Sunday, 21 April 2013

Doctor Who: Hide (Episode Review)

If Hide needed to be summed up in three words it would be these: Ruined by the ending. While off to a strong start, managing to have the insanely fast "let's pretend first acts don't exist" pacing work in its favor, it begins to fall to bits in the final third. Never so much that it completely ruins the whole episode, but enough to make what is an otherwise outstanding episode into something just about average.

The plot here is a ghost story. Drawn to an isolated mansion in Britain during the 1970s, the Doctor and Clara appear while a psychic medium and a retired military general are attempting to silence the dead. Managing to con their way into staying, they slowly begin to realise that they might be in more than a little over their heads. Even as this happens, Clara herself begins to question what it means to travel with the Doctor and the TARDIS' apparent growing hatred of her.

The reason the sudden jump into the action works here unlike others is because of its story. Hide is very much a by-the-book ghost story in the beginning, well crafted but definitely containing a great deal of elements we've seen before. As such, skipping a lot of the usual build-up and events which would usually be done only helps the episode here. Even then it remains at a reasonable pace, allowing things to actually be established before they are properly focused upon. We're actually given a well rounded impression of the characters, the situation and the history of the building. As such we're given an impression of what's at stake and what the episode is heading towards before it really starts to pick up steam.

The characters of Professor Alec Palmer, formerly Major, and Emma Grayling are vast improvements over those in Cold War. While Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine lack the talents of David Warner and Liam Cunningham, they none the less make the roles their own. Putting their own style upon them and fleshing them out, even as the script provides more details about their history. Building them into people rather than characters with superficial aspects and giving the audience a reason to care about whether they live or die. While the script does not admittedly go as far as it could with some ideas, it does enough to make their presence feel meaningful.

A bigger strength is the plot itself. The script manages to balance its themes of science fiction and horror relatively well. Often phasing from one to the next and keeping unnerving details in the environments or cinematography to keep things offputing to the audience. Part of this is again Neil Cross showing he has considerable talent in writing Doctor Who scripts, even if he needs someone to help fine tune them. In an interview Cross claimed that he had inspiriation in the Quatermass serials and that is very much evident here. The mixture of science fiction mystery and horror feels like something the Professor would investigate, and the way in which they blend almost seamlessly by the end feels like a conclusion to one of the story. Credit also has to be given to director Jamie Payne. Having had experience in filming things like Ashes to Ashes, he manages to help visually convey each scene's emotion brilliantly. Using oddly claustrophobic shots within the scenes of the house and then moving towards more frantic movements when the Doctor encounters the monster of the week.

The script also does more with the TARDIS than you would usually see. As well as having its time travel capabilities serve to make a major revelation within the plot it helps push Clara's character that bit further. Unlike previous companions she seems to have come to terms with what time travel and the Doctor means rather abruptly. Seeing how it can witness the life and death of entire civilisations in a blink of an eye. Something which leads her to question more than a few things about the Doctor.
While this plot-line is well handled it, it is unfortunately where the episode starts to unravel. Its inclusion feels like it makes the plot overstuffed. Even when it leads to some interesting revelations and a great final detail, it does feel like Cross was trying to fit it around everything else. It's delivered just prior to a major revelation on the part of the episode's core plot and within minutes of being introduced it's effectively solved.

The only other critical flaw within the episode is when it plays with expectations. The script tries to be clever in the very last few minutes  but it's in such a way it seems to come out of nowhere. Following on from an exceptionally good scary scene, it tries to alter the depiction of the villain but doesn't manage it very well. Even while it's trying to flash back to prior hints of this it still feels like a complete 180 in themes and emotions, coming completely out of nowhere. Perhaps if the episode was longer or better paced this might have not been an issue but here it just doesn't fit in. Something made only worse by the final scenes of the episode just petering out. That actually goes for a lot of the sub-plots. They start strong but by the end they've unraveled to the point where things just happen rather than occur naturally or really make meaningful sense.

It would be wrong to call Hide bad, it's definitely a step up from last week, but it's still flawed. It could have been so much better and yet by the end it just feels underwhelming despite the build-up we've had. It's well worth watching, the early plot is good, lines are humorous, drama is well delivered, but just don't expect too much from it by the end. Though if you are a Third Doctor fan, keep an eye out for a very fun plot device originating right out of Jon Pertwee's final stories.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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