James Willets continues his run-down of Series 7b, but ‘Hide’ isn’t chilling him for the right reasons.
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‘Hide’ is one of those weird episodes that happen every series or so, when the team in charge of Doctor Who get bored of the usual sequence of historical-alien-future adventure serial, and decide that what the show needs is a good old retreat into other genres; primarily horror. And as with all of those episodes before it, the classic horror setting and tropes are abandoned two thirds of the way through to explain that it’s all just another sci-fi baffler, and that’s not a Werewolf, or a vampire, or a ghost, or a great pumpkin; it’s an alien pitched up on Earth.
These episodes usually aren’t all that great – ‘Vampires in Venice’ stands out for its campy attempts to create an accurate flavour of medieval Venetian life, if medieval Venetian life had included the threat of consumption by horny cosmic piranha girls. Add to that the ‘witches’ from ‘The Shakespeare Code’, the ‘Werewolf’ from ‘Tooth and Claw’ and the Evil Living Scarecrows from the ‘Family of Blood’ two-partner, and you start to build up a picture of Doctor Who struggling to do the monster mash in an enjoyable or sensible manner.
Ghosts though. Ghost and haunted houses. There’s a lot you can do with a mystery about ghosts and haunted houses, even if you know the solution is aliens. Maybe they’re gaseous aliens (like the Gelth), maybe the house is haunted by mobile statues (like in ‘Blink’) or the ghosts are really dimension hopping, emotion shunning robots who want to steal our brains*. Or maybe the aliens are all dead, and they really are ghosts, like in Scientology.
The neat thing here is that nobody really cares enough about ghosts to have invented some hard and fast literary rules or tropes about them. Vampires and zombies have certain things that make them them, rather than just a ghoul, or a lych, or a cannibal. If you mess with the formula too much, genre purists will react badly; witness how Twilight is still mocked for its sparkly vampires, and how the mention of fast Zombies divides the geek world between those who think it’s stupid and those who think it’s really stupid.
Nobody cares enough about ghosts to complain about the inaccuracies of their portrayal, or a reimagining of their status. What was the last really successful ghost movie you saw? Beetlejuice? Ghostbusters? Ghost? Caspar? No two of them bear any similar themes, or even any hard and fast rules about what ghosts can and can’t do.
Which brings us back to ‘Hide’, where this week’s throwaway cameo characters (washed up spy, emotional psychic) who will inevitably reappear and take on greater importance in a bloated and ultimately confusing finale, are looking for a ghost in a house that couldn’t be more haunted. And it’s the 70s, something you can tell because everyone struggles to tell people their feelings, and the equipment is huge.
The story itself is serviceable, if as run of the mill as any Haunted House pastiche, with the Doctor and Clara exploring the house and coming up with ‘scientific’ explanations for the mysterious phenomena that cultivate the air of supernatural menace. So far, so Scooby Doo, a comparison that’s never been more apt than it is here, where every other reveal seems to be one away from ‘the janitor did it’.
Of course, it wasn’t really the janitor. It was aliens. Or, more accurately, time travellers, who have been stuck in a stable, but unsynchronised time-pocket and thus appear in our reality in a ghostly form. That’s all wrapped up with the usual psychic and scientific fluff, and some familiar eulogising about the power of love, and an explanation of who can and can’t enter the other reality and it always seems on the verge of wiltingly confessing that, really, nobody has any clue how this time-travel mumbo jumbo is supposed to work at all.
And then we’re at the end and I guess that, whilst I don’t have any problems with ‘Hide’, I just don’t really care about an episode that couldn’t be more filler if tried.
*This is the point that I realise both how often Doctor Who chooses to fall back on the supernatural to explain the plot, and how much of my life I must have spent thinking about Doctor Who that I can comfortably list a top five new-Who episodes featuring alien-ghosts.