I’m really conflicted about this one. Much of this was very good indeed. Frustratingly good. If this is what this team can do when they try, why have we had to suffer through so much slurry recently? But there are still lots of niggles, lots of things which smack more of fan fiction than prestige television for all the family.

Let’s start with the fact that we only have ten episodes to play with and yet we’ve got two episodes in a row in which the team are stuck in spooky situations, unsure what’s real and what’s not and menaced by animated fingers. And what on earth is the point of bringing back the cold open if you don’t actually have anything to do with it? Everybody screaming makes no sense at all. It’s just stupid.

And there probably isn’t quite enough story for 50 minutes of television. The first third is all exposition and marking time. The second third is fun-and-games in The House That Jack Built. And the final third is where things really start getting good. But it’s quite a long wait and, again, while there’s some good stuff here, there’s some pretty ropey stuff too.

The eternal problem of the trio of redundant companions hasn’t gone away. Maxine Alderton does make them sound like people – and she doesn’t make them all sound like the same person. That might be damning with faint praise, but she’s the only writer to do that so far this series. What she can’t fathom (and nor can anyone else) is how to integrate them into the storyline. Yaz, who’s the most archetypal companion anyway, does do a bit of poking around, but only during the early “marking time” sections of the plot. Ryan manages to get challenged to a pistol duel – a hugely exciting development, especially for a series which is so reluctant to put any of the regular cast in mortal danger.

(Sidebar: that’s only recently struck me, but it’s really odd. One of the reasons that the end of Spyfall Part One was so effective was that it looked like all three companions were going to die. But that’s super-unusual. One of the benefits surely of having an expanded regular cast is that it gives us a lot of people who we care about who can get into life-threatening situations and need rescuing – by the Doctor or by each other. But most of the time, they just stand around comfortably. Even when plans fail such as when Rani Not the Queen of the Racnoss comes through those doors near the end of Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, the fact that Graham is in harm’s way doesn’t seem to be the point. Why aren’t all three of them constantly being menaced by buzz-saws, taken over by alien mind parasites, facing firing squads, being infected by spektrox nests and so on?)

But, then, in a truly bizarre bit of scripting, this terrifying turn is just forgotten about and never referred to again. Poor Graham, meanwhile is stuck in a subplot which involves him needing the loo. Thrill! As TV’s Bradley Walsh asks people where he can spend a penny. Marvel! At his inability to empty his bladder! Truly, this is our “the one with the giant maggots” moment.

And the guest cast are a bit thinly drawn too. With characters as big as Mary Wollstonecraft and Lord Byron to play with, I would have expected a bit more dash and panache, but – as with Rosa and to some extent Tesla – this is just decent actors reading out parts of Wikipedia at each other. And it’s truly weird to have Byron in one episode and Ada Lovelace in another and have nothing more than a single line of hasty acknowledgment to cover this. Christ, maybe they need even longer to plan the series out properly.

Now, all of this sounds like I didn’t like it, and it’s true, I was frustrated, but this episode had some much better stuff coming. Once the Castrovalva walls kicked in, the atmosphere was incredibly intense, and I did find myself starting to care about what happened to these bland people. We even got a couple of actual jokes. I laughed out loud at “Is it too late to pick another group?” True, Steven Moffat would have given us ten lines as good as that before the opening titles, but that doesn’t make it less funny.

And when the Lone Cyberman appears, it’s a genuine triumph of costume, make-up, performance and conception. True, it’s largely the same trick with a Cyberman which Chibnall already played with a Dalek in Resolution but it works even better here, and the Frankenstein allusions thankfully remain just that. We’re spared seeing Mary’s clunky moment of inspiration. But down in that cellar, backed into a corner, Jodie Whittaker shows us just what she can do as the Doctor, and just where the series has been taking her. It’s with only a trace of smugness that I report that her defining moment of owning the character comes through an epiphany that her three companions are essentially useless, but all of this stuff is actual proper drama. High stakes science-fiction adventure coupled with a real feeling for character and a genuine moral dilemma.

There’s a slight fumble towards the end as the Doctor first needs to retain the Cyberium and then, within the space of the same scene, needs to surrender it, but the ending is absolutely gangbusters. Of course she’d risk the universe to save one poet – not because he’s Shelley but because he’s a life. Because she’s the Doctor. Yes.

So, I’m tempted to give this five stars, overlooking all of the flaws in the first half – as I overlooked the gibberish science in Kill the Moon. But this isn’t as sure-footed as It Takes You Away or The Witchfinders, nor does it have the sheer brazen shock value of Fugitive of the Judoon. I think four is fair, but the last fifteen minutes were an easy five.

4 out of 5 stars
So… What did I think of Can You Hear Me?
So… what did I think of Ascension of the Cybermen?