Thursday, 11 September 2014

Hide written by Neil Cross and directed by Jamie Payne

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor and Clara help to investigate the ghostly happenings at Caliburn mansion…

The Nutty Professor: My friend Emma and I watched Hide together and we came at Matt Smith’s performance from very different angles. I thought this was one of his better portrayals with his chemistry with Clara being particularly apparent this week but Emma found that his goofery was detrimental to the episodes attempts to frighten and that every quirk he deployed took her out of the story. Actually now I come to think about it Simon said the same thing as well when he watched it with me a few days later (during which time my opinion changed from quite liking Hide to thinking it was the best episode of the year so far). Like The Rings of Akhaten and Cold War the Doctor has to enter the scene and spout acres of exposition to get the audience up to speed with who these characters are and what the situation is because the episode simply does not have the time to have them explore and discover these things at a reasonable pace, it’s becoming rather an irritating quirk of a season that has shunned the two part format. It’s the only point of the episode where I wished he would just shut up and stop spilling his guts. There’s nothing wrong with Matt Smith’s performance but the Doctor rather spoils our chance to investigate the setting and discover things for ourselves. If Cross is going to have to resort to this method of rapid scene setting by the Doctor in so he can get on and tell his story he at least thinks up a clever reason for the Doctor’s instant knowledge – he came here for a reason and it is tied in to the seasons central mystery involving Clara. I was amused by Clara’s several attempts to shut him up, she knows when he runs off the mouth too much. For anybody who is getting a little sick of how glib and foolish the Doctor is getting of late they should appreciate the fact that he expresses some genuine fear in this tale, both in the house during the early stages and especially when exposed in the mist swathed woods towards the climax. The way he Clara feed of each others fears, exacerbating them, feels very real and is pretty amusing in spots. Cross managed to take a good look into the heart of the 11th Doctor in The Rings of Akhaten and reveal the universe-weary old man that he is at the core of his youthful exterior and he pulls off the same trick in Hide during his discussion with Clara about the nature of humanity and their path across time. Smith is absolutely superb in the woodland scenes, expressing a bone gnawing terror that we rarely get to witness in the Doctor. I chuckled heartily at the Doctor’s reaction to the twist that this is actually a love story whilst he has his arm around Clara.

A Closed Book: A much better use of the character this week, but I still maintain that we know very little of worth about her character beyond what we are experiencing with her on an adventure by adventure basis. There are signs that this was Coleman’s first episode filmed as she sounds a little uncertain in some scenes but considering practically every single actor to play a regular in the new series has needed an episode or two to bed themselves in and get to grips with their role (especially hard for her because there is so little to grasp hold of) it’s quite understandable. I love it when the Doctor and his assistant are investigating a good mystery together and there is some very atmospheric about him and Clara exploring this spooky old house by candlelight. I know he is technically behaving inappropriately by investigating her bizarre resurrection ability behind her back but I’m not sure why the writers of the new series can’t simply allow the companions to enjoy spending time with the Doctor. This whole ‘he has a sliver of ice’ bollocks attempts to drive a wedge between them when the one genuinely great aspect to Clara’s presence is her warm relationship with the Time Lord. The only time contemporary Clara has felt like a real person to me and not a collection of generic companion quirks is in the hands of Neil Cross.  He wrote her as a likeable explorer in Akhaten and manages to tap into something similarly appealing here when she is overwhelmed by the concept that she is had just travelled the entire life span of the human race. This might be discourteous to say but perhaps Cross would be an ideal script editor for the series at the moment, casting his eye over the plot heavy but hollow scripts of writers such as Moffat and Gatiss and injecting a bit of heart into them. The TARDIS is still resisting Clara for some unknown reason. The Doctor came expecting answers from Emma about Clara but nothing is revealed beyond ‘she is a perfectly ordinary girl.’ I could have told him that.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let me in your grumpy old cow!’
‘Hold hands. Keep doing that and don’t let go. That’s the secret.’

