The episode touched on the subject of mental health, which prompted the inclusion of a BBC Action Line tag at the end of the episode upon its original broadcast.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Plot
- 3 Cast
- 4 Crew
- 5 References
- 6 Story notes
- 7 Continuity
- 8 Home video releases
- 9 External links
- 10 Footnotes
What connects the nightmares of a young girl from 1380 Aleppo to strange happenings in the present day? Who is the shadowy figure who appears in the night? And what have they got to do with a young woman in the far future, trapped in an impossible prison? Time catches up with the Doctor's friends, whose wants and dreams are set on colliding. They must now embark on a mission that will draw out their innermost fears, to be confronted.
"Can you hear me?", a woman's voice asks.
In Aleppo, Syria in 1380, a young woman called Tahira is chased through the city. Knocking on a door, an older woman called Maryam lets her back in. Tahira later explains that she has been stealing from local merchants in a misguided attempt to improve her mental wellbeing. As Maryam sends her to sleep, Tahira worries about taking precautions to protect the others from things that attack in the night, but Maryam enforces that they are not real. That night, something large and hairy with huge claws grabs Maryam as people panic. The creature approaches Tahira but she does not seem to be surprised.
In Sheffield, 2020, the Thirteenth Doctor lands her TARDIS outside Yaz's block of flats. The Doctor confirms that she has landed at the exact right time and tells Yaz, Ryan, and Graham to reconvene the next day while she does some work on her own. Realising she has landed 77 minutes late, Yaz rushes out, followed by the others. As the Doctor considers hopping forward in time to cut out waiting, the TARDIS lights cut out to the sound of a snarl. As this happens, a bald man briefly appears in the TARDIS, then disappears as the lights return. The Doctor tracks the noise to Aleppo and decides to investigate.
In the Khans' flat, Yaz enters to find her sister Sonya alone - their parents had left for a trip hours ago. Sonya surprises Yaz with having learnt to cook while she was gone and the two hug.
Meanwhile, Ryan approaches another flat. After undoing several locks on the door, Tibo answers, surprised that Ryan is talking to him after months of silence. Although he is not back for long, Ryan uses the offer of chips to enter the flat.
That night, Graham hosts a game of cards with his friends Gabriel and Fred. Graham wins easily, having had time to practice while away. Graham explains that he has been away on cruises and that travelling has helped both his health and coping with the loss of Grace.
The Doctor lands in Aleppo, disappointed that she does not have her friends to educate. She realises she is in Bimaristan, one of the oldest hospitals in the world that focused on early mental health treatment. Hearing Tahira crying in a nearby room, the Doctor visits her. The Doctor explains that the creatures took everyone except her but there is still one around. It drops down from the ceiling, snarls at the Doctor, then runs away, seemingly disappearing; even the sonic screwdriver picks up no trace of it.
Graham prepares another game of cards, but as he does so, he receives a strange vision. Seeing a white-haired woman in chains between two colliding planets, the owner of the mysterious voice, she begs to Graham by name for help.
Meanwhile, Ryan plays a FIFA video game with Tibo. After winning the match, he goes to make tea and is disturbed by how his friend has let his flat go to waste. Tibo admits he has had a hard time recently. Confiding in Ryan, he explains he has been having twisted, recurring nightmares featuring one man - a man who also has been appearing in and around his room at night. Tibo asks Ryan to sleep over for the night.
As Yaz and Sonya sit down to eat, Yaz explains she has been travelling and was in Gloucester recently when an incident happened, among other things. Meanwhile, Sonya has been sacked from her third customer service job. Yaz tells Sonya that they do not need to keep marking the event she is there for with an anniversary dinner, but they carry on. Later, as Yaz falls asleep in front of a film despite promising not to, Sonya thinks back to calling someone for help and Yaz dreams of a policewoman standing by a car in the countryside. She wakes suddenly only to see the man who appeared in the TARDIS. He disappears again.
In Tibo's flat, the same man materialises in Tibo's bedroom. Detaching his fingers, the man levitates them over to Tibo where one settles in his ear and begins sucking things out of his head. Ryan wakes up from the sofa and runs over to the man, but he disappears with Tibo in tow.
The Doctor calms Tahira as she realises the creatures must have been deliberately attacking the hospital. Realising the other patients must have been taken, Tahira explains she has been in the hospital for a few weeks, providing safety as her family was killed when she was seven years old. As she talks, the Doctor's phone rings with a call from Ryan. Explaining his situation, calls also come through from Yaz and Graham. As she and Tahira leave, the Doctor notices the fur of one of the creatures left behind in the scraped stone.
