Monday, 22 April 2013

I Just Crawled To Say I Love You

Doctor Who
Series Seven, Episode Nine

Oh dear.  Neil Cross again.

Okay, it's wrong to judge a book by its cover (although strictly speaking, that's what book covers are for), so it's probably wrong to think Hide will be rubbish just because I've seen The Rings Of Akhaten.  (Twice.)  Still, I won't deny I was concerned about getting, shall we say, a repeat performance.

Surprise!  It's not rubbish.  In fact, I'm not sure what it is.  This might be one of the most bizarrely all-over-the-place episodes of Doctor Who ever.

"Well what do you suggest I call it?
Night Of The Romantic Bogeymen?"
To start with, it's a scary movie, with four people trapped in a haunted house.  There are numerous nods to The Haunting, which is nice as that's a film I love.  We have a woman overly invested in a ghost, a cold spot, writing on the wall, one room being the "heart" of the house, a mysterious banging on the doors, even a "Whose hand was I holding?" scene.  The trouble with all those references, though, is there's not a smudge of originality between them, and none of it bothers to go for the jugular like it should, because the tone's several miles away from unsettling.

The moment the Doctor and Clara turn up, from a winceful Ghostbusters reference to that plinky-plonk comedy music Murray Gold must be able to do in his sleep by now, the tension largely disappears.  When we get to the hand-holding bit, a moment of oh-dear-god-aaaaaargh! in Robert Wise's movie, it's played like a pantomime.  Couldn't we tone down the zany, just a little bit?  It is actually okay to frighten your audience without pouring on a gallon of Matt Smith Kookiness to make it all better.  (It's even more okay to give Matt Smith more to do than just smug kookiness.)

We veer back towards scary later on, after it transpires the ghost isn't the problem: it's just a stranded time-traveller running away from something else.  Okay.  To be honest, this being Doctor Who I suspected it would turn out to be some sort of victim trapped in something wibbly-wobbly, because there's always a sci-fi explanation for everything, be it ghosts, werewolves, vampires.  Call me old fashioned, but I find this has the same effect as revealing the Wizard of Oz to be a useless old fart with a smoke machine.  If everything is either aliens or timey-wimey, then everything becomes ordinary after a while.

Anyway, the monster is nothing short of brilliant.  Bizarre to look at, never seen either fully or directly, and the jittery way it moves brings to mind old-timey stop motion.  It is terrifying, and yes, more like it, please.  So it's a shame this all turns out to be a gigglesome misunderstanding, and the monster is harmless – to use the Doctor's words, "This isn't a ghost story, it's a love story."  Oh, goodie.  Your mileage may vary on this: if you're a hopeless romantic, the way Hide concludes may leave a sappy grin on your face.  Being a cantankerous fanboy curmudgeon, I was left thinking, "How the hell is this going to frighten anyone the second time round?"

Oh well.  Like it or not, it's a love story.  Actually, it's three: the ghost-hunting Professor and his psychic assistant are in love, or so a lot of clumsy dialogue and starey "glances" tell us (in fifty foot neon lettering); the psychic assistant and the ghost/time traveller are actually distant relatives, and their psychic bond is a familial one; and the scary monster is actually a lovesick scary monster, longing to get back to its lady counterpart.  (Scaring the crap out of everyone it meets is apparently unintentional.)

"Phew, caught up with you at last!
So, do you want to like, go to a movie or something?"
You spend most of Hide putting up with the first of these, which exists seemingly because Alec is a man and Emma is a woman and they're in the same house.  (With respect to Dougray Scott and Jessica Rayne, they're both playing it so straight with Neil Cross's yakkety-yak dialogue that it's like two hatstands being told they're betrothed.)  When the ending comes along and lets rip the other two love stories, it's too much.  How did the Doctor magically figure out Emma and Hila are related?  And was there no less random way of the Doctor figuring out the monster's intentions than having him suddenly stop in his tracks and experience a flashback?  It's like Neil Cross leaned into frame and shouted, "You forgot the last bit!"

