Why is it so dark and stormy outside Caliburn House? Why does this house have a cold spot? Why does freaky writing appear on the wall? Why do we hear mysterious laughter? And for Ood’s sake, why doesn’t someone simply turn on the lights?
Because this is a ghost story. That’s all. There’s no reason given for any of these things in Hide. They just are. This has to be a dark and stormy night, because that’s when ghosts are scariest. This has to be an old house, the lights have to be out and the camerawork has to be wobbly, because that’s what happens in ghost stories.
Most Doctor Who stories make at least an apologetic attempt to explain away such generic tropes. If we think back to Image of the Fendahl, we were told ghosts appear where there are time fissures. Or State of Decay, which rationalized the mythic vampire killing method of a stake through the heart by pointing out the fiends’ abnormally strong cardiovascular system. And while its related more to production vagaries than genre, even The Claws of Axos felt the need to explain away some unexpected snow on location with a line about ‘freak weather conditions’.
Hide offers no such help, and it all would have been so easy. Why do ghost hunter Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and empathetic psychic Emma Grayling (Verity Lam… sorry Jessica Raine) undertake their summonings at night? (Well, presumably that’s traditionally when the Witch from the Well has appeared) Why does the light have to be so dim? (Well, the old electrics in the house emit a slight electronic interference which messes with the detection equipment). Maybe these sort of post hoc rationalisations are unnecessary. Maybe they’re tokenistic. But for me at least, they stop the mind from straying to the practical limitations of the script.
Here’s another question: why is this story set in 1974? Why not, you may reasonably reply. This is a series about time travel after all which all too often sticks to the early 21st century for its settings.
But what’s the story reason for it being set in 1974? Think about The Idiot’s Lantern, the early 1950s setting of which fits nicely with its monster, which echoes fear about technology invading our homes. Or consider The Masque of Mandragora, in which the titular villain wants to set mankind’s technological advancement backwards, so where better to set the story than the eve of the age of reason? Or Ghost Light, which is both about evolution and set it the time of its emergence as a theory.
But Hide, it appears, has no strong reason to be set in 1974. It could just as easily be 1874 or 2074. Without this thematic coherence, I was at least hoping for a bit of self-referential campery. Sure we get a return visit from a Metebelis 3 crystal (I think that’s what I heard), but I was quietly hoping for a fleeting shot of a vintage yellow car driving past the house, a white haired toff and a miniskirted girl within. Or perhaps an old television in the house could have been tuned into a omnibus repeat of Planet of the Spiders.
(Another odd thing about Hide is the mid-story jaunt in the TARDIS. Like the aforementioned Image of the Fendahl – another 70s ghost story set in an old country house – the action pauses in the middle for the Doctor and his companion to fly off for some research. It’s never a good tactic, I think. It leads the audience to think, if the Doctor’s not prepared to hang around for the full story, why should we?
The pay off for this excursion from the plot is not even that impressive. The Doctor discovers that the ghost has been present on the site of Caliburn House throughout Earth’s history, and Clara realizes that from the Doctor’s perspective, everyone’s a ghost. It’s nothing which couldn’t have been written into a short scene over one of the Doctor’s a custom built gizmo. It’s there, I suspect, to help stretch the plot out to 45 minutes. In fact, there’s an unusually high of extraneous material in this episode; perhaps it would make a cracking 30 minute ep.)
If there is a thematic link throughout the story, it’s about the ties that bind individuals, particularly the romantic type. Palmer and Grayling eventually come to discover their feelings for each other (perhaps it might have been more interesting to play against type and make the woman the technical boffin and the man the empath), and the Crooked Man (Aidan Cook) is eventually reunited with his love. With the birds doing it and the bees doing it, this leads us to consider the spark between Doctor (a chirpy Matt Smith) and Clara (a buzzy Jenna-Louise Coleman). It’s too early in their relationship for them to admit they fancy each other, but it’s clearly headed that way.
In this small cast adventure (a signature of Series 7b. Budgetary pressures?) that leaves the well-bound witch herself, Hilo Tecorian (Kemi-bo Jacobs). She has no sweet baboo, but she does find out at the episode’s end that she’s the descendant of Alec and Emma (procreating, it seems, being the inevitable outcome of a romantic union in Doctor Who. A topic for another time.)
If that seems like an enormous coincidence, the Doctor’s on hand to help out. “That’s why the psychic link was so powerful. Blood calling to blood, out of time,” he riffs. Now hold your horses, Hide. It’s too late to start with the post hoc rationalisations now.
LINK to Flatline. Both feature Clara Oswald (although played by different actresses if the credits are anything to go by). And that’s interesting in itself. I’ve talked before about how Clara changes from story to story in Series 7, and she’s much more settled and sure of herself by the time we get to Flatline.
NEXT TIME… Hidden danger! A race against death! A desperate venture! Strap yourself in for the high octane, non-stop action of The Sensorites.