During Doctor Who’s seventh season, several of the show’s guest writers (like Chris Chibnall, Mark Gatiss and Neil Cross) wound up doubling their workload and contributing two stories apiece that year, which is something that’s always stood out to me. “Hide” was actually the first story Neil Cross penned when he was brought onboard to write for the show, and Steven Moffat liked it so much he asked him to write another one that wound up becoming “The Rings Of Akhaten“. Indeed, in my opinion, “Hide” is a charming little episode where the Doctor and Clara are both characterized well, even if the stakes are pretty low by Doctor Who’s usual standards.
Throughout Series 7, Doctor Who has leapt around between a bunch of different film genres every week – whether it was a gritty sci-fi western in “A Town Called Mercy“, a 1930’s noir mystery in “The Angels Take Manhattan“, a whimsical Victorian Christmas special in “The Snowmen“, a musical adventure in space in “The Rings Of Akhaten”, and a base-under-siege story on a sunken Soviet submarine in “Cold War“. With “Hide”, the show once again dives headfirst into a different classic genre: a spooky haunted house mystery. Neil Cross wanted to write an unsettling ghost story where he would also comment on the nature of time travel, and how traveling in the TARDIS can change people’s perspective overtime without them even noticing it. Like with “The Rings Of Akhaten”, a few suggestions from Steven Moffat wound up having a major impact on the final version of the episode: particularly the twist about the Crooked Man, the episode’s main antagonist. Coming off the heels of “Cold War”, “Hide” is another slow-paced episode with a limited cast. Most of the action takes place in one setting until the last act, when the Doctor takes an unexpected trip to a pocket universe, which was a late addition to the story.
In “Hide”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his new friend Clara decide to crash a séance that’s being held in the 1970’s, where two researchers are secretly trying to make contact with a ghost haunting an old mansion. Right from the start, the Doctor is clearly very excited about this case: investigating a specter who’s gained notoriety over the years. He wants to see something spooky and supernatural, something that goes against the grain, even if he doesn’t normally believe in the paranormal. Since the Doctor is from the future, he knows all about Dr. Alec Palmer and his partner Emma Grayling, and he’s a big fan of their work, so he spends a good chunk of this episode geeking out about having the opportunity to team up with them. Of course, as soon as he realizes that Alec and Emma have feelings for each other, he decides to play matchmaker (just like he did with Craig and Sophie in “The Lodger“) and encourages them both to make a move forward, in spite of their respective issues.
As the Doctor looks deeper into the haunted house mystery, taking advantage of the time machine he has on hand as a very helpful tool, he slowly realizes the ghost in question is actually a lost soul trapped in another dimension, in a good amount of danger. So he decides to venture into a different universe to save her, and once he’s there, he quickly bites off a bit more than he can chew. The Doctor spent most of this episode trying to console everyone’s fears and be the voice of reason within the group, but he winds up confronting his own fears when he’s faced with the seemingly hopeless predicament of being trapped inside a pocket universe with a monster for the rest of his life, before Clara and the TARDIS come to give him a helping hand. The events of “Hide” also develop the Doctor and Clara’s genial camaraderie further, as she starts to see different faucets of his personality.
There comes a time when every new companion starts to realize just how alien the Doctor’s mindset is compared to their own, even if he looks as human as they do. At one point, while they’re tracking the ghost, the Doctor takes Clara through the entire life cycle of Earth – birth to death – and he isn’t fazed by it in the slightest, which creeps her out a lot. It’s easy to forget sometimes, since he’s been played by three different actors since Series 1, but this is still the same character who took Rose to see her ancestral home die for her very first trip through time, and didn’t think about how much seeing that would mess Rose up until she had to spell it out for him. As Clara starts to grow disillusioned with time travel, the Doctor does at least say something to try to put her mind at ease, but he has his own problems that are weighing on his mind.
