Posts Tagged With: can you hear me

Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part two)

The lockdown writeup continues in earnest. Today, we’re looking at episodes five through seven – also known as the Dreammaker Revisited, the Plastics Rant, and The One That Changed Everything, not necessarily in that order. I’d been reading a lot about Mondrian during the mid-point of Series 12; possibly that comes across.

 

Fugitive of the Judoon

(We published this one as a separate piece, because…well, you’ll see why. It was far too long!)

 

Doctor: The streets of Gloucester are beset
With things to make you scream and fret
A great big stomping black platoon
Of horny, militant Judoon!
I think they want to make a capture
To transport like some ghoulish rapture.
Quick, Yas! To them you’ll have to speak
And earn your crust, at least this week.
All right?

Yas: Well, yes, I’ll try to play ’em
But hang on, aren’t we missing Graham?

Ruth: I’ll have to hide! It’s me they want
I’ll head for that baptismal font

Doctor: Too late! They’ve seen you, don’t you know
We’ll have to make a-

Ruth: KO BO SO!

Doctor: I didn’t know you spoke their tongue.

Ruth: Neither did I. And why’ve I flung
A rhino cop across the floor?

Doctor: The scene lacked pace. But here come more!
We’d better drive out to the coast
Or otherwise we’ll both be toast.

Ruth: But where’s your friends? You’re on your own
You’ve got no clue just where they’ve flown
Or what they’re doing, now they’re missing!

Doctor: I imagine mostly kissing.

Jack: You read my mind. Which one’s the Doc?

Graham: It isn’t me. But what a shock!
What did you want?

Jack: I had a plan.
Beware the lonely Cyberman
And – arrgh! They’ve pulled me from this joint!

Yas: That cameo really had no point.
We’ll have to see if Whittaker
Can find out what the answers are.

Doctor: I’ve dug and dug, and found a TARDIS!
I’m lost, although I’ve tried my hardest.

Ruth: Allow me to explain, my dear
I’ve just remembered why I’m here
It seems that I’m a Time Lord too
Another Doctor, just like you.

Doctor: You can’t be me! I won’t allow it
The fans’ll surely disavow it!
You cannot be me night or day
On Calufrax or Gallifrey
You can’t be me on Metabilis
Unless you tell me what the drill is.
You can’t be me in acid rain
Or –

Ruth: Please, let’s not do all that again.
I’m this year’s overarching query
Left to the mercy of fan theory.

Doctor: I simply do not have a clue
About these Doctors One and Two.
It makes no sense! I just can’t see
How I am you and you are me.
I’ll sulk for weeks in sheer frustration
About this mystery incarnation.
This duplicated wooden box
This ghastly temporal pair-o-docs.

Ruth: I understand now why you run.
The crowds’ll hate you for that pun.

Doctor: I like your dual role though, kitten.
It makes me feel quite underwritten.
We’re kicking up the hornet’s nest
The fandom’s going to be quite stressed.
As retcons go, this one’s encumbering
We haven’t even touched the numbering.
I need a break – you must agree
This story’s been enough for me.

Graham: Well, yeah, that’s true – but wait a minute,
Nothing really happened in it!

With apologies to another great Doctor.

 

Praxeus

‘I’m going to level with you: I spent certain key moments of Praxeus hiding my face in my hands. It’s nothing to do with virtue signalling. It’s simply because the type of death depicted this week – the scaling of the body, from fingertips to skull, followed by sudden facial disintegration – is something I’ve never been able to watch, and thus something I’ll avoid watching as much as possible. You remember that scene in Resident Evil where the guy gets sliced into cubes by the lasers? I don’t.

It’s an exercise in empathy, this cowering behind the fingers, because my ten-year-old was similarly freaked. And I suppose this was an episode for him, in a way, given the message it was conveying, delivered with the same sense of understated reserve we’ve come to expect from Chibnall’s time on Doctor Who. It isn’t enough simply to show the effects our disposable culture is having on the oceans; we have to get a hastily delivered lecture as well, Whittaker pacing and gesticulating with the ferocity of a BSL interpreter during a Stormzy gig, pausing to dip her head and lower her register during the important bits. Regular readers at the DWC will know that I was one of the few champions of Series 11, and I stand by everything I said in 2018, but even I’m finding this a bit much.

That’s a shame, really, because the more this run of episodes continues the more Jodie seems to be hitting her stride. She really is very good this week: confident and calm, pulling off precise TARDIS manoeuvres without breaking a sweat and appearing, it seems, in all corners of the world at a moment’s notice with the sort of omnipresence that Jennifer Saunders’ character managed in Muppet Treasure Island. Indeed, Praxeus is one tribute act after another, paying homage both to The Birds and Hot Fuzz almost within the same minute. Indeed, there’s a glossiness to Praxeus that lends it an elegant, packaged feel: who cares if the scenery is largely recycled when it looks this good?