Later, the Doctor introduces Tahira to her friends as the TARDIS inspects the hair. She argues with it as it insists that the fur does not exist as the creatures it came from will never exist either. Ryan and Yaz realise they have met the same strange man but Graham explains his vision was from a woman. Wanting to visit the planets that the woman was stuck between, she makes Graham wear a headpiece to connect to the TARDIS' telepathic circuits. Graham focuses on the image and the TARDIS takes off.
The group lands on a space station in deep space in the distant future - completely different to what Graham saw. The Doctor describes the station as being in geostationary orbit in an area that is no longer populated just as the main control area lights up, with screens showing what Graham saw in his vision. The Doctor realises it shows two planets in the middle of mutually colliding, but something in the middle is stopping them. As the Doctor finds a tiny geo orb locked between the planets, the voice in Graham's head tells him that the woman is trapped in there.
Meanwhile, Yaz has found an area full of fingers, which the Doctor discovers are broadcasting to the trapped woman. As a piece of technology descends from the ceiling, the Doctor figures out the answer: a quantum fluctuation lock, changing its combination trillions of times a second, keeping the woman trapped, fed by the signal from the fingers. As they discuss this, Tahira discovers another area, full of the imprisoned people that were taken by the bald man, sleeping - including Tibo. At that moment, the man appears with the creatures that attacked Tahira, which he names the Chagaskas, which he claims to have created from their worst fears. However, they cannot go any further than that before he fires his fingers at the group.
Yaz finds herself on the long road where the policewoman was, with the voice of Sonya telling her how weak she is. In reality, she is dreaming and still trapped on the space station along with her friends. Ryan's dream sees him surrounded by flames, facing an elderly man who he realises is Tibo. Tibo says he has been waiting his whole life for Ryan to return as the planet burns, with the Dregs he encountered on Orphan 55 nearby. Meanwhile, Graham's dream finds himself on an IV drip in the hospital, and his doctor is Grace. Grace states that his cancer has returned and he only has a few hours left. She asks him why he did not save her life as he begs her to let him try again.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has not been affected as she figures out how to break the quantum lock with her sonic and TARDIS. The man approaches her and says that his original name is Zellin. The Doctor denies this, saying that Zellin was from another universe and thought to be a god, but he gladly takes the praise and explains that, being immortal, he has been spending his time playing a game with the universe. Having the power to mould molecules to his will, he has been using this to extract nightmares from humans, knowing that they will always have their minds subconsciously attacking themselves. As he talks, an alarm sounds, indicating that the Doctor has set the trapped woman free. However, Zellin reveals that he lured the Doctor there specifically to free the woman, a fellow immortal named Rakaya. To explain their ploy, Rakaya shows the Doctor a vision of their story.
Rakaya explains that after descending onto this universe, Zellin and her came up with a game when discovering two planets, to see which could get one of the planets destroyed first. Although the two planets waged war against each other, they eventually turned on the so-called gods, trapping Rakaya between the colliding planets for eternity. The Doctor wakes up, having been shackled with her friends. Zellin thanks her for freeing Rakaya for him and the two immortals turn their power towards Earth, and the source of all of Zellin's nightmares, as another finger flies at the Doctor.
With Zellin and Rakaya landing on a normal street on Earth, the Doctor dreams about her largest mystery - hearing the Spy Master's story of the Timeless Child again, but this time picturing herself in her vision. She jumps awake and summons the sonic screwdriver to her hand, freeing herself followed by all her friends and the other innocents. With her friends awake, the Doctor sonics the fingers to follow their bio-organic code as Ryan goes to wake up Tibo. Meanwhile, the Doctor realises that the Chagaskas did not attack Tahira because they are the manifestation of her nightmares. Understanding that she cannot defeat two immortals, the Doctor works on a plan.
On the street on Earth, Zellin tries to convince Rakaya to take all of humanity in one go, but she decides to take it slowly. Nearby, Zellin appears inside a house to feed on the nightmares of a young boy and Rakaya absorbs the energy, but they are interrupted by the roar of the Chagaska, heard across time.
The Doctor's group has returned to Aleppo and the two immortals materialise in front of them. The Doctor tells Zellin that he was wrong about humans creating their own weaknesses and that they are stronger for living through it every day. To prove it, Tahira summons a Chagaska, being able to control it by overcoming her fear. The Doctor grabs Rakaya's quantum lock and sonics control of the floating fingers. Asking the immortals what their worst nightmares are, she sends the fingers at them, the Chagaska grabs them, and they are teleported into Rakaya's prison to live with the nightmares for eternity.
The next day, at Tibo's flat, Tibo says he had a perfect night's sleep. Ryan admits that he will be travelling again soon. Before leaving, he tells Tibo of something he discovered that might help. Later, Tibo attends a group therapy session and opens up about his internal problems, safe in the knowledge he is not alone.
