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Doctor Who: 709 “Hide” Review

doctor who hide-series-7-poster

Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert

“Experience makes liars of us all.” – Alec Palmer

There was always going to be a demand on Hide to provide a satisfying pseudo-rational elucidation for its intricacies of preternatural horror. Throughout its history, Doctor Who has emphatically refuted the authenticity of paranormal entities within its fictional universe. Of course, that hasn’t prevented writers in the past from toying with their audience. Suffice to say, a pioneering time-travel expedition gone wrong feels right at home in Doctor Who.

Hide juxtaposes conventional ghost-story iconography and mise-en-scene (‘haunted house’ setting, inclement weather, communion with the ‘dead’, frost on windows, writing on the wall, spooky ambience (e.g. lit candelabra in the dark; something skulking in the shadows), jump-scares, and fast-paced editing) with a relatively sustained core of human sensibility and drama (the relationship between Alec Palmer, and his assistant Emma Grayling; Clara’s epiphany concerning the ephemerality of Earth and humanity). Neil Cross creates a fairly compelling atmosphere – at first. The opening sequence, for example, depicts the everyday struggle of scientific endeavour against the unknown/supernatural, whilst indicating Palmer’s endeavours have already met with futility. Later, Cross lulls the viewer into suspecting the Caliburn Ghost is a palpable threat by grounding the Ghost’s haunting within a historical context of mystique and terror (““as if the Devil himself demanded entry””). The Ghost’s presence precedes the construction of Caliburn House. It is mentioned in Saxon poetry, eyewitness documentation, and handwritten notes from American airmen stationed at Caliburn during WWII. (The airmen’s offering of tinned Spam to the Ghost would suggest re-awakening superstitious behaviour.)This is interposed with close-ups on its perturbing photographed countenance. Like Midnight, Hide wants to trigger base trepidation of the unknown, reminding its audience of what lies ‘out there’.

The climatic ‘reveal’ does not, however, detract from the narrative’s engaging atmosphere. Indeed, the pocket universe is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘looking-glass world’, beyond the symbolic mirror-like threshold. Being directed through a greyish filter, as well as the mist-enshrouded forest, ensures the other-world remains suitably ethereal. It is a grave counterpart of our own; drained of colour, and vitality. The scenes of the Doctor being chased by the unnamed creature (I’m calling him “Romeo”) are also entertaining – even if Romeo himself is a conceptual amalgamation of the Silents (grotesque, gaunt physiology; guttural voice), the Lazarus Monster (skeletal protuberances), and Weeping Angels (stealthy, sinister, blindingly fast movements).

Speaking of Romeo (and “Juliet” for that matter), it remains unexplained how they came to be separated (did Juliet also, somehow, follow Hila through time; assuming Romeo and Juliet are from the same time-period as Hila, explaining why Romeo was in the pocket universe with her?). I also feel the tacked-on sentiment creates a tension. If Romeo never meant any harm, simply yearning for his lost love, why was he frightening Hila, and later goading the Doctor’s (initial) beliefs (“You’re the bogeyman under the bed”) by laughing menacingly? I could understand if the creature, say, lacked a coherent vocabulary with which to communicate, but clarification about the creature, its backstory, is crucially lacking. (A sadistic creature that sabotaged her craft to prevent a successful return-trip would make more sense.)

As a story exploring mirror imagery and ‘other’ realities, it would have made sense to comment on the parallels between Alec Palmer and the Doctor – a missed opportunity for the much-belated maturation of the Eleventh Doctor’s character (not that many will agree with this assertion). Both are survivors of barbaric war, both responsible for hundreds of deaths, both liars, seeking redemption for the atrocities they committed. Without rewriting the main plot, all that was needed was a short speech, wherein the Doctor confesses to sympathising with Palmer, to Palmer’s incredulity, remarking on the Doctor’s youthful appearance. An example of dialogue could be:

“Trust me when I say I know how it feels to take a life. You can justify murder, you can vindicate yourself of the crime, in the name of war, justice, the sanction of peace by ending conflict, but it doesn’t escape the fact of what murder… does to a man’s soul. He loses himself. He’s blinded… by guilt. He’s afraid… of what he can do. And it’s a struggle… to reclaim what was lost. I’ve found it’s love that saves you. Love that can bring a man back from the dead.”

You therefore present a scene that asserts a thematic consistency and progression within the Eleventh Doctor’s character by reinforcing the seniority of experience ‘hidden’ behind his contradictory visage, whilst alluding to the hardships of previous adventures (Asylum of the Daleks, A Town Called Mercy). Additionally, it develops his (subtle) ability to influence others (Palmer later ‘echoes’ the Doctor: “You brought me back from the dead”).

Similarly, when Clara later confronts the Doctor in the TARDIS (“We’re all ghosts to you”) – which contains potentially thought-provoking material – a speech would have advantageous, to provide a sense of closure, by expanding on earlier discussion of the Doctor’s changing moral purview with age. (E.g.: “You’re not ghosts, there’s no such thing as ghosts. Only people. Flesh and blood. People whose lives twinkle and fade like the stars. Do you get it now? What difference is there between people and stars?”) Minor alterations that would make a huge difference in what’s otherwise a scene without foregrounding into this ‘cold-hearted’ estrangement from humanity that leaves us hanging on an equivocal, dismissive, statement.