Come to think of it, the Doctor is less than dazzling in this one, like when he has the wit to ask "The Witch Of The Well?  So where's the well?" after we've seen it written down right in front of him.  And when he clocks what's really been banging on those doors, it's a good minute or two after it already became thuddingly apparent to the viewer.  Keep up, Doc!  Elsewhere, he's tediously omniscient and smug about everyone and everything, producing names and dates so readily that he must have peeked at this week's script.  He's inconsistent and, strangely for Matt Smith, really quite irritating.  (Speaking of which: it's the 50th Anniversary year, with references aplenty, and no one told Matt how to pronounce "Metebelis 3"?)

Clara has plenty to do, for once.  Apart from some thankless bonding with Emma (because they're both girls and them's the rules), there's the remarkable scene where the Doctor inadvertantly shows her all of Earth's history, birth-to-death.  Well, not that remarkable – it's Rose seeing the Earth get roasted, essentially – but it stops the episode in its tracks and raised my eyebrows.  Matt Smith gets to put across the full alienness of the Doctor (asked if it's okay that humanity just perished, he answers: "Yes"), Clara gets to react to it.  It's necessary stuff (yet more of it, the price of constantly changing the cast), but it's the Best Thing Here.

We also get more of Clara's uneasy relationship with the TARDIS, which really doesn't like her.  It even says so, using a voice interface thingie.  (I'm not sure I like that bit, as it renders the Doctor's chat with the TARDIS in The Doctor's Wife a lot less special, but it only seems to be here because the script hit a brick wall.)  Of all the Clara Who hints, this is the one I'm most interested in, and I hope there's more to come.  As for finding out more about her, despite the secret purpose of this episode being a way to find out more about her, we still don't.  Thanks for that, again.

So, what of Neil Cross's writing, post-Rings Of Akhaten?  There are a couple of real gems here, although television being a collaborative effort we don't necessarily know whodunit.  I'd like to know who to thank for "Collapsing universe, you and me dead, no time complete sentences, abandon planet!", what with "Ignorance is Carlisle" sounding so much like Steven Moffat.  Elsewhere, though, some of that Ringsy loquaciousness is a problem.  The characters talk too zarking much.  When Alec starts psychoanalysing the Doctor the moment he's out of the room, you want to reach into the screen and smack him.  He's not even the psychic one!

Okay, this is cool, but seriously now:
you need keys.
It's not rocket science.
As for the plotting, well, if you're going to set up that the TARDIS can't rescue the Doctor without draining its batteries, a problem so dreadful you have to invent a voice interface to tell Clara about it, don't promptly do it anyway with no consequences.  (Twice.)  Similarly, when Emma uses her psychic link to make all this possible (I think), it's stated that she can't keep it up without serious harm to herself.  A quick pep talk from Alec, however, and she just decides to make the effort.  Well, is it dangerous, or isn't it?  (Now what episode does that remind you of?)  As for the Doctor literally hitching a ride on the TARDIS, and Clara being able to fly it just by asking it nicely... no thanks.  And might I add, grrr.

Hide is many things, predominantly somewhat of a mess.  There's far more going on here than there was in Rings, or Cold War for that matter, and for sheer variety it's quite a memorable episode.  The monster's certainly excellent, and some people are going to want to hug the ending to little gooey pieces.  There are good bits dotted throughout.  I don't know, though.  I like scary things to remain predominantly scary.

Maybe I'll feel better disposed to it some other day.  For now, I'd rather rewatch The Haunting.


  1. Whoa, that monster is freaky! I'd have nightmares for the rest of my life if I saw that as a kid.

    It's like if a prehistoric corpse preserved in a peat bog met the Thing.

  2. Doctor: Don't be stupid! There are no such things as ghosts, werewolves and vampires. Only alien ghosts, alien werewolves and alien vampires.

    Companion: That makes it totally different.

  3. What would you think if the episode was The Haunting, with the Doctor as Dr Markway and his companions as the other three. You'd have to give him some more companions, but he could pick them up over the series. DISCUSS.

  4. Well, that wouldn't really... work...? I guess? As I said, and you above, everything has to be aliens or timey-wimey whatever. The simple psychological something-is-wrong-here of The Haunting just wouldn't fly, unfortunately.

    I really wish they didn't have to meet this "aliens" quota. Like in Vampires Of Venice, where the Doctor says they are *worse* than vampires. Er, so space fish? How's that worse?