April 23, 2013

Doctor Who: "Hide"

The Doctor and Clara arrive at an old haunted mansion, where two investigators - an ex-army professor and an empathic psychic - are attempting to communicate with a long-rumoured ghost that haunts the building. Things are, naturally, not what they seem. Cue running, jumping in terror, and hiding.

"Hide" is not a classic episode of Doctor Who, but it does an excellent job of adopting the elements that make classic Who. The result is an episode that feels just a little bit short-changed in terms of scope and character, but is for the most part enormously entertaining.

A science fiction series like Doctor Who is always going to be on unstable ground when it tackles supernatural themes. Either it leaves them as supernatural - or at the very least unexplained - and the result is something that feels unsatisfying and possibly even annoying (such as Season 2's The Satan Pit), or it explains it away in science fictional terms. This latter approach has risks of its own, since the core element of horror is a fear of the unknown and explaining the horrors away does remove the 'unknown' part rather comprehensively.

I think for the most part this episode gets the balance correct. It remains quite creepy and unsettling because, even as the Doctor explains away the ghost as a runaway time traveller lost in a pocket universe, the episode introduces whatever scary thing is chasing that time traveller. One horror gets replaced by another, and writer Neil Cross is very careful not to deflate that horror until the episode is at an end.

The episode only has a guest cast of four, and that includes a monster, so really we're only talking about three actors. Dougray Scott is an actor I've admired for some years, first through his amiable turn as the Prince in Ever After and later through more serious roles in This Year's Love, Enigma and Dark Water. He plays Professor Palmer with a nicely restrained combination of post-traumatic stress and romantic longing for his co-star.

And I was particularly impressed with his co-star, Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine as psychic Emma Grayling. She's immediately likeable and presents herself with a lot of depth that the script only really hints at. In a parallel universe where Raine wasn't in Call the Midwife and Clara wasn't already four episodes into her own run, Emma would have made a fantastic companion. Maybe in a year or so, if Raine is free and Jenna-Louise Coleman has moved on, they can bring Emma back.

Kemi-Bo Jacobs plays lost time traveller Hila Tukurian, and sadly she gets badly short-changed. Very little time is spent to flesh out her character at all, and I wonder if time constraints simply left most of her scenes on the cutting room floor.

Like all good Doctor Who episodes, "Hide" has a great monster, and director Jamie Payne uses the time-old trick of recording footage backwards to give it a particularly creepy style of movement. How the episode resolves this monster will be contentious with a lot of fans, I suspect; I personally loved it, particularly the wonderfully dynamic in-media-res final shot.

I do want to highlight a particularly nice scene between the Doctor and Clara, where she points out that - as a time traveller - everyone he meets is already history to him. 'We're all ghosts,' she explains, in a wonderfully loaded line given that she's already died twice herself.

Finally there are the continuity references. It seems like they've been piling them on thicker and thicker since "The Bells of St John". Here we get a blue crystal from Metebelis III (although the Doctor mispronounces it - in his defence it was at least 250 years ago), the 10th Doctor's spacesuit, the TARDIS emergency hologram, the Eye of Harmony and the TARDIS cloister bell. Blimey charlie.

All up, this episode is almost a classic. Who knows? Given a few rewatches it may wind up crossing the line. We're 10 episodes through the season, we have four left to go, and the series is scoring 90% on the 'worth watching' meter.

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