Can You Hear Me?



TV Apologies if the following rambles like an Oscar acceptance speech, but I was up last night watching the 92nd Academy Awards and feel something akin to jet lag. In order to prepare for the festivities, I slept through the evening including Doctor Who so didn't catch up with the episode until just before midnight, which does at least mean my viewing on the iPlayer will actually be counted into the ratings rather than just nebulously implied due to my proximity to someone who has a BARB box (or however that works).

Although this isn't a review, there is something I wanted to address about Can You Here Me? on which there's been some discussion since broadcast, the short scene in the console room towards the end when Graham describes his background fear of a recurrence of his cancer.  It's economically written and played by Bradley Walsh which makes it all the more heartbreaking in an episode which has a ton of similar moments that do much to flesh out the background of the fam, notably Yasmin after numerous episodes.

The controversy (because everything is controversy these days) stems from the Doctor's response to Graham's confession which is to point out that she's socially awkward and so essentially unable to offer any words of wisdom.  Anger has ranged from the notion that the scene is making fun of cancer (it isn't) and that the Doctor comes across as heartless in her response which is out of character (tiny sigh for those of us who lived through season eight) and reflects badly on her as a role model for children.

All of which is nonsense.  For the most part, the Doctor has always been a socially awkward entity, rarely able to deal with the tragedy of humans on an interpersonal level which is often makes such incidents all the more poignant.  Everyone sobs at the regeneration scene in Logopolis, but few mention when the Doctor comforts Tegan on the death of her aunt, Tom faltering through his apology, knowing full well that it isn't enough.

Perhaps people were expecting a Tomb or chops and gravy.  But both of those conversations are somewhat practical, about keeping someone together within a crisis.  The Doctor's often been good at that because it's part of her overall calculation about working towards a goal, keeping the human spirits up so that they're not hopeless in the face of whatever danger is about to befall them.  But that's osculated over time depending on the situation.  Tenth fails that test in Midnight.

Not mention that it's not that kind of scene.  The crisis is over.  This is general existential angst and the Doctor's never been very good at that.  She doesn't do domestic and even in her most benevolent incarnations often misunderstands or switches out of the conversation.  It's precisely because of this that numerous companions have left the TARDIS voluntarily.  Although this Time Lady is very good and physically saving his companions, baring odd examples, she's usually been rubbish at maintaining their emotional well being.

In other words, she's entirely in character here, both for this incarnation and the Doctor in general, the exception being that she reminds Graham that she is socially awkward which is why she doesn't know what to say to him.  Her way of consoling him is to visit the console and let him into the secret of why she sometimes stands over it, she doesn't know what to say straight away but is waiting for something useful to bubble up to the top of the raging volcano of ideas in her head.

Plus even though she is a Time Lady and I'm decidedly not, I can relate to the notion of being socially awkward and so consequently dumbstruck in the face of difficult conversations.  Sometimes I've found myself on the other side of just these sorts of confessionals and have little to no idea what to say, because what can you say which isn't pre-programmed or faux reassurance?  It's one of the reasons I was also reluctant to tell people about my anxiety at the beginning, not wanting to put them in the same situation.

Thinking about it now, my strategies tend to be misdirection, distraction or listening, to change the subject, ask them about something else or to just just allow them to talk at me until they've said everything they need to.  If I'm really stuck, I'll actually make an excuse about needing to be somewhere else or being in the middle of something.  That could equally be construed as heartless, but when you're an awkward one or have self esteem issues, you're also afraid of saying something which might make it worse.

In other words, don't judge the Doctor too harshly here.  Apart from anything else, she's dealing with her own personal apocalypse and trying not to show it and unable to really talk about it herself.  But we also forget too easily that no matter what she looks like on the outside, she's an alien and although she's one of the more benevolent and compassionate examples of her species it doesn't necessarily mean that those emotional states will manifest themselves as they would for us humans.  Or some of us at least.

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