Monday, April 13, 2020

12:7 Can You Hear Me?

The Nightmare of Somewhere or Other

Aliens who feed on human nightmares. Well, that’s totally never been done before.

Can You Hear? me is a mechanical plod which seems to have been expressly created to demonstrate the shortcomings of Chibnall era Who.

It is technically competent: Ian Gelder is creepy enough in the role of the bald nightmare god: and the image of his fingers detaching themselves from his hands is disturbing the first half dozen times it is used. The cave-painting animation of the backstory represents something that hasn’t been done before in Doctor Who. But a cute cartoon doesn’t stop an infodump from being an infodump.

Everyone is having nightmares, and it turns out that the nightmares are being induced by a generic G.L.A to feed his lover who has been imprisoned in a space prison. The nightmare gods seem to have been specificslly created to lack motivation or interest: they find eternity boring, treat the material univeirse as a toy, challenge esch other to games using mortsl as playing pieces, and and generally do whatever the plot needs them to do. There is some fanservice about Guardians, Eternals and Toymakers but we know a plot device when we see one.

There is nothing wrong with aliens messing with characters’ minds. It used to happen in Red Dwarf on a weekly basis. But Red Dwarf was based on a set of very clearly defined comic characters: Rimmer was arrogant, Lister was lazy and the Cat was vain, so Despair Squids and alternate universes could meaningfully shake up the status quo. The current TARDIS crew have no personality tropes to play off. Graham is a cancer survivor and a widower. Yaz is a cop. And Ryan is, er, a bloke. Graham dreams that his cancer is going to come back. Ryan dreams that his mate (who he refers to throughout as “mate”) will get old in his absence. Yaz remembers an episode a few years ago when she was depressed and possibly suicidal and a nice police officer helped her out. (Things are getting quite bad when you require a caption saying “Three years earlier” to indicate that a flashback is a flashback.)

The story is full of flaws and lazy writing which I am sure we could ignore if it had managed to be any fun at all. I spent the first fifteen minutes waiting for the big reveal that Tahira is a time traveller from the modern era who got stuck in medieval Aleppo for some reason. But no: someone just decided that it would be amusing for her to talk Modern (“Creating happiness is important to my mental wellbeing.”) A lot of the time, she talks like the Doctor, because everyone talks like the Doctor, because that is how people talk. When we need to see a child being scared by the nightmare creatures, we can’t imagine anything more specific or interesting for him to be worried about than “the bogeyman”. Yaz’s episode was brought on vaguely by bullying and poor grades at school; Mate is depressed and lonely and misses human contact in self service grocery stores.

When the Doctor goes back to Aleppo without Graham, Yaz or Ryan, she can’t think of a better way of doing audience exposition than talking to herself, and then starts talking to herself about talking to herself. Matt Smith’s main character trait was self-awareness: he knew he was the Doctor and had to continually do the things which people expected the Doctor to do. This has been tediously carried over to Capaldi and Whittaker, so it now seems to be the defining characteristic of the whole show: “Doctor Who is that TV show about the character who knows they are in a TV show called Doctor Who.” The Doctor’s little speech to Graham “I should say a reassuring thing now, shouldn't I?...” would be quite funny if it wasn’t the kind of thing we get in every damn episode.

The denouement of the story is, firstly, that humans are brilliant and can defeat their irrational fears by being brilliant because they are so brilliant. “They're not pathetic, they're magnificent. They live with their fears, doubts, guilts. They face them down every day and they prevail. That's not weakness. That's strength. That's what humanity is.”

And secondly, that if you have been affected by the issues raises in this programme, you should totally talk to someone about it. Mate goes to a support group, talks about being lonely, and is told that he is not alone. Yaz talked to a nice policewoman who convinced her that things would get better. Graham has never told anyone apart from the Doctor that he is still scared of cancer, and just talking helps, even though the Doctor is too “socially awkward” to actually respond. But the Doctor is still not telling her companions about the Master foreshadowing the end-of-season cliffhanger.

I do not think that a script this lazy or inconsequential would have passed muster for Casualty or Grange Hill or the Clangers. Netflix and Amazon are paying proper writers to write proper scripts which treat Captain Picard and Daredevil and the Skeksis Chamberlain as characters in dramas which take themselves seriously. The BBC is making Doctor Who because it is Doctor Who and there has to be a TV series called Doctor Who. Can You Hear? me fills up another 45 pointless minutes.
I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order.

I have no political opinions of any kind.

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Mike Taylor said...

I wouldn't usually just post a link to my own review on someone else's blog, but since my perspective was so very different,perhaps just this once?

Andrew Rilstone said...

By all means. You are, after all the easy going McCartney to my acerbic Lennon.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sod it, I'm bloody Ringo, aren't I?

Mike Taylor said...

George at the very least. More realistically, I should get demoted to George and you get Paul :-)

BTW., this comes from a comment on Blue Lake Boy's (very nice) review of my book at

Gavin Burrows said...

If anyone wants me, I'll be over here keeping up a steady rhythm.

Mike Taylor said...

Or, if you accept Andrew Hickey's take of it over on his review of the Sergeant Pepper mono reissue, you're inventing modern rock drumming. See

"The more I listen closely to this music, the angrier I get at the people who claim Ringo was a bad drummer. The man was quite possibly the best rock drummer of his generation, and effectively invented modern rock drumming. The fact that the Beatles’ music sounds so catchy and simple is entirely down to him. The Beatles’ music has a groove to it, and that’s despite the fact that something like a quarter of Lennon’s songs (and several of McCartney and Harrison’s) feature all sorts of metrical irregularities. Most drummers would have immense difficulty even keeping time at all through this song. The fact that Starr manages to actually play fills and make the song one you can tap your foot to, that’s impressive."

(It all plays into my secret theory that the people were a cryptic prog band.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Actually I rate Ringo's drumming. It's show-off drumming like Keith Moon I don't like, the equivalent of writers who use endless adverbs. But then that ruins the gag!

Mike Taylor said...

I do agree: the magic of the Beatles is an alchemy composed of four ingredients, not three (or indeed two). Ringo's drumming is (after the first couple of albums anyway) nearly always perfect for the song. I mean, there's nothing flashy about the guitar solo in Something, either, but it's perfect nevertheless.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Rather crucially, it is hard to imagine Pete Best shooting the breeze with the young lad by the canal or writing a song about a horticultural mollusc. The Beatles weren't just their music; and Ringo's stage-persona fitted the band like a glove.

Mike Taylor said...

I only very slighly agree. For me, at least, the Beatles are 99% their music. All the rest is just a pleasant light dusting. To compliment Ringo's stage persona strikes me as damning with faint praise.