Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s our thoughts on this week’s episode – Can you hear me?
First a pretty spoiler protection picture.
In this week’s episode Tardis Team went home for a bit R&R and catch-up with family and friends. But instead of having an enjoyable time, the fam encountered an Alien god that stoked fears to feed their negative energy. It has been done before – ie Midnight and God Complex. But it is a good theme and a scary plot is always worth a jump behind the sofa. Certainly, the flying detached fingers alongside Ian Gelder’s performance as the immortal Zellin were enough to send a creepy shiver up the spine. The episode addressed some important mental health issues sensitively – fear, depression, anxiety and bullying. No easy solutions were given just as in Vincent and the Doctor. Mandip Gill, in particular, put in an excellent performance.
However, given the Doctor’s past, I do think that her own mental stability was a missed opportunity. The episode could have been tighter – the trip to Aleppo, Syria was a distraction and the conclusion was too simple but it scored high fear factor. Who wouldn’t be scared to know that the Bogeyman is real?
All in all a solid episode with an important message about Mental Health Awareness. J
BTW the Doctor should really check why some beings are in prison before releasing them.
At points over the past two series, there’s sometimes been a tension between servicing the traditional archetypes of Doctor Who stories and Chris Chibnall’s shake-up of the format. But Can You Hear Me? Is an almost perfect fusion of the two that enhances them both. It’s delves deep into the well of the shows dark side – the same aspect that gave us the likes of Image of the Fendhal, Blink and Midnight. But in its high concept – the Bogeyman in your wardrobe is REAL – it also treats it with a real seriousness and sensitivity.
The hidden fears that torture our heroes and guest cast aren’t just glibly dispensed with along with the villain, but are still a part of the characters at the end. A part they need to continue to address in their daily struggles. The Doctor’s proclamation that it’s the ability of people suffering from anxiety and depression to get up at the start of the day at all that’s true heroism is up there with Tom Baker’s “indomitable” speech.
Thanks to some fantastic direction from Emma Sullivan, Can You Hear Me? is a genuinely unsettling experience, while Charlene James’ script, alongside Chibnall, provides both nice twists, and a portentous insight into how the TARDIS Fam see their place by the Doctor’s side. Only the resolution – which is well thought out in principle but a bit rushing feeling in execution, lets the side down a little.
‘Can you hear me?’ returns to a theme explored by Doctor Who before, in the Matt Smith’s episode ‘God Complex’, that of our Deepest, darkest fears. It’s a theme ripe for psychological thriller and perfect for exploring the psyche of our regulars. This episode gave Yaz some great scenes and possibly the first real look into her character and what makes her tick. Mandip Gill puts in powerful performance here and I hope we see more like this from the character in the few remaining episodes. Bradley Walsh also has some excellent moments as he addresses his fear of his cancer returning and it was lovely to see Grace again, however briefly.
Ian Gelder does a fantastic job as the villain, Zellin, a wonderfully creepy and dark performance that got my skin crawling. The only thing that really let this episode down was the rather sudden and anti-climactic conclusion to the threat. Not the first time a magic-button-ending solves everything all at once on Doctor Who. The Threat had been set up so well, and delivered so much along the way but then just petered out with a whimper.
First thing to do following the latest episode of Doctor Who is to stand and applaud. Bravo to Charlene James and Chris Chibnall for ‘Can You Hear Me?’ It came within a smidgen of perfection. Tackling human mental health is a bold move. Much like ‘Vincent and the Doctor’, another story weakened by a dodgy CGI creature, the human experience was the subject of exploration and the results were hugely impressive. Tying it into nightmares, often considered the realm in which our subconscious mind runs riot, made sense in story terms. But the reality is that the story is not really about a Freddy Kruger-esque (hence the menacing fingers I suspect), haunter of dreams. It was really about the anxieties and struggles which we all navigate from time to time.
Unfortunately, there remained the consistent flaws which continue to hamper the Chibnall era. Long scenes of dialogue-heavy exposition in an attempt to enlighten the viewer as to what is going on. As a positive, another scene of exposition was upgraded to an animated sequence which was refreshing and the change saved me from losing patience. Yet again we had another new character introduced and brought onboard the TARDIS. At least she wasn’t interesting enough to outshine the companions this week. A further gripe came when Thirteen pointed her sonic around a bit and solved the problem quite easily, one of my pet hates in Doctor Who. Also, how the hell did she manage to get the sonic to jump out of her coat pocket and into her hand? And after concluding there was a prisoner why did Thirteen think that this was an unjust imprisonment and thus became determined to release her? Anyway, I digress.
Other problems in Series 12 were tackled however. The trio of companions became more central to the development of the story and I actually felt I learnt a bit more about them. Finally, I’m starting to develop some sort of connection for the Doctor’s friends. Even Yaz! Another theme for this series was the trawling of Doctor Who’s history and we had that again with a return of the Eternals, seeking entertainment to pass infinity. There was also a lovely mention of the Toymaker which I enjoyed!
I’m not sure that the Aleppo plot sub-branch worked completely but it was crucial to defeating the menace. Outside of that, and that it looked particularly good on screen, I can’t see that it really served any other purpose. Despite this and a few other flaws already mentioned, I was hugely impressed with this episode. I just wish it had had a few tweaks that would’ve taken it into the category of a stone cold Who classic.
Can You Hear Me? works in a number of ways. Last week I cried out for a decent villain and here we have three. The best is of course the super-creepy Immortal Zellin – the Bogeyman bought to life with all of time on his frequently fingerless hands. Ian Gelder imbues his character with enough ghoulish horror to have any watching small children flee behind the proverbial sofa.
There have been episodes this series where the large number of characters on screen has been frustrating for me as a viewer. I’ve felt the programme hasn’t had enough space or time for them to develop. Not here. Can You Hear Me? creates fully-fleshed individuals.
The theme of mental health is well handled here and doesn’t have the eye-rolling preachiness I felt watching Orphan 55 or Praxeus. Yaz’s story was particularly poignant, as was her catch up with the Policewoman who helped her. Elsewhere, The Doctor was bested by two immortal mischief makers who fooled her then took themselves off to Earth to terrorise the dreams of small children. And I can’t end this without a small cheer for the animated story of The Immortals, which brought glee to this fan of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Mighty Boosh. Marvellous stuff.