When it comes to how he’s portrayed in this episode, “Hide” draws attention to the Eleventh Doctor’s rather duplicitous nature. He’s still keeping his ulterior motives about why he asked Clara to travel with him to himself, and he keeps making creepy faces of distrust at her behind her back. In the final few scenes, it’s revealed that the real, primary reason why he wanted to seek out Emma Grayling was so he could ask her about Clara. She only confirms once again that Clara is just an ordinary girl and that there’s nothing really remarkable about her – which the Doctor refuses to believe. He’s hit another dead end with his investigation, and he’s starting to get frustrated. Even though the Doctor is the main character of the show and he still doesn’t trust Clara fully, it’s ironically the Doctor himself who comes off as being very shady and untrustworthy in Series 7B, and this running thread about his growing obsession will come to a head in the next episode, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“, which finally calls him out on his secrecy and deceit.
“Hide” was the very first episode of Doctor Who that Jenna Louise-Coleman filmed as Clara Oswald – even before “Asylum Of The Daleks“, “The Snowmen” and “The Bells Of Saint John” – and you honestly can’t tell this is her first time stepping into the role. Throughout “Hide”, she certainly manages to make Clara a fun, plucky and likable presence in the TARDIS who can keep up with the Doctor. Eleven and Clara actually remind me a lot of Ten and Rose in this episode – they’re constantly goofing off, acting like tourists, and teasing each other about their respective flaws – but they have a much better sense of when their fun and games are appropriate and when it’s time to get serious. Building off her characterization in “Cold War”, Clara still gets startled easily in this episode – especially since the spooky haunted house she and the Doctor decided to visit seems like the real deal – but she’s determined to keep her fear in check, so she won’t miss out on the adventure of a lifetime.
Over the last few episodes, Clara has started to suspect that the TARDIS doesn’t like her, and her suspicions are confirmed in this outing. Perhaps the TARDIS has a certain distaste for her because she can sense she’s a space-time anomaly (she didn’t like Captain Jack very much either, for similar reasons), or perhaps she just thinks her personality is annoying. In any case, there’s quite a bit of friction between Clara and the TARDIS, but the two of them decide to make peace during the climax when a mutual problem of theirs arises. When the Doctor gets trapped inside a pocket universe, Clara confronts her fears and teams up with the TARDIS so she can fly in there after him and get him out. All the attention that this episode gives to Clara’s strained relationship with the TARDIS sets the stage for the next story, where Clara gets lost inside the Doctor’s ship.
Ever since “The Rings Of Akhaten”, Clara and the Doctor have gotten along pretty well, and she has a pretty positive view of him in her head, because as far as she knows she has no reason not to. However, “Hide” develops her new bond with the Doctor, by showing her a different and more unsettling side of her friend for the first time. About midway through this adventure, the Doctor takes her to the end of the Earth’s lifespan and Clara is deeply disturbed by the sight of her home-world being dead and abandoned, even if the Doctor is mostly unaffected by it. This morbid trip into the future causes her to start viewing time travel a bit differently than she did before, and she raises some very good points when she tries to describe aloud what she’s feeling. A time traveler is basically someone who lives outside of time: the natural progression of cause and effect. From their perspective, everyone they meet, all the time, is both alive and dead: they either haven’t been born yet in the past, or they’re long dead in the distant future. Growing accustomed to that sort of thing can easily change a person, whether they want it to or not.
Afterwards, Clara starts thinking about her own mortality and the fleeting nature of her own existence, which makes the Doctor uncomfortable, since he’s already seen two doppelgängers of her die before. When Clara and Emma have a private talk in another scene, Emma warns Clara not to trust the Doctor fully, because she can sense he’s been holding out on her and he’s hiding a big part of his true self from her. All of these little moments of doubt and disillusionment for Clara are basically set-up for the next episode, where the Doctor and Clara have their first big falling out, precisely because the Doctor hasn’t been honest with her about his true intentions or her status as an Impossible Girl.
