Everything Is Scary

Be responsible, contemplate the void.

"Fear is a constant companion" - Doctor Who, LISTEN

It irks me that there are still people out there who dismissively sneer that "Doctor Who is a kid's show."

Oh, I don't deny that it is a show made originally for children, and still is unquestionably watched by children all over the world, but when people deride something as being "made for children," it suggests to me that they see no inherent value in children's programming.  Indeed, children's programming can be some of the most interesting, fulfilling media in our modern society, awash as it is in cynicism, callousness and doomsday-propheteering.

What Doctor Who regularly understands and communicates is that we were all children at one point or another, and we all had shared experiences growing up that bind us together.  Dealing with emerging identities, struggling to balance our lives, coming to grips with our emotions of love, hatred, despair...fear.

Doctor Who is probably best known for its colorful range of monsters and aliens.  One of the most common reactions I hear to the show is a long-forgotten memory of being scared under the bed by one of the hundreds of episodes in its 50 year history.  Never has this aspect of the show's existence been more wonderfully examined than in the Twelfth Doctor's episode Listen.

This instant classic starts off as a kind of thought experiment. The Doctor is meditatively contemplating on his TARDIS, when his eyes snap open and he cries "LISTEN!"  He is pondering evolutionary existence, the idea that there is perfect animal speed, perfect defense, etc.  And therefore...could there be such a thing as perfect hiding?  How would you even know (given that such creatures would effectively be invisible)?

This leads him, and companion Clara, on something of a wild goose chase, hunting throughout time and space for these creatures, trying to find out what they might have to say for themselves.  After all, tucked away by themselves for so long, they must want someone to talk to, right?  The Doctor is convinced that evidence of their existence can be traced to a common nightmare, one that writer Steven Moffat - and millions, maybe billions of others - have experienced:  you're sleeping in your bed, when you suddenly become scared.  You're not sure why, but you sit up and put your feet down on the floor.  That's when a hand reaches out to grab your ankle.

I've had this dream before.  I'm sure many others have had it too.  The idea that it wasn't a dream, but rather an actual creature of perfect hiding, is both intriguing and terrifying.  But it's the shared experience that really drives the action and emotion in this episode.

We all feel scared sometimes.  Growing up, with our imaginations firing at full capacity, we filled the gaps in reality with all kinds of creepy-crawlies.  The "monsters under the bed" were the things we dreaded most:  the Boogeyman, the Tommyknockers, the shapeless unknown.  Being scared, alone at night, was something we all went through at one point or another.  Many of us still do.

What if, though, we aren't alone?  In a strange way, the creature is a comfort.  If we were able to define it, put a name to it, see it, talk to it, what would it say to us?  It's when we find out nothing's there that it almost feels a little sad.  Listen drives this point home in its final moments, which I will not spoil here.

The message, though, is one worth repeating.  Fear CAN be a force that drives us apart, but more often than not it also brings us together.  Fear can make us strong.  It's all right to be afraid from time to time, because everyone is afraid from time to time.

Knowing that, and knowing that the creature under the bed can be just as scared as us, is a comfort.  We don't have to go tearing up the universe to find the message of the monster under the bed.  We just have to listen.

Darkness follows.