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Recap / Doctor Who S34 E4 "Listen"

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Perk your ears. Face your fears.
Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode: 

"What's that, in the mirror and the corner of your eye?
What's that footstep following but never passing by?
Perhaps they're all just waiting. Perhaps when we're all dead
Out they'll come a-slithering, from underneath the bed!"
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor gets worked up over nothing. Maybe?

Written by Steven Moffat.

The Doctor has a theory — what if some creature, way out there in the starless dark, had evolved itself into the perfect hider? There are perfect hunters, after all, and creatures with a perfect defense. If that creature existed, how would you know it was there? Maybe it follows you around, constantly; but what would it want? And what does it have to do with that nightmare, that one nightmare everyone has, where you wake up in the night and there's something lurking underneath your bed...

Clara has a date, and it's not going well. She's finally managed to get Danny Pink out for some drinks, but an inadvertent comment triggers his war guilt, there's an argument, and, before you know it, she's stormed off. Perfect time for an adventure, then! The Doctor agrees, and, after propositioning her in her bedroom (not like that), they're off on another trip. The destination? Well, through the power of the TARDIS' telepathic controls and Clara's subconscious, the source of the nightmare that's been haunting the human race since time immemorial.

So begins a journey, and a lot more questions. What's that hiding under everyone's bed? What's that knocking at the end of the universe? What's that thing that the Doctor's afraid of? What's that pricking on the back of your neck?


