Tuesday, 23 April 2013

DOCTOR WHO, 7.9 - 'Hide'

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

After Neil Cross's disappointing "The Rings of Akhaten" (although I know it has its fans), he bounced back with this quasi-haunted house story "Hide". It was the first episode he wrote for Doctor Who, so perhaps this was an idea closest to his heart. I love it when the show scratches its horror itches, so really enjoyed how this episode evoked the mid-'70s Tom Baker era--in Hammer-influenced episodes like "Pyramids of Mars". There was also a dash of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass in Professor Palmer's character, and I later discovered Cross's original intention was for "Hide" to be an official crossover of the two classic British sci-fi shows. Shame that didn't happen.

It's 1974 and Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his psychic assistant Emma Grayling (Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine) are investigating the spooky Caliburn mansion; allegedly haunted by a spirit known as the Witch of the Well. They're later joined by The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), posing as military intelligence doing a random inspection, who proceed to reveal the true nature of the phantom Emma's able to summon.

As much as I enjoyed "Hide", it did start to take some twists and turns that made it less appealing to me. There was a lovely simplicity in the first half, with The Doctor and Clara helping Palmer and Grayling try to catch a ghost, and the episode took full advantage of the 70's production designs and spooky tone. However, there came a point where Palmer and Grayling felt marginalised as characters, which was a pity seeing as they were intelligent people I wanted to know more about.

And once the story delivered its two major twists, I found they got progressively tougher to swallow: the fact the ghost was a time-traveller called Hila Tukurian who has become trapped in a pocket universe only the TARDIS could access for a daring rescue mission was fine, but then Cross added a weird 'alien love story' denouement to explain the largely unnecessary addition of an ugly tree-like creature known as the Crooked Man that was stalking Hila in what amounted to an existential purgatory.

I just think the episode started to over complicate things because there wasn't enough material in a simple paranormal investigation storyline. I can see the argument there, but I'd have preferred more insight into Palmer and Grayling as a duo. I don't mind admitting that there were occasions when The Doctor and Clara's shtick felt a little predictable and I was anxious to get back to the seriousness that Palmer and Grayling offered elsewhere. This was actually the first episode Jenna-Louise Coleman filmed as the new companion, and in some ways you could tell because her performance was more of a default 'perky and inquisitive' caricature of a Who companion. The only time she broke free of that was to deliver the dialogue about The Doctor perceiving everyone he meets as ghosts, because to him people are either unborn or long dead after every trip he takes in his TARDIS.

However, while I think this episode had more faults than most people care to admit (like the utter lack of characterisation for Hila), "Hide" was nevertheless a fun ghost story with original twists and a fantastic sense of time and place. I also wouldn't be surprised if a few sequences gave younger children a few nightmares (like the malevolent spirit's first appearance to Grayling, or the Crooked Man appearing around tree trunks in the pocket universe's dark forest).

written by Neil Cross / directed by Jamie Payne / 20 April 2013

Next time...