Doctor Who series 7 review: Hide
Lots of spoilers, as we take a look at Neil Cross' second Doctor Who episode, Hide, starring Matt Smith...
This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
"It's 1974. You're the assistant".
While the internet bubbles with a generous dose of negativity towards the current run of Doctor Who, the show itself continues to get on with the job, and also continues, for our money at least, to impress. That's with the caveat this week that we could have lived without the last two minutes or so of Neil Cross' otherwise really impressive Hide. So if it's okay with you, we'll get that ending out of the way first, as there's nerd gold to explore after that.
In days of old on Doctor Who, the TARDIS would have dematerialised and things would have finished once the foe of the episode had apparently been defeated. But there's a trend in modern Who, and it's a hard one to knock, to genuinely make sure pretty much every creature and monster has some kind of motivation to what they're doing. Every now and then there's an exception to the rule, Russell T Davies' wonderful Midnight being an example, but then it's arguably because the unexplained foe option is so rarely used that makes it so impactful.
Here, a really atmospheric and well executed haunted house tale segued into a second love story by the end (the first, between the two lead guest stars, worked fine), and, to us at least, it didn't feel like a comfortable fit. It felt a little too bolted on, and didn't convincingly gel with what had gone before. Perhaps in a longer draft of the story, it may have had more resonance. But it felt a little bit like a twist for the sake of a twist.
Granted, it explained the emotions and the rationale for what had happened, but was that, in this case, really necessary? One of the most frustrating omissions to modern Who was the never-filmed scene that followed the events of The Angels Take Manhattan, that we reported on here. It seems a shame that Hide got an emotional, love-driven ending it didn't seem to build to, but The Angels Take Manhattan never had the one that could have really turned it into something extra special.
That out of the way, there's a lot to be positive about here, in what was a very good episode of Who. For the main narrative itself, Hide took place in an old, creeky, period drama-style house in the early 1970s (with Clara happily poking fun at the idea that anyone would buy such a place, given its history). That means impressive knitwear, shades of brown, and the kind of technological equipment that doesn't just leave the Doctor wanting to fondle it. You got the feeling very early on that it's all going to hang together well, and that the show was in a confident mood.
After a breezy introduction, that slotted things where they needed to be economically, Hide really hit its stride as it gradually upped the smoke and mirrors of the seeming haunted house story. It did it by keeping its cast small, with the characters of Alex (Dougray Scott) and Emma (Jessica Raine) having room and time to be fleshed out satisfyingly as a consequence of that. Granted, we got CG beasties, which weren't bad, but it was a human story in the midst of all the creepiness.
But what was also clever here was that a good, solid sci-fi subversion was thrown into the mix of what could have been a straight horror-esque episode. The TARDIS hasn't been doing a great deal of zapping around in episodes in this latest run, and when it does here, it's used to effect to get across the story of a woman stuck in time.
It's a thoughtful spin on what could have been a pretty basic setup, and it goes against how the Doctor usually sees things. After all, the Doctor generally sees people for a miniscule fraction of their lives, whilst they see him for proportionally a lot longer. Here, the fact that the character of Hila is basically stuck in her own three minutes or so of time, just stretched over many, many years, turned that on its head somewhat.
On top of that, the excellent production team here certainly had a lot of fun playing with haunted house conventions as things heated up too, with stares into empty spaces, some Most Haunted-style vibes and lots of candelight. Curiously, it was a 1970s house with some power, but candles still seemed very much in vogue.
Yet the gold for dedicated Who viewers came in two chunks. Firstly, and tying into the theme of the overall series so far, there's the ongoing question of just who or what Clara is. In fact, we learned that the reason the Doctor turned up here in the first place was to ask Emma Grayling that very question (but why?). Furthermore, the Doctor and Clara had a chance for a chat in the middle of the episode. "You are the only mystery worth solving", the Doctor said to her. And a mystery she remained, albeit a deeper one by the time Hide is finished.
Because Hide also paved the way towards next week's nerd-bait, Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS. And it's the TARDIS that's begun to take more prominence. So then: just why doesn't the TARDIS like Clara? Earlier in the series, it wouldn't let her in, you may remember. Here, she made a comment about her feeling it doesn't like her, which seemed all but confirmed just a little later. And when you threw in the conversation she had with Emma, where she was warned to not trust the Doctor, because "there's a sliver of ice in his heart", things seemed to be deepening. It's interesting that Emma has advice for Clara about the Doctor, and the Doctor about Clara. Is this one of those moments where we read too much into things, we wonder? We'll be speculating that Clara is the Rani at this rate.
As well as that for old-time Who devotees, outside of a Battlefield-esque chalk circle, two TARDIS references will not have surpressed the geekbumps. The reference to the Eye Of Harmony, for starters, something rarely touched on but not utterly ignored in new Who. And then there was the small matter of the cloister bell going off as well. Again, given the episode that's about to follow, and given how TARDIS-centric that looks, you'd have to say that's no coincidence. We're really rather excited.
It's the fact that Hide managed to pack all this in, along with a predominantly satisfying central story, that made it an impressive episode, and one of the strongest of the current run so far. Writer Neil Cross is certainly likely to get a far more positive reaction to this story than he did for the divisive The Rings Of Akhaten, and there's enough here to make the idea of a further adventure from him a welcome one.
A couple of bumps aside then, Hide was a welcome mix of old and new Who, blurring the lines between them both and bringing them together as one show particularly well. Next week, though, we get that TARDIS-centric episode. The last time that happened, we got The Doctor's Wife. One of the best episodes of the show in living memory.
No pressure, then...
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