The Doctor picks up Clara after her date with Danny Pink to help him uncover a race of hidden aliens.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
Steven Moffat is the master of tapping into childhood fears and preoccupations. The Weeping Angels are predicated on the childhood game of Statues, shadows could be the Vashta Nerada and monsters hiding under the bed was touched on before in The Girl in the Fireplace.
This is a great, spooky, atmospheric episode. It’s brilliant to play with viewer expectations like this. Wherever the TARDIS lands, there are aliens behind odd goings-on. The Doctor is always right, even when he looks like a paranoid madman trying to convince everyone around him of the impossible. To undercut this with an instance of him being wrong all along, but plausibly correct at every turn, is very clever.
The themes of faith and religion woven through series eight are again at play. Religion and superstitious belief depends on specious reasoning, and rejecting logical, everyday explanations in favour of fantastical ones. Here we have a complete reversal of Doctor Who‘s usual logic. The Doctor sees what others do not. This is as if the kitlings in Survival turned out to be normal domestic moggies; or his sudden, unexplained, dash to Devil’s End in The Daemons was for nought.
I really like the amount that the audience is left to decide. I’ve seen as many people on my Twitter timeline believe that the figure under the blanket in Rupert’s bed is an alien as accept the Doctor’s alternative theory that it’s another orphan playing a prank. I find myself in the latter camp.
Clara is indelibly imprinted on the Doctor’s life now. I’m unclear if her travelling through his time line still happened when he didn’t die on Trenzalore; but we now know she has helped shape him from childhood. No wonder the First Doctor listened to her when she suggested he stole a different TARDIS in The Name of the Doctor.
The anticipation for the eventual meeting between the Doctor and Danny Pink is cranked up another notch in this episode. We now know that both characters have had a childhood encounter with Clara, where she gave them both a similar pep talk about fear, and inculcated each of them with the notion of ‘a soldier without a gun.’ They are now set up as mirrors of each other, even down to both being characters who have chosen their own name and spending some of their childhood in some kind of home full of other children. It all seems to point to Clara heading towards a choice between the two men.
Listen provides another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is the Doctor’s childhood. In The Sound of Drums we learn that Gallifreyans join the Time Lord Academy aged eight, and the dialogue here firmly states it’s before this point. There’s talk of the ‘other boys’ as though he’s not with his family but in an orphanage or some sort of institution? It could be that the Doctor is orphaned before he joins the Time Lord Academy, and his recollection of being with his father in the TV Movie is before this. Is the death of his parents the ‘blackest day’ from his childhood that he spoke of in The Time Monster? In The Girl in the Fireplace we learn from Reinette that he was “such a lonely little boy.”
Most interesting is the exploration of fear. In Star Wars Yoda famously says:
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
But Star Wars isn’t scary, and Doctor Who is. The show has been associated with hiding behind the sofa since very early days and there is a persuasive view that it’s healthy to scare kids a bit. So the Doctor Who version is:
“Fear is a superpower, and fear can make you faster and stronger and cleverer … fear can make you kind.”
The Doctor has never been a hero who is unafraid. Clara quotes the First Doctor when she says, “Fear makes companions of us all,” and echoes the same Terrance Dicks line she heard from his tenth incarnation in Day of the Doctor, “never cruel or cowardly.” But perhaps the most apt quote for the young boy hiding in the barn, scared of everything, is from the Third Doctor in Planet of the Daleks:
“Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”
Originally published on my Doctor Who blog, Trap One