  • Accidental Pun: When Twelve calls out for Clara, the young Doctor asks, "Who's there?"
  • Aroused by Their Voice: The Doctor is taken by surprise when Clara tells him that he doesn't need mood lighting "because the accent is enough."
  • Badass Pacifist: Clara gives a group of toy soldiers to Rupert, and then to the Doctor as a child, lead by Dan the soldier man. When Rupert notes that the Dan figure has no gun, Clara explains that why he's the leader; he is so powerful that he does not need a weapon.
  • Bad Date: Clara's first date with Danny goes rapidly downhill for each of them because of their respective emotional issues. Then it goes badly again after she time-travels back to it and mentions Danny's childhood name, "Rupert", which makes him paranoid due to having never told anyone his real name. The downward spiral is highlighted by a glass being heard dropping in the background.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • As a child, Rupert Pink hated his name. "Rupert" is just terrible. That's why he goes by "Danny" instead in adulthood.
    • The publicity for this episodes mentions "a little boy who doesn't want to join the army". Logically, this would seem like it's referring to Rupert. It's actually the Doctor.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: Danny hasn't yet come to terms with his feelings of guilt and shame over killing people as a soldier. Clara makes an off-the-cuff joke about it on their date, sending him into a downward spiral of self-defensiveness.
  • Berserk Button: Danny has some... issues with people implying that all he did when he was a soldier was kill people. When Clara makes a poor taste joke about how him thinking about killing Courtney actually means something, he goes on a lengthy rant about how he protected villagers, including digging twenty-three wells for humanitarian work.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Played with. Something's hiding under Rupert's bedspread in the classic form of a Bedsheet Ghost. It could be another boy trying to prank him... or something else...
  • Big Bad: If the Doctor's right, then the Perfect Hiders fill this role. If Clara's right and the Doctor is simply trying to find a way to process his childhood fears, then the episode has No Antagonist.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Clara and Danny finally kiss in the end.
  • Bowdlerization: The Doctor's theory that everyone has a "monster under the bed" dream is a bowdlerized version of the real-life "bedroom invader" phenomenon (usually blamed on sleep paralysis), which would probably be too scary for even Moffat to depict before the watershed.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Clara becomes one through time travel, accidentally drastically changing the lives of the Doctor and Rupert.
  • Call-Back:
    • Clara also gave the Doctor the creed for his namesake. It should be noted that she learned that phrase and its significance from the Doctor himself.
      Clara: Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly.
    • The 22nd century having time-travel pioneers appears again.
    • Clara tells the young Doctor-to-be that "Fear makes companions of us all," which is similar to something the First Doctor would tell Barbara in the first serial. See it here.
  • Changed My Jumper: The Trope Namer himself ditches the usual outfit for a black jumper and his jacket.
  • Character Tics:
    • Danny gives a little wave when he sees Clara in the restaurant. The wave allows Clara to recognize him as a child.
    • And he thumps his head on the table again when it all goes wrong.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The little army man affectionately nicknamed "Dan the Soldier Man". He ping-pongs back and forth across time as he gets gifted to new owners in the past and present.
    • The Doctor disables the TARDIS safeties so Clara can fly the TARDIS by thought. This allows her to take the TARDIS away from the end of the universe after Orson has saved the Doctor from his own curiosity. It may also be part of the reason they're able to reach the Doctor's past, despite it probably being on Gallifrey.
    • The Doctor mentions that Clara meeting herself would be bad, but nothing comes of it. Later on, when Clara lands the TARDIS in the Doctor's childhood bedroom she insists that he fly off without looking.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The episode opens with the Doctor sitting atop the TARDIS like a Buddhist monk ruminating on the puzzles of the universe. The Second Doctor did the same in "The Web of Fear", sitting alone on an Underground platform with legs crossed, having profound and and unknowable thoughts.
    • "The TARDIS isn't supposed to come out this far, but some idiot turned the safeguards off..."
    • "Sontarans perverting the course of human history!" is very similar to the opening words of the Fourth Doctor. Which was in itself a nod to "The Time Warrior".
    • "Midnight" was clearly a heavy influence on this episode: the rhythmic knocking on the spaceship door even when all logic dictates nothing can be out there, the constant use of Nothing Is Scarier rather than actually showing the monster, and the feeling of That One Case, since the monster (if there even is one) comes extremely close to defeating the Doctor without being identified in any way.
    • The Doctor telling Rupert to not turn around is the same instruction the Beast gave to the unfortunate Toby in The Impossible Planet".
    • Clara doesn't have a plan, she has a "thing".
    • Much as in "Deep Breath", Clara has no desire to hear how long she has to live.
    • Once again the Doctor visits the end of the universe. Except this time he's reached the very end of the universe when almost everything that ever existed is gone. At least the last time he visited, there was life, but now it's a barren, pitch-black void with only one planet left.
    • The Doctor mentions Clara becoming old and fatter — in "Deep Breath", Strax said she'd live to a ripe old age but have serious fluid-retention problems.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The Doctor parks his TARDIS inside Clara's bedroom in case she decides to bring Danny home.
  • Deconstruction: Not only of Doctor Who, but specifically of Steven Moffat's episodes: Like previous Moffat monsters (the Weeping Angels and the Silence), these ones play around with perception. Or do they? They might not even exist.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: The "do not open" warning drawn above the locked door of Orson Pink's experimental timeship stuck at the end of time. He wrote it there to keep himself from getting curious or desperate enough to open it and step out into the nothingness at the end of the universe.
  • Dope Slap: Clara delivers one to the Doctor when the Doctor's "reassurance" to Rupert is anything but.
  • Eye Take:
    • Clara's signature Puppy-Dog Eyes deliver a massive one when she sees Orson Pink's face for the first time. Even the Doctor notices and comments.
    • Another huge one happens near the end when she realizes just exactly who's bed she's hiding under. And then another a few seconds later when she grabs the kid's ankle and realizes the implications of what she's just done.
