Saturday, September 13, 2014

Listen - "Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly -- fear can make you kind."

Listen (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #249) | Previous - Next | Index


Image via TURoB

"Fear makes companions of us all," is something the Doctor will say later, as we saw earlier in "An Unearthly Child." But as a young boy, sleeping out in a barn -- a barn he'll come back to full of fear after years of soldiering -- he hears it for the first time from Clara. Yep, Moffat went there.

Listen, that's the sound of the canon opening a crack to admit tiny bit more of the Doctor's past. Moffat has more than dabbled in this arena already, of course, but when Clara showed up all through the Doctor's timeline earlier, we didn't see anything from before the time of the aged Hartnell Doctor, only that moment where he and Susan steal the TARDIS. The introduction of a whole 'nother Doctor between Eight and Nine was shocking, but this feels somewhat more transgressive, the reveal the child in the barn (who won't ever make a Time Lord, one of his caretakers worries) is the Doctor himself is something we've never seen, and never expected to see.

For all the early reviews forecasting freak outs, this one looks to be earning remarkably high approval on GB in the early returns:

As I watched twitter through one eye, squinting to avoid too much spoiler during the British broadcast -- a task I failed at so I won't do that again -- I started catching a lot of discussion about that barn, it's location ("Not on Gallifrey, fools" was the smug commentary I saw by know-it-alls about folks wondering how the TARDIS came back to Gallifrey if it was timelocked ... but I have to confess the know-it-alls are one up on me if they sussed out where besides Gallifrey that barn could be? I was pretty confident in my understanding that barn was on Gallifrey. Will have to scour the wikis and such to double check that ...), if the man and woman were his parents (they sounded more like guardians, as if running a foster home), and speculation about what was under the blanket in young Rupert ("Danny") Pink's bed in the facility he was in. Wish I'd avoided all that. 

Also wish my cable had been in better shape tonight. There were frequent freezes and choppiness in the sound that ruined parts of it. Most annoyingly, the moment in restaurant when Clara made a joke that Danny found not funny. It sounded like a revisit to the uncomfortable moment in "Into the the Dalek" when he was called a lady killer but whatever she said was so garbled I couldn't make it out. Hopefully it'll be running smoother for the replay later ... 

Want to circle back to the parallels between Danny and the Doctor, they're time soldiering, and the Doctor's attitudes towards soldiers, the questions about what, if any monsters there were in this story, and about the likelihood that Clara was Orson Pink's great-grandmother. That's all me speculating along with the crowd. The more important thing to get after though is the way this ties back to the line "Forest of Fear" (AKA, "An Unearthly Child" Episode 3) and reinforces one of the central themes of the series.

What does the episode tell us about fear? Or, more importantly, what does it tell us about what to do with fear? We visited how DW speaks to fear recently in the post about "Genesis of the Daleks," and this story picks that up and runs with, albeit from a different angle. Where "Genesis" was largely about how fear makes the cowardly lash out, "Listen" explores, through Clara, echoing/retro-actively foreshadowing the words of Hartnell's Doctor, the recognition that it's OK to be afraid, to experience fear -- it's what you do with it that matters.

Do you let it twist you into knots of hatred and cowardice (Davros), or do you accept the fear and embrace the fact that everyone "has the same nightmare"? (Even if it's not the exact same nightmare; being grabbed from under the bed is not one I've ever had.) Fear is always with us. Existence is precarious. When we recognize the fear in others, empathize with them, and translate that understanding into compassionate action, we perform the ultimate alchemy: we make progress. The universe is indifferent to us; some of us are cruel to others; but, if enough of us decide to be kind in the face of it all, consciousness wrings justice out of chaos.

This is why I love this show. For more that fifty years it has been arguing that we should face the world with a brave heart.

Now let's wrangle with a few of the questions raised by this story ...

Until someone points me to solid on-screen evidence to indicate otherwise, I'm of the opinion the barn we saw the War Doctor trudge to and meet the Moment was on Gallifrey. Therefore, I think the TARDIS went to that barn on Gallifrey earlier in the Doctor's timeline, before Gallifrey was time locked, and we were seeing the Doctor staying with another family, or in a sort of foster home, as a child. I don't think the voices we heard were those of his parents, so it's not clear to me this story does anything to shed light one way or the other on whether or not the Doctor's canonical revelation in the TV movie that he's half-human remains that: canonical. If the TARDIS can bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey at a point before the Time War, does all his moping about being the Last of the Time Lords make much sense? Does the concept of a Time War make sense at all anyways?

Danny Pink's trauma (was he somehow involved in a war crime, or did his actions a conflict zone result in the death of civilians?) and Clara not wanting to be told about her death are both explicitly showcased again in this story. That is either significant or a red-herring. Or something else. Right?

No Missy, no Heaven this week, at least not that I caught on first watch.

I have no idea why Orson Pink would be wearing an SB6 space suit like Ten in "The Impossible Planet" or Eleven in "Hide"?

Is it a healthy habit for this show to show adults interfering in the lives of children they are going to interact with later, when those children are adults -- sometimes romantically?  Eleven meeting young Amelia Pond, becoming her Raggedy Doctor, then taking her away the night before her wedding is one. Clara comforting young Danny after her first date with older Danny (wibbly-wobbly) and perhaps cementing his soldierly ambitions is another. Clara then doing something similar for the young boy who would become the Doctor is another. As a parent, I'm in the Help Shape the Mind of the Youth business. I'm also in the Get Out of the Way and Let Them Figure Things Out For Themselves business. Criss-crossing timelines can be fun in a time travel story, but what does it say when the author has characters going back in time to influence the development of people instead of, I don't know, changing their minds through conversation?

Recommended reading:
"Fear Makes Companions of Us All (Listen)" at Eruditorum.
A.V. Club Review of Listen

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