“To you I am a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you.”

menofscienceHide’, written by Neil Cross, is a spooky story. Rich in atmosphere, brilliant directing and some excellent guest stars hampered only by worrying shifts in tone, unfortunately side-lining Clara and rushing the ending.

Spoilers From Here On!

Just as ‘Cold War’ was reminiscent of a 2nd Doctor story this has the feel of the 3rd Doctor era, no doubt due to its 1974 setting. Professor Palmer and his empathic assistant Emma Grayling make good stand ins for the Doctor and his companion as they hunt for evidence of ghosts in Caliburn mansion.

The series has always championed science over the supernatural but it is easy to forget that psychic ability is real within the Who universe. Emma’s gift is real and the opening scene is nicely evocative, the distorted, screaming face of the ghost appearing with each flash of a camera bulb.

The tension and fear is diffused by the Doctor and Clara’s unexpected appearance, proclaiming that they are ghost busters. This sudden shift in tone will continue to hold the story back from being truly great, constantly preventing the horror of the adventure from being effective.

While the Doctor praises both Professor Palmer and Emma for their work it is hard to shake the feeling that he is patronising them. He has an air of frivolousness to his behaviour, also seen in ‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’, that he is here for amusement, rather than an attempt to help people.

Far better is the scene when the assembled characters study the creepy black and white photos of the ghost throughout the ages and hears it dark past. This leads into Emma and Palmer comparing notes of the Doctor, with subtext being that Palmer understands how experience makes liars of us all.

Scenes like this, and later the scene between Emma and Clara, highlight the brilliant characterisation in the writing. The subtext allows the exposition to perform duty, revealing details about the subject and the speaker.

After the Doctor and Clara’s fruitless search of the mansion a mysterious spinning black circle appears, revealing for the first time that there is more going on than a ghost. I found this sequence visually confusing, with the spectre appearing in a forest in the opposite direction of the disc.

By the end of the episode I was none the wiser how this worked, or how the figure could write on the wall. It was spooky scene but seemed more surface than substance. Something scary happened because something scary had to happen.

This does provide the Doctor with the idea of taking a whistle stop tour of the local area, from the birth of the planet to its end a billions of years later. This was clever sequence which also served to highlight how the Doctor’s perception of reality is far different to those of us who have to tread the slow path, living our lives day by day.

This is was also an important scene for Clara, as like Rose, she realise that her days are finite and every time she travels to the far future she herself effectively becomes a ghost. This all links in nicely to her on-going plot strand, where the Doctor has already seen her die twice.

The result of taking photos throughout history reveals images of a stranded time traveller, Hila Tukurian, running in terror from a distorted inhuman figure in the background. The image is extremely creepy, as is the nightmarish idea that within this pocket dimension only three minutes have passed and that she’ll be trapped for all time unless they save her.

The Doctor’s sudden exposition about the identity of Hila is jarring, as his ability to use the sonic screwdriver to reconfigure projected light to show her image. It raises questions about how much the Doctor knows and what the nature of these time travel experiments were.

Equally jarring is the following scene where the Doctor plans to use the Eye of Harmony and a crystal from Metebelis 3 to rescue Hila. The nods to the past are appreciated but I was disturbed by his lack of concern for Emma, who must play a vital role in the operation.

She asks if it will hurt and after the Doctor first lies that it won’t he admits that it might, indeed it might be agony. Disturbingly he says that he’d be interested in finding out. This crosses the line from eccentric behaviour to outright malevolent.

For a long time the Doctor has been concerned about the quality of life of others. He has despised anything that makes others suffer, going as far as considering euthanizing the space whale in ‘The Beast Below’ to put it out of its misery.

Here the Doctor doesn’t even show Emma the courtesy of letting her know what she was in for but when the truth came out he doesn’t even show concern for her wellbeing or whether she still wants to make that choice.

The 11th Doctor has frequently been shown to slightly autistic in regard to his lack of understanding of other peoples emotions or needs but here it is taken to another level. Since other incarnations have shown a capacity for empathy actions like this make the 11th Doctor less likeable.

The rescue itself is well done, set within a foggy forest with shaky camera shots and a barely glimpsed grotesque creature. The cold blue colour and Matt Smith’s performance as a clearly terrified Doctor makes these moments standout, especially when he becomes stranded.

Clara’s last minute rescue with a reluctant TARDIS is suitably heart stopping, intercutting with Palmer, Hila and Emma holding the portal open. I liked the distorted vortex graphic as they enter the TARDIS pocket dimension although I fear the voice interface could become overused and take away from the pathos of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ where it indicated that the Doctor and TARDIS won’t speak directly again.

Just as the episode seems over the Doctor realises that one of the creatures from the pocket dimension has been stranded in our world the whole time. While this is nicely setup through the episode it does mean that the last few scenes are extremely rushed as the Doctor makes another rescue attempt, virtually replicating scenes we’d just seen.

When we do get our first clear view of the Crooked Man (according to the credits) it is shown to be a masterpiece of special effects, from its design to the crunching noises it makes as it moves.

Throughout all of this Clara felt underused, aside from her rescue of the Doctor. There was nice scene where she and Emma talked about their lives and Clara urged Emma to she the attraction that Palmer clearly felt for her. Again, her strongest characteristic so far is her empathy, appropriate considering her parallels with Emma.

Pacing is again problematic. Stories like this need time to breath, to give room to both characterisation and plotting. It is easy to imagine that is this was in the classic format we’d have one episode concerned with the ghost hunting with its nature revealed as the cliff hanger, a second episode establishing its nature ending with the Doctor trapped in the pocket dimension and the third (and possibly fourth) episode dealing with Clara rescue him and Hila.

Despite these problems overall this is a good episode. Dougray Scott adds a lot of pathos as Professor Palmer with Jessica Raine as Emma holding the whole plot together. It is equal parts scary and exciting.

Neil Cross has been a great addition to the writing staff and shows how a new voice can revitalise a series.

This entry was posted in 11th Doctor, First Thoughts, Hide. Bookmark the permalink.

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