The Doctor: “Telepathy and precognition are normal in anyone whose childhood was spent near a time fissure, like the one in the wood.”
Jack: “He’s as bad as she is! Here, what’s a time fissure?”
The Doctor: “It’s a weakness in the fabric of space and time. Every haunted place has one, doesn’t it? That’s why they’re haunted, it’s a time distortion.” – Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl
When I first heard beforehand that the upcoming Doctor Who episode “Hide” was written by Neil Cross, who also penned “The Rings of Akhaten,” I must have inwardly groaned. But, having watched the episode, I was much relieved. Whereas “Rings” just never came together and left me underwhelmed, “Hide” was a very tightly plotted, engaging tale with interesting characters.
The year is 1974. Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and empathic psychic Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) are at Caliburn Mansion, attempting to obtain proof of the existence of the Witch in the Well, a ghost who has reputedly haunted the area for many centuries. Alec and Emma’s inquiries are abruptly interrupted by the Doctor and Clara, who arrive claiming to be from the Health and Safety division of the Ministry of Defense. And, in typical fashion, the Doctor quickly takes charge of the investigation.
“Hide” very much reminded me of the “gothic horror” stories of Tom Baker’s era on the show. Indeed, scientists probing the existence of bizarre phenomena at an old English house out in the countryside is highly reminiscent of the set-up found in the above quoted 1977 serial “The Image of the Fendahl.” Certainly the director of “Hide,” Jamie Payne, does an absolutely marvelous job at creating an eerie, spooky atmosphere. There were some really suspenseful moments.
Of course, as with so many of those Tom Baker stories, the apparently supernatural entity in “Hide” is eventually explained as a scientific occurrence by the Doctor. The solution to the mystery is unexpected, yet highly effective. And right until the end, Cross’ script provides a number of well thought out twists. I really enjoyed the conceit of the Doctor and Clara using the TARDIS to travel forward in time from the beginning of Earth’s history until the planet’s final days, periodically stopping in the exactly same spot, the once and future location of Caliburn Mansion, in order to collect evidence.
There is some excellent character development in this episode. Watching the Doctor crossing through the entirety of Earth’s history as casually as if he was taking the bus across town, Clara finally begins to understand just how alien he is. She realizes the Doctor operates on a scale vastly beyond human comprehension, and is actually intimidated. As with last week’s “Cold War,” we see great work by Jenna-Lousie Coleman here, once again really fleshing out Clara beyond the initial character remit of plucky girl genius tossing off clever one-liners.
As for the Doctor, Matt Smith once more shows us, underneath the wacky nonchalance, the hints of his darker, more manipulative side. It seems he is becoming more and more obsessed with finding out who or what Clara really is, why she keeps reappearing throughout history. At times he appears to regard her not as a person, but as a mystery to be solved, or a laboratory specimen to be examined.
Cross does very nice work scripting the characters Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling. Alec is haunted not just by the Witch in the Well but by his own past. He ran black ops during World War II and saw a great deal of death. Dougray Scott really buried himself in this role, and I didn’t even realize it was him until I went to Wikipedia to check the episode credits.
(As a side note, I did think Alec Palmer looked about a decade too young to have seen action in the war. He’d have probably been in at least his early to mid-50s by 1974. In real life, Scott is 47 years old. Maybe the make-up department should have given him a few extra grey hairs. Ah, well, Scott played the role so well, I’m willing to shrug it off.)
Also well cast is Jessica Raine as Emma Grayling. Cross’ script makes it clear that Emma’s paranormal senses often leave her feeling vulnerable and exposed. Raine brings this quality across without making the character look weak. I also thought Emma’s unreciprocated feelings towards Alec were well handled, and the relationship between the two seemed to evolve naturally throughout the course of the episode.
It’s interesting that such a dark, eerie, atmospheric episode becomes one about hope and the future. But, again, the transition works effectively. Unlike “The Rings of Akhaten” or “The Snowmen,” here the message of the importance of love and relationships is underplayed. Cross allows it to come out of the events of the story, rather than hitting us over the head with a blunt object.
I probably could write more concerning “Hide,” but I would rather not give away too much about it. If you haven’t watched it yet, it is well worth seeing. I’d say that it is probably tied with “Cold War” for my favorite episode so far of Series 7B.