'Doctor Who' Season 12 Episode 7 Review: A brilliant traditional episode about humanity's fears
The episode is a very well done traditional science fiction episode, but just about misses its chance to turn into something much deeper
Spoiler alert for 'Can you hear me?' - Season 12, Episode 7 of 'Doctor Who'
The Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) has always been a champion of humanity (in ways that are perhaps a little unfair to other species) and this episode gives her a chance to wax poetic about just that. The premise of the show is rather straightforward - a powerful being shows humanity its nightmares and humanity rises above it all. It’s a tale as old as time and can be a good way to take a peek at the things that are bothering our protagonists. Heavens knows they never actually talk about it - but that’s something this episode brings up as well.
As if to emphasize the companions' humanity, Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh), Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) get a brief respite from their travels through time and space and attempt to reconnect to the lives they've been leaving behind. Yasmin is back for an anniversary for an unspecified family tragedy. Ryan tries to make up for lost time with his friend Tibo (Buom Tihngang) and Graham catches up with some old friends over poker. This leaves the Doctor on her own. It's apparent that this Doctor, perhaps more than any other, doesn't have much of a life outside her "fam." Left to her own devices, she's quite lost.
Fortunately for her, trouble raises its evil head rather quickly, as the episode's villain, Zellin (Ian Gelder) disrupts the TARDIS to set her off to Aleppo, Syria, in 1380. It seems, initially, that the show might have been setting up 'Can you hear me?' to be the mental health episode. Aleppo, as the Doctor explains to companions who aren't there, is the site of one of the oldest hospitals in the world and the Doctor notes that its physicians "were known for the enlightened way they treated people with mental health problems." Yasmin, Graham and Ryan's friend Tibo also seem to be dealing with trauma that they have trouble talking about. Unfortunately, the message gets lost in generic science fiction.
It's GOOD generic science fiction. It has interdimensional immortal gods who feed off fear, one of whom has been trapped in a quantum prison between two colliding worlds. It has beautiful sets - from the hospital at Allepo to Zellin's space platform. Nightmares fade in and out with vivid smoky shadows and an animated sequence tells the story of the two gods beautifully. Zellin gets to deliver a fantastic traditional villain monologue and metaphors are made literal as the episode's random historical character Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) makes metaphors literal, conquering her fears to save the day.
It all makes up for a very well done 'Doctor Who' episode that almost manages to cover the fact that it could have been something much deeper. The mental health aspect of the episode is touched upon and that's about it. The trip to Aleppo and the forgettable Tahira could have been removed entirely from this episode without making any difference to the plot. There are some lovely moments that come out of the looks into the companions' fears, however - Graham and the Doctor share a heart to heart that manages to balance the Doctor's social awkwardness with her ability to show how much she cares and how comforting that in itself can be.
'Can you hear me?' is a great 'Doctor Who' episode, but it's very much just one of many. The places where it could have been something more are visible and it's a shame that those parts could not have been brought out more clearly.
The next episode of 'Doctor Who' airs February 16 on BBC America.