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Doctor Who - Can You Hear Me? & The Haunting of Villa Diodati - Review

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Episode: "Can You Hear Me?"
Directed by: Emma Sullivan
Written by: Charlene James and Chris Chibnall
Air date: 9 February 2020

This one is all about fear. We're presented with a list of things that our main characters (and a couple of guests) have to struggle with throughout the story. For some of them there's a conclusion, a happy ending of sorts. For others there's no answer at all. It's an okay episode, but I definitely feel like I would have enjoyed it more if it didn't seem so "unfinished", not fully developed. Each of the companions has their own personal battle to fight, but unfortunately it all feels a bit scattered to me, sometimes even out of place. There's definitely a potential in this hour, but the ending is clearly rushed. The final confrontation strongly depends on the Doctor using her sonic screwdriver to save the day and only allows one of the characters, Tahira, to actually confront her fear head-on. Instead of a stronger focus on our main characters and using this opportunity to further develop their personalities and relationships, we get to see little pieces of many stories left open at the end.

Let's start with the good. I could absolutely understand Graham's fear and the brutal reality of it. It was nice to see Grace again, even for such a brief moment. This one felt very real and powerful, even if it wasn't heavily explored in the episode. Not quite sure why it's Graham that ends up targeted by the vision of a woman pleading for help but I was a bit surprised that no one questioned her presence in that prison before freeing her from it completely. The introduction of Zellin and Rakaya as immortals is definitely an interesting concept that we could come back to on the show. Their cruelty and powers seemed very threatening, that is until the Doctor finds an easy way to manipulate Zellin's fingers against him and trap the two in the prison once again. Speaking of the Doctor, her fear worked really well with both the story and with everything that she's been going through lately. It's another small clue in a mystery she's been trying to solve, one that has kept her on edge since the beginning of the season. It's such a shame that she doesn't end up addressing any of her worries. While everyone else takes a moment to think about their experience she doesn't stop at all. Graham approaches the Doctor to tell her about his fear at the end but she's not able to find the right words to comfort him. With everything on her mind lately, I can't say I'm too surprised by this fact.

Next there's Ryan. We get to meet his friend, Tibo, who has been struggling with his personal demons for a while now. Ryan's story in the hour seems to be focused on him realizing the impact of his absence and decision to travel with the Doctor. He's definitely having second thoughts and he wonders about his place on the TARDIS. His friends, his life, everything that he's left behind is slowly catching up to him. He clearly feels like he's missing out on his life. In his nightmare the Earth is burning around him and he's confronted about not being there to make a difference. I could certainly see him announcing his exit to the Doctor soon. Yaz, on the other hand, seems most attached to this new life spent on all the travels across time and space. She's also the one most likely to take a risk at any point, and her fear appears to be at the center of this hour. Unlike all the others this one felt like it came out of nowhere. Despite all her adventures and time spent on the show I still don't think there's too much that we know about Yaz, her story and character. Still, it's a beautiful thing to see, someone who has battled with suicidal thoughts but is truly in a much better place now. I just never would have expected that to be Yaz. I still liked the moment with her visit to the police officer who helped save her life years earlier. It's an emotional part for sure, especially if you rewatch Yaz's scenes with her sister after learning the full context of their interactions.

Overall, the episode has many good ideas and couple of memorable parts but sadly no satisfying conclusion from my perspective.

Episode: "The Haunting of Villa Diodati"
Directed by: Emma Sullivan
Written by: Maxine Alderton
Air date: 16 February 2020

I definitely enjoyed this one much more than the previous hour. There's a lot to be said here, but the highlight for me was certainly the Doctor. One of the best performances by Jodie Whittaker and one of the strongest episodes for the Thirteenth Doctor so far. The choice she has to make, between saving Percy's life and stopping the Cyberman from getting what he wants, finally forces her to reveal how she truly feels to her friends - alone in the stratosphere. Everyone is always counting on her to save the day, to find a way out of an impossible situation. But this is where the Doctor admits that it's not always the case. Sometimes she simply can't win and she still has to choose. That's exactly who the Doctor is and I'm glad that Graham, Yaz and Ryan are finally seeing this side of her. It's such an important part of her character and yet after all this time they spent together they never truly got to realize that. The entire "save the poet, save the universe" speech is wonderfully done. The Doctor acknowledges Ryan's words but she also shows him (and everyone else in the room) a much bigger picture and the true weight of the decision she's forced to make. Because ultimately the choice is left in her hands, no one else speaks up when the Doctor asks them to call it. Another important moment for the Doctor and her relationship with the companions takes place earlier, shortly after the Doctor realizes that they're dealing with the lone Cyberman. When Yaz suggests that the Doctor needs backup it's time for Thirteen to categorically refuse to take anyone with her. It's the moment when she brutally describes how Cybermen are made and then with determination and pain in her voice says that she will not lose anyone else to such fate. A reference to many tragic events in her past, but none feel as relevant in this context as Bill's death.

