“Can You Hear Me?” delivers a mixed bag of an episode, with a profound message almost overshadowed by inconsistent pacing and a rushed resolution.
In 14th Century Aleppo, Syria a young girl named Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) warns the nurses at an Islamic mental hospital that something is coming for them. Needless to say, soon gigantic skeletal monkey creatures appear, taking the patients and nurses hostage. Tahira is left frightened, albeit unscathed.
In the present day the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) drops her team off back at home in modern-day Sheffield. However, once her three companions leave to reunite with their daily lives the Doc is intercepted by an evaporating balding man.
He leads her via coordinates to Tahira’s hospital. Whilst helping her the Doctor receives simultaneous phone calls from Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Yaz (Mandip Gill), who all claim to have experienced strange occurrences.
Reuniting with the gang, Ryan and Yaz explain that they too have envisioned the mysterious bald man. Whilst Graham received a vision in his head, a young woman is trapped somewhere and begging for help. The Doctor is able to trace this signal to an observation ship.
There they realise, as they watch two planets slowly collide with one another, that an orb-like prison is positioned between the two. Inside, there’s a seemingly helpless young woman. Upon freeing her, the Doctor believes she’s saved her. Only to be shocked to discover this young woman, Rakaya (Claire-Hope Ashitey), is in cahoots with the balding man, Zellin (Ian Gelder).
Both are ancient gods, thriving off of humans’ fears across entire planets, until the inhabitants of said planets had had enough of their warring games and decided to bring an end to it all by colliding them together. A nice little piece of exposition delivered by charming and colourful animation a-la Harry Potter and the Tale of the Three Brothers.
These “gods” then entrap Team TARDIS, and we see more of a blurred vision of the Doctor’s inner fears – the timeless child. Although the episode moves swiftly, they cease to linger on that thread much longer as the two-part season finale fast approaches.
The Doctor escapes with her sonic magnetising to her handcuffs and freeing herself along with everyone else. She tracks down the fear-inducing gods, who have been gorging on nightmares, telling them that humans are not weak for having inbuilt fears and doubts.
Within a shockingly quick turnaround she tricks the gods into being frightened by the fears of the humans they had manipulated. Using the creature that appeared at the beginning of the episode, Tahira now knows that it is merely a figment of her vulnerable imagination, animated by the gods. She uses this against them and the Doctor traps them both inside their planetary prison orb – a rushed conclusion to two interesting and powerful foes.
The episode then concludes on a profound note. The companions mull over visions the gods had forced them to see when they were imprisoned with the Doctor. Ryan encourages his mate to go to therapy; Yaz visits a police woman who helped when she was experiencing a mental breakdown and running away as a teenager (a moment which helps to flesh out Yaz into more than a one-note character). And on the Tardis Graham shares concerns with the Doctor about his cancer returning, though a semi-immortal alien doesn’t know what to say in response to that.
Overall, this felt like a very-Doctor Who like episode, but it suffered from a poor and rapid resolution. Nevertheless, do not let this dampen the core important message of mental health and seeking help.
The original airing of this episode on the BBC even ended with the number to the BBC’s action helpline being read out over the credits roll. Next week, things turn darker in a different way as the Doctor meets Mary Shelley, author of the original Frankenstein.