If this year’s Doctor Who has lacked for anything it is obviously Game of Thrones actors with skull tattoos and magic detachable fingers. Such is the nightmarish and also slightly silly apparition confronting the Doctor in an episode that sets the controls for the heart of bonkers – and significantly overshoots its destination.
Whovians are divided over Jodie Whittaker’s second year as custodian of the Tardis. Some have warmed to her spirit of chaotic derring-do. Others wish show runner Chris Chibnall would calm down slightly. Too often his storylines have been overwrought and undercooked. It’s as if the ideas came to him as he was nodding off and that he was unable to entirely recall them the following morning but ploughed on anyway.
What everyone will probably agree on is that “Can You Hear Me?” is a season low-point. It is a muddle that tries to many things at once. One moment Doctor Who wants to be Avengers, the next Star Wars, and after that a morality fable with a uplifting message. In the end, it feels like a highlights reel from the inner workings of Chibnall’s brain: exhausting and not at all in a good way.
The action begins in medieval Syria, where a home for the mentally unwell is overrun by a giant CGI werewolf. That sounds fantastic until you see the actual werewolf: a pixellated clunker thrown together on a BBC Acorn computer retrieved by the Doctor from the mid-Eighties. What a howler: it makes the sharks in Sharknado look like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
Doctor Who is soon turning into Dr WTF? as Whittaker’s Timelord is hoodwinked into freeing an alien goddess Rakaya (Clare-Hope Ashitey). She is an immortal whose party trick is gorging on nightmares. Naturally she is in cahoots with aforementioned Baldie Terror Zellin (Ian Gelder, aka Kevan Lannister from Game of Thrones).
The cheeky sod has been utilising his detachable airborne fingers to induce terrifying visions in random members of the public. The fingers plug into the ear and serve as transmission devices that beam bad thoughts to Zellin’s incarcerated pal Rakaya. Amazing that nobody thought of doing something like this sooner. If anyone wants to beam Premier League highlights into my brain using magic flying fingers, feel free to give it your best shot.
The Doctor eventually saves the day but not before the Nightmare Goddess and her tattooed companion have beamed down to Sheffield and drank deep of locals and their uneasy dreams. With “Can You Hear Me?” clocking in at a trim 49 minutes, it isn’t long, though, before the duo have received their cosmic comeuppance. Yaz, Ryan, Graham and their Syrian friend Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) conquer their fears and use the werewolf – actually a metaphor for Tahira’s anxieties – to send the two aliens packing.
Chibnall tacks on a coda in which the Doctor’s companions reflect on their past, and their future hopes and worries. Graham (Bradley Walsh), for instance, speaks of his concern about his cancer returning. A bit weirdly, the Doctor hand waves away this heartfelt admission of vulnerability with an excuse about her social awkwardness.
Doctor Who is clearly trying to inject a note a real emotion into all the planet-hopping. The problem is that the message that our fears are what make us human is too trite for adults and will soar over the heads of children. It’s difficult to be underwhelmed by an episode of Doctor Who featuring both Tywin Lannister’s brother and a giant space werewolf. But somehow “Can You Hear Me?” has just that effect.
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