Former DOCTOR WHO producer Hinchcliffe and story editor Holmes (famous for their scary Fourth Doctor horror collaborations, like “The Horror of Fang Rock”) surely would have been proud to have produced “Hide,” the truly terrifying ghost story current producer Steven Moffat seems to have been looking for since he took over. Thank Neil Cross – creator of hardboiled cop show LUTHER and scripter of the unjustly pooh-poohed “The Rings of Akhaten” – and director Jamie Payne for this moody instant masterpiece.
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his assistant Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive at Caliburn House in November 1974, where former war hero Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his assistant, the psychic Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) are investigating the appearances of a female ghost known as the Witch of the Well. Emma is an empath, and although Clara can see that Alec loves her, Emma seems blind to his feelings. After Clara notices that the ghost is always glimpsed in the same pose, the Doctor borrows Palmer’s camera, hops in the TARDIS and takes a series of photographs of the Caliburn House grounds throughout time, from Earth’s molten beginnings to its fiery end. He realizes that the “ghost” is, in fact, a time traveler called Hila Tacorien (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who is trapped in a pocket dimension where time runs vastly slower. And she is being chased by… something, which is why the ghost is always heard to cry, “Help me!”
Believing the TARDIS’ energy would be instantly drained by the entropy of visiting the pocket dimension, the Doctor uses a blue crystal from Metebelis III to enhance Emma’s psychic powers enough to open a portal to the dimension so he can enter and find Hila. He does, and she escapes to Earth, but the Doctor is left behind with the creature, the Crooked Man (Aidan Cook). Clara convinces the TARDIS to help her rescue the Doctor — which they do. Back in 1974, the Doctor admits that he actually came to Caliburn House to ask Emma about Clara; but the empath senses nothing unusual about the girl twice dead. The Doctor accidentally reveals that Hila is Alec and Emma’s distant future descendant, which is why she connected so strongly to the house (and Emma) that she could be seen as a ghostly image. Suddenly, the Doctor realizes that the Crooked Man is also trapped and trying to return home — not simply chasing Hila. So he returns to the pocket universe and rescues the misshapen beastie.
Well, the “ghosts” weren’t really ghosts in “Army of Ghosts,” either; just pan-dimensional hijinks.
The best part of this story is that it was actually scary! In an age of AMERICAN HORROR STORY and THE WALKING DEAD, one might think DOCTOR WHO is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to being scary, but “Hide” pulled off some truly chilling moments. I’m thinking of the bit just after the Doctor and Clara depart for the past and the ghast is suddenly illuminated behind Palmer and Emma by a lightning flash. And the sight of the Crooked Man hiding behind a tree? Brrr. But even that was topped by the half-glimpsed images of the creature stirring in the shadows of Caliburn House. (BTW, the creature is never named in the course of the story; only the final credits refer to it as Crooked Man.)
The sound design was also inspired, as when the ghast manifested in the main room (and “Help Me” appeared on the wall); the room was suffused with her tortured cries. And did you notice that when the Doctor and Clara first entered the music room, which Emma called “the heart of the house,” a soft heartbeat could be heard? That is proof the show is firing on all cylinders. And I’m sure I don’t even have to mention the brilliant visuals of the Crooked Man. (His creepy look reminded me very much of the elongated, bony work of comic book artist Kelly Jones.) Its motions were equally unearthly; the jerky movements were performed in reverse and then played forward to make them look unnatural.
And, let’s face it, seeing Matt’s Doctor act terrified and run about with Clara (whether he was actually frightened or not) was a delight, Who cares if it was a bit out of character for the Doctor to be so easily spooked – but maybe this incarnation is bit of a ’fraidy cat. (He certainly was taken aback by the Ice Warrior’s true appearance last week.)
The Doctor’s connection with Professor Palmer was palpable. As veterans of war, their discussion about the burden of living after so many others have died – especially by one’s own hand or via one’s orders – was quite sad. Matt was masterful as the Doctor silently seemed to cry out, “I, too, have killed and sent people to their deaths. Ever hear of the Last Great Time War”? Instead, he asked Palmer what he would say to the dead who haunt him. “I’d very much like to thank them,” Palmer said.
Clara’s stunned, teary-eyed reaction to witnessing the life cycle of the Earth, “birth to death,” was also quite moving. The Doctor was basically, like, well, this is a time machine, so I see this sort of thing all the time. But Clara was having trouble dealing with the idea that her corpse was out there, somewhere, buried and decayed beyond dust, but this was just another Tuesday for the Doctor. In the blink of an eye, she saw how small she must be compared to the life of a planet — and how insignificant her lifetime is to a Time Lord. “We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing,” she cried.
