22 Apr 2013

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 10, "Hide"

One of the reasons I enjoy Luther is, despite the procedural nature of the show, Neil Cross is able to twist the plot enough to keep the viewer on edge, without it being damaging to the narrative. The sudden surprise revelations, or unexpected right turns rarely feel out of place. His revelation that the Mummy wasn't Grandfather in the Ring of Akhenaten was meant to be such a twist, but the underwhelmingness of the sun/gas giant/space pumpkin undercut the twist. Hide, Cross' initial venture into the Whoniverse, is not only superior to Rings, but also more successful, both at establishing a tone straight away, but then turning said tone completely on its head, and it feeling completely natural for it to have done so.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which once summoned a spirit from the other side, but later suffered from buyers remorse.

But first, the references. And like last week's episode, it was reference light. The crystal the Doctor used to open the wormhole was from Metebelis III, location of the Third Doctor's "death." The absence of the umbrella stand is a shout out to the fact that the majority of the Doctor's console room arrangements have included either umbrella stands or coat racks (and the Eleventh's tendency to just put things down in odd places). The TARDIS communicating via hologram of the companion occurred in Let's Kill Hitler (and more on that in a moment), and the Doctor caught a ride on the exterior of the craft as Jack Harkness did in Utopia. The Doctor once again wore the orange space suit he acquired in the Satan Pit. The Eye of Harmony got it's first reference since the '96 film, and the Doctor's not knowing how it works references the conflicting ways the Eye has been presented over the years.

The biggest reference in the episode wasn't to Doctor Who at all, but to The Quatermass Experiment, which Cross admits this episode was originally written as a cross over between the two franchises, which had to be rewritten due to copyright issues (which also explains the Doctor's giddy gushing over Professor Palmer). Quatermass served as a thematic progenitor of Doctor Who, and the show has affectionately called attention to it numerous times over the fifty years of the programme.

As to the episode from the past whose sins this was attempting to absolve, I think it is obvious. The 1989 Seventh Doctor serial Ghost Light, pretty uniformly regarded as the worst story the programme has ever produced, and a sure sign that the show needed to take a rest (Ghost Light was also the very last episode of the original series to be filmed). In it, the Doctor and Ace arrive in a haunted mansion and then... stuff happens. That's about as descriptive as you can get about the serial, which was plagued by rewrites and editing, resulting in an overly complex story becoming incomprehensible (even the production staff had no idea what was going on). And while certainly the idea of a haunted mansion is nothing new, Hide does succeed in washing the 24 year old bad taste out of our mouths.

What impresses straight away is how the episodes sets the tone, and keeps it. It is easy (and the tendancy in modern horror) to plague the victims with CG horrors rather then letting them frighten themselves. This episode took a very Hammer films approach, using shadows and wind and dancing candle light to build the tension, and the Doctor's uncertainty and nervousness to drive home to point. For the first half of the episode, this was a traditional horror story, crafted in traditional ways, and a perfect example of why traditional doesn't always have to mean bad. The fleeting glimpses of the Crooked Man, which the episode takes its entire length in explaining, were all the more effective considering the Doctor wasn't even aware of it. It is the unknown dangers that are the scariest.

And then, half way through, the episode shifts gears and becomes a science fiction story. But like I said, it didn't feel forced. Partially because it provided a reasonable explanation for the ghost, and partially because once the Doctor dropped into the pocket universe it was creepier then the haunted house. The point of a horror film is to keep the viewer off balance, and the sudden swings between horror and sci-fi, and back to horror certainly did that. Also, there was minimal use of CG, which meant nothing obviously fake distracted the eye.

And right up to the end, the subversions kept coming, as the Doctor left the reveal of the Crooked Man right up to the literal last minute. And like the best stories of these sort, the monster wasn't a monster, but a lost love. Which fit, considering that the rest of the episode, unusual for a ghost story, was a love story and one that ultimately worked out for everyone. Also unusual for a ghost story, not only did everyone get a happy ending (including the monster), but no one died, even the ghost.

For the second time this series (and only in episodes written by Cross), Clara mentioned the TARDIS no liking her, a fact confirmed by the TARDIS herself here, and it brings me to my biggest concern about the episode, though less about the episode and more about the series in general. The Holographic interface is a dangerous precedent. I thought so when Moffat used it the first time, and I've thought so again. The TARDIS' intentions should be made clear by her actions, not by direct communications.

Having the ability to communicate directly to the crew undermines the tragedy of the TARDIS and Doctor's relationship, and devalues the effectiveness of The Doctor's Wife, the time they talked. That moment needs to be isolated, to be mythic in the Doctor's story. If it becomes commonplace, then it's just another source of material for fanfic fetishists. It would have done what needed to happen, and been far more emotionally effective, for Clara to be standing there, begging for assistance, and for the door to swing silently shut rather then for her to be gabbing at herself. Though, I do like the twist of a companion that isn't blown entirely away by the TARDIS. Even River was never jealous of big blue.

So far this series, the best and most satisfying episodes have been the smaller, more minimalist epsiodes, that haven't tried to save the universe, just tell a story. Next week we get the episode I'm most looking forward to (beating out Gaiman by a whisker), but I worry because of the granduer of the concept the show might trip over itself, as it has had a tendency to do. Hopefully though, the next time the Doctor heading into the dark, he'll bring a torch. Or at least, that giant fish-vampire repelling UV light.

1 comment:

  1. Dwight Weathersby22 April 2013 16:17

    About the TARDIS not liking Clara, I think they could have done a better job of showing how it doesn't like her. Right now the only reason the audience thinks it is because Clara said it and the Doctor acknowledged Clara's feelings about it in this episode but the TARDIS really hasn't done anything to prove that.

    In The Rings of Akhaten and Hide the TARDIS wouldn't let her in when she tried to get in but notice she didn't use the key either times. So we're supposed to believe that it doesn't like her because it didn't do something it's never done for any other companion or for that matter anyone other than The Doctor himself? I just say they could have written in a better way for the TARDIS to show it's dislike for Clara since it seems they're running with this plot point.


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