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Doctor Who Can You Hear Me?

Review by Paul Bowler

There are no bogie men, but that’s not exactly true in Can You Hear Me? Returning to Earth for a break from their adventures in time and space, the Doctor and her friends are soon forced to confront their darkest fears. With a call for help from space, horrific monsters in 1380 Aleppo, and something terrifying infecting peoples nightmares in Sheffield, the Doctor must investigate the cause of this haunting mystery from beyond the stars…

From the creepy opening scenes at a hospital in 1380’s Aleppo, it is clear we are in for a nerve jangling episode. Can You Hear Me?, written by Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, and directed by Emma Sullivan, is the seventh episode of Doctor Who series 12, and it sees the TARDIS team touching base with their lives back on Earth. Yaz (Mandip Gill) visits her family; Ryan (Tosin Coyle) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) catch up with their friends. However, events soon take a darker turn when all three of them are struck by frightening visions, and a strange voice calls out for help from the depths of space. As well as heralding an ominous new threat for the Doctor and her friends, these disturbing signs also highlight some deeply personal issues for Ryan, Graham and Yaz to contend with as they endure unsettlingly scary nightmares.

The chilling premise of Can You Hear Me? provides a chance to really showcase the Doctor’s companions when they return to Sheffield and the Time Lord sets off to investigate events unfolding in 14th century Syria. Mandip Gill, Tosin Coyle and Bradley Walsh all deliver terrific performances. Charlene James and Chris Chibnall’s finely crafted script skilfully utilises the regular cast, which enables us to gain a far greater insight into where these characters are in their lives right now, and how it all relates to the journeys with the Doctor.

Events conspire to take them on some very individual journeys as well during this episode. Graham and Yaz each have their own distinct, and extremely personal nightmares to contend with, Yaz in particular gets some great character development, while Ryan’s issues about not always being their for his friends raises some really challenging quandaries for him to deal with as well. Can You Hear Me? also sees the return of Ryan’s best friend, Theo, played by Buom Tihngang (who we were introduced to briefly in Spyfall Part 1), and Ryan soon discovers that travelling with the Doctor often take a toll on the friendships you leave behind.

This episode guest stars Aruhan Galieva as Tahira, Clare-Hope Ashitey (the lead in the Netflix drama Seven Seconds) who also appears as Rakaya, and Nasreen Hussain as Anita Patel. Each of these characters have pivotal roles to play in Can You Hear Me? and drive the episodes narrative in many surprising and unexpected ways. Once the Doctor has saved Tahira from a monster in Aleppo that not even the Sonic Screwdriver and the TARDIS can identify, its time for the Time Lord to catch up with her friends, and of all their disturbing experiences its Graham’s psychic incursion that enables the TARDIS telepathic circuits to bring them to the cause of the nightmares – a monitoring platform in deep space overseeing a Geo Orb where the woman from Graham’s vision is imprisoned and suspended between two colliding planets in the distant future.

Can You Hear Me? features a sinister new villain called Zellin, played by Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials’ and Torchwood: Children of Earth actor Ian Gelder. He also proved the voice of the Remnants in 2018’s The Ghost Monument, where we first heard about the “Timeless Child”, a phrase that has become even more significant now in Series 12. Zellin is the creepy immortal entity that has set his sights on stalking the Doctor and her friends through time and space on their return to Sheffield. Zellin is one of the most nightmarish beings the Doctor and her friends have ever faced, with deadly fingers that detach and lock into peoples ears to feed off their nightmares, and his brooding presence permeates every aspect of this eerily atmospheric episode.

Jodie Whittaker is also on fine form. She seems totally settled and far more assured in the role of the Doctor now. Series 12 has seen Whittaker markedly refining the characterisation of her incarnation of the Time Lord. Being simultaneously fun, quirky, and resolute in the face of danger, Jodie Whittaker performance is endearingly Doctorish throughout. The Doctor’s scenes in particular with Tahira and her confrontations with Zellin are just some of the many highlights in this episode that enable Jodie Whittaker to really shine as the Doctor.

There are a number of callbacks to previous episodes as the TARDIS team experience their nightmares, especially for Graham when Grace (Sharon D Clarke) shows up with grim news, and Ryan sees the monstrous Dregs from Orphan 55. Zellin seems to have been watching the Doctor for quite some time as well, he mentions the Guardians, the Eternals, and the Toymaker, other god-like beings the Doctor has encountered in the past, and there’s also another mention of the Timeless Child thrown in for good measure to keep us intrigued as well.

Having tricked the Doctor into solving the quantum fluctuation lock Zellin is now able to free the woman from the Geo Orb, who is actually Zellin’s companion, and together they return to Earth to feast on the nightmares of the human race. I really like how Zellin’s and Rakaya’s story is also explained with a neat animated sequence, it signifies just how ancient these beings are, and was an interesting visual way to relay this back-story. Fortunately the Doctor is able to use Zellin’s own abilities against him to trap Zellin and his female companion – along with some especially monstrous company – and effectively puts the god-like beings back in their box for all eternity.

Can You Hear Me? is a cracking good episode, and much like Tahira’s Chagaska it quickly wraps its claws around your imagination. Emma Sullivan’s assured direction skilfully builds the tension as Zellin menaces everyone across both time zones, leading to some really creepy and scary moments. The Doctor and her companions are really put through something of an emotional wringer over the course of this episode, and there are some especially moving closing scenes as Graham confides in the Doctor about concerns over his health while Ryan and Yaz reflect on how their time on board the TARDIS has changed them – perhaps forever.

Although the threat posed by Zellin was resolved a little conveniently and quickly this was still an exciting episode. Can You Hear Me? was great, imaginative, and full of strong character moments. There’s always a risk when you pass the midway point in a series that the initial momentum can falter, resulting in filler stories to keep things going until the finale, so I love it when a really good episode of Doctor Who creeps up on you unexpectedly like this. The episode dealt with some powerful issues and also made the bond between the TADIS team feel stronger than ever, especially now they’ve faced their greatest fears together. The episode closes with the Doctor thanking about Frankenstein, which certainly sounds good to me, and their next destination looks set to continue the darker tone that Series 12 seems to be taking as we progress towards the epic season finale!

Images Belong BBC.

About The Author

Hi, I’m Paul Bowler, blogger and reviewer of films, TV shows, and comic books. I’m a Sci-Fi geek, a big fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek, movies, Sci-Fi, Horror, Comic Books, and all things PS4.You can follow me on Twitter @paul_bowler,or at my website, Sci-Fi Jubilee, and on YouTube and Facebook