It was interesting seeing this one so soon after Praxeus. Like the earlier episode, Can You Hear Me? begins with a sequence of apparently disconnected vignettes — this time, monsters in Aleppo in 1380, Ryan’s distant friend Tibo, Yaz’s flashbacks to herself alone on a moorland road, and Graham’s visions of an imprisoned girl between two burning planets — and asks what thread ties them together.
But this time, there is such a thread, and it pretty much makes sense.
Not only that, but while Praxeus desperately reached for relevance — its preaching about plastics in the environment only one step down from the climate-change sermon that crowned Awful 55 — CYHM? effortlessly attains relevance with gentle and sensitive acknowledgements of depression, regret and fear.
And not only that, but these real and negative emotions turn out to be the motor of the whole plot, the food that the two evil gods feed on. They’re not just tacked on as an afterthought, but motivate the bad guys and ultimately provide the resolution (even though we might feel Tahira’s “literally conquering her fears” arrives rather suddenly and over-conveniently).
And not only that, but these depressions, regrets and fears finally start giving some much-needed depth to the the formerly pointless companions. (Of course, we have every reason to expect that these depths will be immediately forgotten in the next episode and never turn up again, like Ryan’s dyspraxia, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge them now.)
And I liked how the title Can You Hear Me?, which we’re initially invited to assume is the cry of the imprisoned girl, turns out to have a much broader, diffuse meaning, pertaining to Tibo’s sense of isolation, Graham’s feeling that he is alone with his health worries, Yaz’s sense of inadequacy. (Something similar happened the title Demons of the Punjab and arguably even The Woman who Fell to Earth.) And I admired how much the Doctor was not the solution to all this — how she wasn’t even able to provide any words of comfort to Graham when he confessed his fear of his cancer returning.
Finally on the positive side, I’m always a sucker for an episode in which the Doctor is not quite so clever as she thinks, and is conned into using her cleverness for the bad guy’s ends.
So when you put it all together, this marks another high-water mark for me in Jodie Whittaker’s time as the Doctor, I think surpassing Fugitive of the Judoon in a very welcome surprise. I suppose it’s no good criticising Doctor Who for inconsistency: there have always been better and worse episodes, going back at least to the 2005 reboot, when (say) The Empty Child had so much more going on that (say) Boom Town. But last season, there were essentially no high points to set against the crud. So in this respect, season 12 has already surpassed it.