Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 10 review: Hide

Posted: 25 April 2013 in entertainment, television
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Starting life as a crossover of two science fiction legends the intriguing haunted house premise of Hide is wasted as the story falls apart under a mountain of nonsensical science fiction, ponderous info dumps and poor acting from the regulars.

Hide

The admiration of various Doctor Who writers for Nigel Kneale’s creation of Professor Bernard Quatermass has been evident throughout the history of the series, especially in stories such as The Web of Fear, The Invasion, Spearhead From Space, Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, Image of the Fendahl. The entire concept of exiling the Doctor to Earth in the early Pertwee years and teaming him up with UNIT was a deliberate decision to evoke the feeling of Quatermass – a man of science and peace in an uneasy alliance with military forces and fighting unearthly menaces together.

Although invited to write for Doctor Who right at its conception in 1963 Nigel Kneale himself was never a fan of the series, commenting in 1986 that “It sounded a terrible idea and I still think it was”.

And since a dialogue exchange in Part Three of Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks it’s been generally acknowledged within the circles of Doctor Who fandom that the Doctor and Quatermass are part of the same fictional universe.

Allison Williams “I wish Bernard was here”
Professor Rachel Jensen “British Rocket Group got it’s own problems…”

The original intention behind Hide was to unite the science fiction legends that are the Doctor and Quatermass but the tantalising premise was scuppered by rights issues relating to Kneale’s creation. However Neil Cross turned to another of Nigel Kneale’s superbly crafted tales for inspiration, namely the classic 1972 BBC Christmas ghost story The Stone Tape and its premise of terrifying events occurring during a scientific investigation of a supposedly haunted house.

In place of Professor Bernard Quatermass came Professor Alex Palmer played by Dougray Scott, famous for his roles in Mission: Impossible II and Enigma – and the original Wolverine in the X-Men film series until overruns on another film project meant he had to relinquish the role and see Hugh Jackman cast instead. Palmer’s hidden past as an operative of the Special Operations Executive adds an air of melancholy darkness to his character. It’s a shame that Scott couldn’t play Quatermass as his disheveled boffin with an air of obsession tracks well with how the head of the British Rocket Group should be characterised. If the likes of BBC Wales ever get around to remaking the original Quatermass trilogy in their 1950s settings then Scott is the first person that the lead role should be offered to.

Best known for her role in Call the Midwife Jessica Raine portrayed empathic psychic Emma Grayling who could sense the darkness that pervaded the rooms and corridors of the mysterious Caliburn House and is able to connect with the Caliburn Ghast. She is not so certain about sensing whether Palmer has feelings for her. Raine will soon become further enshrined in the mythology of the series when she appears as Verity Lambert, the original producer, in the television docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time that is due to air on BBC Two in late 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

Scott and Raine gave bravura performances that transcended the material they had been given to work with. In a series that has become unnecessarily and increasingly sexualised in the 21st century it was a relief and a delight to see two characters fumbling with their attraction to each other in such an understated British manner. In the end Palmer and Grayling were better than the story that surrounded them and it wouldn’t be unpleasant to see them return one day.

Hide - Grayling, Palmer, the Doctor and Clara

One person who should not be permitted to return another day is writer Neil Cross. This was the second story in Series 7b to come from the pen of the Luther creator (although written and filmed before the dire The Rings of Akhaten) and it is to be hoped he’s not called upon to contribute any more material to Doctor Who. His two contributions to date have been poorly paced and dull, coming across as virtual first drafts in need of serious rewriting and tightening. Cross sets up situations well but is unable to generate a decent payoff. Whilst proceedings at Caliburn House began promisingly with bumps in the night and spectral visions in near subliminal form things fell apart once the Doctor decided to cheat on doing eerie ghost busting and took the TARDIS off on a trip through Earth’s history to catalogue the antics of the “Witch of the Well”. The opportunity for a put-the-audience-behind-the-sofa Doctor Who to rival the likes of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Blink were completely ruined by poor structuring and the sudden influx of overt science fiction elements. Granted the Doctor’s thought processes function two or nine steps ahead of lesser mortals but his sudden insight into the plight of stranded time traveller Hila Tukurian in a pocket universe was a completely unbelievable info dump moment. And then made worse by the supposedly emotional revelation that Hila was a future descendant of Palmer and Grayling.

Things didn’t get any better with the discovery that the Doctor had only been at Caliburn House because he had wanted the insight of a psychic into the so-called mystery of “The Woman Twice Dead” that underpins Series 7b and which pales in comparison with Steven Moffat’s previous intricate and ambitious story arcs. The “cracks in the universe” from Series 5 and the identity of River Song together with the death of the Doctor from Series 6 were built up carefully and intriguingly from introduction to conclusion. As part of the “mystery of Clara” it’s also being laid down that the TARDIS doesn’t care for her much – and who can blame the millennia old timeship. After premiere companions like Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith and Amy Pond the TARDIS is likely feeling justifiably slighted by the latest person to come aboard. Granted Clara is poorly conceived but Jenna-Louise Coleman really isn’t doing anything with the occasionally good material that she’s provided with. And in Hide her lassitude seemed to infect Matt Smith as for the first time he gave a performance well below his normally stellar best. Smith seemed to be channeling all of the character traits he’s built up for the Eleventh Doctor into a caricatured performance. Lots of flicking the sonic screwdriver around, odd body movements and swishing of his longer frock coat. The tweed professorial look that this Doctor began with seems to have been consigned to history and that’s a mistake as it gave him an “off-duty” Indiana Jones air. Hide was the first story filmed for Series 7b and it felt like Smith and Coleman couldn’t be overly bothered and bought read-through performances before the camera.

Also, did no one on the production team think to watch the DVD of Planet of the Spiders before allowing Matt Smith to attempt a pronunciation of Metebelis? Whilst it’s pleasing to have little kisses to the past of Doctor Who they fall flat if done incorrectly. For once the normally well-steered ship that is the production team hit the rocks and that was reflected in Hide as a whole.

Overall Hide was a story packed with potential as a haunted house tale with a science fiction basis in the style of the Sylvester McCoy classic Ghost Light but which fell apart completely once the narrative left the confines of the wonderfully gothic Caliburn House and went all unnecessarily expansive across space and time. Since the Ponds departed the TARDIS Doctor Who has entered a spiral of quality that was has been only briefly arrested by the Mark Gatiss’ Troughton homage of Cold War.

Within a few episodes of introducing a new companion Doctor Who has become a series in trouble on the eve of what should be a glorious celebration of 50 years of being.

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