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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, Hide

Series 7, Episode 10 
Grade: A 
Verdict: Neil Cross' second episode is a clever little jaunt that ties together 70's era Hammer-style horror and some slightly high concept sci-fi, that nudges Clara's arc just a bit further and provides another stellar set of guest actors an opportunity to shine. If this is Cross' possible audition for taking over the show, I'd say he's on the verge of passing with flying colors.

This week's Doctor Who was an exciting one for me as it featured another Neil Cross script not far on the heels of his masterfully done "The Rings of Akhaten", and is the third in a stretch of episodes that have put Doctor Who back on course. Whereas last week's "Cold War" had very well realized nods and winks to the Second Doctor's "base under siege" era, I had also mentioned it's connection to the better years of the Fourth Doctor. "Hide" is an episode that continues that trend, as its first act is an outright Hammer horror pastiche, focusing on a fairly creepy ghost story with the Doctor and Clara as the arrivals in the midst of a paranormal investigation being undertaken by Professor Alec Palmer and his assistant Emma Grayling (played by Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine respectively).

Beyond the fact that both Scott and Raine are wonderful actors and a perfect followup to Liam Cunningham's guest appearance last week, the characters they inhabit are also written in a way that gives you a sense that they are, if not The Doctor's equals, at least very capable. Palmer particularly is given a very believable backstory, and when he discusses with The Doctor his war-torn past and the extent of his experiences, you start to think that maybe the Doctor never really needed to show up at all. Palmer is clearly an homage to Bernard Quatermass, and had Cross not run into rights issues in trying to secure the character, the Doctor would have met Quatermass himself. I'm not sure the screen would have been able to handle those two British icons coming together, but the influence is utterly permeable in the first 20 minutes or the episode.

Had the episode just continued that path it would have still be a strong outing, but the fact that the "ghost" that haunts the home that Palmer resides in relies on a very clever twist gives the episode that extra bit of energy that shoots it into the upper echelon of very well conceived Doctor Who episodes. After the Doctor comes up with a plan to determine the history of the ghost that has apparently haunted that home for hundreds of years, he takes the TARDIS with Clara and travels back from the beginning of life on earth all the way to the end of days. The Doctor's discovery about the true nature of the "ghost" then takes the episode firmly into the realm of science fiction. Often in Doctor Who, its monsters and ghouls have extraterrestrial origins (ex: a vampire is never really a vampire, but a type of piranha alien) and typically this feels like hand-wavery; this week's explanation fits far better into the overall scheme of Doctor Who as time traveller and Steven Moffat's reign as showrunner. It's nice that the effects of time travel finally play a role in a show about time travel thanks to Moffat.

Once the Doctor attempts to rescue a lost time traveller, Hila, the real identity of the ghost, and becomes stranded in the parallel dimension, the episode veers right back into horror. Cross and Director Jamie Payne do a wonderful job of creating horror and Matt Smith's performance here captures the Doctor at his most terrified, completely alone and stalked by a faintly seen monster. When the Doctor recognized that he actually had the upper hand on the creature, I was right there with him, and was in awe of just how much Matt Smith had me in the palm of his hand with his ability to display the Doctor when he knows that he's going to win the day. The struggle to save the Doctor back at the mansion was also tremendously well played, particularly Grayling's efforts using the Metabelis crystal

The episode's finale falters just a tiny bit, not so much in the fact that it begins to teeter back into the love element that the episode turns on in the background between Palmer and Grayling, but the grafting of the love story onto the episode's monster, while making complete sense, felt a little silly. To the script's credit, it's done very quickly and we're spared any possible additional strange mushiness as the episode closes once the monster is saved by the TARDIS.

While "Hide" was more or less ruled by its influences and its emotional content, it also continued to push the arc forward but a but more subtly this week. When traveling with the Doctor and experiencing the end of the world, Clara became a bit distraught at the idea that The Doctor sees all of humanity as ghosts since time relatively means very little to him. This was another great moment for Jenna-Louise Coleman, and this character thoughtfulness fully sets her apart from the past few companions that seemed to have a much smaller worldview. Another moment of note is when Grayling warns Clara away from the Doctor during a private conversation, stating that he has "a sliver of ice in his heart". It seems a bit of an odd thing to say, though we've seen the Doctor just abandon companions in the past though his tearful good-bye to Amy last year is seemingly at odds with that statement, curious and curiouser. I also enjoyed that "Hide" directly acknowledged the TARDIS' dislike for Clara, as next week's episode is entitled "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", we may end up getting an answer to this question.

"Hide" is the third very good episode in a row for a Series 7 that desperately needed this kind of rejuvenation, at this point, I may argue that it'll likely be the best episode of the Series; but we still have another set of Gattis, Gaiman, and Moffat episodes to come, and the Moffat episode based on the title alone "The Name of the Doctor" sounds like a doozy.
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