But Clara could not have been more wrong. Now it was the Doctor’s turn to get emotional. We could see that he wanted to tell her what he told Donna Noble and Amy Pond and so many other companions: The human race is the most important thing in the universe to him. That because humans are so fleeting they are miraculous. But the Doctor was biting his tongue, not admitting to Clara that, like he hinted to Amy, humans are practically his reason d’être. That our unimaginably brief lifetimes make every single moment indescribably precious. He’s gallivanting across the universe, seeing everything there is to see because nothing lasts. Like he told Amy, he’s running toward us, not away. He is still haunted by the deaths of his best friends, the Ponds (and always will be). But he doesn’t say any of this to Clara, because he doesn’t trust her. So, while in his mind he’s referring to all humans, he just tells Clara, “You are the only mystery worth solving.” He was speaking about her and her many deaths, but we viewers knew he was actually talking about our species. He loves carrier pigeons, but he loves humans.
Speaking of amazing people, we certainly met one in the form of Emma, and Jessica Raine was simply sublime in the role. She projected so much vulnerability yet with such a stiff spine that Emma was surely companion material (but we know her destiny lay along another path). And, if anything, Dougray Scott was even more amazing than Raine! Palmer’s psyche seemed as battle-scarred and wounded as Scott’s deep, pained voice. The Doctor described Palmer as a man of amazing ingenuity and grit, and yet he was shy as a schoolboy with Emma. Palmer was clearly soul-sick after his lethal service to his country, yet his soul was still functioning. As an empath, Emma’s problem was that she couldn’t trust her power when it came to him. Was she really reading love from him or projecting it onto him? It was a classic case of the Man Who’s Seen Too Much and the Girl Who’s Felt Too Much.
The Doctor’s easy manner while mucking about with Time was an interesting aspect of this story. After chiding Clara that time could be rewritten in “Cold War,” she could be seen reacting with shock when he insisted that Fixed Points in Time cannot be altered. I think the Doctor’s cavalier attitude toward tampering with Time is a bit self-serving, and he treats the non-Fixed Point opportunities as instances when he can judge whether the past will survive tinkering; it’s as if the Doctor says, “I know it when I see it,” when it comes to time-tampering. He will be the judge of what to tinker with. Or not. (Uh-oh, shades of the Time Lord Triumphant?)
However, the Doctor insisting “paradoxes resolve themselves, by and large,” is something of a new attitude for the Doctor. Now, certainly, the Doctor does go bashing about the universe and interfering willy-nilly with seemingly no regard for all the paradoxes he leaves in his wake. I think we need a new story that revisits the idea of the Reapers (from “Father’s Day”) and clarifies their role in the Whoniverse.
Speaking of roles in the universe, when the Doctor asks Emma about Clara, he learns she’s “just a girl.” He is stunned to learn that the empathy can feel nothing strange in Clara. He saw as much for himself when he shadowed her in her past. When the TARDIS uses its holographic imaging system (last seen in “Let’s Kill Hitler”) to communicate with Clara, it projects an image of the impossible girl herself, judging it the only image Clara would respect and listen to!
All this in a ghost story that doesn’t even have a ghost? Well-played, Steven Moffat… well-played.
- Apparently the Doctor traveled to Metebelis III specifically to grab another blue crystal to enhance Emma’s power. He gave his previous one to Jo as a wedding present in “The Green Death,” and the last time he visited Metebelis III was the fatal trip in “Planet of the Spiders.” And why did he mispronounce that planet’s name?
- The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) also called themselves Ghostbusters, during “Army of Ghosts.”
- As if we needed another mystery related to Clara – she claimed that whisky is “the 11th most disgusting thing ever invented.” So… what are the top 10? (For his part, the Doctor drinks milk in this story – straight out of the bottle!)
- The Doctor claims to love toggle switches, the ACR 99821 machine and carrier pigeons.
- Welcome back, trusty orange spacesuit the Doctor picked up in his 10th incarnation on Krop Tor, the eponymous “The Impossible Planet.” He also wore it in “42” and “The Waters of Mars.” But, what’s with the helmet, which appeared to have been abandoned on Mars after it was damaged? And did the Doctor retrieve it from a coat cupboard or the TARDIS wardrobe?
- No explanation is given for how the TARDIS was retrieved from the South Pole, where it was said to be at the end of the last adventure, “Cold War.”
- After this script turned out so well, the producers invited Neil Cross to write another, which became “The Rings of Akhaten.”
- Writer Cross originally wanted the Doctor to meet Bernard Quatermass of The Quatermass Experiment, but, of course, copyright issues prevented that from happening.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK:
- “The TARDIS is like a cat: If it’s slow to trust, you’ll get there in the end.” – The Doctor
- “It does tend to haunt you – living – after so much of the other thing.” – Professor Palmer
- “She’s a perfectly ordinary girl. A bit pretty. A bit clever. More scared than she lets on.” – Emma, on Clara
- “Not everything ends. Not love. Not always.” – The Doctor (and Emma)
- “I’m slow. I’m notorious for it. But I get there in the end.” – The Doctor
- “One guy. One girl. One stalky, face-melted beastie. Romance ensues!” – The Doctor
- “Every lonely monster needs a companion.” – The Doctor
- “This isn’t a ghost story; it’s a love story!” – The Doctor