There's still so much that her friends do not know about the Doctor. Knowledge about her previous companions, her own struggles, it's pain too powerful to share, but I truly believe it would make a difference here. The friendship she built with Graham, Yaz and Ryan is still haunted by many of the secrets she's not ready to reveal. And time is quickly running out for this option. The reactions on everyone's faces, in those brief moments when a new and unexpected information hits them, speak volumes. Jack's warning came into play sooner than I expected. It looks like everyone was ready to trust it until the Doctor seemingly ran out of options and had to disregard it and prepare to face the consequences instead. I thought it was really clever to use the vision of Percy's future death to force the Cyberium to leave his body. Also, it was a great moment to highlight the Doctor's importance by having the Cyberium choose her as a new host instead of Ashad. I would be very interested to see how that would impact the Doctor in a longer run. It's a shame that Cyberman's threat forced this idea to be cut short. I do agree, though, that if there's no way to stop his attack on the planet in this exact moment it's probably best to prepare for it in the future. As bad as it might get and even despite Jack's warning. I do wonder if the Doctor and/or any of the companions will come to regret that soon. I'm glad that even after the difficulties they faced during the hour they were all still determined to join the Doctor for whatever fight awaits them next.

Even outside of the Doctor-Companions dynamics, I really did enjoy this story. A group of interesting guest characters was introduced. There were a few smaller plots running throughout the hour (such as Claire's doubts about her relationship) but they never overshadowed the main story and fit together well as a whole. Mary Shelley is also given a couple of opportunities to shine. It makes all the sense in the world, to have this lone Cyberman serve as an inspiration to her Frankenstein novel. I found her confrontation with Ashad to be particularly impressive. She stands bravely between him and her loved one, and tries to find a way to reach this strange Cyberman, to appeal to his humanity that she believes is still there. His brutal response also shows the viewers an important difference between Ashad and the other Cybermen we've seen in the past. His emotions have not been turned off and yet he seems to be even colder somehow, no amount of love or kindness can reach him. Perhaps it means that we're dealing with someone who chose to become a Cyberman instead of being forced and converted as we've witnessed in many previous seasons. I'm very intrigued to learn more about this villain and see where the story leads us next. Kudos to cast & crew for all their work on this one!

Whovian notes and questions:
1. The immortals introduced in "Can You Hear Me?" and the Doctor's confrontation with them - what did you think? I did enjoy that short animation with a bit of their backstory but didn't love how things ended.
2. Which of the fears, experienced by the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan, did you think was handled the best? Which of these stories did you enjoy the most?
3. How do you feel about leaving an open question regarding ghosts being real in Doctor Who world? With the mystery of Graham's meeting with two unknown and seemingly dead people unresolved.
4. With Ryan's doubts and the Doctor's secrets being slowly revealed, do you expect any of the companions to leave by the end of the season?

Ryan: "Shelley's only one life against all those others."

Mary: "What are you saying? How can you condemn him to death like that?"

The Doctor: "But is he, Ryan? His thoughts, his words inspire and influence thousands for centuries. If he dies now, who knows what damage that will have on future history? Words matter! One death, one ripple, and history will change in a blink. The future will not be the world you know. The world you came from, the world you were created in won't exist, so neither will you. It's not just his life at stake. It's yours. You want to sacrifice yourself for this? You want me to sacrifice you? You want to call it? Do it now. All of you. Yeah. Cause sometimes this team structure isn't flat. It's mountainous, with me at the summit in the stratosphere. Alone. Left to choose. Save the poet, save the universe. Watch people burn now or tomorrow. Sometimes, even I can't win."

What did you think about "Can You Hear Me?" & "The Haunting of Villa Diodati"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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