Mental Health

‘Doctor Who’: BBC Responds to Backlash Over Mental Health Episode

This article contains spoilers for “Can You Hear Me?,” episode seven of Doctor Who season 12.

Sunday’s episode of Doctor Who (the latest in a proselytizing series by showrunner Chris Chibnall) turns the spotlight on mental health—and our general inability to cope with it.

While some fans praised writers Chibnall and Charlene James for their depiction of humans’ internal struggles, others (myself included) were put off by a single scene late in the chapter.

Cancer survivor Graham opens up to the Doctor about his medical anxieties, telling her that “I didn’t know who to say it to, so I thought I’d say it to you.”

The Time Lord looks on with concern for her friend, listening to his fears and letting him express himself.

After an awkward pause, she posits: “I should say a reassuring thing now, shouldn’t I?”

“I’m still quite socially awkward,” lucky number 13 continues. “So I’m just going to subtly walk towards the console and look at something. And then, in a minute, I’ll think of something that I should’ve said that might’ve been helpful.”

Cut to credits.

The moment was perhaps intended as a commentary on the fact that not all conversations about emotional well-being are easy.

But it was widely criticized for missing the tonal mark—especially considering the production team worked with UK mental health charity Mind to “make sure they got it right.”

Not everyone is convinced they did, though.

After reportedly receiving complaints about the interaction, the BBC released an official statement (verified and published by Radio Times):

“We never set out to upset our viewers with what we show and this episode tackled some sensitive themes.

“When Graham opened up to the Doctor about his fear of his cancer returning, her response was never meant to be dismissive. The Doctor’s friend was scared, and we see her struggling to deal with the severity of the situation.

“The intention of the scene was to acknowledge how hard it can be to deal with conversations on this subject matter. When faced with these situations, people don’t always have the right words to say at the right time, and this can often lead to feelings of guilt.

“By showing the Doctor struggling to find the right words, the intention was to sympathize with all those who may have found themselves in a similar position.”

Doctor Who airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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