Caliburn House, Clara, Doctor Who, Dougray Scott, Dr Who, Dr Who Season 7, Emma Grayling, Hide, Hider, Jamie Payne, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Jessica Raine, Matt Smith, Neil Cross, Professor Alex Palmer, TARDIS, The Doctor, The Witch of the Well
Review by Paul Bowler
When the Doctor and Clara arrive at Caliburn House in 1974, a haunted mansion on a fog shrouded moor, where Professor Alex Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his assistant, the empathic psychic Emma Grayling (Call The Midwife’s Jessica Raine), are investigating the sightings of a terrifying ghost known as The Witch of the Well.
Caliburn House has stood for over four hundred years, but The Witch of the Well is much older even than that, and she has been known by many names. Now the Doctor has arrived to solve the mystery of this ghostly manifestation. The Doctor and Clara assist the Professor and Emma in their search for The Witch of the Well, exploring the dark halls of the house, but is the apparition really a ghost, and who, or what, is malevolent entity that seems to be chasing her?
When the Doctor and Clara travel back through the history of the Earth in the TARDIS it becomes clear that the ghost is really a woman called Hila (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), a traveller from the future, who has become trapped in a pocket dimension. Professor Palmer and Emma help the Doctor by to using her empathic abilities to open a wormhole into the pocket dimension, but when the Doctor becomes trapped Clara has to gain access to the TARDIS to rescue him. Once she persuades the visual interface to let her in, the TARDIS enters the pocket dimension, and Emma reopens the wormhole so they can escape.
Afterwards the Doctor realises that Hila is actually a descendant of Professor Palmer and Emma Grayling. It turns out that the Hider is really someone who is in love with Hila, who also became trapped in the pocket universe, so the Doctor returns to rescue him as well. Before he leaves the Doctor asks Emma about Clara, and it would seem that the Time Lord has really come to Caliburn House for reasons of his own…
Hide is the second story this season by Neil Cross (scriptwriter for Spooks and creator of the award winning Luther). While his previous story, The Rings of Akhaten, was set on an alien planet in a distant galaxy, Hide is a supernatural ghost story set on Earth in 1974. Neil Cross delivers a genuinely spooky tale, one which draws its influences from such classic BBC programmes as The Stone Tapes (1972) and the Quatermass serials (1953-59) by Nigel Kneale, and director Jamie Payne enhances the more traditional aspects of this gothic ghost story with some nail biting scenes reminiscent of the first Poltergeist (1982) film and The Haunting (1963) as the Doctor and Clara face the horrors of Caliburn House.
Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are exceptional good in this episode, the relationship between the Time Lord and his new companion is evolving at a natural pace – highlighted by a fun nod to Ghostbusters in the pre-titles sequence – and they really convey the sense that the Doctor and Clara have been have been travelling for a some time now. As this was the first episode filmed with the present version of Clara, it’s all credit to Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman for making their onscreen chemistry so convincing.
Clara is continuing to adapt to her life as a time traveller, she still seems a little uncertain about her adventures, and Hide also illustrates the interesting concept that – unlike some of the Time Lords previous companions – the Doctor and Clara don’t quite seem to trust each other yet, something which is compounded further by the darker; more unsettling aspects of time travel that Clara experiences in this episode. Troubled by their brief voyage to the beginning and end of life of Earth, so the Doctor can take snapshots of the ghost as it manifests throughout the history of the planet, Clara begins to question the Doctor about how time travel must make people seem like ghosts to him, but the Doctor refutes her assumption when she presses him further: “Then what are we? What can we possibly be?” she asks as the TARDIS returns to Caliburn House in the present, to which the Doctor guardedly replies: “The only mystery worth solving…” Few companions have ever challenged the Doctor quite so openly as Clara does here, it really establish a great dynamic between them, and clearly indicates that Clara is not just going to hang on the Doctor’s every word.
Dougray Scott is also very good as the uptight Professor, Major Alex Palmer, who has dedicated his life to researching the paranormal, and Jessica Raine is entirely convincing as the gifted psychic Emma Grayling, her empathic abilities are crucial to the investigation, and they also allow Emma pick up on the unanswered questions that hang over the Doctor and Clara‘s adventures. There are some great scenes between the Doctor and Emma, where they discuss the enigma of Caliburn House and later where he asks her if she senses anything about Clara, and she plays a pivotal role in helping the Doctor enter the pocket dimension after her powers are amplified by the bizarre properties of a blue crystal from Metebilis III provided for her by the Doctor. Already familiar to viewers for her role as Jenny Lee in BBC One’s Call the midwife, this is Jessica Raine’s first role in Doctor Who, but later this year we will see her play Verity Lambert in the BBC Two drama about the early days of Doctor Who: An Adventure in Time and Space, which chronicles the story of the programme’s creation.
Kemi-Bo Jacobs gives a good performance as the time travelling Hila, the poor woman who tragically became The Witch of the Well after becoming trapped between dimensions. The actual creature of behind the supernatural occurrences, the Hider (The Crooked Man), is a remarkable creation, a gnarled monster born of some unearthly menace, which permeates the story with terrifying malevolence that even gives the Doctor cause to fear its presence when he is trapped in the dark woods of the pocket dimension.
It is only here that Hide looses some of its brooding atmosphere, as the action switches between Caliburn House and the pocket dimension, where the story begins to unravel slightly; giving way to a predictable pseudo-scientific explanation to the ghostly phenomena. The locations for Hide are really effective, Tyntesfield, a National Trust House in Wraxall, near Bristol, and Hensol Castle in South Wales, all serve to heighten the gothic atmosphere of the story.
There are also some remarkable scenes in Earth’s past midway through the story, with some truly stunning primeval landscapes, with the Doctor emerging from the TARDIS wearing a familiar space suit from the 10th Doctor’s era. Even the TARDIS seems to be warming to Clara’s presence, after denying her and Merry entry in The Rings of Akhaten, the time machine finally relents and allows Clara into the ship to let her rescue the Doctor from the Hider. Its great to hear the Cloister Bell ring out again and it was also fun seeing Clara having to interact with herself when the TARDIS generates a visual interface using her image – although it still leaves you wondering why the TARDIS doesn’t seem to like her.
The mystery of Clara‘s identity continues to confound the Doctor, leaving him almost as baffled as we are, but there are a couple of interesting developments in the Doctor’s quest for answers. One scene in particular has great resonance when Emma warns Clara not to trust the Doctor as he has a sliver of ice in his heart.
This is also a great episode for Matt Smith as the Doctor has to fight against fear itself. It’s quite unsettling to see the Time Lord confronted with such an intangible force as this. We don’t often get to see moments in Doctor Who where the Doctor seems to be genuinely frightened, and Matt Smith gives one of his best performances this series.
Hide is about as close to a traditional gothic horror story as Doctor Who could ever managed to achieve. Its full of terrifically creepy moments that make full use of its wonderful locations, together with some great performances, Hide is a really good story that offers a chilling take on the paranormal in the finest tradition of the Doctor Who universe.