But as good as it is – and there is much to enjoy this week, from Graham’s heartfelt, beautifully photographed beach conversation with Jake to the happy ending we arguably didn’t deserve – it’s very much Been There, Done That. The timing doesn’t help – we’re only three weeks after Orphan 55, remember – but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that someone high up at the BBC is sending down notes, mostly along the lines of “Needs a monologue”. Would it hurt to simply mention things and then drop an advisory message at the end of the programme so that people can look things up on the internet? Because we’ve got 490 minutes a year, which really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, and I’d really not be wasting any more of them listening to another lecture about how plastic is killing the environment. Not when the BBC have just greenlit another line of action figures.

Oh, and just as an afterthought: somewhere, millions of years ago on prehistoric Earth, a charred and bloodstained young maths prodigy is crawling out of a wrecked spacecraft. And he’s really, really pissed off.’

The DWC write-up is still missing. 

 

Can You Hear Me?

“James, are you sure you want me to use this?”
“Yeah, sorry. I just don’t have time to write anything this week.”
“Yet you somehow found time to throw this together.”
“…”

DWC write-up

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part four)

“I should say a reassuring thing now, shouldn’t I?”

(Sorry.)

In Whoville this week, a familiar blue hedgehog gets upset that he can’t share the Doctor’s toys.

The Twelfth Doctor celebrates World Radio Day by dragging out his clockwork squirrel.

 

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor hangs about, waiting for Christian Grey.

Here’s an early concept still for ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’.

And over at Hogwarts:

And the Doctor is embarrassed when she runs into an old friend.

“Seriously, you had one job.”

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Review: Can You Hear Me?

Doctor Who ventures into dangerous waters when it tackles the surreal. Sometimes (‘Warrior’s Gate’, ‘Heaven Sent’) it works beautifully. Other times it’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets that serve pizza and chips alongside the curry and prawn crackers: an enjambment of elements that don’t quite come together, but which you’ll happily ingest anyway because at least it’s calories. Is it a good idea to venture into the domain of the unorthodox when the show is already struggling? Charlene James (this week’s co-writer, arguably most famous for a play about FGM) might not have realised quite what she was getting herself into, but given that Doctor Who has spent this year utterly confused as to its own identity, what she’s managed to produce is an uncannily appropriate precis of where we’ve got to, which is no mean feat.

To all intents and purposes, ‘Can You Hear Me?’ is this year’s ‘It Takes You Away’: abstract, meandering and often confusing, a world where you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s imagined. Hopping from fourteenth century Syria to the orbit of a distant star – Sheffield, as per usual, acts as an intermediate waypoint – the Doctor is investigating monsters in the dark and anomalous biological wave patterns, along with the strange wrinkled fellow dressed as the owner of a London bookshop sneaking in and out of people’s bedrooms. No one knows who he is (spoiler: he’s not the Black Guardian) or why he’s feeding off the nightmares of unsuspecting children like some sort of dark and twisted BFG – still, Graham’s getting headaches and can’t deal his cards properly. Something’s got to give.

The evidence all points to a curious planetary alignment, and thus – with a sense of aplomb that that’s becoming quite alarming – Whittaker puts on her Resolved Face and fires up the Quattro. But no sooner has the TARDIS gang arrived at their destination (a roomy, predictably metallic spacecraft, or a beacon, or something; I wasn’t really paying attention) than they’re all plunged into a series of nightmares: Graham is haunted by the spectre of Grace, who informs him that his cancer has returned; Yas is abandoned on the hills over Sheffield; Ryan is given a vision of the apocalyptic future teased in ‘Orphan 55’. The Doctor herself gets a brief glimpse of the Timeless Child (although I can’t be the only one who was hoping that her initial confrontation with Zellin would turn out to be a dream), wandering outside the Gallifreyan citadel in the manner of something in a Japanese horror film. These nightmares are rendered flesh thanks to a parasite that buries itself in the ear canal; it’s like a slightly less unpleasant version of The Wrath of Khan. “It may be,” said one online acquaintance, “the first time in history that a main DW villain has given the Doctor the finger.”

