From Behind the Sofa: Hide in Perspective
Guest contributor James Blanchard takes another look at Neil Cross’ second Series 7 episode.
What’s the biggest cliché surrounding Doctor Who? That’s right: All together now, “it scares the kids behind the sofa!”
But Doctor Who is a rare breed of franchise, in the fact that it embraces its clichés, and often uses them to its advantage. Nowhere is this strategy more obvious than in Hide, Neil Cross’s second episode of Series 7. A haunted house story, full of creaky floorboards, thunder and lightning, and ghosts, makes for a very familiar format.
And Hide is scary, for the right reasons. It understands that tension is the key to fear – that giving the slightest prompt to allow your imagination to roam is infinitely more effective than putting your grotesque, overdesigned monster in full view. In the words of Yahtzee Crowshaw, good horror should simply “hand you a piece of sandpaper and shout encouragement.” The Witch itself is never glimpsed for very long each time, and the photographs of it are all sufficiently disturbing (especially the massive, elongated mouth, but I had no intention of sleeping that night anyway, Hide, so HA.)
There’s a real danger, when taking the scary approach, that the story will just degrade into a jumped up episode of Scooby Doo (not that there’s anything wrong with Scooby Doo, mind – Saturday mornings just wouldn’t have been the same without it). It’s so easy to put the monster in plain view, to have it make weird scream-y noises and to chase the protagonists up and down some corridors. But is that really scary? I think we were all safe in the knowledge that the Doctor and Clara are going to survive the story, so where’s the tension? Where’s the fear? With such a small supporting cast, not much of it comes from the prospect of death.
Hide is scary because of the unknown – we don’t know the desires or motivations of the creepy Crooked Man, we don’t really know where the Forest is or how it came into being; the villain has no maniacal scheme or plot to conquer to the world, it’s the fact that it’s there without making its presence known, that ramps up the fear factor.
The “tagline” of this story was “I am the Doctor, and I am afraid”. The Doctor making a total admission of fear is something of a rarity (although not entirely unseen, casting our minds back to The Time of Angels, and the Doctor’s assertion that “anyone who isn’t scared is a moron”.) Personally, I think that this is what Neil Cross is trying to put across – the “come on then, Big Boy – chase me!” taunt showcases the fact that the Doctor understand that fear is a catalyst for survival: it makes you faster, stronger, more aware of your surroundings. What’s more, the Doctor’s huge grin shows just how much he loves feeling alive.
“We’re all ghosts to you…”
But Hide isn’t just a scary run-around, there’s more to it than that. Perhaps the most touching sequence in the story comes at the end of the Doctor’s reconnaissance trip across the entire timeline of the Earth; Clara is understandably upset at seeing the entire life cycle or her planet, birth to death, in a matter of hours. Perhaps the previously unimaginable scale of what she’d been doing with the Doctor has just hit her. However, the most remarkable part of this affair is how detached the Doctor is from the way Clara feels, as if he’s simple unable to recognise her sadness. We could speculate that the loss of his own planet, and the more recent loss of the Ponds (draws some nice parallels with the Doctor being present throughout nearly all of Amy’s life, dropping in when he sees fit) has desensitised him to the prospect of loss. However, I think the most important part is the Doctor’s statement, “You are the only mystery worth solving.” I believe that the Doctor, so obsessed with uncovering the truth surrounding Clara and her predicament, has failed to remember she’s and individual – it makes for a rare kind of Doctor/Companion relationship, when the former is only interested in understanding what, rather than who, the latter is. Perhaps this is a glimpse of that silver of ice.
Clara also claims that the people are nothing to him, thanks to his constant time-travelling nature, but I can’t help but wonder, what if the Doctor is in fact the ghost (bear with me, I am going somewhere with this…I hope)? The Doctor often tries to change things, but often fails; he defeats the Daleks, but they come back; he tried to save Adelaide Brooke, but she killed herself; he tried to end the misery of the humans in Utopia, but they came back to haunt him. Despite his mythological status (that he tried so hard to erase), the Doctor is almost intangible to the real workings of the universe – the more he changes it, the more it stays the same. The only way in which the Doctor can have a tangible, profound effect on the universe is through his companion. Maybe that’s what he means by “the only mystery worth solving”.
“Don’t trust him…”
Easily the most chilling (boom boom) moment is Emma Grayling’s assessment of the Doctor, saying “there’s a sliver of ice in his heart”. There are many instances where this claim has been proven true, ranging from his rather brutal destruction of the Ice Warrior fleet in The Seeds of Death to his admission of vanity in The God Complex, and even in Hide itself (the Doctor’s true reason for visiting). However, this could also be some clever foreshadowing (coupled with the “every lonely monster needs a companion” and Ada’s branding of the Doctor as “my monster”) of the truly shocking reveal at the end of The Name of the Doctor – perhaps the “silver of ice” is a terrible atrocity he committed in that incarnation. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the payoff immensely.
However, this is balanced by the touching moment between the Doctor and Professor Palmer, as the old war hero opens up about his reasons for hunting ghosts. We are obviously meant to see the parallels with the Doctor – he goes and finds the “ghosts” out of a sense of…failure towards them? Wonder? Because he has killed? The Doctor’s motivation is probably worth devoting an entire article to.
“Not always. Not love.”
I’ll make a frank admission: I don’t much like the ending of Hide – to me, it seems jumbled, and somewhat undermines the entire scary tone of the episode, and did no real justice to the monster or themes of the episode. It’s the Scooby Doo bit. If Cross really felt the need to make the Crooked Man (and Woman) mates, surely it would’ve been better to have it revealed in a short montage of realisation from the Doctor, and simply have him leave, without helping. That way, the episode would’ve ended on a creepy note, sustaining the fear throughout the entire episode, and reinforced the cold-hearted light the episode was placing our hero in.
That’s not to say it’s completely without merit – it’s always good to show that not all aliens in the Whoniverse are malevolent, and I think the “love doesn’t end” message is a powerful one, especially alongside the Doctor and Clara’s journey across the life of the earth. Love is a powerful emotion (it has defeated the Cybermen on many occasions, whether it should have done or not), and the Doctor’s love for his companions does, after all, stretch throughout all time and space.
“I may be a teeny tiny bit terrified.”
So that’s Hide, a horror story with plenty of rich, character-based detail to appease our powerful appetites. All that remains is for me to say that I hope you enjoyed this article, and thank you for taking the time to read it.