UK TV review: Doctor Who Season 12 Episode 7 (Can You Hear Me?)
Hard of hearing5
James R | On 10, Feb 2020
It’s not often Doctor Who takes us to Syria, and that starting point for Can You Hear Me? sets the tone of an episode that reaches for something a bit different to the norm, but not always in the best way.
Aleppo, to be specific, is our starting point, where the Doctor has been drawn to by unusual activity. There, she encounters Tahira (Aruhan Galieva), the last patient alive in an asylum that has been preyed upon by a nightmarish creature. No sooner have we adjusted to the sight of a gigantic CGI werewolf than we’re back on Earth, in Sheffield, where the rest of the fam have been dropped off to give the Doctor some space.
Season 12 has always succeeded when it gives the cast members a chance to flourish individually on their ow, and there’s some real depth that we get to delve into here. Graham (Bradley Walsh) catches up with friends over a game of cards, while Yas (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) struggle with being out of step with those they have left behind for their time-hopping exploits. But they’re all united by strange visions of a man in dark clothes, who can apparently detach his own fingers and send them floating into other people’s ears.
Graham, meanwhile, has a vision of a woman in help, and it’s his nightmare that the Doctor latches on to, reuniting them to beam to a viewing platform where said woman is trapped between two planets. Needless to say they try to help, and needless to say, it all goes wrong, putting more people in danger. There’s some entertainingly cheesy effects work with that werewolf, some enjoyably camp villainy on offer from Ian Gelder (Game of Thrones’ Kevan Lannister) as Zellin, who has a taste for making other people afraid, and some familiar Doctor advice about overcoming one’s fears – and yet there’s something unfamiliar when things get more intimate, which is where Chris Chibnall’s stint as TARDIS showrunner has normally excelled. Here, we see the more awkward side of the Doctor, as she struggles to come up with a response to help Graham through his problems. It’s a moment that’s no doubt intentional from writers Charlene James and Chibnall, but it doesn’t land quite right – a rare time this season where being surprising hasn’t always been a good thing.
Doctor Who Season 12 is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2021.
Doctor’s notebook (spoilers)
– Zellin, we soon learn, feeds off people’s nightmares – which are beamed to him via those handily portable fingers that lodge in people’s heads and start transmitting. Directed with a cheerful spookiness by Emma Sullivan, it’s like a bad 1980s horror film in the best possible way.
– The damsel in distress? Inevitably, she’s nothing of the short, but rather an immortal alien god called Rakaya (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who was trapped between those two planets for a reason. They trick the Doctor into helping – her favourite thing to do – and Zellin and Rakay promptly head off to feed on Earth with all its human worries and fears.
– Conquering one’s fears is the very Whovian theme of the episode, and Tahira learns to do that literally, being able to control that werewolf Zellin created from her nightmares – a werewolf that runs down the two immortals and leaves them with their tales between their legs. So far, so empowering.
– Conquering one’s fears, though, doesn’t go so well for each member of the fam. Ryan finds a less than warm welcome from his BFF Tibo, although they bond over FIFA and chips, eventually rescuing Tibo from the dark influences of Zellin. We learn from Yas how she once felt suicidal, and see her thank a policeman who helped talk her down years ago – a thoughtful exploration of depression, despair and the hope compassion and support can provide.
Graham, however, fairs less well, as he opens up to the Doctor to tell her that his deepest fear is his cancer returning one day. She replies by saying she’s not very good at these conversations. It’s an unexpected response, and one that Whittaker sinks her teeth into, building up a portrait of a Doctor who is out of form and going through her own problems. But while it’s interesting to a see a new, vulnerable side to our favourite Time Lord, it’s also a little unsettling to see her fail to reassure one of her friends – behaviour that feels very un-Doctor-like. Will it lead somewhere else as the season sees her come to terms whatever The Master has done and cryptically said? Only time will tell. Here’s hoping our own fears that the Doctor might lose her ability to listen to others’ problems will prove unfounded.