Neil Cross’s second episode of the season, “Hide” is a nicely spooky haunted-house story, which turns into a time-travel-gone-wrong story, which twists again to become an alien love story. In contrast to the expansive panorama of “The Rings of Akhaten,” Cross restricts himself to just four characters for most of this episode. The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive at Caliburn House on a dark and stormy night in late 1974, where psychic researcher Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) is working with empath Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) to investigate a presence which has been haunting the area for thousands of years, even before this gloomy, forbidding mansion was built.
The whole setup is, as Cross has pointed out, a direct homage to Nigel Kneale’s 1972 drama The Stone Tape—even down to a detail like the tins of Spam left by servicemen stationed at the house during World War II, with handwritten notes appealing to the ghost. Doctor Who has never been averse to taking already told stories and putting its own spin on them: The early Tom Baker years saw a number of pastiches of famous horror movies, while Kneale’s Quatermass stories were plundered for several Jon Pertwee adventures.
Newcomer Jamie Payne’s direction is thoroughly effective at building the episode’s tension. As the Doctor and Clara explore, the house’s dark, echoing rooms are full of shifting shadows, lit mainly by candles carried by the characters. The occasional glimpse of something lurking in the background is hair-raising; even after the story opens out from the haunted house, when the Doctor discovers that the “ghost” is actually a woman trapped in a pocket universe where time runs at a vastly different speed, the spooky atmosphere is maintained. Entered through a portal filled with blinding light that recalls Spielberg’s Poltergeist, the other universe appears as a cold, mist-filled forest. When the monster lurking there is finally revealed, it’s a genuinely creepy piece of design—a twisted, misshapen version of a man that’s probably near the limit of how scary Doctor Who can be given the large number of young children in the audience.
But “Hide” has a lot more to offer than just some creepy moments. Scott is the embodiment of decency as war hero Alec Palmer, while Raine’s piercing eyes and quietly tense manner make it easy to believe in Emma’s empathic talents. The episode’s title has multilayered significance, as the characters come to realize they’ve been hiding their true feelings for each other. In fact, the script is deftly constructed as a series of revelations. After Alec and Emma get together, the “ghost” woman, Hila Tacorian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), is revealed to be their remote descendant from the future—a pioneer in an early time-travel experiment which failed. It’s unfortunate that this information wasn’t delivered in a more elegant form than an out-of-nowhere info-dump by the Doctor. On the other hand, the way the episode fakes us out with what appears to be a wrap-up scene before the Doctor’s final realization is satisfying. The monster turns out to be no real threat at all; it also became trapped in the pocket universe and just wants to be reunited with its mate in the house. Particularly stylish is the abruptness of the ending: Since we’ve already had a “farewell” scene, the episode simply cuts to black once the audience has been given enough pieces to put together the plot resolution for themselves.
There are some nice references to past episodes, including the orange spacesuit used by David Tennant in “The Satan Pit” and “The Waters of Mars,” or the way the Doctor escapes the pocket universe by clinging to the outside of the TARDIS, just as Jack did in “Utopia.” From the end of the Jon Pertwee era in (appropriately) 1974 comes the blue crystal from Metebelis 3—a name which, unfortunately, is jarringly mispronounced by Smith with the accent on the second rather than the third syllable. It was surprising to see such an error being let through by a production team that has several people (showrunner Steven Moffat among them) with an encyclopedic knowledge of the classic series.
This is the first episode Coleman filmed as Clara (even before her work on “The Snowmen”), and she’s clearly still finding the character, falling back a little too often into generic perkiness. But she makes the most of a couple of telling scenes where Clara’s more thoughtful side comes through: a quiet scene with Emma, and the moment of Clara’s realization that the Doctor’s investigating technique involves casually making a survey of the Earth’s entire history. As she says, the Doctor’s mastery of time means that everyone is like a ghost to him. When she presses him further (“What are we to you? What can we possibly be?”), he tells her, “You are the only mystery worth solving”—leaving it nicely ambiguous whether he means humanity in general, or Clara in particular.
Apart from the goofiness of his opening scene, which is irritatingly over the top, Smith is superbly watchable as usual, particularly when he gets to show some real fear as the Doctor is trapped in the alien forest. His statement near the end that “Every lonely monster needs a companion” was also a nice reminder of his ambivalent opinion of himself. More interestingly, it’s revealed that the Doctor deliberately came here to get Emma’s opinion of Clara; helping out with the ghost was only a means to an end. The mystery of what’s going on with Clara advances a little further, as (just as in “The Rings of Akhaten”) the TARDIS seems to be antagonistic to her and reluctant to let her on board. Emma may say that Clara is “a perfectly ordinary girl,” but clearly there’s something about her that still remains hidden.
Next Week: The Doctor and Clara take a “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.”
Classic Who DVD Recommendation: The 1977 tale “Image of the Fendahl,” starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, is an uncanny match for this story, with its psychic phenomena in an old country house, an empath among the locals, and even the Doctor using the TARDIS to help with his investigations. It’s one of the classic series’s closest approaches to pure horror, and is well worth checking out.
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