I’m scared to watch “Hide.” I’ve watched it twice now, and I’m scared that if I watch it one more time, I’ll start to notice things I don’t like about it. I’m scared that it’ll lose its sheen and become just another Doctor Who episode. Right now, at this moment, it’s easily my favorite episode of the season, and maybe my favorite of the revived series, full stop. Right now, at this moment, it seems that good.
It’s a small story — five people and two “monsters,” if you like — that takes place in 1974, and also over the entirety of the history of the Earth, and also in a tiny universe next door (oh yeah, spoilers, get ready). It’s a truly scary story, especially if, like me, you’re highly susceptible to ghost stories despite not actually believing in ghosts, but it’s also quite funny and moving and romantic. It’s fairly self-contained, but with references to the larger arc this season and to the nature of the show itself. It is, I want to stress again, bloody, bloody good. There’s no question now why Moffat read this and said, “oh my god, do us another” and got us “The Rings of Akhaten,” for better or for worse.
I barely know where to begin or what to talk about. Almost everything here is functioning on a heightened level. Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine are pitch-perfect as the ghost-hunting professor and his psychic assistant. They have gravitas to spare, sell their feelings for each other with heartbreaking authenticity, and just as an added bonus, do the most convincing job of being Doctor-companion mirror characters we’ve ever seen. There are interesting parallels in just about every scene the two of them have, situations in which Neil Cross can write about the Doctor without actually spelling it out. I’ve seen it mentioned that Scott would be a terrific Doctor himself. It’s a claim I’ve heard a lot about other guest stars, and this is the first time I’ve agreed wholeheartedly.
The visual texture of the story is wonderfully rich and beautiful and chilling, from the haunted mansion to pre- and post-historic Earth to the jaw-dropping island forest in the pocket universe. As the gateway to the pocket universe opens, it starts as a spinning black disc, which is either a particularly well-judged practical effect or some really terrific CGI. And then there’s the creature, clearly the product of a universe with skewed ideas of symmetry, which makes the baddies in “Rings” look like cuddly stuffed toys. This is truly the apex of Moffat’s ambition to achieve filmic quality. Is there any television show that’s ever looked this good?
Then there are the shifts from ghost story to love story to sci-fi story and back to love story again, and they all work beautifully. The last shift is almost a shame, because it takes something that’s been terrifying and makes it sweet, but by the time it’s done this, the terrifying has been had and making it sweet feels like a payoff rather than a letdown. What’s happening here is delicate, and with a different director, poorer visual effects, weaker acting, or a script less perfectly crafted, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. But everything comes together and the result is something that makes me feel the way many fans do about “Blink.”
What about that title? They don’t do a lot of hiding. Should it have been called “Well”? Or maybe, if Moffat isn’t saving this most perfect of Doctor Who episode titles for himself, “Run”?
Jenna-Louise Coleman is the weakest link in this episode. She doesn’t sink it, but once again she spends a lot of time telling us how Clara’s feeling and almost no time effectively showing it. She’s even more detached than the Doctor, acting as though it’s all a game, acting as though she’s acting.
I include this in this section because I’m partially convinced this isn’t entirely down to Coleman’s acting, but instead all part of the plan.
Either way, we have a bit of a problem, mainly that Clara seems like a cipher and not an actual person. If she is who and what I think she is, there’s actually no reason not to give her an authentic history and background and personality. It will only deepen the pathos when her identity is revealed. But since Moffat seems to be encouraging this idea that Clara might somehow be a trap for the Doctor, most obviously through her arguments with the TARDIS in both Neil Cross episodes, perhaps making her seem too human would give the game away. For the record, I don’t think she’s malignant, not even unintentionally, and would like the chance to warm to her as a person. But she hasn’t delivered a line I’ve really believed since “The Bells of St. John” (apart from last week’s “Pinocchio” quip), and that really worries me. I’d really like to warm to her and it’s going the other way.
Classic series watch:
At the time this episode is set (November 1974), in our world the most recent Doctor Who story was “Planet of the Spiders,” in which the Third Doctor regenerated following his disastrous visit to Metebelis 3. He’d picked up one of the mind-amplifying blue crystals there in “The Green Death,” and used it in “Planet of the Spiders” to thwart a race of ordinary spiders that had evolved to enormous size and brainpower thanks to the same crystals. It’s not the most hospitable place, but those crystals sure are handy. As I write, Twitter is a warzone, ablaze with battles between fans who are incensed at Matt Smith’s pronunciation (according to both earlier stories, “Metebelis” sounds like the middle four words of the sentence “I met a B-list celebrity”), and fans who love to act superior to fans who care about consistent pronunciation. It’s not pretty. My take is: we’re dealing with a thousand-year-old alien who currently has memory holes as small as the location of his hatstand and as large as the past occasions when he’s met the Great Intelligence, and you expect him to remember how to pronounce the name of a planet?
We also have a reference to the Eye of Harmony, which powers the Doctor’s TARDIS. It’s either a black hole (possibly artificially created) or a conduit to one, and is either located on Gallifrey or is part of each TARDIS, depending on the source of your information. In this story he uses a “subset” of the Eye, implying that it’s somehow mathematical or informational, which sounds hand-wavy but, if you take 1981’s “Logopolis” seriously enough, might tie into the “block transfer computation” idea that the TARDIS is in some sense the manifestation of some literally cosmic mathematics. Aren’t you glad you asked?