Title: Can You Hear Me?
Release Date: 9/2/20
Network: BBC One
Genre: Science Fiction/Drama
Can You Hear Me?
Can You Hear Me? begins in Aleppo, Syria, 1380. Tahira, a patient from the 14th-century equivalent of a mental health institution, warns a nurse, Maryam, of an impending threat against them. Skip forward a couple of hours, and surprise, surprise, some kind of monstrosity lurks from the dark, snatches Maryam, and growls menacingly at Tahira. There’s an air of The Fires Of Pompeii to this episode, at least within these opening minutes.
The Doctor brings her friends home to Sheffield. So, in the meantime, she follows a noise she hears within the TARDIS to Syria, Aleppo. At the same time, Ian Gelder’s creepily good Zellin makes his first appearance. He emerges within a black cloud and swiftly disappears again.
Can You Hear Me? puts a personal focus on the lives of the Doctor’s friends this week, something generally neglected throughout the twelfth series, other than the two-part opener.
For example, Episode 7 marks the second appearances for Tibo and Sonya’s respective characters. So what’s happening in Sheffield? Well, Tibo is paranoid, locking the doors to his apartment and telling Ryan of his nightmares, Yaz reunites with her sister for an anniversary dinner, a date that’s evidently important for the two sisters, (that’ll be revealed later), and Graham catches up with his old pals from his bus driving days. Lovely.
Until he has visions of a trapped woman pleading for help, and burning planets.
The Doctor meets Tahira at the Bamirastan, (translates to sick place), before encountering the Chagaskas, (the monster from the opening scene). It’s a cross between a bear and a sloth, and it can scale walls. Freaky. Promising.
Elsewhere, Tibo is taken by Gelder’s Zellin, who can detach the fingers from his hand. His fingers fly through the air, and one lands in Tibo’s ear.
Yaz sees Zellin as she wakes up from a dream. Within it, she stands on a country road, watched by a younger version of Sonya and a police officer standing by her car.
So, the Bamirastan is empty; the patients are gone, Tahira and the Doctor are the only two left, as it appears the Chagaskas has taken everyone else. Ryan, Graham, and Yaz regroup in the TARDIS, while the Doctor investigates strands of fur from the creature…, which oddly, doesn’t exist.
Graham uses the telepathic circuits to find the location of the two burning worlds from his vision. This takes them to a monitor platform, a large spacecraft in orbit witnessing an extinction event (the two burning planets), which are, in fact, colliding.
Between them is an orb, a prison for Rakaya, our trapped woman. I’m starting to ask the question, what was the point of beginning a story in 1380 Syria if the story takes this direction?
Then there are the human fingers on the ship, which relay signals from Earth to Rakaya’s prison. In the meantime, Tahira’s gone for a wander, oh dear… She discovers Tibo and Maryam imprisoned aboard the ship, and in a failed rescue attempt from Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, Zellin gains the upper hand. (See what I did there?).
He lands them in their nightmares. Ryan witnesses a future of Earth burning, and speaks to an older Tibo, with Yaz speaking to her sister on the country road again, while Graham wakes up to find Grace in a hospital, where she gives him a cancer diagnosis.
So, Zellin is an immortal god, and he likes to play games to pass eternity. Zellin conjures memories of Toby Jones’ performance as the Dream Lord in 2010’s Amy’s Choice. He is extracting nightmares from those deemed as scared and vulnerable. This explains the nightmare sequences experienced by Graham, Ryan, and Yaz. Ian Gelder’s performance is a stand-out highlight to this episode, reminding me of his creepily cold performance as Dekker in 2009’s Torchwood Children of Earth.
Zellin double-crosses the Doctor, tricking her into releasing Rakaya, the prisoner from the orb. She, too, is an immortal God who exists to cause chaos. In an animation sequence, oddly out of place during this episode, it’s revealed how Zellin and Rakaya discovered the two worlds, placing a bet on which planet would be destroyed first. However, Rakaya is subsequently imprisoned following an uprising from the planet’s people, as Zellin flees, vowing to return to free her.
So, Rakaya and Zellin’s evil plan sees them feed on the nightmares of the residents on a suburban street, (this is literally the same plot as The Nightmare Man from The Sarah Jane Adventures).
So, the Doctor traps Zellin and Rayaka back into the prison orb with help from Tahira and the Chagaskas, and everyone heads home. There are touching moments between Ryan and Tibo, the Doctor and Graham, and in particular, between Anita, a police officer, and Yaz from three years ago. It appears Yaz had been at a crossroads in her life, unsure of where her life is headed. It’s provided glimpses into Yaz’s backstory, and it’s been long overdue since Series 11.
From last week’s trailer, I had the impression of an epic historical episode sent in Syria. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Can You Hear Me? has drawn inspiration from a multitude of previous Whoniverse stories, as mentioned earlier. Ultimately, it was a good idea, but the execution of the concept is all wrong.
Zellin would have served fine on his own as the episode’s antagonist. We don’t need him and Rakaya. Then there’s the Chagaskas, the monster in Syria. If it was fabricated from Tahira’s nightmares by Zellin, why were they named the Chagaskas in the first place?
What was the point of the Chagaskas and Tahira? Or beginning the story in Syria. Take out the Syria elements, Tahira and the creature, and Can You Hear Me? would have worked just as well, perhaps better.
Verdict: Disappointing in the story’s execution, frustrating to watch, and while there were memorable performances from Bradley Walsh, Jodie Whittaker, and Ian Gelder as Zellin, the episode is shadowed by these bigger issues. A largely forgettable entry into Season 12.
- Ian Gelder's creepy performance as Zellin
- Fine performances and comedy moments from Bradley Walsh and Jodie Whittaker
- Intriguing back story for Yaz
- Mostly everything else
- Tahira, the Chagaskas, Syria, Rakaya