After a rather tedious start to this second half of the season, The Doctor (Matt Smith) goes on a ghost-busting adventure with new companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). Does this adventure prove more enjoyable than their previous outings?
Let’s bitch it out.
The only word I can think of to describe this latest episode of Doctor Who is ‘better’. It’s not nearly as exciting and resonant as episodes in previous seasons, but in comparison to the yawn-worthy ‘Cold War’ that we had last week or the underwhelming ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ that preceded, ‘Hide’ proved that a ‘just okay’ episode is like a welcome breath of fresh air.
It boils down to tight storytelling. ‘Hide’ begins as a rather straightforward ghost story, but after the hasty appearance of the Doctor and some swoops of the sonic screwdriver, the story quickly morphs into a time-travelling-into-pocket-universes, love-conquers-all story. Even though the trajectory of the narrative changes so drastically, ‘Hide’ works because we’re walked through these changes without muddled confusion or too much fast-talking exposition.
One of the most enjoyable elements of Doctor Who is how the Doctor figures things out just a bit quicker than everyone else, proceeding to explain his deductions to bewildered onlookers (and the audience). Sure, it’s a bit contrived and can feel tired, but in the past few episodes in particular, the Doctor’s piecing together of the mystery felt too tacked-on and hasty to be interesting. It’s much more straightforward this week – I wasn’t left scratching my head in confusion as to what was going on, so I’ll take it as a win.
Here’s where the Doctor’s charm comes into play – as he onboarding the viewers, he’s got to do so without arrogance or pretention. Matt Smith, of course, is excellent at this and he’s particularly good at the conveying an innocent sweetness to it all. I especially enjoyed the moment when he trips up a bit in the episode’s last act, returning to the pocket universe to reunite the monster than previously pursued him with a kind of boyish exuberance that I can’t help but find utterly charming.
But even with a solid story, the episode falls short of brilliance due to the confines of its standalone format. We get some great moments of Professor Palmer (Dougray Scott) confessing the struggles of his past to the Doctor, and conversely, Emma’s (Jessica Raine) heart-to-heart with Clara is equally as effective, but in the end, there simply isn’t enough time to truly connect with these supporting characters. Both guest actors are excellent, but in such a short time, it’s difficult to connect with them beyond whatever objective it is they need to achieve (in this case, it’s rescuing time traveler and future great-great-great-etc granddaughter, Hila, from a collapsing pocket universe).
Once Hila is ‘rescued’ (as well as the Doctor) we have no need for Emma and Palmer to stick around. I suppose this isn’t anything new to Doctor Who, but there’s something unsatisfying with scratching the surface of characters who have the potential to be quite rich and complex in the long run. I suppose it had me wishing to see more of them, or perhaps, wanting that same kind of intrigue with Clara, who has yet to really develop as a companion. I find myself disappointed with Clara’s arc considering all the positive momentum built from the season’s premiere when we first met our soufflé girl. Perhaps my disappointment is rooted in impatience – wanting see Clara really carve out her place as a rightful companion. With only four episodes left in the season, let’s hope Clara’s development goes into hyper drive…
- Although I’m griping about Clara’s lack of development, that isn’t to say that she doesn’t have her moments in this episode. The scene in which she stays in the TARDIS observing the ‘entire life cycles of earth from birth to death’ is quite touching, giving us more insight into her altruist disposition. I simply want more scenes like this.
- Likewise, the interaction she has with the TARDIS is quite charming. (Calling the TARDIS a cow?! She’s got some cojones that Clara…)
- The opening sequence of ‘Hide’ is quite amazing, absolutely nailing the creepy atmosphere of the haunted and rickety old mansion genre. You’ve got to hand it to Doctor Who – they do genre quite well, especially with the recent cash injection in the production budget…
What did you think viewers? How did this episode fare in comparison to the others this season? What did you think Emma meant when she said that the Doctor had ‘a sliver of ice in his heart’? What was the deal with the cold spots before the wormhole opened to the pocket universe? Will Clara let on to the fact that the Doctor knew her in previous lives/adventures? Sound off in the comments section below.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 8pm EST on BBC America.