  • Fear Is Normal: The Aesop of the episode. The episode delves into how the Doctor learned his creed of "never cruel or cowardly." One scene in-particular sees the Doctor and Clara arrive in a little boy's room, where he's found a monster hiding under the covers of his bed. The Doctor comforts the boy (unbeknownst to them, a young Danny Pink) by applauding his caution and spinning it as a good thing; encouraging everyone to turn their back on the creature, which ends up leaving without an audience. This is later revealed to have been a philosophy he learned from Clara as a child while he was crying in the barn.
    The Doctor: What's wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower!
    Clara: (to the Doctor as a child) I know you're afraid. But being afraid is alright. Fear is a superpower...If you're very wise and very strong, fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Clara asks Rupert what's under his bed, then says it's "Me!" and crawls underneath it. It later turns out that the Doctor's obsession with the notion of monsters under the bed is rooted in Clara having hidden under his when he was a child.
    • The Doctor looking for Wally in what turns out to not be a Where's Wally? book parallels his search for the Perfect Hider and foreshadows the possibility that there isn't anything there to be found.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Clara meets a young Danny Pink, but he will just remember the encounter as a dream. The Doctor has evidently forgotten his boyhood encounter with Clara, as there's no indication he recognizes her voice as the one that told him to "listen". On this occasion, the young Doctor also gets to hear the sound of his TARDIS departing, making it such a meeting for him and his beloved timeship as well.
  • For Science!: Unlike most stories, the Doctor's motivation to find his perfect hiders isn't out of altruism or some sense of necessity, but simply because he wants to prove they're real. Clara, however, suggests that the Doctor actually wants a way to validate his fear, rather than admit there's no rational reason for it.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The being under the blanket is briefly visible as it removes the cover. It's severely out of focus, but what is discernible seems markedly inhuman.
  • The Glomp: Clara to the Doctor.
    The Doctor: No-no not the hugging, I'm against the hugging, please!
  • Go Mad from the Isolation:
    • Clara briefly wonders if the Doctor's gone and done this, asking how long he's been travelling on his own. He doesn't answer her question.
    • Orson is unsure if this is the reason he's been so afraid of what might be outside of his ship.
  • Head Desk: Danny does it again after Clara storms out of their date.
  • He Was Right There All Along: The Doctor surmises that there are creatures that are so good at hiding that they are with us all the time unseen, and that this explains why we talk to ourselves and think something is lurking under the bed or in the closet when we're children, or think we see something out of the corner of our eye that isn't there.
  • Identical Grandson: Orson, who at least appears to be Danny's great-grandson looks exactly like him, just with a different haircut.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Clara accidentally calls Danny "Rupert" when she returns to her date, which gets him nervous.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "Do as you are told!"
    • "Promise you won't look."
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: A (presumably) Gallifreyan one has the Doctor convinced that his theorized Perfect Hider is finally out in the open at the end of the universe.
    Clara: Did we come here for a nursery rhyme?
  • Kid from the Future: Orson has some implied family link with Clara and Danny, and mentions stories of a great-grandparent who travelled in time, even having Dan the Soldier Man as a family heirloom. Word of God is that he is related to Danny distantly, and that Clara gave these distance relatives the toy soldier after his death.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: The Doctor travels to the end of the universe to see if there is indeed a knock. And the other variation is also invoked: The last man in the world has locked his door.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The Doctor speaks in an empty TARDIS.
    The Doctor: Question: why do we talk out loud even when we know we're alone? Conjecture: because we know we're not.
  • Lotus Position: When meditating on his "perfect hider" species, the Doctor assumes this position atop the TARDIS.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Do the Doctor's theoretical "perfect hiders" even exist? Or was it just childhood fears given more credence than they should have been?
    • Played for laughs when the Doctor is talking to the caretaker at the boys' home, pointing out that his coffee occasionally goes missing and the TV shuts itself off. On this occasion, the Doctor is the one that shut the TV off, and he steals the coffee while the caretaker is distracted, but the previous occasions are never explained.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Fear makes companions of us all", Clara's final line, closely matches the Doctor's words in his very first story when he first acknowledges those travelling with him as his companions:
    Barbara: You're trying to help me.
    The Doctor: Fear makes companions of all of us.
  • Motor Mouth: Jenna's skill that landed her the role of Clara is teased in good humour by means of a Lampshade Hanging when she returns to her date with Danny. It has a mind of its own and just keeps going.
  • Narcissist: Played for laughs when the Doctor keeps bringing up Clara's triple mirror in her room. Clara also appreciates the view of herself from behind after the Doctor drops her off at her date with Danny moments after she's stormed out of the restaurant.
  • Natural End of Time: Orson time-travelled by mistake all the way to the end of the universe. The planet he landed on is all that's left. Everything else has long since fallen to the ravages of time.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: The Doctor remarks that Clara meeting herself would be "potentially catastrophic". After Clara accidentally takes the TARDIS to the Doctor's childhood home, she insists that the Doctor not look for the same reason.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Clara is given the ability to fly the TARDIS with the power of her mind alone. The first time she does this is with the Doctor's supervision, but the second time she does so all by herself. This is an unprecedented ability for a companion and is a function of the TARDIS never before exhibited in this fashion. The safeties are usually on, after all, and for good reason.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing:
    • The Doctor protests when Clara gives him The Glomp.
    • Kissing on the mouth is actually rather rare in Doctor Who as a whole, so the clinch between Clara and Danny at the end is an aversion of the general rule.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: There are few to no special effects and hardly even the hint of a monster in this episode, because the monster is primarily in the characters' imaginations (probably) and, by extension, the audience's. The episode works all the better for it. Impressively, the episode never really gives us a reason to fear the monster which may or may not even be there in the first place. If it does exist, all it seems to do is hide and listen. Not knowing how real it is, however, somehow makes it terrifying.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Clara gets one when she realizes she and the Doctor inadvertently gave Danny the subconscious idea to become a soldier, causing him significant issues in the present day.
