Doctor Who: 709 “Hide” Review
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).
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.