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So then here we have the second episode this season penned by Neil Cross, and this time folks, this was a lot more like what I'd expect from the creator of Luther. Apparently this was the first of the two adventures he penned, which Moffat and co. liked so much they offered him The Rings of Akhaten. And whatever you thought of that particular episode, I think it's fair to say that Hide is the stronger of the two. For in this story, Cross takes Doctor Who back to being scary, stating his intention as to write the kind of frightening story he remembered as a child. And by Rassilon, I think it's fair to say he succeeded, crafting a memorably spooky tale that was scary, and proper creeping out the grown-ups as well as the kids too!
Cross has also said he was very much inspired by the works of British telly legend Nigel Kneale too; indeed apparently he wanted to write a tale in which the Doctor met Kneale's most famous creation Professor Bernard Quatermass. But although Doctor Who has referenced the good professor at least twice in its history before (Remembrance of the Daleks and The Christmas Invasion), this epic meeting of boffins was thwarted by our old enemy copyright reasons. However such legal wrangles didn't stop him drawing inspiration from Kneale; for much like The Road and The Stone Tape in particular, Hide features a traditional ghost story but with a science fiction twist.
Now then, over the years many ghost stories have played with the idea of time travel - that hauntings are the result of overlapping time slips and distortions. However the danger is that in explaining your ghosts they tend to become more mind boggling and cease to be scary. But Mr Cross isn't just delivering a ghost here, for as well as a temporally displaced soul we also have a monster, so when the nature of the Witch from the Well becomes apparent, and less spooky, Mr Cross takes us to an eerie nether dimension where something monstrous lurks. And my word the Crooked Man, as it is nicknamed in the credits, is a truly disturbing creation which thanks to some wise directing from Jamie Payne, even by the end we never quite fully see.
Inevitably I suspect some are going to be mark this episode down for the final twist in the tale that reveals that the Crooked Man was just seeking his Crooked Woman. But I fell that after scaring younger viewers witless earlier, it was right and proper that it was reveal that the monsters weren't an evil threat. Grown-ups may carp about it but it was a nice touch... Although, I also rather suspect it might be too little too late and there'll be a few nightmares tonight... Heh heh heh!
...I do apologise, I don't mean to sound callous, but a good scare is the essential of classic Doctor Who. And I think the end of this story manages to have it's cake and eat it - delivering a proper old school behind the couch experience but making it all alright at the end again.
There's also a pleasing symmetry to this story too. Obviously there's a nice parallel in the ending with the Crooked Folk and Dougray Scott's Professor hitching up with Jessica Raine's Emma, but also these two characters - whom I would love to see more of - neatly mirrored the Doctor and Clara to an extent. And echoing the developing relationship with Clara and the TARDIS. Very fitting a story about repetitions through time and an 'echo universe'.
This was a grand episode, which I fully admit did managed to spook me at points, and left me with a huge grin on my face at the end. And much like Cold War, Hide managed to fuse the best bits of classic and rebooted Who to great success, marrying the old fashioned plotting with the heart and weight of the new. And much like Mark Gatiss's adventure was a homage to the Second Doctor with even a mention of the H.A.D.s last week, Hide was very much a lovely nod back to the Third Doctor, complete with psychic experiments using a crystal from Metebellis 3*.
Furthermore, to don my trainspotter's hat for a moment, we should note that the Third Doctor also investigated hauntings that turned out to be time travellers twice too - with ghosts from the future in Day of the Daleks and a spectre from the past that turned out to be our first meeting with a Sontaran in The Time Warrior. Now while I mentioned the numerous parallel elements from the new series that turned up in The Rings of Akhaten, Cross's drawing on the show's history felt far more assured here, delivering an adventure that felt like pure Doctor Who through and through, a tale that fits beautifully with the past but without feeling like it was recycling it.
Now one of the highlights of The Rings of Akhaten was the Doctor's speech, and here we get another one - but this time from Clara. It's a seemingly small moment but Clara's thinking aloud that leads her to the conclusion that we are all ghosts to the Doctor was quietly magnificent. And there appears to be a lot of hints and foreshadowing in this story too, for amid all the ghost and monster fun was the on-going story arc of the Doctor investigating the mystery of Clara. What is going on with her and the TARDIS? I heavily suspect we may learn more in next week's tale...
* Old guard fans have been scratching their heads over Smith's pronunciation of this planet's name which seem to slightly differ from how Pertwee used to say it. Of course the question is is this just a goof or a hint that the Doctor's memory is getting dodgy? I'd suspect it's just a mispronunciation - and in which case, in story terms, we can chalk it up to an effect of the Time War or the Crack altering history. But then again, it's hard to believe no one on the production time wouldn't have flagged up the error... Damn it, another mystery!
JIM MOON, 20th April 2013