Doctor Who 12.7 – Can You Hear Me?

Still from Nina Chakrabarti's animation depicting Rakaya's imprisonment and Zellin's grief.

Dreams of imagined reality explored by Victoria Walker

This was a very, very difficult review to write, much least because I have no desire to talk about the main point of this episode: mental health. So I’m going to talk about something completely different. 

Can You Hear Me? is a notable episode partly because of the animation sequence directed by Nina Chakrabarti. Anyone watching this sequence will note the stylization of the piece, and while it only looks a small deal more complex than the animated reconstructions, it looks a whole lot more complete and cohesive. When discussing the use of animation, one must invariably consider the alternative. It could have been possibly cheaper in production to film something, so why didn’t they?

The use of actors has the advantage of being naturalistic. It is far easier to suspend disbelief and to insert oneself into a world populated by real people. Where this tends fails long term is portraying the incredible. Take, for instance, a comparison between the surviving clips of The Macra Terror, and the animated Macra. It is difficult to be unappreciative of the work done to bring to the screen what was impossible at the time. For contrast, compare with the Dregs. They’re ridiculous, and the design is bland. Orphan 55 fails partly due to the lack of audience belief in them.

However, we don’t necessarily need, nor want everything to be naturalistic. This lore sequence is an excellent example. It is not necessarily explained how this sequence fits into the world (is it Rakaya creating it? Is the Doctor dreaming it?) That is generally unimportant. This sequence is also, to a certain extent, a representation of the “other worldly-ness” of Zellin and Rakaya. One could consider it a projection of their world down into ours. 

Such stylised animation loses out only to literature when it comes to portraying such inconceivable happenings. No animation has made me shudder as heavily as some of Mark Gatiss’s novels, and the mind often fills in details that cannot be shown. I suppose that is why I do like the bare-bones way in which Zellin and Rakaya enact their nightmare plans after capturing everyone (although I do think this episode would have worked better as a good four-part serial.) I’ve since heard it said that it would have perhaps worked better if Zellin and Rakaya were seen in the nightmares of the public. The issue with this is that I don’t believe visual media can ever be as scary as one wishes it could be. You would be risking reducing the end of the episode to unsatisfying PG gross-out. The TARDIS crew’s nightmares were quite right in that respect, preying upon their fears, revealing more about them than we’d seen ever. 

Can You Hear Me? is an episode I think I may go back to. It is inventive, and it tries new things. It brings together hints of character development and retroactively makes a lot of the last series make more sense. It’s not perfect and could do with being longer, but it is still rather good.

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