This article contains spoilers for “Can You Hear Me?,” episode seven of Doctor Who season 12.
A young psychiatric patient—the only survivor of a beastly attack—meets a solo Doctor, responding to distress calls while her travel companions catch up with family and friends.
Things are off to a good start; this may even turn out to be a provocative episode about 14th century Islamic physicians and the fantastical monsters plaguing them.
Nope. Sorry. I spoke too soon.
Tahira (Aruhan Galieva)—interesting as her character could be—is quickly demoted to nonentity; remove her from the episode entirely and little would change.
She becomes the 8 millionth person invited into the Thirteenth Doctor’s TARDIS (a once sacred artifact open only to companions and the most deserving of one-off actors), joining Yaz, Ryan, and Graham, who have cut their home visits short to confer about a weird, finger-floating villain and a helpless space prisoner.
The pair, it turns out, are immortal nightmare gods Zellin (Ian Gelder, aka Mr. Dekker in Torchwood) and Rakaya (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who boast ties to deep-cut villains the Eternals, the Guardians, and the Toymaker.
Despite his off-putting head tattoos, Zellin proves quite creepy: After all, he can detach his fingers and stuff them into people’s ears (which truly gives me the heeby jeebies).
(Though he’s got nothing on Toby Jones’ Dream Lord, whose soporific torment of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory made my heart race in alarmed anticipation.)
The big twist comes when Zellin tricks the Doctor into freeing Rakaya from her interstellar prison—where she was trapped for eternity by the inhabitants of two planets the gods pit against each other simply to pass time.
“I wasn’t torturing her with nightmares,” Zellin explains. “I was feeding her with what she needed to stay sane: the pain of others.”
Humans, on the other hand, are being tortured with nightmares.
The Doctor’s companions are forced to confront their worst fears: Yaz worried she’s reverting to old, unhealthy coping mechanisms; Ryan haunted by the scorched Earth and Dregs of Orphan 55; and Graham anxious his cancer will return.
This episode, fitful as it is, serves mostly as a platform for the traveling trio.
We see Ryan helping his friend Tibo (Buom Tihngang) cope with declining mental health. We learn about Yaz’s past as a bullied teenage runaway (told in the most round-about, anticlimactic way).
And we see Graham open up to the Doc about his medical fears—only to be shot down by an uncharacteristically “socially awkward” Time Lord.
The moment was perhaps intended as a commentary on the fact that not all conversations about emotional well-being are easy.
Showrunner Chris Chibnall continues to take the moral high ground, turning Doctor Who‘s titular character into a preacher and the show’s time-honored adventures into an afterthought.
With only three episodes left this season, it’s hard to know where Team TARDIS will end up.
“In Spyfall, Part One [the Doctor and her companions are] buoyant and they’re having fun,” Chibnall told Radio Times this week. “Where we leave them at the end of episode 10 is an entirely different place.”
Missed Doctor Who episode six? Check out our recap of “Praxeus.”
Doctor Who Glossary (for all your British-to-American English needs):
- Chips: French fries
- Bloke: Man/guy
- Mad: Insane
- Nowt: Nothing
- Zed: The letter Z
- CV [Curriculum vitae]: Resumé
Doctor Who airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.
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