Clint Hassell reviews Neil Cross’ latest.
For me, there has been a trend in the past three series of Doctor Who where, after weeks of feeling underwhelmed by a string of problematic or lackluster episodes, I am surprised by a simple story that deftly demonstrates the pinnacle of what the show can achieve. “Vincent and the Doctor,” “Night Terrors,” “The Power of Three,” and now “Hide” are all examples of episodes that so stunned me with what they accomplished, they awakened my interest and helped me rediscover my love for Doctor Who.
Because of its constantly-evolving cast of characters, Doctor Who contains several recurring story beats, many beloved by fans. Which is your favorite? Is it when a recently-regenerated Doctor selects his costume? The new companion’s “it’s-bigger-on-the-inside” moment? The debut of the Doctor’s latest signature catchphrase? My favorite recurring moment is when a new companion glimpses for the first time the enormity of all of space and time, and realizes that they are small in comparison. Rose, Adam, Martha, Donna, Brian Williams – all had incredibly varied responses that defined their characters. Despite having seen alien vistas in “The Rings of Akhaten,” Clara finally grasps the magnitude of traveling with the Doctor in “Hide,” as the two breeze through Earth’s complete history, skipping millennia at a time, to arrive at its barren end.
Clara: “Have we just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death?”
the Doctor: “Yes.”
Clara: “And you’re OK with that?”
the Doctor: “. . . Yes.”
Clara: “How can you be?”
The Doctor doesn’t understand. Clara has traveled forward to the Earth’s future, to a point where she has long since died, and yet, she is standing there, having a conversation with an unfazed Doctor. How could the Doctor truly value something so fleeting?
Clara: “So, I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts, to you. We must be nothing.”
Thus far, Clara’s personality has been generically perky and resourceful, but has lacked much definition beyond, say, being talkative or motherly. This scene evidences true emotion from Clara, and builds on the recurring theme of this new companion realizing that she is “in over her head,” first glimpsed in “The Rings of Akhaten,” and then again in “Cold War.”
I particularly appreciate that Clara’s revelation at the end of time comes wrapped in allegory, as she references being a “ghost” in the midst of a story not only set in a haunted mansion, but where the Doctor is questioning the reality of her very existence. “Hide” reinforces this ghost metaphor with Alec admitting to Emma, “You gave me a reason to be. . . . You brought me back from the dead.”
In fact, one of the great feats of “Hide” is its use of allegory. The scene where the Doctor and Alec Palmer develop photos paints both men as shadowy loners, scarred by their involvement in horrible wars, the darkroom’s red light symbolizing the metaphorical blood on their hands. This compares to the similarities between Clara and Emma, both devoted assistants, willing to sacrifice much in order to help others, particularly those who are lost and alone. Just as the Doctor and Clara can be compared to Alec and Emma, both pairs parallel the Crooked Man and his mate, as the Doctor states the episode’s true message: “Every lonely monster needs a companion.”
The other outstanding aspect of “Hide” is that it tells a stand-alone story, yet continues seamlessly the series-long story arc. This is most obvious in the episode’s finale as Emma guesses what the audience has known all along – that the Doctor didn’t come to visit Professor Palmer, but to ask the psychic about Clara’s true nature. This makes so much sense plot-wise, though the Doctor’s admission – combined with his comment that Clara is “the only mystery worth solving” – furthers my belief that, initially, Eleven hasn’t seen his three companions (or River, for that matter) as much more than conundrums to be solved. Sadly, Emma only reveals that Clara is “more scared than she lets on,” which provides no concrete answers, but does further Clara’s storyline of feeling overwhelmed by her adventuring. Along that line, Emma’s statement, “Don’t trust him. There’s a sliver of ice in [the Doctor’s] heart,” clearly unnerves Clara, who is realizing how little she knows about the man with whom she is traveling.
