There are so many things about “Can You Hear Me?” that I find really interesting. I don’t know that I truly like it, but it has such a curious structure. The hour introduces threads for each of the companions, has a big conflict with an Eternal – apparently like the ones in “Enlightenment” – and once that’s finished, it spends a final six or seven minutes letting each character work through the situation they have been considering. In Graham’s case, it’s the fear that his cancer is not actually in remission.
I thought it was fairly in character for Whittaker’s often awkward Doctor to have no idea how to respond to Graham confiding in her. The scene actually drew several complaints to the BBC because she didn’t reassure him; that’s what TV heroes are supposed to do when a supporting or guest character brings up an issue of social concern. To be fair, you could certainly imagine Pertwee’s Doctor telling him to steady on, old chap, and we’ll give you the best possible medical treatment on Pulsar Seven, to be absolutely certain the cancer isn’t returning. But this is the same Doctor who immediately agrees that Yaz’s father must be a terrible cook. Of course she would not know what to say.
Like, to be clear, just about any of us.
I think you can make the argument that the unusual way that this episode is built doesn’t actually help the narrative much. One good example: our son, who told us that he didn’t like this one when it was first shown and he didn’t like it now. It’s a deliberately creepy story, but the creepiness and the conflict with the immortal baddie is not the episode’s point. It wants to be an hour about the companions: Ryan not being available when his buddies need a friend, Yaz hitting a very dark place three years previously and trying to forget it while also commemorating its anniversary with her sister, Graham beating cancer but afraid that he hasn’t. The villain of the piece gets in the way of the story that I believe that the writers, Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, were most interested in telling.