Clara: To you I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.
Doctor: You are the only thing worth solving.
Another brilliant episode by Neil Cross, this one inspired by The Stone Tape, a 1972 television play by Nigel Kneale. That was set in a castle and involved a group of scientists deploying all the tools of their trade to catch the screaming ghost of a Victorian servant girl. As in Hide, there was something really nasty chasing her, and it even had the detail of a cache of tinned food left by scared GIs.
Hide is a properly scary ghost story that turns into a love story for all the characters, even the skeletal monster, without losing any of its tension. The writing is as complex as you could wish for, and certainly expect from someone like Neil Cross. He teases out the tensions between that threesome, the Doctor, the Tardis, and Clara, and between Alec Palmer and his assistant, Emma Grayling. Nice in joke, that, making reference to it being 1974 so Emma would not have been his companion. But it also makes an implicit comparison between the Doctor/Clara and Alec/Emma, which is reinforced by Clara and Emma talking about their relationships with the Doctor and Alec, and Alec confiding in the Doctor. It ends with two threesomes, as Alec and Emma are joined by their many times great granddaughter, Hila.
The plot is simple and gripping. Alec is assuaging his guilt about sending agents to their death in WWII by trying to contact the screaming ghost who inhabits the house he’s bought. He’s assisted by Emma, an empathic psychic, who can detect what the spirits are feeling. Their work seems to have some official backing, judging by the Doctor being able to pass himself off as the Man from the Ministry.
The Doctor rescues the ghost, in fact a time traveller, from a collapsing pocket universe that echoes this one. Emma is the lantern to whom Hila is attracted, and she’s hauled in on a rope and winch through a wormhole between the worlds. But that leaves the Doctor marooned with the monster who’s been chasing Hila. So Clara has to confront the Tardis, in the form of her own image as the Tardis Voice and Visual Interface, and persuade her to trust Clara enough to rescue the Doctor. Reminds me of the Tardis falling in love with her Doctor in The Doctor’s Wife.
Clara carries out her mission with terrible driving and great panache. Hila turns out to be Alec and Emma’s distant granddaughter (“blood calling out to blood”), as the Doctor blunderingly assumes they already know. But there’s still the monster, who the Doctor realises just wants to get together with its counterpart in their own world. So he goes to fetch him with the rope and winch method (“Hello, you old Romeo, you,”) and they’re picked up by Clara in the Tardis. Lovely ending.
The episode covers a lot of ground. The love story between Alec and Emma is beautifully told with lingering looks and unrequited sexual tension. Emma and Clara’s talk reveals that Clara is not in love with the Doctor, though she clearly likes his “big chin.” And her misgivings about the Doctor are brought into the open when a trip to the world’s beginning and ending doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. Hence her worry that “To you I’m a ghost.”
The Doctor’s reply, “You are the only thing worth solving,” continues the story arc of how do you solve a mystery like Clara. Emma warns Clara about not trusting him: “There’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” And Emma confronts the Doctor directly about his motives for helping them, understanding he had an ulterior motive. It was to ask her about Clara.
Emma: She’s a perfectly ordinary girl, very pretty, very clever, more scared than she lets on.
Doctor: And that’s it, is it?
Emma: Why, is that not enough?
Clearly not enough for the Doctor, judging by his expression.
A couple of niggles. For Alec to be an intelligence agent in WWII, he would have to be at least 55 in 1974. Doesn’t look anywhere near that. And the Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, not 6 billion.
Apart from that, a scary, gripping episode, with a lot of emotional meat, and the usual nuanced dialogue that has me watching each one several times over.