Written by: Neil Cross
Starring: Dougray Scott, Jessica Raine
Director: Jaime Payne
The time: 1974. The place: Caliburn House. The Doctor and Clara encounter a ghost hunting professor and his psychic assistant, and assist them in their search for the truth about the Witch in the Well, a legendary ghost haunting the building. The truth is stranger than any of them could possibly imagine…
In the aftermath of ‘Rings of Akhaten’, I was dubious about this episode. While I liked that episode more than many viewers seemed to, it smacked of rushed writing and shooting, and was one of the few episodes that don’t make sense even after you’ve thought about it for a while. The notion that Neil Cross was writing a second episode hardly filled me with confidence.
‘Hide’ is not perfect. Once again, it is a very tightly packed episode, with several different concepts and plotlines all struggling for room to breathe – after about the halfway point, much of the script raises more questions than are answered, although it is debatable how many of those questions strictly need answering. There is at least one twist too many, although unlike ‘Akhaten’, everything in the episode makes sense (or at least, makes sense within the Doctor Who universe).
Other than that though…it’s pretty damn good. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best episode of the series so far.
The central attraction is the outstanding pairing of Scott and Raine as Professor Palmer and his assistant Emma Grayling. Both offer restrained yet heartfelt, utterly convincing performances – all the more remarkable in Raine’s case, playing as she is a psychic ghosthunter – and the developing romance between them is easily the most engaging part of the story. That it is wrapped up in an incredibly atmospheric, rather unsettling ghost story is just the icing on the cake.
Elsewhere, there is an absolutely cracking scene showing the Doctor checking the same spatial location across the entirety of Earth’s history, from the formation of the planet to the burning up witnessed way back with Christopher Ecclestone. It is a beautiful, imaginative scene that also highlights the potentially disturbing, alien nature of the Doctor, and Jenna Louise Coleman perfectly delivers Clara’s unease at this side of her travelling companion – another key scene for Coleman is her glorious bitch-fest with the TARDIS. To complete the trio of scares, we have the Crooked Man, the named-only-in-credits monster of the piece. For much of the episode, he/she/it is incredibly unsettling, helped by some excellent editing to make it look even more unnatural (shots of it moving were cut up and bits taken out to provide a truly unsettling, disjointed motion).
Aside from the Crooked Man though, once we find out the truth of the Witch, the episode abruptly changes gear to a more traditional (kind of…) science fiction story, taking in time travel and parallel worlds, and it becomes a more generic ‘Who’ story, although by no stretch a bad one.
It is here that the flaws become more apparent. Much like the Vigil in ‘Akhaten’, there’s actually no real need for the Crooked Man except providing the obligatory monster of the week. While the scenes of the Doctor being chased through a murky, collapsing forest by a truly unnerving monster are undoubtedly good, the episode might have benefited from focusing a little more on the Witch/trapped time-traveller. Apart from her name, occupation, and a little touch of family history, we know absolutely nothing about her. And hey, as monsters go, a collapsing world is surely more than enough for one episode, right? The literally last minute introduction of a second Crooked Man (Crooked Men? Crooked Woman?) to make the Doctor realise that the monster is just in love was entirely unnecessary, and that the TARDIS can make not just one almost impossible jump between dimensions, but two, stretches disbelief perhaps just a tad too far – although equally, it’s Doctor Who. Stretching of disbelief is pretty much part of the show.
Most of these are niggles though, and don’t really detract from what is, on the whole, a thoroughly excellent episode.