Doctor Who: Can You Hear Me?

This episode is simply described as a mess. Lots of positive qualities to it and even some very moving moments but it feels like a very enthusiastic kid telling you a story that wanders off in ways that clearly make sense to the story teller but not to the audience.

I won’t detail the plot because it’s not easy to do so in broad brushstrokes. There are three quite different elements to the story though.

The first is some genuinely creepy monster horror that mixes big scary monsters with a creepy guy manifesting near your bed as you sleep. Doctor Who has been a source of childhood nightmares for multiple generations of British children and this episode will fuel several. Even the weaker parts (detachable fingers in your ears) pick up on the horrific absurdity of nightmares.

The second is a bit of pseudo-mythology about god like beings (with shout outs to other uses of this idea in past Doctor Who) and their schemes. This is the least successful aspect of the story but I did like the break into an animated back-story/myth.

The third is Doctor Who does mental health which is less bad than it could have been, bordering on good, but maybe a bit beyond what the show is capable of dealing with. We have several characters dealing with their psychological problems (including in 14th Century Syria) which is connected with events but while there is a connection between mental illness and nightmare events, the episode narrowly avoids the lazy trope of mentally-ill psychic is the nexus of horrific events.

At long last this episode does make a solid attempt at giving each of the companions their own stories. Yaz, Graham and Ryan each have their own encounters with the spooky phenomenon and later must each confront their own fears. We even get a bit of an origin story for Yaz (i.e. why she became a police officer).

So not terrible and in so far as it really didn’t work, it wasn’t through a lack of ambition. The story does require the Doctor to be a bit obviously thoughtless when encountering a giant cosmic prison and the bad guys are so camp that they can’t live up to the spooky build up. Yet the episode has its own corny charm that’s very Doctor Who and once again I had no idea where things were heading for a fair degree of the episode.


6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Can You Hear Me?

  1. I dunno – I quite liked this one. Yes, it was full of stuff, but I’d call it busy, rather than messy – lots of things going on, but, by the end of the episode, it had all come together reasonably well (the mental health stuff tied in with the nightmares, and the nightmares were caused by the rogue immortals, and in the end they got hoist by their own petard, which was good.) It was very effectively creepy in several places, which I like in a Who story, and it used all the companions nicely – it’s always good when Yaz gets a bit more to do, I think.

    I had a moment when I was thinking “there’s a lot happening here, how are they going to tie it all up by the end of the episode? I bet it’s going to be rushed and contrived (again)”, and then I looked at the clock and it was only half past seven, and I realised that I thought it had been going on longer, simply because it was so chock-full of incident. And this is – IMHO – a good thing!

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    1. Yes, I can see that and your are right that it felt longer (in a good way) than it was. The main story ended and there was still time for several characters to talk things through -which was good.

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  2. The plotline was mostly coherent, which is now my baseline for this season and pretty good for an episode about disjointed nightmares. It also made use of a lot of classic Doctor Who themes. But yes, they do seem to have established a pattern of trying to stuff as much as possible into one episode leading to vagaries that never quite get explained. Like what was the dimensional entity doing in medieval Syria but also 21st century England? It’s partly that they are working with three companions, but Doctor Who has done that before and managed it better last season. So maybe they need a bit less of a swing for the fences mentality and a bit more focus on story crafting. But overall it was a nice episode with the companions coming up against the central issue with being a companion to the Doctor, once the fun part has worn down a bit.

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  3. I really liked this one as well. Like all of Chibnall Who, it looked gorgeous, from the sets to the special effects shots (more so the spaceship and the colliding planets than the relatively dodgey smoke effects).

    I thought the villains of the piece were sufficiently creepy, and the body horror of the detaching fingers very effective. They were perhaps a little bit too summarily dismissed, but I did like that the plan was to trick the Doctor into doing what she did.

    I really loved the various little moments with each of the companions and their nightmares. From a production point of view it shows off how good each of the actors are. I’m particularly impressed with Mandip Gil, and it’s a crying shame that she’s only just starting to get more to do.

    Ryan’s flashback to the Dregs was an interesting one, and a key part of the conversation he has with Yaz at the end. It foreshadows leaving the Doctor to get involved in the world and make a difference rather than being an eternal tourist, which is an excellent justification for leaving the TARDIS team, something modern Who has struggled with.

    And I thought Yaz got the best of it and I the interaction with the policewoman was brilliant and a side of policing that we need to see more of. I thought it was such a great thing to show how affecting the conversation they had was to both parties as well.

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      1. You know, I don’t really see Yaz as underused. We got lots and lots about her and her family in the previous season. We’ve gotten to see how working with the Doctor has both helped and caused problems for her police career and she’s had a number of good heart-to-hearts with Ryan about their futures and the world, like in this one. She’s always the companion who takes the initiative of the three and she’s usually the one who is off with one of the guest stars in the main action while Ryan and Graham are paired off with less import, or completely off on her own which the Doctor always trusts she can handle. She’s basically the action star of the group and the one who figures out how to get everybody to safety while the Doctor is dithering about which plan to use. Ryan and Graham would have wandered off and gotten killed several times if Yaz didn’t keep them focused on what they need to do.

        It did seem like they were thinking of developing a romance between Yaz and Ryan the previous season, but have now cooled on that, with the result that Ryan’s had a flirtation or two while Yaz does not. But other than that, she’s a pretty developed character and very central.

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