The last two Doctor Who episodes were a bit conflicting. While I enjoyed “The Rings of Akhaten” and “Cold War,” there were huge gaps in logic and massive plot conveniences that kept me from loving them, despite the elements that worked. As this week’s episode, “Hide,” was written by “Rings” writer Neil Cross, and that he’d actually written this one first, I was cautiously optimistic that a good, old fashioned ghost story episode would be just what we needed. As it turned out, I didn’t need to be that cautious. “Hide” was a beautiful episode in every category and gave a very sci-fi reason for a very Gothic phenomenon. It employed elements of The Haunting, Evil Dead, and the excellent time travel series Sapphire & Steel, and gave us an episode that was poignant and exciting. There really is nothing like the high you get from watching a good story told well.
A haunted house in the ‘70s with a psychic girl and a middle-aged scientist with gadgetry trying to prove the existence of ghosts? How many horror movies have there been like that? It’s a scene which immediately evokes films like The Legend of Hell House and The Stone Tape, which was written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale. In fact, this story had a lot of Quatermass elements in it as well. We immediately get the relationship between the young psychic Emma (Jessica Raine) and the weathered Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott). There’s a lot to be said for economy when introducing the guest cast, and as so much of the story focuses on them and the way they interact, it’s important to get that out of the way as quickly as possible. They were both terrific. I loved the back-story of the professor being a spy in WWII and feeling immense guilt for having sent people to their deaths. It explains his resistance to getting close to Emma, or anyone. Fun fact: Jessica Raine will be playing producer Verity Lambert in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time this November. After seeing her in “Hide,” I think she’s an excellent choice.
The Doctor is also quite the liar in this story, pretending to be from the Ministry to get involved in the ghost hunting (or “busting,” as Clara called it). I love episodes where the Doctor knows what’s going on but doesn’t tell anyone until the time is right. I also miss those episodes where he just saunters in and people believe him, or at least think he’s not a crazy person. He seems to know right away about the ghost and figures out pretty quickly that it’s a caught time traveler. This is very in keeping with the spirit of Doctor Who, which is that there’s always a scientific explanation for the supernatural. And isn’t it just like the show to immediately turn the scary thing into someone who needs help from another scary thing, and then to turn the second scary thing into something else that needs help? It’s pretty ingenious, and quite effective.
There’s some absolutely great stuff going on between the Doctor and Clara in this one. “Hide” was the first episode Jenna-Louise Coleman filmed as Clara (after being Oswin and Victorian Clara), and it’s astonishing how well she understood the character at that early stage. Clara has such a sense of adventure (as in the moment when she tells the Doctor to dare her to go into the dark hallway), but is also very sensitive to things. The exchange regarding the Doctor being cavalier about seeing the Earth being born and dying and not flinching is particularly good. I also like how the TARDIS isn’t taking to her very quickly, or at least being more outwardly snide toward her than to the other companions. This likely has something to do with her being somehow outside time, or messy within it; Remember how the TARDIS reacted to Captain Jack in “Utopia.” With next week’s story being about her lost in the TARDIS, I’d bet some stuff will happen there. At the risk of sounding like a Whimsical Dandy (the term I’ve made up for someone whose tastes change depending on whatever’s newest… use it with your friends), I think Clara might be my favorite new series companion, bar none.
The direction, by Jamie Payne, a newcomer to the series, is terrific. He gives “Hide” the required creepiness and knows all about contemporary period drama, having directed episodes of Ashes to Ashes and The Hour. Manor houses are inherently creepy, but Payne is able to up this quite a bit. The sudden flashes of either the “ghost” or the “boogeyman” are quite effective and very chilling. I’m especially reminded of a shot where the Professor and Emma are standing at the window and there’s a blink of light and we can see for an instant that the “ghost” is standing right behind them. There’s another of a hallway and a sudden glimpse of the weird thing, called in the credits “The Crooked Man,” though I suppose this one was “The Crooked Lady,” which made me say “Whoa! What the fuck was that?” to the nobody in my house. The alternate universe was also very well realized, it falling apart due to entropy, and the misty forest was sufficiently ominous, doubly so when the creepy whisper-laugh was added.
This episode also had references to old Doctor Who, which made the fanboys-and-girls happy I’m sure. One was the Doctor wondering what became of the hat rack after the TARDIS’ interior changed. He’s always got one, so it must be around there somewhere. The other, more prominent and one that will cause the most controversy, is the need for a blue crystal from Metebelis III. The Third Doctor retrieved a crystal from that planet in “The Green Death” and then had to give it back, the trauma from which ultimately led to his regenerating in “Planet of the Spiders.” Some people I’m sure will complain about him either not having one anymore or needing to go get it again, but probably more people will complain about the way Matt Smith pronounced it. In the ‘70s, Jon Pertwee pronounced it “Meta-BE-lis,” where as Smith pronounced it “Meh-TEH-bel-is.” I’m a huge fan of the series, as we all know, but I hope this isn’t a stick up everybody’s ass. So he said it differently; so what? Tom Baker pronounced the Doctor’s homeworld “Galli-FREE” instead of “Galli-FRAY” and nobody seems to care too much.
I adored this episode, easily my favorite of this half-series, and possibly for the whole series, but we’ll have to see about that. It had everything I love about Doctor Who and did something different. Sure, the end went a little soft, but it never got stupid or implausible, which is truly commendable. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch it again.
Next week, “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” by Stephen Thompson and directed by Mat King. Get excited.