It’s not entirely without context. The early parts of the episode deal with domestic drudgery and the fact that the Doctor’s companions all have worlds they’ve left behind – a concept not explored properly since Davies was in charge (Moffat, while fond of dipping in and out of his characters’ Earth-bound existences, nonetheless gave them a curious sort of dependence on the TARDIS, a succession of well-heeled addicts constantly looking for their next fix). Here, for the first time in Chibnall’s run, we learn what happens when your nearest and dearest have to manage without you: Yas’s sister Sonya can’t hold down a job, while Ryan’s friend Tibo (Buom Tihngang, seen out on the basketball court in the first part of ‘Spyfall’) has lapsed into depression. The timings with Time To Talk Day are deliberate and it’s hard not to shake the notion that both James and Chibnall were writing from a spec sheet, but it’s not totally incongruous, just a little rushed. (Curiously, Tibo’s venture into support group territory includes a grump about supermarket self checkouts, something the BBC seems to dislike in general.)

‘Rushed’ might be a decent word for it, actually. ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ suffered from having almost no story: ‘Can You Hear Me?’ suffers from having rather too much. The net result is an episode that wants to push the envelope for the companions, leading up to an inevitable departure for at least one of them (visualised on screen by a wordless exchange of nervous glances across the TARDIS console at the story’s conclusion), but it does so within the context of establishing a separate mythos and by introducing supporting characters who show promise but who barely have room to breathe. This is one of those stories that would have benefited from two parts – more insight into the nightmares, more time with Tibo and Sonya and a better, more character-driven expansion of the false gods’ motives would all have been welcome, and the lesson to be learned here is that you can’t always have your cake and eat it, particularly if you only have fifty-odd minutes before the cafe shuts. It is an onslaught of ideas and concepts and themes, as confused about its own identity as Ryan apparently is about his own.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the crucial expository scenes with Zellin (Ian Gelder, rather less sinister than he was in Torchwood), who appears on the spacecraft in a literal puff of smoke and then proceeds to namedrop half a dozen Classic Who characters for no reason other than the bet that Chibnall was presumably trying to win. I’m sure it must have sounded splendid as pure concept: in practice it is an atrocious melange of ephemeral garbage, there purely to keep the Gallifrey Base threads ticking over. Things improve marginally when Rakaya turns up, strutting around like an intergalactic supermodel with her own portable wind machine, and the animation that explains her imprisonment is decent enough, but it’s too little, too late. You can almost picture Chibnall at his writing desk, knocking back that third whiskey and poring over James’ script while browsing his Twitter feed, seething “Fine. You want references? SNACK ON MY WRATH, FINK RATS!”

This is a great shame, because there’s actually quite a lot in here to enjoy, if you can extract it from what is a structural car crash. The set design and cinematography are both imaginative: Graham, shot from above, as if observed by some unseen phantom, foreshadowing both the arrival of Zellin and the cameo from Grace; the wide-angled shots of Mandip Gill, alone and isolated in the countryside; the neon, Tron-like sparsity of the ship / beacon / outpost. There’s even a stab at fleshing out Yas, something Doctor Who has needed for quite some time. While James’ dialogue fails to ascend the lofty heights of the show’s heyday, she does, at least, have a flair for reasonable conversation – Whittaker’s closing dalliance with Graham, awkward for all the right reasons, is quintessential Doctor, and if it makes you angry and uncomfortable, it should.

A brief foray online confirms that the angry voices are invariably the loudest, but one thing I’m struggling with this week is the recurring accusation that this was “more preachy PC bullshit” – the meat of which seems to have escaped me, at least during a first watch. Perhaps it was the ethnically diverse casting, a by-product of the fact that Ryan and Yas both hung out with people of their own skin colour. Perhaps it was the notion of a crinkly white god who was to all intents and purposes subservient to a hot-looking black god. Perhaps it was the inclusion of mental health issues, which – while awkwardly shoehorned – stayed just the right side of condescending, largely because the Doctor wasn’t in the room. None of this is a problem, and the insistence the fandom has of labelling everything that jars “PC bullshit” serves no purpose – it’s the same reason I can’t get on with “bad writing”, which serves as a euphemism for “this episode was not to my taste and I can’t really explain why”. Forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir, but at the risk of sounding like a shill, one reason it’s called political correctness is that sometimes, believe it or not, it’s actually correct.

It still doesn’t work, though. This is two good episodes crammed into a single, mediocre instalment: a heady concoction of ideas and concepts that unleashes a series of frivolous monsters and has them tackle big issues. There is no sense of real menace about Zellin or Rakaya, which is part of the point – the real monster is man’s inhumanity, not to man, but to himself. But it takes time to adequately convey a message like that, and somewhere along the line, between all the curries and the FIFA games and the hospital drips, the message gets rather lost. The central question the story poses, at least ostensibly, is ‘Can You Hear Me?’: an appropriate answer might be “Yes, but we have no idea what you’re trying to say.”

On the upside, at least there were no bloody frogs.

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