Monday, May 06, 2013

Doctor Who: Hide

It's often been said that Doctor Who can be many things. To some it's science fiction, to others a sort of fantasy, but to me it has always been horror. And it's when it did horror that it really worked. Of course horror, like many of the genres, is not limited. And again it works best when it's mixed in with something else (add Romance and you get everything from Twilight to Death Becomes You; add a Western and you get From Dusk Till Dawn and The Burrowers; and add Science Fiction and you get things like Resident Evil, Daybreakers and Event Horizon). Thus Doctor Who tales like 'The Tomb of the Cybermen', 'Pyramids of Mars' and 'Blink' work perfectly within the Doctor Who format as they mix and blend horror into the science fictional workings of the show. With 'Hide', author Neil Cross tries to do the same, and while it works for the most part, it ultimately falls down on a poor ending and poor internal themes.

We open with some traditional horror tropes: a raging storm, thunder and lightning. I'm sure I've heard the thunder before, and I think it's both from the BBC's 1977 adaptation of Dracula with Louis Jordan as the Count, and also possibly from the storms on Mount Megashra in 'The Curse of Peladon'. Whichever, it's very nasty weather, and also of course recalls the opening of 'The Daemons'. There is a spooky big house, and a couple of ghost hunters. I found the pre-title sequence to be reminiscent of the Sapphire and Steel story 'The Railway Station', the way the protagonists call out to the ghosts, only to have the Doctor and Clara/Sapphire and Steel appear instead. There's also an Evil Dead-like camera rush through the house ... so there's certainly a lot of good antecedents contained in the build-up.

After the titles, we discover it's 1974, and the Doctor wants to see the ghost of Caliburn House - a spirit which has been seen time after time over the years. Our ghost hunters are Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Rayne) who is described as an empathic psychic (I'm now getting shades of Robert Wise's The Haunting coming through). There are scary pics of the ghost and the ramping up of terror is excellent. Then something physical moves past a doorway - what is it? And there's something part-seen in the darkness, again brilliantly done ... so there's something in this house apart from the ghost ... We then go on ghost-hunting duty with the Doctor and Clara and they feel they're being watched. There's a cold patch and the Doctor draws a chalk circle around it, which then steams itself away. There's a banging noise from somewhere ... a window frosts over ... all is very creepy ... then a portal thing appears and a forest, and a figure crying out for help ... and finally HELP ME is seen written on the wall of the staircase.  Whew. This is heavy duty scary, so we need to pull back a little.

Thus we get some talky bits, the Doctor commenting that he thought ghost hunting would be fun. And then he's off in the TARDIS with Clara, visiting all ages of Earth and taking photos while dressed in one of the 10th Doctor's old red spacesuits. And now this is when the plot starts to fall apart because the ideas behind the resolution don't match what we have seen so far.

The Doctor returns with all these slides (how did he get them developed? We see Palmer developing black and white prints, but it's a whole different process and chemicals to develop slides!) and shows them to the Ghost Hunters - their ghost is a woman trapped in a pocket dimension and moving at a different speed to them as she's in a different timezone. So how could she call out to them, how could she write on the wall? Why did the window freeze over, and what is the other thing in the house, and why has no-one realised or taken photos of that over the years as well? A lot of questions.

So the Doctor heads off and gets a crystal from Metebelis 3 (and the fans groan as Matt Smith mis-pronounces it twice! This is something else which I cannot understand. If you're going to use a continuity reference to the past, at least pronounce it correctly! Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and just about every other fan working on the show know it's pronounced Meta-beelis as the Doctor says the name several times in the classic series. So why does Matt Smith now pronounce it Meh-teb-belis? A small thing, but annoying) to focus Emma's mind and allow him to access the pocket universe.

So he jumps through the portal wearing a rope harness, and when he arrives in the Forest, he promptly takes it off. Not sure what the point was then. It's very creepy in the Forest, and the scenes, as with the whole episode, are very well directed. The Doctor finds his time-trapped woman (called Hila Tukarian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and then tries to get back to the others ...

