The Doctor has posed a theory. Evolution has perfected survival skills. There are perfect hunters and perfect defence mechanisms, but we have not discovered creatures that have perfected hiding. Why? Because perfect hiding means they will never be found. These are the creatures that create that feeling of being watched, that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. They are responsible for the fear of the monster under the bed, that shadow in the dark, the noise beyond the door. It’s a premise that seems a bit mad as The Doctor paces around the Tardis, alone, talking to himself, but it has resulted in the best Doctor Who episode that we’ve seen in awhile.
“Listen” is a return to the Doctor Who of old, where the goal was to make children hide behind the couch in fear of the monsters on the screen. This time, there is no tangible monster, instead it’s the monster of what can’t be seen, the monster of that which cannot be understood. The monster is not a monster at all, but everyone’s constant companion: fear. Nothing is explained, and that’s what makes it work. Fear is what pops up when the explanation doesn’t quite answer every question posed.
The little boy, Rupert Pink, is afraid of what’s under his bed. When Clara proves that there is nothing there, a new fear arises as they lie on the floor staring up at the mattress: What else is in the room that is hidden from view? The answer is it doesn’t matter. What matters is that “scared is a superpower.” It gets the adrenaline pumping and allows us to do extraordinary things. It is in overcoming our fears that moves us forward and makes us strong.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are both wonderful in this episode and their characters seem to have been finally solidified. The Doctor is the mad professor, brilliant because he doesn’t think or function like anyone else. Clara is his partner, never following blindly, and just as brilliant, but in all the ways that The Doctor can’t be. Here, Clara gets to save The Doctor. As he lies unconscious, defeated by the unseen momentarily, Clara takes the Tardis back to his past as a little boy, crying in a barn. He is terrified of what the future for him will be. While hiding under his bed, she unwittingly creates the nightmare that fuelled his hunt for nature’s perfect hider. Convincing him it is all just a dream, she gives him the courage to continue, to move past his fear of the dark, the unknown. That fear can make a person kind. This is the cornerstone of what make The Doctor The Doctor. Clara has finally become what she has always been reported to be, the saviour of The Doctor, and while it took some time, she has filled this role brilliantly and on her own terms. She is not The Doctor’s subordinate, she is his partner and equal.