My apologies for my delays in posting, but I am pleased to report that I’ve gotten on a bit of a roll with the rewrite of The Night Girl. It’s still early days, but I’ve had some inspiration for new scenes, and some elements of the plot are coming together. Keep your fingers crossed that this will continue for the coming weeks.
I’m also pleased to report that my latest column for the Kitchener Post is now available. It’s about my take on our reaction to the arrested terrorist plot this past week.
Now on to my review of the latest episode of Doctor Who…
Way back when I was even more geeky than I am now (and, believe you and me, that’s saying a lot), I religiously rated Doctor Who stories according to a movie critic’s four-star rating system. And I took this rating seriously, comparing episodes against each other to decide who deserved a two-and-a-half star (average) rating, and which deserved four stars, and the stuff in between.
Today, my love of Doctor Who hasn’t diminished, but I find that there’s an easier way for me to rate whether an episode is good or not, and that is my willingness to watch it over again.
The Doctor Who revival has kicked up the quality of the series as a whole. The overall acting is stronger, the direction is top notch, and the BBC has given the series’ hard-working special effects designers an honest budget in which to work. Because of this, the overwhelming majority of episodes in the Doctor Who revival are episodes that I’d happily watch if they came on the television, and I happened to have an hour of free time and nothing better to do. The show remains better than most things on television.
The episodes that I dislike or, worse, would be embarrassed to be seen to watch (like The Doctor’s Daughter and the bobblehead scene of The End of Time, Part 1) are few and far between. However, the episodes that I regularly rewatch — the ones I tend to flip on when I’m in the mood for a Doctor Who fix are themselves a rare breed. Part of this could be because most of the series is generally of good quality, little stands out. The more disturbing reason could be because the series producers have gotten a little complacent and are settling for ‘good enough’ and not achieving those ‘out-of-the-park home runs.’
Of the fourteen episodes of the revival’s sixth season, I happily rewatch four (The Doctor’s Wife, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex). Of the five episodes of the first half of the seventh season, two come on again and again (Asylum of the Daleks and, in spite of considerable flaws in its plot logic, The Angels Take Manhattan). Steven Moffat, whose first seven episodes of the revival are easily rewatchable, doesn’t fare as well with his season six lineup, or The Bells of Saint John. Of the guest writers of the first two-and-a-half seasons of Matt Smith’s era of the program, most are good, but only Neil Gaiman really stands out.
So, I would say that writer Neil Cross represents quite a find for the production crew. To make a long story short, The Rings of Akhaten and Hide both stand out from the episodes surrounding them. They feel fresh, and they make me excited to be a Doctor Who fan once again. And as good as The Rings of Akhaten was, Hide was better, and also more intriguing.
A full spoilery review follows after the break.
Hide opens with one of the colder cold opens we’ve seen in the series so far. There’s this big haunted house. There’s this serious-looking bespectacled scientist (Professor Alec Palmer, played by Dougray Scott). There’s a lovely young psychic (Emma Grayling, played by Jessica Raine). There’s equipment all over the place, and a ghost knocking on the walls. Director Jamie Payne, who I believe makes his debut on the series, ably spooks out the audience with some great camerawork. The music and the sound effects emphasize the atmosphere nicely. And before we even had a chance to take a breath, there’s a knock on the door and the Doctor and Clara barge in.
The cold open continues as the Doctor takes charge of the situation. There’s no fumbling around and no dodging difficult questions. The Doctor knows precisely what he wants and he dives into the investigation head first. I think this is of great benefit to the episode, as it keeps the audience off-kilter and it lends the whole story an energy that’s positively infectious. What’s going on? What’s wrong with the house? What is the Doctor up to? Mystery gets piled onto mystery in a way that makes the audience crave more.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s Clara. Once again, we’re treated to the revelation that she clearly sets the TARDIS’ teeth on edge. Did you notice how it locked her out again? The Doctor had to turn around and physically open the doors for her. And when she goes to the TARDIS to try and help the Doctor, she somehow manages to activate the TARDIS voice control, only to have it insult her. She is, however, able to reason with the TARDIS enough to convince it to lend a hand.
Neil Cross has really been on the ball here. He and Moffat have clearly worked together closely, as he does as much to further Clara’s mystery as Moffat himself. In Hide, there are suggestions that Clara is a temporally complex being. Not only does the TARDIS react with hostility towards her, did you notice that she accidentally unleashes the temporal portal by running through the haunted house’s cold spot? Intriguing!
Of course, the challenge of building a good mystery is ensuring that the solutions at the end match the promise of the problems posed at the beginning. Neil Cross has to come up with an explanation of why the house is haunted, and what the Doctor and Clara have to do with it. With the build up that Neil Cross and Jamie Payne put forward, the Doctor’s explanation comes almost as a disappointment — but not completely. The explanations hold up, and build nicely off of the chemistry that clearly exists between Professor Palmer and Emma Grayling.
We’ve been given some decent spooks, and while there is a slight clash in tone with the happy ending that follows (one that does tip toward the sappy, a bit like The Rings of Akhaten — that appears to be a characteristic of Cross’s writing), it’s still a satisfying happy ending — made better by the fact that the ending is as abrupt (but still final) as the beginning is sudden. Really, by dispensing with the preamble and cutting to the chase, Neil Cross delivers a script which is a refreshing splash of cold water on a hot summer day.
Hide is a fine addition to the Doctor Who canon, and one I can easily see myself watching again and again. I will also eagerly look forward to other episodes written by Neil Cross, or directed by Jamie Payne. It’s an energetic story well told, and it pushes the season arc forward nicely.
And speaking of the season arc, I must say that I’m hooked on the mystery of Clara, and aside from my theorizing above, I have no idea where they production crew are going with things. We’ll have to wait and see. But I will say that the next episode, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, seems to promise some answers — or more intriguing questions at least.
All in all, it’s still a good time to be a Doctor Who fan.
I did have a couple of small issues with this episode, but in comparison with my overall enjoyment of the whole thing, I can only call them nitpicks. Of these, the big one is, of course: it’s Me-ta-BEE-lis, not Me-TEB-elis, darn it! Seriously, Matt Smith, didn’t you watch Planet of the Spiders?!