The Radio Times logo

Doctor Who: 10 big questions after Can You Hear Me?

What was Zellin doing? Was that the Timeless Child? And is Tosin Cole leaving Doctor Who?

Published: Sunday, 9th February 2020 at 7:58 pm

Doctor Who series 12’s latest episode Can You Hear Me? was filled with terrifying nightmares, creepy villains and hints at storylines to come – but it also might have eft you scratching your heads over a few key plot points, callbacks and storytelling decisions.


Luckily for you, we’ve delved deep into the biggest questions of the episode to give you some answers – starting with…

Was Zellin connected to the Remnants?


Guest villain Ian Gelder has a bit of a Whoniverse history, previously playing the amoral Mr Dekker in Torchwood: Children of Earth – but he’s also played a part in Doctor Who itself quite recently, voicing the rag-like monsters The Remnants in 2018 episode The Ghost Monument.

Notably, the Remnants played a key part in setting up the whole Timeless Child mystery (see below), so we recently speculated whether there was some connection between Gelder’s character here and his voice work.

However, in the finished episode Gelder’s Zellin is a completely separate being, as confirmed by series boss Chris Chibnall in a new interview.

“We made a promise to Ian that voicing the Remnants woukdn’t block him from appearing on screen in Doctor Who, which he’d always wanted to do," Chibnall told Doctor Who Magazine.

“So here we are, with Ian playing an entirely unrelated and separate character. He’s going to give some people genuine nightmares.” Huw Fullerton

Who are the Eternals, the Guardians and the Celestial Toymaker?


“We immortals need our games, Doctor," Zellin says. "Eternity is long and we are cursed to see it all.”

He continued: "The Eternals have their games, the Guardians have their power struggles. For me this dimension is a beautiful board for a game... the Toymaker would approve."

Confused? Well, in a bit of a deep cut reference for long-time Doctor Who fans, Zellin was referencing other immortal, all-powerful beings like himself and Rakaya (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who have popped up throughout the show's history.

The first Doctor battled the seemingly omnipotent Celestial Toymaker in a 1966 story of the same name, while the Eternals - elemental beings of immense power - appeared in the 1983 story Enlightenment.

The Guardians, meanwhile, encountered both the fourth and fifth Doctors, with the White Guardian representing light, order and structure and his eternal opponent the Black Guardian being the personification of darkness, entropy and chaos.

You can read more on the Doctor's previous clashes with these immortal beings hereMorgan Jeffery

Was Tibo in Doctor Who before?

Doctor Who - Ryan and Tibo

Yes! You'd be forgiven for forgetting, since it was only a brief appearance, but Ryan's best mate (played by Buom Tihngang) has appeared in Doctor Who before – he was the one who quizzed Ryan about his prolonged absence and suspiciously long list of medical ailments in Spyfall - Part One after the pair played a game of basketball.

"I've missed you, man," Tibo told Ryan in the series 12 premiere. "We all do."

A little foreshadowing there, perhaps, of Tibo needing a friend, and of Ryan's subsequent guilt at leaving Earth behind... MJ

Why did Graham have those visions?


During the episode, various characters are visited by terrifying nightmares – except Bradley Walsh’s Graham, who is initially only greeted with strange visions of a trapped woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey’s Rakaya) begging for help.

Later, this is revealed as a ruse by Zellin to free his partner from her prison. But viewers might still be confused as to why Graham was specifically visited by these visions.

Well, for our money this was an attempt by Zellin (who had already scouted out the TARDIS at this stage) to entice the Doctor to the space platform. He needed someone mortal and physical to break Rakaya out, and the Doctor would be one of the few people with the know-how to do that.

By sending the vision to Graham, Zellin appealed to his good nature to persuade the Doctor, who might have been more suspicious had the vision directly appeared to her. That’s how we’re reading it, anyway… HF

What happened to Yaz in the past?


After it being hinted at throughout the episode, Can You Hear Me? reveals in its final scenes that Yaz (Mandip Gill) has been hiding a bit of a secret. In flashbacks, we see that three years before the events of the series a younger Yaz ran away from home, only to be picked up by a police officer who notes her family were worried she might “do something stupid.”

The implication is that after being bullied badly at school by a girl called Izzy Flint, (a backstory revealed in 2018 episode The Witchfinders) Yaz wanted to run away from all her problems, or possibly worse, and that the police officer in the episode convinces her to head back home instead with a promise that one day things would get better. HF

How realistic is the portrayal of mental healthcare in 14th century Syria?