The B-plot of “Hide” is centered around the two main guest characters: the two researchers studying a ghost in private. Dr. Alec Palmer is a retired World War II veteran, who actually owns the haunted house in question – living in seclusion in the country. Dr. Palmer is a proud, stubborn, stoic man who’s apparently been burned by life several times. He gave so much of himself to help his country with the war efforts, only for Britain’s government to screw him over in return afterwards, and as a result his experiences have made him quite jaded and distrusting. He has his share of past regrets about what he had to do during the fight against the Nazis, and plenty of survivor’s guilt, since he lived on past the war when so many others didn’t (Alec’s backstory, which he quietly bonds with the Doctor over, serves as another nice bit of foreshadowing for “The Day Of The Doctor”, as Series 7 continues to build up to that story).
Alec very clearly has a crush on his partner, Emma, and while he had to courage to fight in a world war for years, when it comes to personal matters of the heart, he’s ironically too shy to fess up. Emma is an empathic psychic who can read people’s emotions, so she suspects he has feelings for her, but she’s not sure if that’s true or not or if it’s just wishful thinking on her part. So she’s afraid to make a move herself, and risk ruining their friendship. Emma has a special connection to the ghost, because she can sense her fear and suffering. Emma decides to help the Doctor with his dangerous mission to save a time traveler in distress, which finally prompts Alec to let her in, be vulnerable and confess his feelings for her – so he can show concern for her and show his support for her. The ‘ghost’ that was the haunting the grounds ultimately turns out to be a future descendant of theirs, which gives the new couple some unexpected reassurance that their new relationship will endure the test of time.
“Hide” is a unique sort of Doctor Who episode where there are really no villains for a change. For the first half of the episode, we’re led to believe the infamous Caliburn ghast might be dangerous, but it slowly becomes apparent that that’s really not the case. The closest thing this story has to an antagonist is the Crooked Man, and even he has more layers to him than you might guess. The Witch of the Well who haunts Dr. Palmer’s home spends her days wandering the grounds, reaching out to people across dimensions: living in a constant state of fear, because of the alien nightmare bearing down on her. During the latter half of the episode, the Doctor discovers that the ‘ghost’ is actually a time traveler named Hilla Tacorian who’s gotten stuck in a pocket universe, so he goes in there to get her out. And after that, he discovers that the Crooked Man isn’t actually evil, but was trapped in the pocket universe like Hilla and has spent who knows how long trying to get back to his mate.
The Crooked Man and his mate are meant to intentionally mirror Alec and Emma, as well as the Doctor and Clara, to tie the two main themes of this episode together. A major recurring motif throughout “Hide” is fear: Clara is afraid of the ‘ghost’ for most of this episode, and she also starts to fear the future later. Hilla is afraid of a monster she can’t escape from, no matter where she runs. Alec and Emma are afraid to be honest with each other about how they feel, because they might be rejected. Even the Doctor starts to succumb to his own fear briefly, when it looks like he might be trapped in a pocket universe with a monster forever. But “Hide” is also an episode about love conquering fear. Clara’s fears don’t matter to her anymore once the Doctor is in danger, while Alec and Emma push through their fears so they can support each other and save a few people in need.
“Hide” is directed by newcomer Jamie Payne, who does a commendable job of handling this story. The scenes set inside and around Dr. Palmer’s home (the Caliburn manor) were filmed in Tyntestfield House – an old estate from the Victorian era that’s located in North Somerset, England – while the scenes that unfold inside the pocket universe were filmed inside a misty Gethin forest in Wales. The climatic scenes in the pocket universe are probably the most visually striking sequences in this episode: where the blinding white light of an open wormhole bathing Dr. Palmer’s living room is constantly contrasted with the spooky forest scenes that are filled to the brim with grey, desaturated lighting. These scenes seem to take a lot of inspiration from the aesthetic “Poltergeist” had, and I completely approve of that decision.