Three years earlier. A younger Yaz sits by the side of a long road and is visited by a policewoman called Anita Patel. Yaz admits she is planning on going away, but Anita wants to check up on her as her family is worried. Hearing that Sonya has phoned the police, Yaz is told that feeling tormented is not necessarily a bad thing and could change in the future, with help available for her. Anita makes her a deal: if in three years her hunch is wrong, she will give Yaz £50, but if she is right and Yaz's situation has improved, Yaz owes her 50p. In the present, Yaz approaches a door, answered by Anita. Anita immediately recognises her as Yaz holds out a 50p coin.
Later, in the TARDIS, Graham opens up to the Doctor about his worries concerning his cancer returning, as even though his check-ups are fine, the fear is always there. The Doctor does not know how to respond. To prevent herself from saying the wrong thing, she simply chooses to make herself busy, but Graham is reassured in having talked. Elsewhere in the console room, Yaz and Ryan share their concerns about sharing their lives with the Doctor and growing older away from home. The Doctor interrupts them, claiming "I was thinking Frankenstein", and tells her friends to get a change of clothes as they take off, having grown closer as a family together.
- The Doctor - Jodie Whittaker
- Graham O'Brien - Bradley Walsh
- Yasmin Khan - Mandip Gill
- Ryan Sinclair - Tosin Cole
- Zellin - Ian Gelder
- Rakaya - Clare-Hope Ashitey
- Tahira - Aruhan Galieva
- Tibo - Buom Tihngang
- Sonya Khan - Bhavnisha Parmar
- Grace O'Brien - Sharon D Clarke
- Maryam - Sirine Saba
- Anita Patel - Nasreen Hussain
- Gabriel - Everal A Walsh
- Fred - Michael Keane
- Mum - Amanda Liberman
- Old Tibo - Willie Jonah
- Andrew - Anthony Taylor
to be added
- Aleppo in Syria 1380 has a huge secluded citadel with a bimaristan and souks surrounded by the far larger outer city. The two areas are connected via a single viaduct.
- The TARDIS returns to Sheffield in 2020.
- Yaz returns to her flat in Park Hill.
- Yaz's Mum and Dad left to go to Whitby for the night.
- Graham jokes that he's the fastest card dealer in South Yorkshire.
- Yaz says she's been to Madagascar, California, Hong Kong and Gloucester.
- Graham jokes that the Doctor could just give him an A to Z of the universe, and he'll know where they should travel, before saying he has no idea.
- Graham's vision leads the TARDIS into deep space in the distant future, half a galaxy past the Geskon Straits.
- Graham notices the two planets from his vision are in the process of an extinction event.
- Yaz has a nightmare of having run off to a lonely road.
- Ryan has a nightmare about an Earth surrounded by flames.
- Graham has a nightmare that he is in Sheffield City Hospital.
- Zellin and Rakaya meet up to drain people at Spencer Street at night time.
- Yaz visits ex-police officer Anita Patel at her home at 79 Pomeroy Street.
- The Doctor says blundering is top of her CV along with playing well with others and being excellent tap dancer in a crisis.
- The Doctor has a nightmare about the Timeless Child memory and the Spy Master's voice echoing his message about his discovery to her.
- If its way is cleared, the Doctor can summon the sonic screwdriver to her hand.
- The Doctor says she's still socially awkward.
- The Doctor says that while her friends are gone, she will do maintenance and correspondence.
- The lighting in the TARDIS turns off and the glassy hexagonic roundels turn red when it is in danger.
- The TARDIS cannot register the fur strands because they're not in the database nor can it see them as they do not exist nor will ever exist.
- The Doctor hooks Graham up to the telepathic circuits, which is now a head-piece connected to the console.
- The TARDIS has a jacuzzi.
- The Doctor notes that Islamic physicians were known for their enlightened way to treat people with mental health problems.
- Zellin likes his humanoid form, considering it fascinating to live within molecules and atoms.
- Zellin considers humanity at its best with their doubts, fears and feelings of being unworthy and incapable; built-in pain.
- The nightmares are induced via Tranquillising psycho-extraction.
- A shopowner is being robbed and threatens to chop off the robber's hands.
- Tahira and Maryam walk around the bimaristan discussing her mental health and her nightmares.
- Sonya calls Yaz a loser and she in turns calls Sonya a no-mark.
- Ryan goes to visit Tibo at his flat.
- Graham has invited his old bus driver friends Gabriel and Fred to his house to play a game of poker. Graham gets a full house.
- Graham has pretended to be on boat cruises while travelling.
- Graham is sent a vision from Rakaya claiming she is trapped inside a prison-ball.
- Sonya has been sacked from her new customer service job.
- Sonya says her dad claimed that the Gloucester-thing was to do with Russians, which Yaz denies.
- Tahira says her family was killed.
- Graham has a nightmare about Grace.
- Zellin and Rakaya identify themselves as Immortal Gods.