Again, Clara mentions that the TARDIS doesn’t “like” her. At this point, the references can’t be coincidental, and are obviously part of the overall story arc. Is this a clue to Clara’s identity? All I have to say is, considering how Captain Jack was treated differently by the TARDIS than Amy and Rory – all three being mysteries at one point or another, yet only Jack being truly anomalous – Clara’s storyline had better be similarly amazing.
“Hide” not only furthers current overarching storylines, it also contains many references to the past. The blue crystal from Metebelis Three (The Green Death), utilizing the Eye of Harmony to travel between worlds in a fashion similar to Donna Noble (“Turn Left”), a collapsing pocket universe (“The Doctor’s Wife”), the orange spacesuit (curiously missing its patch since “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” and “The Waters of Mars”) – while the plot of “Hide” utilizes these elements from past stories, the narrative isn’t slavishly devoted to any of them, neglecting to elaborate on their histories. To a novice viewer, none of those details would matter. However, to a veteran Whovian, these recurring items add richness, and, in light of the 50th anniversary, are cool ways to acknowledge the past, yet still move the narrative forward. Here, the familiar “Doctor who?” gag gets a clever makeover:
the Doctor: “I’m the Doctor.”
Alec Palmer: “‘Doctor’ what?”
the Doctor: “If you like.”
I particularly loved that, being set in 1974, “Hide” uses the term “assistant,” the narrative aping many serials of Doctor Who from the 1970s which utilized that term for its companion characters (The Ribos Operation, for example).
With such an emphasis on the program’s history, I don’t even mind that “Hide” “isn’t a ghost story – it’s a love story,” because lately, Doctor Who has been too. As long as the “love story” in question isn’t the Doctor and Clara’s, then I’m OK. (Now, back to “planets and history and stuff!”)
Incidentally, for a “ghost story,” “Hide” contains a lot of humor. In addition to a fun take on “Geronimo!” and the quick “Sorry to interrupt the rest of your life,” the scripts offers:
the Doctor: “How do sharks make babies?”
the Doctor: “No, no, no, no! Happily!”
Clara: “Sharks aren’t actually smiling. They’re just, well, they’ve got lots and lots of teeth. They’re quite eat-y.”
Also, the scene where Clara and Emma drink alcohol is hilarious (and realistic), though rare on a show as family-friendly as Doctor Who. Clara describes whiskey as “the 11th most disgusting thing ever invented,” which leads me to wonder what would be on her top 10 list. (Mine would definitely include three bean salad, which is comprised of green, yellow wax, and kidney beans soaked in what tastes like vomit and death, but is apparently vinegar. It’s the only thing I ever threw up as a kid . . . and I’ve never forgotten, Mom!) Clara calling the TARDIS a “grumpy, old cow” is just a funny as the TARDIS Voice-Visual Interface’s inference that Clara thinks highest of herself. (“Oh! Oh, you are a cow! I knew it!”)
In fact, in many ways, “Hide” made more effective use of its comedic elements than it did its chilling moments:
- Despite the mansion having electric lights, the Doctor and Clara wander the corridors of Caliban House using a gothic candelabrum. (I guess I should be glad they weren’t using the sonic screwdriver.)
- Barely-glimpsed monsters seem to flicker from sight, as lightning flashes.
- A glowing message inexplicably appears on a wall.
It feels like “Hide” checks off a master list of horror movie clichés, except, unlike the aforementioned “ghosts,” there’s no explanation for the rest. While “Hide” still chills, it is over-reliant on tropes. (A note to future scriptwriters: the “I’m-not-the-one-holding-your-hand” trick has been done before. A lot. It’s never believable. Knock it off.)
While we have seen time-displaced “ghosts” before – Day of the Daleks used this same explanation – the moment where the Doctor reveals that he’s taken a snapshot of the ghost every few million years and strung them together like stop-motion photography is so well staged, that I gasped with delight, even though I had already guessed the Doctor’s intention. I find that plot point to be as clever as Rory’s leaping from the roof of the Winter Quay apartments or the Doctor turning Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon into a Silent film.