As for Clara, I’d preferred the character to not run after the Doctor when he goes for the Metebelis crystal (the TARDIS reiterates the same information, so their conversation is padding in retrospect; just cut straight to the psycho-chronograph setup), but rather to have stayed with Emma and Palmer, offering Emma consolation and reassurance about her imminent task. Having earlier highlighted Clara’s social skills and compassion, she recognises Emma and Palmer need time alone.

Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine deliver reasonable performances. The drama between Palmer and Emma is often well-written, against the atmospheric backdrop, despite some cringe-worthy dialogue (“You read my mind”), and a superfluous impetus to the characters’ romance, with considered, if anticipated, nuances (nearly holding hands, returning to their occupation).

Verdict: 7/10

In conclusion, Hide is a story strong on atmosphere but the storytelling becomes a cluttered mess. The dearth of clarification about its monsters and futuristic backstory are to its detriment. Another problem is the density of the script, as sundry ideas are raised but never substantially developed. The story fails to capitalise on its full potential to thoroughly invest in its protagonists, and their dynamic, leaving the secondary characters’ romance to occupy the void. Impressive CGI during the ‘life-cycle’ sequence and a stylistically-conceived ‘other-world’ can’t compensate for the script’s disappointments.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.firth.9 Thomas Firth

    I completely agree this time

  • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/heroes-of-who-elisabeth-sladen-44552.htm PK-S is the Man With Chips.

    Adam, in the Whoniverse Discussion on Doctor Who TV you expressed pertrurbation at the quality of your reviews.

    Your reviews, every week, are always of the highest calibre. The diction you employ is superlative and highly advanced. Your viewpoint is always sound, even if I don’t always concur. The grades you assign to individual episodes are dissimilar to other reviewers, and you don’t ‘climb on the bandwagon’. I am so happy Cult Fix has you as its Doctor Who reviewer; don’t ever stop.

    A sublime review, I agree on every point.

  • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-101-the-hanged-man-review-22336.htm EternalDoctor

    Your reviews just continue to astound me, Adam! Every single one of your reviews are well-written and the level of sophistication in them is unparalleled. I envisage a bright future for you in writing.

    I found this review to be a lot more agreeable than your last. You raise some outstanding points and you did a good job in covering the important aspects of this episode. I found your example of dialogue to be, indeed, very impressive and it definitely would have intensified The Doctor and Palmer’s obvious parallels. I have to be honest though – I felt that it didn’t belong in a review, but that might just be my opinion.

    This is yet another superb review which I can easily agree with. Well done and I look forward to next week’s episode as well as your review!

  • http://twitter.com/TheDoctorsTheme TheDoctorsTheme

    This is great! Your opinions are well backed up and you review the episode in depth and you explain your points. 7/10.

  • ladyoctarina

    I agree. Hide, like Akhaten, feels like a wasted opportunity. My main problem with it is that I feel turning everything into a love story denies all the terror we were looking forward to in this episode. Why couldn’t the monster be just a monster? Why couldn’t that sense of threat be sustained? I think the episode would have been much better if there was no “Juliet”, and “Romeo” was just a creature that inhabits pocket universes and feeds of stranded travelers, or some control mechanism like those pterodactyls in season one.

    • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/heroes-of-who-elisabeth-sladen-44552.htm PK-S is the Man With Chips.

      ‘The Crooked Man’ reminded me of the Krayfis from Vincent and the Doctor.

  • sontaran17

    Adam I love your writing in everything else but so far in this years reviews you’ve been fairly negative all the way through and I naturally side with positive opinions of episode, but your writing is always flawless and a joy to read and you prove your points excellently- has there been an episode you would give full marks to? Out of curiosity?? I myself thought Hide was amazing – 9.5/10 and think that Neil Cross is an exceptional writer for Doctor Who

  • Fezzes_and_Broomsticks

    Think this review is the best I have seen for Hide, two things sum Hide. Lacking cohesion and littered with holes, failing to build on the potential it had. Not convinced by Neil Cross as a writer for Who, Akhaten was a horror show, this one though much better still leaves to be desired.

  • Dalekium

    Wonderfully written article yet again.

    I was curious about your points regarding including extra speech to comment on the parallels between the Doctor and Palmer, and Clara’s ‘ghost’ moment in the TARDIS. I think the lack of these explicit connections ties in with Emma’s “sliver of ice in his heart” comment, as it appears emblematic of what seems to be Series 7Bs fairly hidden motif of secrets/secrecy. The Doctor has become far more secretive, and by not making grand admissions to Clara or Alec about his involvement in war, it serves to emphasise just how close the Doctor is keeping his cards to his chest.

    • Stargazer0118

      Agreed, that’s how I took it as well, that’s why it didn’t bother me. I could see in the Doctor’s face that what Palmer was talking about (the war and the victims) was really getting to him, but he just decided to say nothing. However, I could still see the sadness in his eyes. I just hope we get a pay off out of these little developments in this season.

  • http://type13.weebly.com/news.html Type 40

    Excellent article in terms of the exploration of this episode’s intricacies.

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