- Rakaya calls humans tiny, ephemeral flashes of existence.
- A mother assures her daughter that there are no bogeymen.
- Tibo enters a group therapy session to talk about his mental health issues. A man called Andrew says he's not alone.
- Three years earlier, Yaz was persuaded by a police officer to return home. She was getting bullied and had low grades at the time. The pair made a deal about owing the other 50 pounds or 50 pence.
- Ryan talks to Yaz about being unsure about continuing being part of Team TARDIS, worrying about missing bits of his friends' lives and not being there for them.
- The Doctor arrives in Aleppo where she finds Tahira hiding from the creature from her nightmares.
- Zellin is capable of detaching his fingers, which can work separately.
- Tahira finds a Chagaska aboard the ship.
- Zellin alludes to the Eternals and their games, the Guardians of Time with their power struggles, and specifically references the Celestial Toymaker and how he would approve of Zellin using the normal dimension as a board for a game.
- The Doctor treats the finger she takes over as a dog.
- Rakaya can energy transfer the nightmares from others into herself and feed.
- The Dregs feature in Ryan's nightmare.
Food and beverages
- Ryan brings chips to Tibo's flat.
- After winning the FIFA game, Ryan goes to make tea.
- Sonya has been cooking tikka masala and rice for herself and Yaz.
Medical ailments and remedies
- Graham is afraid that his cancer could return.
- Ryan, Graham and Yaz all call the Doctor on her "message device" across time from the 21st century to the 14th century. The Doctor makes a call merge so they all can talk simultaneously.
- Zellin's space platform is in geostationary orbit and is operator activated.
- The two planets are kept apart by an energy field around a tiny geo orb with a quantum fluctuation lock on it.
- The space platform is connected to the geo orb via a power-transfer orb.
- The sonic screwdriver can tap into the bio-organic code of the fingers.
- Ryan and Tibo play a FIFA video game.
- The Doctor says she was thinking about Frankenstein for their next adventure.
- This marks the first Doctor Who television story to have a question mark in its title.
- The episode had a "cold opening", the first for the series since the two-part opener Spyfall.
- The shot of the TARDIS arriving in Sheffield is recycled from Arachnids in the UK.
- The episode features an animated segment during Rakaya's tale of her and Zellin's coming-to-be up until her imprisonment. It was created by Nina Chakrabarti and DNEG.
- Eight months before the episode's broadcast, the production team contacted the mental health charity Mind's media advisory service for feedback concerning their tackling of mental health issues.
- Zellin's hand effect was achieved via a combination of a fingerless prosthetic hand and digital effects.
- Some fans voiced disdain towards the Doctor's apparent dismissal of Graham's fears about his cancer returning, saying it was out of character. The BBC Complaints department later addressed the situation, saying the scene intended to show the Doctor struggling to deal with the subject matter properly, thus not being able to find the right words.
- It is ironic that Graham is among those who fall victim to Zellin, an entity who feeds on fear, considering Bradley Walsh's previous role as Odd Bob the Clown, a similar villainous entity, in The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Day of the Clown. However, Zellin's modus operandi, subjecting his victims to nightmares, is more similar to the eponymous villain of The Nightmare Man, also a story of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
to be added
- Ian Gelder's Zellin was connected to the Remnants from The Ghost Monument due to Gelder voicing them. This turned out to be false. Gelder was promised that voicing the Remnants would not block him from appearing on the show in person.
- Zellin and Rakaya are Eternals. This is actually not explicitly stated on screen, although this was confirmed in PROSE: The Guide to the Dark Times.
to be added
- Yaz tells Sonya that she has been to California, (TV: Spyfall) Madagascar, Hong Kong, (TV: Praxeus) and Gloucester. (TV: Fugitive of the Judoon)
- Sonya recalls hearing about the recent events in Gloucester, and that her dad thought the Russians were responsible. (TV: Fugitive of the Judoon)
- The Dregs appear in Ryan's nightmare. (TV: Orphan 55)
- The Doctor recalls the Spy Master speaking of the Timeless Child. (TV: Spyfall)
- Zellin mentions the Eternals, (TV: Enlightenment, et al.) Guardians, (TV: The Ribos Operation, et al.) and the Toymaker. (TV: The Celestial Toymaker, et al.)
- The gods refer to human lives as "ephemeral". (TV: Enlightenment, et al.)
- Yaz was bullied at school. (TV: The Witchfinders)
- The Doctor previously met two immortals who enjoyed "playing" with people. (PROSE: Falls the Shadow)
- The Doctor talks to herself at length. (PROSE: Things She Thought While Falling, TV: Orphan 55)
Home video releases
to be added
- Mind information support story
- Can You Hear Me? - Overnight Viewing Figures
- Can You Hear Me? - Official Ratings