Story No. 256
Production Code Series 7, Episode 9
Dates April 20, 2013

With Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman
Written by Neil Cross Directed by Jamie Payne
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner.

Synopsis: An entity has been haunting a mansion for millennia.


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 11/8/13

This is another story of Series 7 that had a lot to live up to. It was billed as a really scary episode, a classic haunted-house set-up. Part of why Series 7 felt so sub-par is that every episode was hyped up to unattainable expectations. The fact we've had a series spread across two years only made it worse as every episode became one to be savoured.

Hide does let you down to an extent in that it isn't really that scary. It is a very atmospheric episode; there is a great sense of setting here. But it struggles to be frightening; it does have a few moments such as the writing appearing on the wall (although there is no explanation for that). But it does resort to lame cliches such as the "I'm not holding your hand!" moment.

But, having said that, this is one of the standout episodes of Series 7 and I've come to enjoy it more through repeat viewing. The sense of atmosphere here is great and I like that the cast was kept as minimal as possible. The guest characters here are some of the best in this series; in particular Alec Palmer, who looks every inch like a weary, troubled man beleaguered with what he has done and searching for peace. The opening setup is very promising and at first it looked like the show was making a good attempt at outright horror. The dialogue is also a highlight and I love the "we're all ghosts to you" line.

But partway through there is a revelation which changes the whole tone of the story. It isn't in itself bad - in fact, it is a rather good piece of science-fiction - but it undermines the horror element of the story. My sister recently said to me that one of the main problems with Doctor Who lately is there is no sense of jeopardy, and if any story needed a sense of jeopardy it's a story like this. The whole idea of some hidden malevolence within the house vanishes, and, without that, the central plank to the story is removed. The scariest episodes in Doctor Who succeed by conveying a sense of evil and this episode more or less kills this halfway through. It does try to keep the sense of fear and there are some quite tense scenes with the Doctor towards the end, but it isn't the initial ghost story we were promised.

For what it's worth though, it is still generally well written throughout. It may feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity in terms of a ghost story, but it is still very good to watch and, as a piece of drama, is very well constructed. Although there is a bit of a tacked-on part at the ending that comes completely out of nowhere; that part is bad.

It's unlikely in the grand scheme of the Doctor Who's history that this story will stand out as something exceptional, but it can at least console itself in being one of the highlights of Series 7.

The Kneale Inversion by Matthew Kresal 10/1/16

It's been about two and a half years now since Hide first aired. The back half of New Who's seventh season received quite a mixed reaction on first broadcast with significant amounts of vitriol tossed in the direction of both Rings of Akhaten and Nightmare in Silver in particular. The former was written by Neil Cross, the same writer as Hide, which aired two weeks later despite having been written and produced first. Even if you have a more charitable disposition towards Ring, it seems safe to say that Hide is the better of the two.

For one thing, it draws from a much different background for a start. Anyone familiar with British "telefantasy" (a term I've only recently come across), will recognize the very strong Nigel Kneale influence on the script. Should anyone out there not know who Kneale was, he was the writer of the Quatermass serials of the 1950s, the spiritual precursors to Doctor Who in many ways, and was also the writer behind the BBC's foundational 1972 ghost story The Stone Tape. The Stone Tape was Kneale's attempt to do a modern ghost story, taking the conventions of ghosts and the haunting associated with them and throwing the science of the early 1970s at it.

As that might suggest, The Stone Tape especially casts a long shadow over much of this episode. There's the scientific equipment set up in the old house, the lady being spotted throughout the house's history (right down to the American soldiers in World War II and their cans of spam, which can also be found in The Stone Tape), the woman in the 1970s who can see the lady and indeed right down to the episode's science-fiction take on the so-called residual haunting phenomenon, which is better known appropriately enough as the Stone Tape Theory by "investigators" of ghosts. After the episode aired, Cross revealed in DWM that he tried to bring Quatermass as a character into the story, bringing two of Kneale's greatest works together at last, but that the Kneale estate blocked the idea. Given that Kneale was never a fan of Doctor Who when he was alive, it's not surprising, if a little sad. In its fiftieth anniversary year though, Doctor Who found time to pay tribute to a man who never wrote for the series, disliked it but also gave it some of its strongest story ideas.

Yet Hide does what The Stone Tape did in its own way. It takes the conventions of the supernatural genre and inverts them. It presents a scientific explanation for the "ghost", one that fits the series that Doctor Who and one that probably would have infuriated Kneale. And then, after all that set-up with its large amount of tension and spookiness, there's a left-field change at the end. What had been a ghost story suddenly takes on an entirely unexpected romantic element as it turns out that the monster that we've glimpsed and that has threatened the Doctor isn't that at all. It is this left-field change that gives the story that extra something original to this haunted-house tale and gives it the ultimate inversion of the typical supernatural tale: it's actually a love story hidden underneath. Cross does what Doctor Who writers have done since 1963 by taking Kneale's ideas and putting his own spin on them.

There's also a strong cast here as well. Smith's Doctor continues to shine brightly throughout, especially in the forest scenes when he's alone as he acts as the audience's barometer for how scared we should be. Despite this episode being early days for Jenna Coleman, a wonderful chemistry is apparent between her and Smith though there are moments (such as the scenes with the Doctor and Clara wandering the house) where she's finding her way as Clara. Which brings us to the supporting cast, starting with Jessica Raine as the psychic Emma. Having not seen Call The Midwife and with An Adventure In Space And Time still months off from broadcast back in 2013, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from her performance, but she hit this out of the ballpark, becoming the heart of the episode on her own. It also helps that she and Dougray Scott have an awkward but oddly realistic chemistry together, which seals their relationship rather nicely. Speaking of Scott, while he seems somewhat miscast physically as an academic type, he certainly gets the other aspects of the character down in his performance with his almost obsessive drive and awkwardness with Raine's Emma.

