The Doctor becomes obsessed with finding a theoretical creature that has perfected the art of hiding, a constant companion in the dark. Clara and Danny go on a date and continuously misunderstand each other. When the Doctor hooks Clara up to the TARDIS with a psychic link to trace her back to the first time she had a specific dream about someone grabbing her leg from under the bed, she gets distracted and it takes them back to the first time Danny had that specific dream. The timelines all get confused and crisscrossed from there.
The Doctor waits for Clara in her bedroom as she arrives home after a particularly bad date with Danny. He tells her about his theory, that there is a creature out there that has perfected the art of hiding and that we’re never really alone. He shows her the word “Listen” written on the chalkboard, telling her that he hadn’t written it and that it came in response to a question he posed out loud to himself: “What would a creature like that do?”. He connects these creatures to a reoccurring dream throughout history of the dreamer seeming to awake, placing their feet on the floor only to be grabbed from under the bed. He connects Clara to the TARDIS so that she can take them back to the first time she ever had that dream. In the middle of the psychic link, her phone rings and she gets distracted thinking about Danny. They arrive instead at the children’s home where Danny grew up at the moment when he first had the dream. As the Doctor investigates, Clara talks to Danny and soothes his fears. As she does this, a thing appears under the covers on the bed, some kind of voiceless creature. The Doctor tells Danny that his fear is a superpower, that it makes him stronger than those that scare him. They all turn their back on the creature and promise not to look at it as it leaves. They either saved Danny from a kid playing a prank or one of the Doctor’s theoretical beings. The Doctor, wondering why they found the boy instead of Clara, goes ahead in time to find a connection and brings back Orson Pink – a time traveler from the future who may or may not be Clara’s great-great grandson. Orson has been trapped at the end of time on the last planet by himself, but still keeps his shuttle’s door locked, afraid of what he imagines is out there trying to get in. The Doctor thinks it might be the creatures he’s looking for, so he sets up camp to see what happens when night falls. After dark, there comes a knocking on the door. The Doctor unlocks it and the hatch beings to open. He tells Clara to wait in the TARDIS, but once the hatch opens the air seal around the ship fails and the Doctor is nearly sucked out into the vacuum. Orson saves him, but something starts attacking the TARDIS. The Doctor is unconscious, so Clara connects with the TARDIS and takes them away somewhere. Somehow, she ends up on Gallifrey in the old barn the War Doctor brings The Moment to during the Time War. A boy is crying in a bed and it is revealed that it is the young Doctor. As Clara hides under the bed, the young Doctor begins to get up and she instinctively grabs his ankle. She immediately realizes what she’s done, that she’s the one who started the Doctor’s obsession. She tells him it’s just a dream, that everything will be alright if he goes back to sleep. Then before she leaves, she tells him that fear is a superpower, a constant companion in the shadows, and that if you’re clever you can use fear without being cruel. Clara returns to the TARDIS and tells the Doctor to leave and never look back. He drops her off at Danny’s where they make up.
Capaldi’s Doctor continues to be fantastic in all sorts of ways. His manner and tone is especially suited to this darker, scarier material. He delivers his frightening theory with relish and gusto, using those fearsome eye brows and rolling Rs to great effect. There’s also something twistedly gleeful about the Doctor’s maniacal obsession with these theoretical creatures, the childlike excitement he takes in seeking them out. At the same time, the Doctor’s quest is extremely serious and personal. As it turns out, it’s very much a matter of him facing an ancient fear – even if that fear was accidentally caused by Clara. I also like when Clara and the Doctor have real conversations, where they just sit and talk between bouts of running for their lives. There is an extremely strong sense of easy and fond friendship between them, a firm understanding and a limitless trust. Those scenes are really some of the best in the season so far. Unfortunately, there is precious little of that – or seemingly of the Doctor for that matter. These first few episodes seem very much centered around Clara, and Moffat’s continued insistence that she is an ancient and enduring influence on the Doctor’s life – his very being, the man he becomes, the choices he makes, all influenced by the Impossible Girl.
Before the adventure, Clara is on her first date with Danny. They are both pretty awkward, saying things that come out wrong and making jokes that are misinterpreted and subsequently offensive. Clara ends by storming out of the restaurant and going home. She’s pretty upset by the whole thing, but comes home to the Doctor waiting for her in her bedroom. She reluctantly agrees to join him, but allows her thoughts of Danny to influence her psychic link with the TARDIS, bringing them not to her own childhood, but to Danny’s. As seems to be Clara’s lot in life, she becomes an influential figure in the life of a man she cares for, comforting the frightened Danny and accidentally inspiring his decision to become a soldier in the first place (okay, this last one is probably down to the Doctor). Then when the Doctor rescues Orson Pink, she comes to realize that her future may really lie with Danny. While it is never confirmed, it is strongly implied that Clara is Orson’s great-great grandmother, and that time travel sort of runs in the family. It seems like things are going to be getting pretty serious between Clara and Danny before too long, which might have something to do with Jenna Coleman’s departure at the end of the season. That might also explain the intense focus on Clara this season as well. It’s really turning out to be all about Clara. How she was able to take the TARDIS back to old Gallifrey (isn’t the planet supposed to be timelocked somewhere?) is really kind of inexplicable. I suppose you could write it off as a testament to how prominent the Doctor is in her psyche. She was distracted by the injured Doctor, desperately trying to get them to safety – where safer than with the Doctor and at the start of his own adventure?
So it all comes down to the Doctor chasing shadows, trying to confront his fear in order to banish it. So what about all those things that happened? What was the creature under the covers – just a boy playing a prank? Or what was the knocking outside the capsule hatch at the end of time – really just the ship settling after adjusting the heat? What did the Doctor see when that door opened? And what attacked the TARDIS – or was it really just an effect of the vacuum? And who wrote “Listen” on the chalkboard? Could it have been the Doctor without him knowing it? We’ll probably never know, not really. And while it wasn’t foregrounded, the Doctor obviously had a creepy little nursery rhyme in mind thinking of these theoretical creatures – which works just wonderfully in Doctor Who. It did start out as a children’s show after all, and to some extent still is. Just like in real life, these nursery rhymes often hint at dark legends, buried in obscurity and myth by time. Remember back in season six when the whole Impossible Astronaut storyline played out, there was a creepy old song that everyone seemed to know, hinting at the Doctor’s impending death – “Tick tock goes the clock, even for the Doctor.” Even the Big Finish audio adventures seem to like a good creepy nursery rhyme, this time an old one from Gallifrey about an anti-time monster called Zagreus who would eat Time Tots in their sleep – “Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed, and eats you when you’re sleeping.” See? Creepy. But what might be even creepier is the Doctor’s tendency to be the cause of these ancient rhymes and legends, unbeknownst even to himself until the time comes. If we learned anything from Robot of Sherwood it was that the Doctor is an impossible hero – a legend beyond what even he can imagine, his fingerprints all over time and space.