It’s hard to fault “Can You Hear Me?” for what it’s trying to do.
The story is meant to shine a light on the stigma surrounding mental illness and show us that there are ways that it can and should be addressed. It’s just too bad that the story goes for a relatively simple solution to issue (“Be brave” or “Talk to people”) instead of really digging in for something deeper and more meaningful.
Part of that could be that, quite frankly, I have little to no investment in any of the characters on-screen. And yes, that includes the companions Yaz and Ryan. When Russell T. Davies grounded his companions with friends and family who were left behind, he gave us a reason to care about those people — or at least to have some kind of investment in them. I may have become annoyed that the final half-hour of “The End of Time, Part 2” was one last check-in with every recurring character from the last four years. But at least I could name those characters and was given more to them than just “friend of Ryan.”
I don’t want to dismiss what the storyline with Tibo was trying to do, especially when it comes to underscoring that it’s OK for guys to ask for help. But I never felt like we had any connection with Tibo beyond this episode. And even then, the episode was so lacking in focus that it felt like the solution to Tibo’s depression was far too easily arrived at.
I get the feeling that Chris Chibnall is putting things into motion to allow Ryan and/or Yaz to depart the TARDIS team at the end of the season. And yet, this whole “hey, life has continued on while you’re away and having these grand adventures” is a thread that RTD did (and did again) during his tenure. And it was also a component of the Amy and Rory storyline from the Steven Moffatt era.
Meanwhile, there were a lot of interesting threads out there that didn’t quite add up to a coherent whole.
The historic aspect in Persia felt entirely wasted (other than to separate the Doctor from the companions for a bit to get the Zellen coming after them) and there was the “hey, let’s throw a monkey wrench into continuity” narrative with Zellen and Rakaya. When it was brought up that they were Eternals and we named the Toymaker and the Guardians, I sat up a bit. I also felt like Chibnall may have been trying to give us some parallels between Ryan and Tibo and Zellen and Rakaya, especially in the scenes with Ryan and Tibo just sitting and playing video games. It seemed like both duos were stuck in a place and perhaps a bit bored by their lives at that moment.
If reading that list of elements in this episode feels like there were a lot of balls being juggled, you’re correct. And it’s a shame that none of them dovetail all that well or get enough screen time to really grab the attention and make for a memorable episode. The idea of something invading dreams or preying on fears and insecurities could be interesting and a way to get to know more about these characters. But the only one of the companions I could get invested in was Graham and his attempts to tell the Doctor about his fear of his cancer coming out of remission.
Another week, another squandered opportunity by this production team. I feel like we’re really in a holding pattern for the season finale.