Back in 2013, I considered this to be one of the better episode of series seven. Two years later, I still think that to be the case and consider it to be one of the overlooked gems of the Smith era. It's got a neat Doctor Who take on an old premise, it's got nice performances, and it never outstays its welcome. More than that though, it proves one thing: only Doctor Who could turn a ghost story into a love story. If that's not what a sign of what this series can do, I'm not sure what is.

I like the word "toggle." Nice noun. Excellent verb! by Evan Weston 24/9/20

Despite appearing after The Rings of Akhaten in the show's chronology, Hide was the first episode of Doctor Who written by Neil Cross and the first that Jenna Coleman filmed as the primary version of Clara. Thus, things are much rougher around the edges than in The Rings of Akhaten, which is about as polished an episode of the show as you'll find. The script isn't as tight, the acting isn't as good, and the ending, like several in the second half of Series 7, is a bit of a train wreck. But Hide still has plenty in it to commend, and it serves as a perfectly find bit of mid-season filler.

This week's genre is clearly ghost story, and Hide takes great pains to let you know it. The obvious comparison is Series 6's Night Terrors, and it's not a bad match - the feeling of dark, understated dread that permeated that earlier story is present here. Hide is a bit more ambitious than Night Terrors, though, as it works in a time-travel sci-fi narrative that puts a distinctly Doctor Who stamp on the proceedings. This tends to unravel some of the wonderful production inside Caliburn House earlier in the episode, as virtually everything we were meant to fear was merely misunderstood. Still, the first 20 minutes are quite creepy, and even after that the Crooked Man - a wonderful bit of costuming and direction from Jaime Payne, who never lets you clearly see the figure until the very end - still manages a few jumps here or there.

The story is fairly complicated for what at first appears to be a straightforward ghost story, and, like the preceding Cold War, it has its fair share of issues. A clear, unwritten rule of Doctor Who is that anything we on Earth perceive to be supernatural either doesn't exist or is of alien origin. While there are some studies that believe empathic psychic powers are present in some people, it's far from proven science, and yet Cross just presents Emma Grayling to us as fact and rests his entire plot on her shoulders. It's a bit lazy and presumptuous, and it allows Cross to do virtually anything he wants in the third act. His science fiction wasn't perfect in The Rings of Akhaten, either, but that episode was heavily focused on stories and memories. Hide is about creeping you out, and a story more grounded in reality would have helped.

In addition, things begin to really fall apart once the Doctor realizes what the ghost is. The action climax is thrilling enough, especially after the Doctor becomes trapped in the pocket universe, but it's all very subjective in a we're-making-this-up-as-we-go sense. It gets worse after the story hits what you think is the denouement, when Cross suddenly decides he's writing a love story and gets the Crooked Man a crooked girlfriend. This not only overwhelms what had been a nice, quiet ending to the story, but it changes the themes enough that you're not quite sure what to take away from the episode when it's over. Had Cross just ended the story with the Doctor and Clara leaving with Hila, Hide would have benefited tremendously.

Clara is also weirdly characterized in Hide, though she's also quite lovely at points. As was mentioned before, Coleman had never played this version of Clara before, and there's a bit of breaking in the role going on. She's still a bit too gung-ho about everything, and here more than in Cold War she doesn't seem to have a personality beyond what the script requires from her. Interestingly, though, Cross tries to give her something to do when she confronts the Doctor about how he views humanity. This has the potential to be interesting and touches upon one of the show's most prominent themes (the Doctor as God), but the Doctor just hand-waves it away with a one-liner, and we move on. Clara continues her run as "generic companion", and it will start to grate very soon.

Coleman is also a bit rocky as she works her way into Clara's shoes. While she's still very cute and her scenes yelling at the TARDIS are utterly hysterical, she ends up overdoing the character's flirtiness on several occasions. It doesn't help that Matt Smith comes right back with flirting of his own, but his final scenes in the pocket universe are a testament to how powerful an actor he's become here in his third season. This week's guests are Dougray Scott, best known as the villain in Mission Impossible II, and Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine. Scott is quite good as the gruff professor with a dark military past, just trying to pick up the pieces and move on with his life. Raine is a startling disappointment, though, as she just sags a depressing scowl through the story with almost no personality beyond "pretty bummed out". As a result, her love story with Scott's character never gets off the ground, despite Scott's best efforts.

Despite some individual failings, though, Hide manages to overcome the sum of its parts. The mood evoked by the early part of the episode holds its own and creates a unique identity for the story, giving it a bigger, more epic feel than Doctor Who's previous ghost story, The Unquiet Dead. It's also the second-scariest episode of Series 7 (behind The Angels Take Manhattan), and Payne's direction really helps things out, lingering on spots just long enough to grab a quick shot of the ghost reaching out or the crooked man crackling in the darkness. While it doesn't do much with most of its characters and it ends on a weak note, Hide is still a perfectly watchable story that just about accomplishes what it says on the tin. Only when it deviates from what it wants to be - a spooky runaround in a haunted house - does it falter.