It’s 1974. A military scientist and his assistant setup an investigation into the existence of ghosts. Despite perhaps being an idea for an episode of classic Doctor Who, however, the duo aren’t an earthbound Time Lord and a young girl who has conned her way into UNIT, but Professor Alec Palmer (an excellent Dougray Scott) and empath Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine, again very impressive).
Things change for Palmer and Grayling when the Doctor and Clara arrive, knocking on the door of the scary old Caliburn mansion in a storm – after all, the Doctor knows a thing or two about ghosts (the main thing being, of course, that they don’t exist). Making use of the TARDIS in some interesting new ways, the quartet discover the truth about the ghost – dubbed the Witch of the Well – and why she is calling for help…
It has been noticed in fandom (and mentioned on Kasterborous this week) that the current run of episodes seem to have some sort of thematic link to previous eras of the show. We’ve had the mention of Susan in The Rings of Akhaten, a return of the Second Doctor’s regular foe the Ice Warriors in Cold War and now in Hide we see a military scientist and his assistant – the setup for most of the Jon Pertwee episodes.
But Hide is about so much more than recalling the past (although the Doctor does a great job of nipping through time in order to photograph the “ghost”). On the face of it, the episode is a traditional ghost story, providing a series of good, atmospheric scares that are delivered with panache (all with the exception of the “back to back” cliche later in the episode). But once we’ve come to terms with the haunted house and the truth about the ghost (she’s a lost time travel pioneer and a descendant of Palmer and Grayling, despite the scientist’s suppressed desires at this stage) we’re thrown through a literal wormhole into a pocket universe created by the time travel experiment where we and the Doctor meet Hila Tukurian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) who is on the run from… something.
If you’ve never felt the fear of solitude in a haunted house then you must sure have felt the fear of being alone in a forest, and the switch in locations gives the story some added scale that was missing from, say, Neil Cross’ previous adventure, The Rings of Akhaten. (Incidentally, the odd look of the forest atmosphere is achieved by way of a smoke machine and a lens filter, while the jarring movement of the Crooked Man – the episode’s monster – was achieved by recording the actor in costume and moving, and playing the movements backwards. All excellent choices by director Jamie Payne and his team).
With the Doctor through the wormhole, Emma Grayling finds herself unable to keep the doorway open long enough for the Time Lord and Tukurian to return, despite being helped by a blue crystal from Metebelis III (see Spidergate for more on this) and a rig connected to the Eye of Harmony.
Yes, I said Eye of Harmony. But more on that another time…
[pullquote align=”right”]Sexy is up to her old tricks again in Hide, initially refusing Clara entry before finally relenting.
It’s an interesting theme which I hope will be carried on into the next episode, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – I mean, it would make sense, wouldn’t it?[/pullquote]It is at this stage that Clara leaps into action, having largely being playing the adorably cute “straight man” role in a double act for most of the episode while the Doctor fooled and bamboozled their new friends. I should point out here that Hide was the first episode recorded by Jenna-Louise Coleman, and be honest – could you tell? There is one particularly stunning face that she pulls early on, but beyond that she seems to be the quintessential companion, asking questions, having stuff explained and then leaping into action (with the same gusto as Rose Tyler in Rose) in order to rescue the Doctor.
The Clara/Doctor relationship continues to intrigue, and while there is nothing of any particular depth to explain who or what she is, the Doctor does at least learn from Emma Grayling (who is quite aware of the true reason for his visit) that Clara is completely human and who she says she is. Conversely, Clara learns that the Doctor has “a sliver of ice in his heart”…
But for all the build up with Clara and her previous/future doppelgangers, could it be that the most interesting relationship she has is not with the Doctor at all, but with the TARDIS? After being refused entry in The Rings of Akhaten, Sexy is up to her old tricks again in Hide, initially refusing entry before finally relenting (after displaying a hologram of Clara to Clara explaining why it is too dangerous to enter the pocket universe). It’s an interesting theme which I hope will be carried on into the next episode, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – I mean, it would make sense, wouldn’t it?
Now, a few weeks ago Neil Cross’ previous episode had a fandom splitting effect, the like of which I have never seen since nuWho burst onto our screens in 2005 – with one exception, Love & Monsters. While The Rings of Akhaten didn’t – to my knowledge – feature Peter Kay wearing a loincloth you could cut cheese with, it’s fair to say that neither is as bad as their reputations would have us believe. Certainly Fear Her, New Earth and Time and the Rani can be counted lower down the scale of quality Doctor Who, ib my humble opinion at least (and I quite enjoyed Akhaten!)
I think it’s fair to say that any criticism of Cross has been buried with Hide, a superb episode that is well executed, features memorable guest performances (as with last week’s Cold War) and an interesting monster, but most importantly pushes along the “Who/What Is Clara?” arc against a backdrop of scares and some fear, of the sort that made those Gothic classic serials such as Image of the Fendahl or Ghost Light particularly striking.
If you didn’t enjoy Hide for whatever reason, go back and try again, watching alone, with the volume high to appreciate the nuances of the audio track and the timing of Murray Gold’s incidental music. This is one of the best episodes of Doctor Who for a very long time, and deserving of many subsequent revisits.