Last week’s episode, Cold War, was one of the best Doctor Who episodes in yonks – with an effective revival of classic foe the Ice Warriors and a tight script – so how does tonight’s episode, titled Hide stack up? And can it throw off the chainssssss (sorry, a week too late for that) of having being written by the man who wrote The Rings of Akhaten?
Hide is perhaps the first outright haunted house story in modern day Doctor Who – set in the early Seventies, where a professor and a psychic (now that’s a name for a rom-com) have set up shop in a creepy haunted house. They’re looking for the Witch of the Well, a screaming ghost that haunts the house – and handily, that’s when the Doctor and Clara turn up. One slightly cringey (although that’s nothing compared to that terrible moment in Army of Ghosts) Ghostbusters reference later, and the Doctor and Clara have joined in on the ghost hunt.
Hide is split rather neatly into three distinct acts- and the first act is probably the strongest – with the Doctor and Clara sneaking around Caliburn House on a ghost hunt. It’s not quite Blink in terms of scare factor, but there’s a plethora of creepy moments – with the highlight being ‘I’m not holding your hand’. It’s sumptuously directed by director Jamie Payne, who shoots the episode’s creepiest moments perfectly. In a series filled with particularly good visuals, Hide still manages to stand above the crowd visuals-wise.
But surprisingly enough, the story soon takes a pit-stop for character development. There’s just three guest actors in the episode (with Hila only appearing towards the end and mostly standing around like a lemon in the final scene) – so the episode can afford to take an in-depth look at what makes the guest characters tick. Of course, if you’re going to have just two actors for most of the run-time, then they’d better be good actors – and Hide utterly succeeds in that respect. Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible 2) and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) are both excellent.
I’m not a huge fan of love subplots being shoehorned into episodes that already have enough on their plate – but Scott and Raine’s budding romance is actually quite a nice little sub-plot – it’s not gloopy or cheesy in the slightest, and the fact that scenes are used sparingly makes the sub-plot all the better. It helps that they’re such sympathetic characters – Alec the war-hero turned ghost hunter and Emma the lonely psychic are memorable characters, and are actually rather well written for once (Neil Cross’ writing is far superior here than in The Rings of Akhaten, which was mostly saved by great performances). Jenna-Louise Coleman shines again this week – her acting during the ‘only mystery worth solving’ scene should have been enough to convince you that yes, she’s a rather good companion.
But back to the ghost. Of course, this is Doctor Who, so there needs to be a sci-fi explanation. The quintessentially Moffat explanation that the ghost is actually a time traveller who’s crashed into a collapsing pocket dimension is clever, even if it’s a little less intriguing than the idea of a trapped spirit. So, it’s up to the Doctor to leap into the pocket universe (with a little help from Emma and her crystal helmet), save the traveller and head back to our universe. But of course, this is Doctor Who, and it doesn’t quite go to plan.
The Doctor grabs Hila, but Emma collapses in pain, breaking the portal to our dimension just after Hila gets back. But unfortunately, the Doctor’s trapped in a misty forest with an odd creature scuttling around. It’s not often that we see the Doctor genuinely afraid, and Matt Smith perfectly plays the terrified Time Lord, as he’s pursued by the pocket universe monster. The episode’s turn to slightly more conventional sci-fi fare does feel like a little bit of a disappointment – but it’s still compelling stuff, and it’s more a fault of the promotion of the episode selling a ‘ghost story’ than any fault of the episode itself.
The subplot with the TARDIS disliking Clara was touched upon briefly in The Rings of Akhaten, but it returns this week, with slightly hilarious results, as the TARDIS locks Clara out before providing a projection of herself ‘as it was the most suitable’. It’s an intriguing little sub-plot, and should be touched upon far more in next week’s installment. But the TARDIS finally lets her in, and the Doctor is rescued from the parallel universe and the grip of the slow-mo beast.
After saying their goodbyes to Alec and Emma, you’d expect the episode to end there… but it doesn’t. In a slightly odd final scene, the Doctor discovers that the monster that had been prowling around the house earlier was another of the slow-mo beasts… and the two are in love with each other. It’s a twist too far, and while it’s handled as it should be, it’s an unnecessary, bolted-on addition into the episode. We get it, Neil Cross, you’re clever.
To wrap the review up – Hide is another extremely strong episode, anchored by an excellent script and memorable guest performances – it even manages to provide a few creepy moments and a satisfying sci-fi explanation while it’s at it. If you snip the last two minutes off, it’s a five-star episode. But with the ending intact, I give it:
Tune in next Saturday, where I’ll be taking you on a journey. Actually, I’ll be reviewing episode ten, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, but whatever floats your boat.