I'm going to go somewhere... not exactly odd, but not necessarily expected in this case. It'll have a point in a minute, I promise.
In the first half of Season 3 of Once Upon a Time (spoilers, if you haven't seen it and care about such things) - there was a definite pattern to how the first seven or so episodes went. The short version is that Henry was kidnapped and taken to Neverland and the six main leads had to team up to rescue him (even had its own hashtag - #SaveHenry. Cute, ABC Marketing. Really cute). This was supposed to be something rather exciting and new and edge-of-your-seat awesome. Well... reality is a different story. Ever read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or seen Part 1 of the movie?) Remember all those endless camping chapters? Yeah - it was about like that. There were random side quests and pointless angst that had me, at least, going WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GO SOMEWHERE WITH THIS??? It was somewhat painful to watch (read my secondary Twitter feed - @cj_tweets5; search #CJWatchesOUAT - for all that "joy." And then stick around for Season 3B because - AWESOME).
Except - for Episode 5. Now, this episode is helped by having flashbacks to Captain Hook's pre-pirating days, which was actually something brand new and exciting (rather than retreading the same old drama that they've covered for the past two seasons. YES, WE GET IT. RUMPLE AND HIS SON HAVE A VERY POOR RELATIONSHIP! THEY HAVE FOR CENTURIES! YOU CAN MOVE ON FROM THIS!) But also - the random side-quest of Hook and Prince Charming leaving the group to find this navigational thingy was not so side-questy as we thought. Because Charming had been poisoned in a fight with the Lost Boys and he was dying, but Hook knew a way to save him that Charming would never have agreed to unless Hook tricked him into going off on Heroic Side-Quest #589. That, coupled with the Hook backstory AND the lack of Rumple angst AND the inclusion of Queen Regina Finally Getting Crap Done, makes this episode one of my all-time favorites. Because the season had set me up to expect one thing, and it gave me something COMPLETELY Different. And I liked this version of COMPLETELY Different. It was clever and exciting and proved to me that this show still could bring me surprising happy endings and intriguing character moments and they need to do that more often (and I like Once's version of Captain Hook. Yes, please - I am here for that!)
How does this connect to "Listen"? Because this episode is a Steven Moffat episode. And we know - more or less - what to expect from a Steven Moffat episode. Especially one that was advertised as being Creepy As Hell. This was supposed to be in the vein of "Blink" or "The Empty Child" or "The Impossible Astronaut" or any of those other stories where Moffat makes ordinary things pants-wettingly-creepy.
And, strangely enough, it wasn't. Oh sure, it was scary enough - but no moreso than any other episode of Doctor Who. But, in a way, Moffat gave us a character study of the Doctor that we never knew we wanted. Without it actually being a character study. And without realizing that's what we were getting until the very end. Brief mention of the Time War (thank you Miss Oswald), brief landing on Gallifrey in the past (holy crap - not even going to ask how because I freaking don't care at this point), wrap it all together that the Doctor was suddenly obsessed with something from his childhood that was never even there to begin with. And you have a beautiful stand-alone episode of Doctor Who. Something that is going to be a touchstone for the rest of Peter Capaldi's run as the Doctor - especially as we play this long game of Finding Gallifrey.
And while we're exploring the Doctor's character without actually exploring the Doctor's character - how about some mad props for Clara and Danny Pink? First date - yeah, that kind of sucked. But thanks to the Doctor and all his timey-wimey business (except he probably doesn't call it that anymore - the War Doctor made him self-conscious about all that), they get a second and third go at first impressions. Meeting baby!Danny (sorry - Rupert Pink. Look, he's just going to be baby!Danny to me from now on. That's what I wrote in my notes) in the beginning and Clara creating an unintended family heirloom that their great-grandson takes to the end of the universe (kept waiting for Professor Yana to show up - no big deal that he didn't). I mean - there were a lot of great little tricks and misdirections, so you don't see the REAL story until the very ending. Bravo, Moffat.
(And here I realize just how small this cast was. It was just Capaldi, Coleman, and Samuel Anderson - who also played Orson Pink as well as his usual role of Danny Pink - and the kid who was baby!Danny. Nicely done, peeps).
Other Things I Liked -
- The cold open - When the Doctor's on top of the TARDIS, and then he's inside the console room but he isn't at the console. I love that he's walking around that top balcony/level/thing and you can see all around the console room. I continue to love the cozy library motif in the new console room - the chalkboard and the books and the warm lighting scheme. Oh my gosh - it's beautiful. If I had a TARDIS, that would be my console room. No question.
- We finally find out what that one seemingly button-free panel of the TARDIS console does. And this being Moffat, of course it would be something kind of gross. Of course.
- Danny Pink is awkwardly cute and that's endearing to me. More Danny, please!
- Clara's death was alluded to yet again in a Steven Moffat-penned episode (that makes twice this season). I fear for our Impossible Girl (but she has to survive in order to have great-grandchildren, right?)
- Psychic paper makes a return. And I liked the subdued way the Doctor pulled it out of his pocket. He didn't have to flourish or brandish it. Just... "here are my credentials - let's move on with our lives."
- The Doctor's "Dad Skills." Look, I'm a sucker for anytime the Doctor refers to being a parent in any way, shape, or form.
- The Doctor basically ordering Clara back to the TARDIS with a "Do as you're told" and then Clara rounding it back on him later. That's their relationship. I'm good with it.
- Orson Pink (which, I totally thought his name was "Awesome Pink" when they first said it - anyone else get that?) was wearing a suit from the Sanctuary Base clear back from "The Satan Pit." So - was Orson part of the Sanctuary Base at one time, or is this a case of the BBC only having one spacesuit in their costume department?
- The caretaker of the children's home looked very familiar to me, but I can't place the guy for the life of me. Feel like I should recognize the actor... hm... Anyway...
- I was amused at how bad the Doctor is at being a post-date sounding board for Clara. I probably shouldn't, but I haven't had a date in about two years, so I'm allowed to find these things funny.
- The Doctor's sometimes-glittery-sometimes-not sweater under his jacket. That's all.
This is definitely one that I'm going to rewatch just for the hell of it. I don't feel like I need to rewatch it to catch up on anything I missed on first viewing, but I certainly want to. It just left me with a great feeling afterward (that will certainly flee away once I foolishly wander onto Tumblr to get their reactions because - sexism? Eh, probably). I loved this unexpected path for Moffat to take. I loved this subtle exploration of the Doctor and Clara and Danny on an individual basis and also their relationships with one another (inasmuch as the Doctor and Danny know each other - but I have a feeling we'll get there). Do I need more of this? Well... probably not. But if it's as well done as "Listen," I won't complain that I got it.
And for all this talk of "Does Clara remember saving the Doctor in his timeline?" Well... I guess she's not done saving him yet.