... hang on ... I thought time flowed differently in the pocket universe ... so how could this possibly work?  For every second spent there, 1000s of years are passing on Earth. Maybe Emma is somehow equalising the timezones, allowing the Doctor to get in there and do his stuff in the same timezone as in the house? That must be it. But then Hila is pulled back through the portal and is safe, but it closes behind her, trapping the Doctor back in the Forest with the creepy thing that is tracking him. So ... if the portal is closed now ... the Doctor must be millions of years in Earth's future in a matter of moments ...

Clara races for the TARDIS, but the door won't open for her ... there's a nice bit of interaction with the TARDIS - first time ever - where we see a hologram of Clara, speaking as the TARDIS (hey, maybe that's it, Clara is a TARDIS herself !) Clara convinces the TARDIS to help her to help the Doctor and off they go into the time vortex to do just that. But Emma needs to open the portal again ... not sure why ... and the TARDIS with Clara on board heads off to rescue the Doctor.

Meanwhile (although it can't be as it's now billions of years in the future) the Doctor realises that the thing in the Forest wants him to be afraid (not sure why, there's no rationale given) and wants to come back to the house with the Doctor. So scaring someone is a good way to get a favour from them? I like the idea of a creature from elsewhere wanting to hitchhike with the Doctor back to Earth - it worked for Mandragora, so why not here. I also like that the creature is straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing. Rob Bottin's legacy lives on! But then the TARDIS arrives, the Doctor grabs onto the outside, and is whisked back to the house. I think we need to overlook the whole 'Doctor holding onto the outside of the TARDIS as it travels' thing. Didn't Captain Jack do that as well? Personally I suspect that the forces in the Time Vortex would rip him apart, but what do I know!

Another question: if the TARDIS could get to the pocket universe to rescue Hila, then why didn't the Doctor do that all along? Why put himself through all the risk of heading unprotected through portals? Anyway ...

The next day, everything is fine. Hila is back on Earth (in 1974) and we learn that she's Palmer and Grayling's great great and so on grand daughter from the future ... okay ... and also that all the Doctor wanted all along was to ask Emma about Clara - what kind of a girl she was (and the reply is not helpful at all!) So why choose this night and this place to do that? Why not pop over when she's not quite so busy.

But now the Doctor realises that there are two monsters - one is in the house (the half-seen creature we 'saw' earlier) and one is trapped in the Forest. All the monster wants is to be back with its partner ... so the Doctor again heads to the Forest to rescue it ... and Clara comes again with the TARDIS to get them both out.

Oh dear. So creepy crooked men need love too. The Doctor is apparently leaving the house now occupied not by a ghost but by two monster-things which wanted to be together ... this sort of rips the heart out of the preceding 43 minutes of drama. It also has no bearing on anything else that's happening. There is a fundamental rule of storytelling, that everything that happens should spring from the same roots. So you shouldn't introduce random elements into your story which cannot be reconciled with the mainstream of your plot. What we have here fails to follow those basic principles, and so ends up being sloppy.

I loved the whole of the first part. I liked how the ghost turned out to be a trapped time traveller, and I liked the idea of an unseen creepy creature hunting first her, and then the Doctor. But the incidentals just don't work. With a little work on the plot, the whole thing could have been so much more coherent. For example: The Doctor and Clara could have been drawn to the house by the time disturbance being created by Emma's psychic probing. The monsters could have been just monsters ... maybe coming back with the Doctor when he rescues Hila, and then providing a great, exciting ending as they play cat and mouse through the house, before the Doctor ejects the creature back to the forest once more through a portal. Emma and Alec's relationship could have echoed the Doctor/Clara/TARDIS's relationship and provided a mirror to what was happening there, and Hila could be the key to something greater which was happening season-wide (maybe she is, I have no idea at this stage) ... that is far more satisfying and rounded than what we were presented with, but maintains the themes and horror tropes which the writer is playing with.

I have to ask, also, why is the story called 'Hide'? No-one is actually hiding here. The word could mean 'a hide', somewhere you go to be unobserved while you watch wildlife, but that doesn't fit either. I feel this is again symptomatic of the ideas not being cohesive enough ... there isn't a basic underlying theme from which the drama is springing, and thus coming up with a suitable title becomes that much harder.

Overall, this is a superior episode. The atmosphere is electric, and it's probably one of the most terrifying episodes yet transmitted, with the Crooked Man the very epitome of half-seen night terrors, creeping up at you from down dark passages, from behind smoke-wreathed trees, and from under your bed ...

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