Listen, from the first series of Doctor Who episodes starring Peter Capaldi, is one of my favourite stories of the era. Not a lot actually happens. We get the opening of the relationship between Clara and Danny Pink; we get an encounter from the far future and a descendant of Danny’s; we get the Doctor investigating a phantom in everyone’s psyche; and we get Clara intervening at a key point in the Doctor’s own childhood. It’s not crammed with action. But perhaps, by not trying too hard, we end up with a better outcome.
One of its successes is the very last scene, which sets up a sort of recursion, with the Doctor’s future personality explained to him by Clara, using words originally crafted by Terrace Dicks. It contrasts with a lot of the other revelations we have had about the Doctor’s origins over the years (most recently the Timeless Child) in its subtlety and ambiguity – almost answering a question with another question. It’s also noteworthy that we don’t actually find an answer to the Doctor’s question, and yet the story is satisfactorily closed.
I also think it’s worth noting that the disastrous date between Clara and Danny riffs off one of Moffat’s most consistent and successful themes, of people miscommunicating. My personal favourite example of this is the Coupling episode, The Girl With Two Breasts, followed by the scene with the twins and the pickpocket in the Tintin movie. But here this situation is played not for laughs but as a deadly serious case of PTSD, and it is done very well.
Dewi Small has written one of the shorter but punchier Black Archives about this story. In a brief introduction, he sets out his stall: this story is based on psychology and he will use a Freudian lens to look at it. It works a lot better than the similarly psychological Black Archive on The Face of Evil.
The first chapter, “What if the Big Bad Time Lord doesn’t want to admit he’s afraid of the dark?”, which takes up more than 40% of the whole text, explains the Freudian concepts of the Uncanny and repression with reference to Who and Henry James, and looks at the significance of the barn.
The second chapter, “I Don’t Take Orders, Clara”, looks at the role of Clara and how it transcends the usual role of the companion in Who.
The third chapter, “A Soldier So Brave He Doesn’t Need a Gun”, unpacks the character and importance of Danny/ Rupert. Its second paragraph is:
The new Doctor sets out the revised terms of his and Clara’s relationship when he addresses his ‘many mistakes’ and tells her that he’s ‘not [her] boyfriend’ at the end of his first episode Deep Breath (2014). However, Clara was almost immediately repositioned into a new romantic coupling, providing another layer of impediment to the continuance of the previous relationship between her and the Time Lord.
The brief fourth chapter, “This is It, The End of Everything, The Last Planet” looks at the end of the world as presented in Listen and Utopia, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Fredric Brown’s “Knock”.
And there is a brief conclusion saying again how good the story is, which I agree with.
This is a brief review of one of the briefer Black archives, but I recommend it. You can get it here (NB the picture on the page is for a different book).
The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)