While it didn’t have the best story in Doctor Who, Can You Hear Me? featured strong exploration of mental health at least, and gave us some rather emotional moments as a result. (Spoilers follow.)
Can You Hear Me? was an interesting episode for Doctor Who. It’s a story of two halves: monster of the week and character study. And honestly, those halves didn’t quite gel.
Let me get what I didn’t enjoy about the episode out of the way. This week’s villain was teased pretty heavily, in both an earlier mid-series trailer and throughout the episode itself. So the reveal was, to be honest, a little disappointing.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, Ian Gelder was great as Zellin. There was something old-school about his performance, especially in his dialogue delivery. It didn’t exactly chew the scenery, just gave us a villain with more than a hint of class and superiority. The episode seemed to be building towards a big reveal.
When we did find out who he was, it didn’t have much impact. Even though he’s a powerful being that the Doctor’s heard of, it still didn’t feel worth the buildup. Even worse, he then started listing off past enemies he could have been. When he started boasting about how much he loved games, I was expecting him to reveal that he always enjoyed being a Toymaker. So when he referenced the Celestial Toymaker just afterwards, while it was a nice reference, it also felt like a reminder of who Zellin could have been instead.
What worked about the story
But that’s just my views on the episode as a long term fan. And I must admit, there was a lot that I did enjoy. Zellin’s manipulation of the Doctor was a nice twist. A villain using the Doctor’s own methods against them is always great to see, and makes them feel like more of a credible threat.
Admittedly, the inclusion of additional villain Rakaya felt unnecessary, especially as we got to see her do so little and Zellin felt like a second-in-command afterwards. But Zellin himself – despite having a reveal with little impact – was interesting to watch before that point.
But if I’m really honest, my favorite part of the episode was after the end of it. Or at least, the end of the story. There’s a lot of focus on mental health in this one, both with Ryan’s friend Tibo and with Yas’s past.
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Exploring mental health
This aspect of the episode was, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. Sometimes, plot aspects like this can feel heavy-handed, but I think this particular aspect was well-handled.
Having nightmares as a key part of the story definitely helped to make the exploration of mental health feel more natural. But what also worked was that it was explored with characters we knew. Admittedly, we haven’t exactly seen a great deal of Tibo, but it was still great to have his character fleshed out in a satisfying way.
However, it was definitely Yas’s story that was the most interesting and emotional to watch. We didn’t find out too much about what made her run away, but it was clear that she was in an extremely dark place three years before. It was great to not only learn more of her past – including what made her join the police force – but also give her such a strong emotional moment when she tracked down the police officer who talked to her. Yasmin might be a character that gets overlooked from time to time, but she was definitely given the most emotional moment in this episode.
Can You Hear Me? isn’t my favorite episode from this series, due to featuring a story that could have worked better. But the emotional content and the exploration of mental health was definitely refreshing. Just a little more tweaking with the plot, and this could easily have been a classic.
What did you think of Can You Hear Me? Do you think it was a strong story? Was the exploration of mental health well-handled? What did you think of the monster of the week? Let us know in the comments below.