I’m really not trying to see lots of Rose connections everywhere. I’m really not. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Rose but I’m not a viewer who believes that the show began and ended with her. She was brilliant, she was lost, and the show moved on. As it should. Goodness knows that Moffat is not one to dwell on past incarnations and companions, so if all signs seem to point to Rose then we should probably take notice. And they do.
Before we get to the Big Happy Ending, however, we need to examine ‘Hide’ as a whole and what it achieves. Congratulations to Neil Cross on writing an absolutely cracking episode, certainly my favorite of series 7 so far. While almost every episode puts off some fans, I feel confident that this one will become an instant classic.
I think what astonishes me most about it is the sheer variety and insanity found within this 45-minute piece, and yet how it nevertheless feels like a whole. The genre-blending it accomplishes is a microcosm of this program at large. What starts as a spooky Gothic ghost story turns into SciFi universe-hopping madness which then takes yet another turn into what the Doctor simply calls “a love story.” As in a Shakespearean comedy, our characters pass through suffering into happiness, with all the couples neatly paired off: Professor Palmer and Emma, the two twisted monsters, and the Doctor and Clara (sort of).
To take each segment of the episode at a time, the Doctor and Clara travel to Caliburn House to assist Professor Palmer and empathic psychic Emma Grayling with their search for the Caliburn gast, known as the Witch of the Well (“gast” is the archaic Old and Middle English form of the modern word “ghost,” indicating how long this particular spirit has been in residence on the property). Befitting its place in the Gothic tradition, Caliburn House is a big, empty mansion which has fallen into disrepair sat on a lonely, foggy moor. Many other hallmarks of the paranormal are used to maximum effect: Sudden cold spots within the house, the feeling of being watched/something unknown touching Clara’s hand, ghostly images captured only on printed film. Doctor Who is always scariest when the fear is psychological and only barely seen, and this episode delivers successful scares on that score.
Of course, the paranormal always turns out to be scientific, and ‘Hide’ is no exception. Doctor Who abides by Arthur C. Clarke’s famous maxim of science fiction that “any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic,” and part of the fun is seeing how the apparently magical or spiritual becomes rational and therefore explainable. For example, the Well is really just a metaphorical word to indicate the wormhole through which Hila fell. Although this rationalization can sometimes decrease the tension, Cross manages to maintain the episode’s terror by switching focus from the fear of the ghost (which turns out to be a stranded time traveler) to fear of the twisted monster pursuing her, but more especially to the Doctor’s fear of being stranded in the pocket universe. The monster, after all, was never out to hurt anyone. What really terrifies the Doctor and us – what makes the TARDIS’ cloister bell ring and underlies her reluctance to help Clara rescue him – is the fear of going to the pocket universe, of never being able to get back.
It’s at this point that the show makes its final shift into, most surprisingly, romance, because Rose is, of course, the character we know and love who became stranded in a parallel universe. Remember that Rose was lost in the the two-part series 2 finale, one episode of which was titled “Army of Ghosts,” and in that episode she and the Tenth Doctor refer to themselves as Ghostbusters, just as Clara and The Doctor do at the top of ‘Hide.’ Speaking of the twisted monsters whom he is about to reunite, the Doctor might as well be speaking of himself (at least in his previous incarnation) and Rose :
It’s the oldest story in the universe, this one or any other. Boy and girl fall in love, get separated by events, or politics and accidents in time. She’s thrown out of the hex, or he’s thrown into it. Since then they’ve been yearning for each other across time and space, across dimensions. This isn’t a ghost story. It’s a love story.
If that weren’t enough, the Doctor even refers to both Emma and the (presumably) female monster as “companions” to their respective partners. The former he riffs off as a joke about the terms assistants & companions in the 1970’s, referring to the Classic show’s use of the earlier term. In the end, the episode becomes a joyful celebration of the indestrubctability of love, my particular favorite moment being the Doctor’s quotation of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Fall in Love:” “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it!” When he realizes that the crooked monsters are only trying to get back together, he skips around the corner, gleefully delcaring to Clara that, “Every lonely monster needs a companion.” The Doctor is certainly lonely, he is capable of commiting monstrous acts at times, and we’ve seen how desperately he needs his companions, be they lovers or just friends. When the Doctor sees the TARDIS flying in to the rescue and remarks that “she’s coming,” does he mean Clara or the TARDIS? Or both? Does he even know? The Doctor himself seems a little confused as to Clara’s actual status, as he continues to flinch away from any suggestions that they might be more than friends. The clues and hints are abundant and unmistakable, and yet so mixed and confused that although I feel sure this is all leading to something, I haven’t the faintest idea to where or what.
Like the three episodes that precede it, ‘Hide’ also manages to nod towards the mystery of Clara, the Impossible Girl, without actually addressing it, although it’s gone the farthest of any episode so far. One of these days, the Doctor is going to have to explain to poor Clara that, as much as he enjoys her company, he really does have an ulterior motive: To solve the mystery of her multiple lives. “You are the only mystery worth solving,” he said to her, and while he meant humanity in general, he was undoutbtedly also speaking of her, specifically. Does this indicate that Clara is somehow a stand-in for humanity, or perhaps the Doctor’s long relationship with humanity? Why is it that he finds this species so irresistable? Confronted with the Doctor’s godlike view of history, Clara laments her own mortality:
“To you I haven’t been born yet and to you I’ve been dead a hundred million years. To you I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.”
The Doctor’s response to Clara’s existential crisis is to remind her of the miracle of life, the grand mystery of human nature which, he says, is “the only mystery worth solving.” Life will out, and he brings the ghost back to life, just as Palmer says Emma has done for him. Clara is devastated over her revelation that “everything ends,” and though nobody knows this better than the Doctor he nevertheless dedicates himself to the cause of life.
And he is as good as his word. It is revealed in the end that the Doctor brought Clara to Caliburn House not to assist in the salvation of the ghost (although he can never resist helping anyone), but to ask intuitive Emma about Clara. Interestingly, he doesn’t ask who but what she is. “She’s a perfectly ordinary girl,” Emma responds. “Isn’t that enough?” His look seems to say “if only that were true.” I’m with the Doctor, although that doesn’t mean Emma is wrong in her assessment: I still suspect that it is her adventures with the Doctor that will somehow bring about Clara’s multiple other incarnations.
The TARDIS still seems to be having issues with Clara, as well. Clara is distinctly uneasy and can sense that she is unwelcome. The Doctor seems to write it off as plain rudeness (he admonishes the TARDIS for “being mean” and Clara for shaking her wet umbrella onto the console room floor) but you would think, given all the question marks surrounding Clara, that he would take the TARDIS’ dislike a little more seriously. What is she picking up on that he is not? The interface with the TARDIS hologram was a funny call-back to ‘Let’s Kill Hitler,’ and a nice reminder of the TARDIS’ personality before next week’s wonderfully-titled ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,’ in which presumably the conflict between the time machine and Clara will come to a head.
As is usual with this wonderful show, I find that the more I think about it the more I have to say. Equal parts funny, frightening, exciting, intellectual, and heartwarming, ‘Hide’ has vaulted to my list of favorites. There are indeed so many layers that I suspect it will be one of those episodes which will become even richer later, especially after we learn more about Clara. Here’s hoping that the show goes from strength to strength and that next week’s episode is as amazing as it looks and can live up to the genius that was ‘The Doctor’s Wife.’