The show’s costume department is given the chance to get creative again with the design for an original, abnormal alien creature: the Crooked Man – a beast with thick, gangly limbs and an impossibly long, twisted neck. When it comes to menacing, prosthetic monsters, they’re always at their best when they’re left to the viewer’s imaginations (like the time-eating beetle from “Turn Left“), so the Crooked Man is easily at his most effective when he’s obscured for most of the episode with some clever camera work, lurking in the backgrounds of several shots as he stalks people from a distance. Murray Gold’s score is pretty subdued and atmospheric this week. Like the last episode, “Hide” didn’t receive its own scoring session and very little original content was written for it, aside from “I Am A Ghost“, a quiet, contemplative variation of “Whose Enigma” from “The Snowmen”. So there’s a lot of reused music from Series 6 and 7 in this episode: like “All For One“, “Locked On“, “Time Is Moving“, “Towards The Asylum“, “The Terrible Truth“, “My Husband’s Home“, “Cumbria 1207“, and “Spoonheads“.
All in all, “Hide” is a rather cute episode of Doctor Who that doesn’t rise to the heights of “The Rings Of Akhaten”, but is still one of the more memorable adventures of Series 7B. It does a great job of strengthening the bond between the Eleventh Doctor and Clara, while also showing the cracks in their friendship that need to be addressed sometime soon.
* “Boo! Hello, I’m looking for a ghost” “And you are?” “Ghostbusters!”
* “Sorry. You went to the bank and said, you know that gigantic old haunted house on the moors? The one the dossers are too scared to doss in? The one the birds are too scared to fly over? And then you said, I’d like to buy it, please, with my money?”
* “Are you coming?” “Where?” “To find the ghost” “Why would I want to do that?” “Because you want to. Come on” “No, I dispute that assertion!”
* “The music room is the heart of the house” The awkward silence that follows that line is hilarious. The Doctor and Clara are like “Thanks for the information, lady. No one really asked for it, but thanks anyway”.
* “Experience makes liars of us all. We lie about who we are, about what we’ve done” “And how we feel?” “Yes. Always. Always that”.
* “Okay, what is that?” “It’s a very loud noise. It’s a very loud, very angry noise” “What’s making it?” “I don’t know. Are you making it?”
* “Doctor, I may be a teeny, tiny bit terrified. But I’m still a grown-up. There’s no need to actually hold my hand” “Clara… I’m not holding your hand!”
* “I think I’d rather have tea” “Me too. Whiskey is the eleventh most disgusting thing ever invented” I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of curious about what the other ten things on Clara’s list are.
* “What about you and the Doctor?” “Oh, I don’t think so” “Good. Don’t trust him. There’s a sliver of ice in his heart”.
* “No, not in here! How do you expect her to like you if she’s soaking wet?! It’s a health and safety nightmare!”
* “What do you think?” “Eh, the color’s a bit boisterous” “I think it brings out my eyes” “It makes my eyes hurt” Damn, girl. Just damn.
* ” So I’m a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing” “No. No. You’re not that” “Then what are we? What can we possibly be?” “…You are the only mystery worth solving”.
* “Tell me what I’m thinking” “I can’t. I don’t have your gift” “You don’t need it. Just look at me and tell me… There, you see, you read my mind”.
* I feel so bad for Emma. This woman has to practically split her skull open twice, trying to keep the wormhole open, because the Doctor dragged his feet so much in the pocket universe.
* “I know that you feel you can’t do this, Emma, but look at that woman over there. You saved her. She’s only here because of your strength, and so am I. I was as lost as her, but being with you, you gave me a reason to be, Emma. You brought me back from the dead”.
* “I’m the TARDIS voice visual interface. I’m programmed to select the image of a person you esteem. Of several billion such images in my databanks, this one best meets the criterion” “Ugh, you are a cow. I knew it!”
* Clara’s lucky she wasn’t around in “The Doctor’s Wife“, the episode where the TARDIS had a voice for once. Imagine all the bickering that would have ensued.
* “What do you want? To frighten me, I suppose, eh? Because that’s what you do. You hide. You’re the bogeyman under the bed, seeking whom you may devour. You want me to be afraid. Then well done. I am the Doctor, and I am afraid”.
* “Every lonely monster needs a companion!” “There’s two of them!” What a twist!
* “Now, here she comes! Get ready to jump!”