As the Doctor’s companions visit their old lives on Earth, the Doctor travels back to 14th century Aleppo where a young woman in one of civilization’s first hospitals is helplessly watching her friends get taken by a beast. Meanwhile, the Tardis Fam deal with their own issues of separation from their friends and family and the minor detail of a scary dude with detachable fingers visiting them and their friends in their dreams.
When Doctor Who does a message show, the results are usually not that great. It feels preachy, like we’re being talked down to for an hour. I feel the need to step in once again and say that I’m not one of these Neadrathalithic bottom-feeders who screams the word “WOKE!” and then retires to my parent’s basement to make a Youtube video about how lady Doctor bad thing, but I do like my messages delivered with some subtlety… almost like you have no idea what the episode is trying to say until it says it.
I’ll be darned, “Can You Hear Me?” did just that. It told a decent story, had a scarier than usual flesh-and-blood bad guy, and quietly commented on something important without beating you over the head with a message until your skull was pulped.
The message, of course… is get help. You’re worth it. Someone will listen.
It’s kind of a sad commentary on this current cast that, despite the fact that I like them all very much, they and the Doctor seem to do their best work when they are separated from each other. Ryan, usually a big dumb lovable doofus of a character who seems to only be in the show so the doctor can explain things to him (and the audience), is shown here being a complete bro to a friend that he’s left behind. Ryan is showing concern and heart for this guy who is having a hard time coping with depression and isolationism. The struggle that his friend is going through ties into the plot, it’s very heartbreaking, and extremely relatable. Who hasn’t felt like they couldn’t connect with the world around them?
Although not explicitly spelled out (another thing that bodes well for this episode), you get a real sense that the events of this episode, watching his friend suffer in his absence, has had a lasting effect on Ryan. He’s bothered and he’s asking real questions about if it is okay to be gone from his life for so long. I honestly get the feeling that we’re being set up for Ryan’s departure from the Tardis or, at least, a potential departure.
Yaz is actually getting some character development as well and we see that, three years ago, she was a depressed runaway. While her story is not handled with the same care as Ryan’s (Seriously, WHY was her family marking the third anniversary of her running away? WHY didn’t her parents stick around for her to show up!?), it was still a lovely story about how a police officer helped her in a time of needs, listened to her, and quite likely, set her on the path to becoming an officer herself.
Graham’s story… ugh…. I love Graham so much. If the show was just the Doctor and Graham, I would be so happy, but his story was the weakest and least imaginative of the episode. Graham is afraid his cancer is coming back and… that’s it. His nightmare was unimaginative, the writing was bland… if not for the awkward conversation with the Doctor in which Jodie Whittaker was probably her most Doctorish, it would have been a waste.
So, the episode was about talking about mental health, coupled with a story set in one of the first mental hospitals the world ever saw, capped off with the story of two immortals who feed on nightmares and depression.
None of it was spelled out. It was incredibly subtle. I like that.
The plot of the episode, despite the slick commentary, was nothing incredibly special. but, fortunately, it wasn’t anything near a disaster either. The bad guys were sufficiently creepy, the gimmick of the floating fingers was scary and icky, and it was very nice to see the Doctor actually bumble into and become a part of someone else’s dastardly plan.
It was sufficiently fun and, although the story won’t be that memorable, the bit with the flying fingers certainly will be.
The bad thing about “Can You Hear Me?” is the very awkward and terribly paced ending. Where the bad guys were defeated in another signature rushed sequence (what is it with Doctor Who lately not being able to end an episode properly?), the remaining 10 minutes of the show was devoted to resolving the companions Earth-bound storylines. Don’t get me wrong, these storylines needed to be resolved, but I can’t help but think that, yeah… it could have been done in a much cleaner and less awkward way. This episode ended like Return of the King ended… ten minutes later than it should have.
Jodie Whittaker (rather unfairly) still isn’t being given any big bombastic Doctor Who scenes, but to her credit, she is doing what she can with what she is given and she is feeling more like The Doctor than ever before.
As I’ve said several times, I applaud the message and the way it was delivered, but not the way that it wrestled the spotlight from the actual plot of the episode and then hijacked the ending, holding the credits hostage.