That's true, but I don't think we generally, if ever, get scenes like the one where the Doctor unlocks the door of Orson's spaceship and orders Clara to go back into the TARDIS. Yes, the Doctor's curiosity has often found him and his companions in danger and he is often compelled to save others, but this is a bit different from that.
This is a situation where the Doctor is deliberately setting up a potential disaster, just to see what the hell might happen. He chose to unlock the door and he chose to stay outside of the TARDIS while Orson's ship was quickly falling apart around him. All so he can see if he can find out what is causing those noises outside and get an answer to his question.
I didn't mean that it was The Doctor as usual, but I think it was an extension of an existing part of his personality, in fact it led to what the episode implies helped him develop that personality in the first place. But at the same time, it was also driven by a level of fear and curiosity unlike anything we've seen from The Doctor, because it was related to such a defining childhood moment of fear. So it was something new, but also a natural extension of his existing character. It didn't feel out of place that he was acting differently. It was great writing to be able to add something new to the character, but make it feel like it was there all along.
Eh. I still disagree and I have heard a lot of equally solid arguments from others that there was most certainly a monster in the episode. To me, I feel like the episode loses a fair chunk of its power if you give it a straight answer either way. I like that the ending has left me asking a lot of questions with potentially really interesting answers. We'll never actually get them, but that's fine. The point is that "Listen" has made us all think really hard about the episode.
I actually feel the episode gains from it being nothing.
A monster who has apparently perfected hiding to the point of going undetected throughout all of time and space despite appearing to everyone ever, and then they very easily find one, and then tell it to go when they could have confirmed it right there. Why would the perfect hiding creature just sit on the bed when you have two people there having a conversation, and just hang and let you see it? And aside from that "monster", the rest was very explainable too. It's not a believable idea, and the possibility of a monster wasn't a necessary part of the point.
The Doctor wasn't actually looking for the monster at all. It was a means to an end, which was to be scared. Rationally, The Doctor can deal with most things easily enough, but this was an almost primal fear from his childhood, perhaps the only thing he could think of that he was truly afraid of.
I think it's telling that The Doctor in that moment didn't just pull the sheets back as anyone would have done. Why did he look away from the monster and make it leave, but then keep searching to find if it exists? Because it was about him overcoming his own fear. He didn't look at the monster under the sheet once. He was taking his mind off it, reading the book, keeping his look fixed on the kid, then quickly turning his back on it and looking out the window, because he was terrified.
He didn't reveal the monster, because then there would be nothing to fear at all, because I think in his head he knew it was nothing. All along he knew the rational explanations, but deep down that's not what it was about for him. He let it go when he could very easily have found his evidence right there, and then went right on to find another. Proving it was real would have made it even more scary knowing there was such a terrifying and elusive creature, so I think he knew that it wasn't going to prove true. When he opened the door, it was going to be scary as hell regardless of any monsters, and it couldn't disprove the monsters either. He didn't want to find a monster. He wanted to find something he knew he could be afraid of.
Why does he want to be afraid? To become a good man. The Doctor is not sure whether he's a good man, but he wants to be. Refer to Clara's speech.
.....Please just listen
. I know you're afraid. Being afraid is alright.....Fear is a super power..... Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly, fear can make you kind
...... If you listen
to nothing else, you're always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it......". And there was Clara's earlier bit about "A soldier so brave he doesn't need a gun....keep the whole world safe."
The Doctor wants to be brave, he doesn't want to repeat his past mistakes, which got brought up for him recently when he met the War Doctor and dealt with the Time War again, and also having trouble finding himself after the regeneration. The writing on the board wasn't from a monster, he wrote it himself subconsciously recalling that earlier speech (which we know he remembers subconsciously, because he recited it to Rupert for the same dreamed monster). "LISTEN" was a subconscious reminder to himself about that speech, where the word listen was emphasized several times to make the connection and reveal it to the audience, with all he needs to be a better man, so he goes on a search for that fear to learn to use it to be brave in the face of danger.
And the moment with Clara at the end realizing she was The Doctor's monster, and then coming back to the TARDIS knowing where The Doctor's quest came from was the "aha!" moment to me where it was a clear reveal to the audience. I didn't feel like there was any ambiguity at that point. I was very surprised to see anyone take it another way.
And I think it was intended to work as an allegory for fear for the audience, where we were given some relateable scary moments where we're scared of something irrational, then we learn and grow and realize there was nothing to fear, but that it's ok to be scared. It wasn't a story about a real monster, but about the monster we create for ourselves. Fear created it, fear can overcome it. The Doctor was learning to use that fear to overcome monsters, not to find them.
Maybe it was designed for people to make of it what they want, but for me that ending was very clear that it was nothing all along, and I didn't even consider it was supposed to be ambiguous by that point in the episode. That was the moment the episode clicked with me from being a little bit of a silly monster, to being a masterful episode that was so much deeper. To believe there was a chance of a physical monster like that would detract a little for me.
The more I think about the episode, the more I like it. Even though I disagree with some points brought up here, just the process of analyzing the episode gives me more appreciation for it, and how it fits into the story arcs. I now think it the best of the season so far.