The Good:
  • A lash up of scientific equipment in a spooky old mansion to try and discover or debunk the presence of a ghost that has haunted the property over the years…can you think of a more perfect Doctor Who setting than that? The pre-titles sequence would have made a fabulous cliffhanger back in the day with the camera swooping through the empty corridors of the creepy old house and the ghost being caught in snapshots as it approaches the guest characters, howling in the night. It baffles me that they chose to end this sequence with the Doctor’s (obvious arrival) rather than with the shot of the ghost reaching out from the camera towards the audience which would have made a much more lasting impression.
  • One of the consequences of so many BBC drama productions being filmed on location has meant the sale of Television Centre but when episodes are filmed in locations as grand and as packed with character as Margam Country Park it is hard to argue with the decision. Yes BBC designers are capable of pulling of incredible set design to a high standard (Ghost Light is a fine example of a haunted house being pulled off with exquisite detail on a classic Doctor Who budget) but they don’t quite get the same sense of scale and grandeur that filming in a real life manor can afford.
  • I criticised Murray Gold’s hyperactive music last week but he entirely redeems himself in Hide by understanding the conventions of the horror genre so completely and providing one of his most subtle and disquieting of scores.
  • So much horror these days relies on special effects (the ending of Mama, the most recent horror film I watched, was peculiarly blunt and unsatisfying because for this very reason) and so whilst the direction      wasn’t quite chilling enough to give me the shivers I did appreciate the reliance on good old fashioned atmospherics such as lighting (lots of rooms lit up by flickering candlelit) and sound (the horrendous banging at the door). Even the clichéd ‘I’m not holding your hand’ was deployed to decent shock effect.
  • I’ve complained an awful lot about the lack of definable, relatable characters this year and how they are sketched out in one or two lines. It’s been a particular problem in the last three stories but this week I found I could relate to the Professor and Emma because the first half of the episode slows the pace down and allows us the chance to get to know them. There is genuine chemistry between Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine and their gentle romance provides a nice counterpoint to the spooks elsewhere. My only complaint is that the Doctor sketches out everything that we get to know about the characters as soon as he enters the scene, beyond their affection for each other and the fact that the result of their union is what is causing this haunting in the first place.
  • It’s the middle stages of this episode that excited me the most. The early scenes are all effective scene setting and the later scenes have to deal with the explanations but the heart of the episode recaptures something that has been missing from this run of episodes so far – clever ideas, genuine mystery and a sense of not having a clue what is going on in a very exciting way. As soon as the cracked glass portal appears and the Doctor sets off to take pictures from the same location from the birth of the universe to its death, I was absorbed by the insane twists and turns the story was taking. I’m not sure if the bubble universe explanation is technically sound but the concept of a fleeing time traveller trapped in a never-ending moment of time is a clever scientific explanation for a paranormal phenomenon. It might disappoint the horror fans (but then this is a family show after all, we discussed that last week) but it feels very Doctor Who and it’s the sort of concept that does excite the imagination. At least it does mine.
  • ‘Mer-teb-elis Three…’ Bwahahaha! Fanboys get upset about the geekiest of things, don’t they? You’d think they would be thrilled at the touch of nostalgia rather than self destructing like a Dalek that has lost its prisoner at a mis-pronunciation. Mind you we all say things in very different ways so I dispute whether it is a mis-pronunciation or just a quirk of this particular Doctor. The vehement reaction has in many ways been as entertaining as the episode itself. I can’t wait until the 12th Doctor visits Peeladon and Skarro.
  • ‘Isn’t it all a little make do and mend?’ Was I the only one who had flashbacks back to the Time Flow Analogue from The Time Monster? Shoving together a load of what looks like junk and suggesting it is magic is Doctor Who at its purest.
  • A nightmarish forest on a rock suspended in space? That gave me chills it was so unexpected. We’ve never had a monster designed or filmed in quite this way before; all bristles and shudders, just out of the corner of your eye with jagged, inhuman movements and approaching in POV shots. It feels fresh and menacing as a result. There’s a real sense of exposure in the forest scenes, that there is nowhere to hide from the creature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the production values that this show possesses now are at an all time high and something as simple as shooting in a forest can be made to look extremely stylised and exotic. Whilst I never felt that the Doctor wouldn’t get free of this situation there is a fantastic ‘oh shit’ moment when he is locked inside the pocket dimension and finds himself back in the forest in a heartbeat. It’s turns like that that keep the interest levels high in this adventure.
  • ‘That’s what that noise was! Lovely!’ The Doctor comments on the script writers ability to answer all of the questions he poses, winking at the audience while he does so.
  • What a gorgeous location those last few scenes are filmed in; all archways, crumbling brickwork and ivy.
 The Bad:
  • I have no issues with the direction in principal because there is nothing you can point at and say wasn’t handled well but my biggest complaint about the ghost story aspects of the story is that in comparison the Sarah Jane Adventures tale The Eternity Trap genuinely gave me goosebumps and this one didn’t. Not at any point. I’ve been trying to figure out what the main difference is and it all comes down to the editing (in which the SJA story was leisurely in order to suggest menace in every shadow), the lighting (which was much more akin to a traditional horror movie – Hide was far too light in places) and the suggestion of nasty things leering at you in the darkness (I can remember wet footprints, glowing eyes staring out of blackness, chalk scraping on a blackboard and a nightmarish trip down into the villains chamber by torch light). The Eternity Trap truly pushed how far you could go in terms of horror with a family television whereas Hide was a far more entertaining but less scary version of the same kind of material. However this might have been more my problem than the directors because a friend contacted me after this was aired and told me that her daughter was hiding behind a pillow throughout so clearly it had the desired effect on a certain proportion of the audience. And she’s eighteen.
  • ‘I dispute that assertion!’ is not a line that any actor could pull off with any great conviction. It’s up there with ‘you suspect another motive?’ from The Mark of the Rani.
  • Practically everything is explained satisfactorily by the end of the episode. So why did the chalk circle evapourate? Did I miss something?
  • The consequence of coming to Hila so late in the day is that she never gets the chance to assert herself as a character in her own right beyond dressing a bit like her from Delta and the Bannermen.
The Shallow Bit: Love conquering all seems to be something of a running motif in Steven Moffat’s era and whilst it is a concept that was over egged in stories such as Night Terrors and Closing Time (and possibly The Rings of Akhaten, although I had less of an issue with it in that one than others) I thought this was the most effective exploration of the theme yet. I initially thought that the Alec and Emma’s mutual attraction was just a bit of fun to add a little depth to both characters and surprised and impressed when this was worked into the narrative and transpired to be a major plot point, explaining why the time traveller (or ghost if you like) was so attracted to Emma. And whilst my friend groaned at the second employment of the same idea with there being two creatures, one at the house and one in the woods, across the dimensional divide, I thought that it was rather a smart move to twist the genre from horror to romance at the last minute. It comes completely out of the blue, proves to be a genuine surprise (perhaps revealing our own prejudice to expect bad things from horrific looking creatures – although to be fair the writer and director go out of their way to deceive us as to the creatures intentions) and ticks all the boxes of the mysteries that have been posed (Who grabbed Clara’s hand in the house? Why was the creature so determined to pursue the time traveller?). The love theme ensures that this evolves from an entertaining script with plot holes to a tightly constructed story with very few issues. Go figure.

