Hide Spoiler-Free Review
Neil Cross’ first episode of Doctor Who, The Rings of Akhaten, was the biggest Marmite episode of Series 7 so far. Some absolutely loved it, others really hated it. So how does Cross’ second (although it was actually written first) fare? Thankfully for those that didn’t care for Cross’ first outing, this one is much better.
On the surface this episode looks like your traditional ghost story, but it’s a surprisingly complex tale once things really get going. The set-up is simple enough with the Doctor and Clara arriving at the suitably sinister Caliburn House in 1974. After an obligatory Ghostbusters nod in the pre-title sequence (yes it’s almost as cheesy as the Tenth Doctor’s and Rose’s was) they meet Alec and Emma, a professor and psychic respectively, who are investigating a ghost known as the Witch of the Well.
The episode is being billed as the scariest Doctor Who episode for a while and it lives up to the claim, for the most part. The crucial element that the episode does incredibly well is the atmosphere. The house looks superbly creepy and those classic haunted house moments are exploited for all their worth. New to Who director Jamie Payne wisely realises that the creepiest moments are often the things you don’t see. Or the things you see for a split second and question whether you really did.
The latter half takes the story to somewhere more otherworldly, but the fear factor is kept high particularly for the Doctor who ends up in a very deadly situation. The past couple of episodes have given a lot of the attention towards Clara as she becomes acquainted with life on the TARDIS. Here Matt Smith gets more to play with as the Doctor fights fear itself. We rarely get to see the Doctor genuinely scared and Matt Smith delivers a fantastic performance.
At times you can tell this was Jenna-Louise Coleman’s first episode to be filmed as the modern Clara. Her characterisation feels a little off at times. She seems a bit too wide-eyed considering she’s meant to have been on a few adventures now, and has arguably seen stranger sights. Then again, perhaps you could put this down to the mystery behind her character. She still shares some nice moments with the Doctor, particularly an emotional scene in the TARDIS.
On the Clara mystery front, there’s a couple of developments that really only tease rather than tell. The Doctor is struggling to find answers as much as we are! Clara also gets a chance to work out some issues with the TARDIS…
This is another episode with a small guest cast. Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine are both excellent. Raine is arguably the standout of the two as the psychic empath that has some interesting things to say about the Doctor.
All in all this is a great episode. It’s only slightly spoiled by a couple of misjudged Scooby Doo-esque comic scenes and a moment at the end that somewhat undermines the horror that came before. Fortunately they are only blips that are easy to overlook.