Last week’s episode of Doctor Who was a misstep. Thankfully, this week saw an improvement in the show’s writing. The Doctor and her companions face fear in “Can You Hear Me?”
This episode centered on re-connection. Ryan visits one of his closest friends. Yaz visits family and later a police officer that helped her years previous. Graham has a nightmare of seeing his late wife. The two villains of the episode join together after ages apart. All of these reunions run the gamut of emotions, we see joy, catharsis, grief, and relief.
The episode begins with large, scary monsters attacking a mental health facility in Aleppo a few hundred years ago. The monsters take everyone from the hospital, except for our new friend Tahira. It’s not long before the Doctor finds her and drags her onto the TARDIS.
Meanwhile, Yaz is visiting her sister Sonya. Ryan goes to see one of his best friends, Tibo. But there’s a problem. Something isn’t right. It seems that someone or something is attacking people in their sleep. Tibo is afraid to admit it, for fear that Ryan will mock him. But he has seen a man in his room at night. He can’t explain what is happening, but he knows it’s frightening. Of course, Ryan has really seen some things at this point and immediately believes Tibo. He volunteers to spend the night on his friend’s couch. Yaz is sleeping on her sister’s couch. A vampire-looking guy materializes in the room. Yaz confronts him and he disappears. He also appears in Tibo’s room. Fingers fly off of his hands and one attaches itself to Tibo’s ear, in probably the yuckiest moment of the season thus far. Ryan confronts him and the figure disappears.
Meanwhile, Graham has a nightmare of a woman crying out in pain for help. The Doctor gathers the whole crew together, along with Tahira. They use the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to find the trapped woman in Graham’s vision. They suddenly find themselves half-way across the universe on a space platform. It is hovering around 2 planets that are colliding with each other. However, there is a sphere stuck between them. This is a prison containing the mysterious woman.
The ship contains the monsters from Aleppo, all of the previously abducted people, and a whole lot of fingers. The vampire-man appears and confronts the Doctor. The Doctor believes she is outsmarting him and uses her wits to free the imprisoned woman. Turns out, she was being manipulated. The prisoner is freed. We learn that this man and woman are essentially gods. They are immortal beings named Zellin and Rakaya. They feed on fear. Long ago, they hosted a competition. They each lorded over a planet and tried to force the inhabitants to kill themselves and each other. These inhabitants eventually figured out what was going on (after millenia of wars and fighting). The drive their planets together and trap one of their gods. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch both of them. Ultimately, the Doctor outsmarts these beings and traps them both within the prison.
This was the basic plot of the episode. On the surface, it sounds like a middling episode. But when we look at the characters of the show and how they were affected by these experiences, this episode really shines.
Zellin and Rakaya failed miserably at their plans, but they did leave an impact upon the people they touched. They filled their victims with fear and then fed off that powerful emotion. Tahira had visions of frightening monsters. The gods made these monsters real. Unfortunately for them, Tahira was able to conquer her fears and command the monsters herself. She turned them into a weapon against her attackers. Despite her mental illness, she was anything but weak. Her ability to face her incredible demons was the ultimate power that won the day.
When Yaz was put to sleep, she found herself in a 3-year-old memory. She was at a troubled time in her life and found a police officer who helped her. This kind woman saw a younger version of herself in Yaz. She places a bet. She wagers 50 quid that in 3 years, Yaz’s life will have improved dramatically. No matter how hopeless and dark things seem, they will improve over time. The woman couldn’t have possibly understood how right she was. Yaz was inspired to become a police officer herself. Of course, she later found herself gallivanting across space and time. Her life definitely has improved. At the end of the episode, she pays a visit to the kind woman and pays off her losing bet.
Graham had the hardest time here. He had a nightmare in which he was reunited with his late wife. She tells him that his cancer has returned, and he is dying. He doesn’t know how to handle this. He decides to talk with the Doctor. He tells her that he is afraid of his cancer returning, even though he seems perfectly healthy right now. But here, the Doctor completely fails to live up to her self-appointed title. She doesn’t offer any medical advice about the cancer. Furthermore, she doesn’t know what to say to comfort him. She acknowledges that she should say something, but the words won’t come. She indicates that she will politely retreat from the conversation and will soon think of what she should have said.
I’m conflicted about this moment. On a personal level, I totally get this. It is hard to comfort a friend who is going through a challenging time. Especially if it’s a challenge that you haven’t personally faced before. But it’s also frustrating. The Doctor has literally thousands of years behind her. She has, theoretically, gained all kinds of wisdom that she could impart upon her friend. But she turns away. I really hope that she thought of what to say a moment later. I hope that she approached Graham and revealed this wisdom to him. But if it happened, it happened off-camera. Ultimately, the Doctor failed Graham in his moment of need. I hope she’ll make it up to him.
On the whole, I rather enjoyed this episode, mostly because of the emotional journeys that it took our heroes on. I was also intrigued by further hints of the “Timeless Child” which has been referenced previously. The writers are really leaning into the foreshadowing on this. I hope that we get some answer about it before this season is through!