS to be an orphan in some way) we went on another story altogether.

Another major issue regards the 'monster' in Rupert's room.  While it's not very visible, the creature appears to be not human.  It looked like a little Sontaran, and it disappeared in a flash of light.  Now, I know 'The Moff' likes to throw little bits in for his series finales.  However, it would be nice to have at least ONE story that works on its own without resorting to trickery.  Furthermore, if we don't get an answer to this alien creature in Rupert's room (and it was alien) we have more proof that Moffat really is making things up as he goes along.   I kept thinking, 'take the damn covers off'. 

We also have a curious discontinuity in Listen.  A mere episode ago, Robin Hood compared himself to The Doctor: a man born in wealth and privilege who takes up the cause of the weak and oppressed.  Now, we have a lonely, perhaps orphan boy (at least one who might live in the Gallifreyan version of an orphanage) who is encouraged by a voice to be brave.  Make up your mind, Moffat: wealthy scion of Gallifrey or poor abandoned child.

Still, there are things to admire in Blink...I mean, Listen.  The Doctor's speech to Rupert about fear being a superpower is a great piece of acting and yes, writing.  "The deep and lovely dark.  We could never see the stars without it," the Doctor tells Clara and Rupert as they turn away from the bed creature.  That is, I grant, a great line.  The acting, particularly by Capaldi, Anderson in a dual role, and Coleman in particular was I thought far and away their best.  Her final moments comforting the Infant Doctor were almost moving, which given how blank and dull both Coleman and Clara have been throughout is in itself reason to celebrate.

Douglas Mackinnon's directing of both the performers and the look and feel of Listen was appropriately atmospheric and spooky (which is what they were going for).  The hushed silences, the low-key score (Murray Gold must have been on Prozac when he wrote the music I imagine), and the lighting were all extremely well-done, so much so that Mackinnon's directing and the acting saved Listen from being a complete wash.

To me, it seemed to be going for Blink Revisited: using one of the five senses to try to scare us.  One would think even a one-trick pony like Moffat would know he can't keep using them and think it's original (the Companion as the central character, an overwhelming sense of foreboding and fear).  Honestly, I wasn't impressed with much of Listen.  I found it atmospheric but hollow.

As for the tearing apart of Canon, well by this point Moffat reminds me of what a former supervisor told me.  "Your job is whatever I say you're job is."  Similarly, good old Stevie will tell all of us, "Canon is whatever I say Canon is". 



Next Episode: Time Heist

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