Result: A small but effective cast, plenty of atmosphere, clever ideas and a story that confidently strides from one genre to another, Hide is by far the strongest episode of this mini season of Doctor Who so far and the one which embraces the essence of the show most fulsomely. My friend Emma, as disappointed with the latest run as I have been, turned to me at one point and said ‘this feels like Doctor Who.’ It’s a script that keeps developing and throwing fresh ideas at you - from the time traveller stretched across a moment of time to the Doctor’s jaunt through the timeline of the planet Earth to Clara’s banishment from the TARDIS to the clever paradox resolution with through advent of love – and Cross handles his concepts like a master craftsman. It’s an exceptionally busy tale but never feels rushed and one which looks like it is going to end with lots of questions hanging but ultimately resolves itself in a very satisfactory manner (unless you have a heart of stone). Whatever your preference is (the nutty professor or something altogether more serious and subdued) this is a great story for the 11th Doctor as he gets to be both silly and genuinely very scared and his interaction with Clara continues to shine (even if she is still a fairly vacant sort of character). My only real complaints are that the tale is inconsistently paced (as it switches genres the pace quickens exponentially tossing the character work out of the window as Cross has to try and grapple with all his mysteries) and it is never quite as frightening as it aspires to be, especially in the wake of the final revelations. You’ll never watch it a second time and shudder. For me this is two for two for Neil Cross (I liked The Rings of Akhaten) and I would very much look forward to a third installment from the author: 8/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

I am watching this right now and I'm sorry to say I'm with your friends on this one. Smith's affected performance takes me out of the story, though the story's kind of boring me as it is, so maybe that's a blessing. Clara is once again playing the generic companion, and I really don't care about the guest actors' love story. I don't think any of it is bad, though, and the end does pick things up quite a bit, so I guess overall it's decent enough, as far as I'm concerned.