It’s about the monster lurking in the shadows, the claws creeping out from under your bed, the whispers that faintly brush your neck and the horrors that you’re trying so desperately not to see.
It’s a ghost story set in a haunted house in 1974 and proves that while Doctor Who is unjustifiably labeled a show for children, it’s still capable of choking up something sinister that will rush the parents into complaints of it being “too scary.”
Well, leave the lights on and the door cracked because that was a wonderfully creepy episode that managed to level it with just enough humor that it didn’t nose dive off into another show’s territory.
In 1974, in an old style Victorian house, Professor Alec (Dougray Scott) and his psychic prodigy Emma (Jessica Raine) are trying to find a displaced spirit when the Doctor comes a-knocking.
“Hello, I’m looking for a ghost”- The Doctor.
“And you are?” – The Professor.
“Ghostbusters”- The Companion. Yes, I may have taken too much joy out of this brief exchange, but, it’s this brief exchange that exemplifies the energy that persists and grows throughout the remainder of the episode.
It’s obvious early on that Clara and the Doctor believed that this ghost would be no more than a little game: a sheet and a person calling “boo”, but it soon turns nasty as the spirit’s emotions and fear begin to unsettle not only Emma, an empathetic physic, but also Clara who as we learned last week is not always able to be as recklessly brave as the Doctor might wish and it’s seamlessly carried over to this week’s episode as she hesitates before chasing after temperamental ghosts.
And off they go to the heart of the house, the music room, and Clara and the Doctor’s banter continues to be adorable and fresh and effortlessly watchable.
Alec and Emma are waiting by themselves and discussing the mysterious pair that have just turned up on their doorstep and Emma tells Alec she believes that they’re being dishonest.
“Experience makes liars of us all,” Alec tells Emma. And while it’s obviously supposed to hint at Alec’s own characterization, having been to war and back, and the duo’s romance that’s slowly beginning to show, I would like to believe that it was episode writer Neil Cross (back from his last episode “The Rings of Akhenaten”) little nod to the Doctor’s own characterization. The lives he has lead, the experiences he’s endured and the people and places he’s had to save—it doesn’t exactly promise a man who builds his life around honesty. Instead, he’s needed to manipulate, lie and charm his way into situations that help both him and others.
The sooner audiences come to realize and accept the fact that the Doctor often wades in the shades of grey, not entirely good and fighting for what’s right, the better, because it only makes him a stronger character.
Back with the Doctor and Clara, things are beginning to darken as they realize the ghost is coming towards them. The Doctor is off fiddling about, drawing superstitious chalk circles on the ground as the pounding in the walls draw near.
“Doctor, I’m not happy,” Clara tells him and it’s amazing to see a companion voicing this. Rory was my favorite character in the past few seasons not only because of Arthur Darvill’s talent, but also because he didn’t put up with the Doctor’s shtick and the companion’s need to prove something to him. Clara does the same, her purpose is to have fun, to explore but she won’t go out of her way to do some ridiculous stunt of bravado.
So she stays put until the Doctor wanders off and she has to clamber to follow. And that’s when they realize that they’re not alone as a ghostly entity grabs Clara’s hand and the duo run off back into the study where the others await.
The Doctor believing something is off with the story beckons Clara into the TARDIS so that they can do some investigative work. He goes back in time all the way into a post-apocalyptic earth, taking photos of the very same spot trying to put together pieces of a puzzle. As he’s fiddling with the pieces Clara is growing more and more distraught.
As he walks in after the last stop he notices her face and asks her what’s wrong. Reeling from Emma warning her earlier about the Doctor’s icy heart, she asks him how he can see the entire lifespan of the earth and not be touched by it. For a man who has seen all of time and space, the death of a planet isn’t nearly as shocking but to Clara it’s monumental. She accuses him of seeing all of them as ghosts. She asks him, why hang around with simple memories, shadows of people.
Because he says, you’re the only mystery left worth solving.
I’m going to assume he meant the human race and not just Clara alone, because, if so, that’s frustrating.
They arrive back and the Doctor has a solution of sorts. What they’ve been chasing is no ghost but a pioneer of time travel lost in time. And while it seems like she has been there for decades, to her it could simply be a few minutes. The Doctor uses a machine and Emma to enhance her psychic abilities in order to open a portal to the pocket world.
And voila, it works.
The Doctor jumps in with little hesitation to find her and the scene in the vortex is just beautiful. I don’t know how much of it was green screen, what was on location or in a sound stage, but whatever it was worked flawlessly. It gave it the atmosphere of a haunted tale, of a fairytale such as “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel and Gretel.” A lone figure in a dusk drawn forest, escaping something fearsome and unknown.
Matt Smith plays terrified well, taking deep breaths of anticipation, and he runs about until running into the mysterious time traveler herself.
The machine starts wearing down and Emma cries for the Doctor and lone traveler to hurry up. They run into a psychic built dream house and find the rope to pull themselves up and the Doctor sends the traveler up first to ward off the monster that’s been chasing them through the fog.
However, once the traveler is safe, Emma collapses from exhaustion and the portal closes, leaving the Doctor stranded.
Clara isn’t having this and in another moment of continuity, goes to the TARDIS for help and is immediately turned down—she still doesn’t like her. It’s a nice reminder that the TARDIS is a sentient being. Yet once realizing the dire circumstances that her Doctor has gotten himself into, allows Clara in so they can travel through dimensions.
Just as the Doctor is about to be attacked by the monster—albeit now that we can see it, goofy looking monster—Clara swings by with the TARDIS just as Emma opens the portal and they are now safe and sound.
The scenes in the woods were some of the best of the episode simply because it set a mood for the hour. It was dark and dreary and the Doctor himself was afraid. Set him in front a baddie that he can see, no matter it’s stature or greatness or overwhelming power and he’s okay, a little put off maybe by the work he has to do to conquer it, but fine all together. However, put a monster in the shadows and it makes children of us all, even such a powerful individual whose seen so much. Smith’s performance helps a great deal, managing to create tension with no one to act beside him but himself.
The end of the episode draws near and we learn that the Doctor had never actually come to the house for the ghost, but for Emma herself. He wants to know if she can read anything about Clara and Emma tells him, confused, that Clara is just an ordinary girl, a pretty, smart girl who’s more frightened than she lets on.
They then realize that Emma and the time traveler are of some relation and this leads the Doctor to his last revelation—the monster wasn’t trying to scare anyone at all, he was only trying to find his partner who had been displaced as well, in the house. The Doctor takes it upon himself to reunite the two lovebirds.
There was something about “Hide” that worked where “Cold War” didn’t. Both took a darker approach to the general storylines but with “Hide” it seemed as if they were having more fun with it—remembering that it’s a show about adventures. Neil Cross is becoming the MVP of this season, turning out my two favorite episodes of season seven thus far. He understands the characters, he really understands Clara, and he knows how to keep the dynamic between the Doctor and companion unique. Sure, I’m sure Moffat is at some point going to try and make it romantic because that’s what he does, but for now they seem inquisitive about the other, enjoy each other’s company and nothing more.
This week we got a ghost story, next week we’re traveling into the heart of the TARDIS, they’re really just throwing it all out onto the table this season, aren’t they? Will the momentum last? Will I like it when Mark Gatiss gets to write another episode? Time will tell.