Doctor Who: Revisiting HIDE

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Matthew Kresal looks back at a ghost story love story.

It's been about three 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 Rings, it seems safe to say that Hide is the better of the two.

For one thing, it draws from a much different background. 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 (no pun intended) to Doctor Who in many ways, and was also the writer behind the BBC’s seminal 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 casts an especially 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 Hide’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. It's still a little sad when you consider that in it's fiftieth anniversary year Doctor Who found time to pay tribute to a man who never wrote for the series, publicly 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 convention of the supernatural genre and inverts them. It presents a scientific explanation for the “ghost”, one that fits 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's this left field change which gives this haunted house tale that extra something original, and through the ultimate inversion of the typical supernatural tale we discover there's actually a love story hidden underneath. In this respect, Cross does what writers have done with Doctor Who since 1963, he's taken Kneale's ideas and put 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's moments (such as the scenes with the Doctor and Clara wandering the house) where she's still finding her way as Clara. Which brings us to the supporting cast, starting with Jessica Raine as the physic 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 her and Dougray Scott have an awkward, but oddly realistic chemistry together which sells 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 Hide to be one of the better episode of series seven. Three years later, I still think that to be the case and also believe 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 never outstays its welcome. More than though, it proves one thing: only Doctor Who could turn a ghost story into a love story. If that's not a great sign of just what this series can do, I'm not sure what is.

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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