Doctor Who Recap: A-Haunting We Will Go

Doctor Who
Doctor Who
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Well, now we have an idea of the type of Doctor Who yarns Neil Cross is interested in spinning, since he’s delivered two scripts in a row with thematic similarities. Though “Hide” played two episodes after “The Rings of Akhaten” in the season, Cross wrote it prior to “Rings.” Apparently Steven Moffat and Co. were so happy with the first script, they offered him another. Once again, with “Hide,” we’re seeing the dissolving of a belief system, only here it’s on a smaller scale. Hopefully the Doctor won’t leave too much rampant chaos in his wake. (How did the Ahkatenians cope after the Doctor exited, just after shattering everything their culture ever believed in?) Further, both stories have contained these heavy, seemingly fate-fueled romances. Perhaps Moffat felt Cross did such a fine job of playing with those dynamics in this script, that he’d be an ideal man to breathe life into the doomed romance of Clara’s parents (which he was).

Last week the Doctor and Clara visited 1983, and now they’ve gone back yet another decade, to 1974. These journeys to recent times add a different texture to the series, by bringing a much more familiar feel than trips to the distant past. Arriving at the allegedly haunted Caliburn house, the duo encounters a pair not entirely dissimilar from themselves: Professor Alec Palmer, an ex-spy played by Dougray Scott, the man who missed out on being both James Bond and Wolverine, and his assistant, Emma Grayling (both such wonderful character names!), an empathic psychic brought to life by Jessica Raine, the star of PBS’s Call the Midwife. Both duos appear to be having communication problems, and the chasing of ghosts is perhaps some sort of metaphor for the failure of these characters to clearly see each other. Certainly the ghost hunting provides Alec and Emma the perfect excuse to avoid dealing with their feelings, in much the same way the Doctor’s continued thrill-seeking with Clara might be a way to avoid confronting possible truths with her head on.

The first half of “Hide” is almost exactly what you’d expect from a modern Doctor Who story set in a haunted house. It feels like a riff on The Haunting, which isn’t a bad thing, except that once the effects — such as “Help Me” written on the wall, and the CGI thing lurking in the shadows — start popping up, it becomes more reminiscent of the inferior remake rather than restrained original. The real “problem” with putting a Who spin on a ghost story, is that there are no supernatural happenings in the Whoniverse, so the iconography one associates with those types of stories feels somewhat silly. There’s a scientific explanation coming, it’s just a matter of time until we find out what it is. So the meat of the tale must be contained within the resolution.

Fast forward to the second half, which kicks off with the Doctor and Clara taking an epic journey through time, so that he can photograph the ghost throughout history and future. At this point he deduces that the ghost is actually a time traveler moving at a different rate and trying to escape from a pocket universe, which is the make it or break point of the episode, as it’s the explanation for all the creepy goings-on. If this didn’t work, “Hide” would crumble. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a genius narrative move, it fits well within the world of Doctor Who, and is exactly the sort of explanation we’d expect from the series. (The Jon Pertwee serial “Day of the Daleks” also featured “ghosts” that turned out to be time travelers from the future.) Luckily, with that revelation, the episode is really just gearing up for the complete display of its wares.

The psychic Emma becomes the key to the Doctor journeying through the portal and into the pocket universe, which is quite the atmospheric spectacle: a misty, dead forest, seemingly floating on a patch of rock in the middle of space. The imagery is otherworldly, and displays the true horror of the story (the Doctor is utterly terrified of it). It doesn’t take the Doctor long to find the time traveler Hila Tukurian (another great name!), and send her to the house in ’74; however, the portal closes and he’s stuck there. Clara and the TARDIS must overcome some of their dislike for one another in order to save him, which is a development in that ongoing seasonal thread, though unlikely the final word on it, especially given the premise of next week’s episode. Perhaps the TARDIS’s distrust of Clara is as simple as it being an extension of the Doctor’s similar feelings? By and large, a good episode for our two main characters, and they seemed not so much to have worked a few things out, but rather they both got some heavy stuff that had been weighing them down off their chests.

The revelation that Hila is a distant, future descendant of Alec and Emma is a lovely touch that thematically wraps up their storyline; however in its final moments, “Hide” is hell-bent on making everything perfectly tidy by having the Doctor realize that the creature stalking Hila was looking for its mate that is stuck in the house in our universe. He probably wasn’t even chasing Hila, as much as trying to get to the same place she was. Even though it’s a sound enough narrative move, it felt far too ideal of an ending, though I imagine viewer mileage will vary. There was something syrupy sweet about that resolution, and as the episode avoids showing the reunion of the two creatures/aliens, there are questions left up in the air. What’s going to happen to this motley collection of people after the Doctor and Clara leave? Are they all just going live together in the house? Can Hila get back to her own time (perhaps the Doctor will return her)? What were those creatures, anyway? None of these questions needed to be answered for this story to work, yet the fact that I have them is a mild inconvenience.

Perhaps the biggest question is: Did the creatures even need to be in this story? I’m unconvinced they were a necessity, and in fact they sort of feel like an add-on; the sort of thing a Who story must have so that an action figure can be made of it. Nevertheless, another solid entry, three weeks running, and we haven’t even gotten to the Gaiman episode yet. Life is good, and the letdown that was much of Season Six is starting to feel more and more like a single season misstep.

Odd and Ends

  • In the same way that many fans are often on the lookout for which actor might be the next Doctor, I tend to keep an eye out for who might be the next showrunner. Despite having minor quibbles with each of these scripts from Cross, there’s no question the man is able to put a unique stamp on Doctor Who, which is a necessity for someone calling the shots on this series. Other big plusses include the fact that he’s created and run his own series (Luther), and that Hollywood already appears to be beckoning, what with the recent success of the horror film Mama, which Cross helped to adapt from short film into feature, as well as (apparently) script doctor contributions to Pacific Rim. At this stage it’s premature to call him an ideal candidate for the job, but let’s put Cross in the “Under Consideration” pile, regardless.   
  • “Don’t trust him. There’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” — Emma Grayling to Clara, of the Doctor. Later on, the Doctor to Clara: “You are the only mystery worth solving.” Both insightful bits of dialogue that bring a great deal of heft to this tale.
  • The Doctor has clearly not given Clara a key to the TARDIS yet. Part of this is no doubt due to his inability to figure her out, but I suspect he also recalls the tragically disastrous moments that followed giving Clara the key in “The Snowmen.”  
  • The orange spacesuit the Doctor wears is, presumably, supposed to be the same one he acquired in the “Satan Pit” two-parter from the second season, and then later used again in “42” and “The Waters of Mars.”
  • Jessica Raine will be seen later this year as Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who, in the BBC docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.
  • Surely many an old-school fan cringed at Smith’s mispronunciation of Metebelis. How come nobody on set caught that? I guess neither Moffat nor Cross were there that day. Still, a playful reference to a crystal that played a big role in the Jon Pertwee stories “The Green Death,” and his swansong, “Planet of the Spiders.”
  • “Hide” vaguely echoes the Sylvester McCoy serial “Ghost Light,’” another instance of the Doctor taking his companion to a supposedly haunted house in order to find out more about her.
  • The cloister bell ringing and the talk of entropy recalled Tom Baker’s finale, “Logopolis.” Near the end of the story, the TARDIS was even parked in a cloistered area of the property.