    • Clara silently panics when she learns the child whose bed she's now hiding under is not a younger Danny or Orson, but a young Time Lord.
      • A few moments later she gives an even bigger (yet still silent) Oh, Crap! when she grabs the young Doctor's leg and realizes exactly what that means.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • It's made abundantly clear that Orson Pink is an incredibly brave man journeying and surviving where no others could. Yet he's terrified to tears of what might be outside his ship at the end of time.
    • Even by his standards, the Doctor is acting strangely, which sparks Clara to be concerned that he's spent too much time on his own. Later, he blows up at her for not doing what she's told out of his obsession with finding out what's outside Orson's capsule.
  • Orphanage of Fear:
    • The children's home at first looks like this because of the "perfect hider" monster. From what we see later, it seems like just an ordinary children's home.
    • It is never confirmed whether the Doctor's barn is part of a children's home, but the male authority figures is at least a jerkass who wants to force children to join the army.
  • Primal Fear: The main driving force behind the Doctor's actions in this episode is fear that someone is watching you invisibly. There is a dream that everyone, without exception, has and that is something emerging from under your bed to grab you.
  • Rousing Speech: Clara gives one to the Doctor as a child, telling him that his fear doesn't have to control him.
  • Running Gag: The Doctor going on about Clara's face and eyes for quite a bit.
    "Her face is so wide she needs three mirrors!"
  • Safe Under Blankets: Discussed and played with in a tense sequence that involves a small figure hiding under a blanket, which might be a frightened boy or it might be the thing he's frightened of.
  • Screw Yourself: Clara checks out her earlier self striding away in a skirt that's just a little bit too... tight.
    Clara: Is that what I look like from the back?
    The Doctor: It's fine.
    Clara: I was thinking it was good.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: By the end of the episode, it is left ambiguous as to whether there was ever a Monster of the Week in the first place, or just a case of the characters letting their fear of the dark and the unknown get the better of them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Orson Pink's haircut makes him resemble Neil deGrasse Tyson.
    • Orson's situation is very reminiscent of the famous/infamous "Shortest Science Fiction/Horror Story": "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door." Also that story's most famous variation, "there was a lock on the door". Both are true, and significant, in this case.
    • Seeing her past self, Clara asks "Is that really what I look like from the back?".
    • The moment when the caretaker suddenly finds himself alone, followed by the camera tracking in on the evaporating imprint of his missing coffee mug is an almost shot-for-shot homage to Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror.
    • The bedsheet entity is reminiscent of that in Montague Rhodes James's "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad".
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • Yet another moment of Clara being involved in the Doctor's history by way of the Doctor involving her in his adventures in the first place. Clara's pep talk features several concepts ("never cruel or cowardly", "fear is a superpower") that she learned from the Doctor... who learned them from her.
    • The Doctor gives Rupert Pink a dream about being a soldier named Dan, who then becomes a soldier named Danny.
    • The whole episode, if you go with the mundane explanation: the Doctor's theory/obsession stems from a childhood nightmare he once had about something under the bed that grabbed his ankle... which was Clara, who accidentally landed on Gallifrey because of his theory.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Before the date goes bad, Clara and Danny laugh over a student, Courtney Woods, who said her face was "too wide". Later, the Doctor makes the same comment.
  • Suddenly Shouting: The Doctor outright bellows at Clara to get back in the TARDIS when he thinks he's found his perfect hiders, virtually driving her to tears.
  • Tempting Fate: Clara says that nothing can make her evening more surreal. The mysterious orange-clad spaceman promptly removes his helmet to reveal Danny's face.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Clara and Danny run through a number of phrases on their date that surely didn't sound so naughty when they thought of them.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The Doctor sets out to prove that there is indeed a bogeyman under the bed for everyone. In the end, he does end up proving there was one for him: Clara.
  • Thinking Out Loud: The episode opens with the Doctor doing this for the benefit of the audience that he believes is hiding somewhere in the TARDIS. Justified in that the topic is... thinking out loud.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: What nearly happens to the Doctor at the end of the universe because he opened the door that said "do not open".
  • Timeshifted Actor: Remi Gooding plays Young Danny Pink, and an uncredited Michael Jones plays the young Doctor.
  • Title Drop:
    • The first line: "Listen!"
    • The Doctor notices the word written on the chalkboard before the opening titles.
    • The Doctor says it again when he wants Clara to take a moment and let it sink in that they really are at the end of the universe.
    • Finally, at the end, when Clara tells the Doctor as a child to "listen".
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: The Doctor was terrified of the dark as a child. He was told by a kind voice that fear is a superpower and a companion, and that it doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly.
  • The Un-Reveal:
    • Who or what was that under the bedsheet?
    • Similarly, who wrote the Title Drop on the Doctor's blackboard? Was there actually some perfect hider answering his question, or did he just realise the answer himself, write it down and then forget about it because he is, well, a little unhinged?
    • And finally, what was the source of the knocking sound at Orson Pink's door?
  • Waking Non Sequitur: "Sontarans perverting the course of human history!"
  • Wham Episode: After 51 years, we finally get to see the childhood of the Doctor — specifically, the young First Doctor.
  • Wham Line: "Well, he's not going to the Academy, is he, that boy? He'll never make a Time Lord."
  • Wham Shot: Clara grabs the young Doctor's leg, which speaks volumes without a word being uttered.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Doctor returns Clara to the restaurant just after she left. Except Clara left her coat at home when she first entered the TARDIS, and, after she unsettles him by calling him by his hitherto unspoken real name, Danny notices its sudden disappearance... which tips him off that something weird has just happened and yanks the date back off the rails.
  • Your Door Was Open:
    Caretaker: How did you get in?
    The Doctor: Your door must be faulty.