Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Doctor Who - Hide Review

There's some spooky 'n' scary goings on in this excellent "ghost" story

Neil Cross' return to Doctor Who, after an absence of just 1 week, with a much less divisive episode than The Rings Of Akhaten (though I was much more positive about it than many others). Hide is an episode which finds the balance between the divisive whimsy of Akhaten and the steady ground of Cold War, and is the best episode of this 2013 run so far.

Hide is assuringly old fashioned in its set-up. A pair of ghost hunters are working in haunted house in the 1970s. The illusive spectre is most definitely with them, but never hangs around for long. The Doctor and Clara show up to try and solve the mystery of the Witch of the Well.

The episode starts as you would expect any ghost story to start as Alex (Dougray Scott) and Emma (Jessica Raine) bring the Doctor and Clara (and the audience) up to speed. This initial section is grounded in a tangible reality which ensures that the spooky events that follow are enough of a contrast. The Doctor and Clara take a wander through Caliburn house, trying to find evidence of the ghost. It's here that Hide strays close to Scooby Doo territory, though it remains on the right side of silliness. The ghostly occurrences are never truly scary (it is a family show after all) but are suitably creepy Neil Cross also includes a slight sense of ghost story self awareness, such as Clara questioning why anyone would purposely buy a haunted house, which adds a sense of fun that has often been the key to many Doctor Who outings. The Clara featured in this episode is still new to the time travelling game, but has spent enough time with the Doctor to feel confident and comfortable on an adventure, bringing an end to her introductory episodes.

The gang eventually manage to capture a glimpse of the ghost and the Doctor has his suspicions. It is pointed out that the ghost always looks the same; same appearance and position. It's at this point that Neil Cross makes a bold decision. He could have easily delivered a well told, traditional ghost story. Instead, he subverts out expectations and develops Hide into a very interesting episode.

The Doctor travels throughout history and sees the ghost at every point in time. The ghost is in fact not a ghost, but an explorer lost in a pocket universe (a collapsing universe within the real universe). It's a gentle but intriguing twist on what might have been expected of the story. The Doctor cobbles together a magic machine that will drop him into the pocket universe, enabling him to search for the lost woman. What follows is a tense sequence filled with a terrific sense of urgency. The creature in this pocket universe is not dwelled upon, and its true motivations are only revealed towards the very end. The monster's distorted movement was achieved by playing the movements backwards; a simple but very effective technique.

The Doctor gets left behind in the pocket universe and for once appears to be genuinely scared. He also doesn't have time to give the grandstanding speeches that are commonplace in most episodes. He is eventually saved by Clara, whom the TARDIS is now beginning to trust. Everybody is alive and well and the episode is tying up a few loose ends. But then it attempts to pull off one final twist which was too unexpected and never fully tied in with the previous 39 minutes that went before it. It's a trip at the final hurdle for an episode which was almost a true classic.

It's not entirely misplaced as it ties in neatly with the romance between Alec and Emma that is brought to the surface during the episode. It could have easily proved a distraction from the main story, but the good performances and pacing ensure that the episode doesn't falter when The Doctor and Clara are off screen.

Hide was a whole lot of fun that stumbled in its conclusion, which is something a lot of these recent episodes have in common. This truncated 7th series was never going to be as smooth as the others and it will probably be viewed as a transitional period as the show finds its feet again. But even though Doctor Who isn't firing on all cylinders, it's still a much welcomed piece of Saturday night entertainment.

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