“You tell me creating happiness is important to my mental wellbeing,” Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) says to Maryam (Sirine Saba) in the episode's cold open, while the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) later notes that “Islamic physicians were known for the enlightened way they treated people with mental health problems” when visiting Aleppo, 1380.

It's true. Though it's easy to think of mental healthcare as a relatively recent thing, facilities like the ones visited by the Doctor – Islamic hospitals known as 'bimaristans' or 'sick places' – were built with separate wards for treating patients with mental illnesses from the 13th century onwards.

Bimaristans served all people regardless of their race, religion, citizenship, or gender and there was no limit set on the time you could spend as an inpatient, with these hospital being required to house all patients until they were fully recovered. MJ

How impregnable is the TARDIS?

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Can You Hear Me? (BBC)

"The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door – believe me, they've tried!" the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) once said... but how impregnable is the TARDIS really?

Already in series 12 we've seen Zellin and the Kasaavin infiltrate the Doctor's ship (or very nearly) and they're but the latest in a long line of beings to do so.

Though our Time Lord hero has often used a force-field generator (or alternatively a 'Tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator') to stop anything outside the TARDIS getting in, the powerful alien Sutekh (in Pyramids of Mars), the Keeper of Traken and the Malus (in The Awakening) were all able to project a hologram or mental apparition inside.

Donna Noble was also transported inside the control room by way of some huon particles in The Runaway Bride and of course a spacefaring version of the Titanic burst through the TARDIS walls in Last of the Time Lords.

So the answer is... not very. Though, to be fair, the Doctor never cared much for the word "impregnable"... MJ

What happened to Zellin and Rakaya at the end?

Ian Gelder in Doctor Who series 12 (BBC)

The immortal, god-like beings were captured together at the end of the episode, but you’d be forgiven for being a bit confused about how it all played out.

Here’s how we see it. After travelling back to 14th-century Aleppo in Syria, young patient Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) is confronted again by the Chagaska monster from her nightmares – unusually, a nightmare that Zellin brought to life in the real world (in other cases, he just harvested existing nightmares).

Mastering her fear (and thus, the Chagaska) Tahira and the TARDIS crew travelled back to the space platform, where they used the Chagaska to overpower Zellin and Rakaya before the Doctor re-trapped them in the between-planets prison with Tahira’s monster.

How did the Doctor do that, you ask? Well, she reprogrammed their magic fingers, combined with the control system for the prison to trap them within it again. A little confused, but it more or less makes sense. HF

Was that the Timeless Child?

Doctor Who - the Timeless Child

In Can You Hear Me? the Doctor and friends are forced by Zellin to face their worst fears – for Graham that’s his cancer returning, for Ryan it’s seeing his friends' lives collapse without him, for Yaz it’s a reminder of her lowest ebb.

The Doctor's greatest fear, meanwhile, is something we've seen before – a vision of a young girl standing in front of a tall structure, beneath a purple sky. We got a brief glimpse at this girl once before, flashing before the Doctor's eyes when the Master mentioned “the lie of the Timeless Child” in Spyfall - Part Two.

It'd be fair to assume that this young girl is the Timeless Child, with her image being a buried, subconscious fear of the Doctor's chiming with the Master's suggestion that the Time Lord's terrible secret is "buried deep in all our memories".

But is this story arc also linked to the ongoing mystery of the 'fugitive' Doctor played by Jo Martin? Could this young girl be a younger version of Martin's Doctor, and does that in turn mean that this enigmatic new incarnation is the Timeless Child?

It'd make sense for these two arcs to be connected somehow. Now we just need to work out how the "Lone Cyberman" figures into all this... MJ

Is Ryan leaving Doctor Who?


In this episode Ryan (Tosin Cole) hints at a growing dissatisfaction with a life of time travel, worrying that his friends are struggling without him and wondering what awaits the TARDIS team going forward.

“How long is this gonna last Yaz? Hanging out with the Doctor?” he asks towards the end of the story.

“Is this our lives? Going from one place to the next, ignoring home. We’re getting older but without them. Missing out bits of their lives.”

So is Ryan going to leave the TARDIS behind? Well, possibly. It was recently announced that Cole has landed a major new role on US TV which some have taken to mean he’ll soon be exiting the series.

Maybe Ryan’s worry here is foreshadowing the character’s decision to finally go home in the upcoming episodes, freeing up Cole for new work – and maybe Yaz and Graham will leave alongside him, leaving the Doctor alone once more? HF


Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 7:10pm on Sundays


Sponsored content