Saturday, 31 August 2013

TV Review: Doctor Who 7.09 - Hide

A number of months ago when I reviewed Neil Cross' début Doctor Who story, I pondered whether I would be able to write one-word reviews and still receive the same amount of wonderful satisfaction and feedback upon publishing them. Of course, this was a ridiculous idea to ponder over, but if I were to extend the thought to single sentence reviews, would that suffice? In the case of Hide, Neil Cross' second script of the series, my shortened review would go something along the lines of this hefty statement: Hide is, without a doubt in my mind, the best episode of Doctor Who's seventh revived series thus far. This is one of those rare scripts from a guest writer that manages to reach the heights of more prominent, plot heavy showrunner-penned stories without actually contributing much to the over-arcing plot at all. For similar outings in Moffat's run, see series 5 instalment Vincent and the Doctor, series 6's weep-inducing The Girl Who Waited and... well, not a whole lot else. This episode is magnificent, albeit subtly so. It's not difficult to imagine how fulfilling it is to praise what could've been something of a flop, especially after two weeks prior of dire offerings, one of which was also penned by Cross.

The Rings of Akhaten was a decent enough episode, but what it basked in with the colourful production and set design wasn't balanced out with an equally spectacular and intricate script. It packed some good ideas and memorable moments, for sure, but none of them came close to realising their full potential, instead being stretched out or overblown to barely fill the 45 minutes. Neil Cross' Doctor Who broadcast début was an unbalanced one, then - So what makes his second chance absolutely worthy of its place in the spotlight? It's quite simple, really: this is a much more developed and fleshed-out script than a fair few of its predecessors, and it succeeds in a great number of aesthetic aspects. In honesty, aside from a few jumpy moments and odd dialogue exchanges in the first act of the story, Hide rarely does anything but succeed.

When it comes to a sci-fi drama series like Doctor Who - under the assumption that there is another show out there that matches this one stylistically (there isn't) - there are a bunch of main points to take into consideration. First and foremost is the logic within the series' universe: the things that happen in the show need to make sense within the show. Doctor Who is abstract, ridiculous and bombastic, and these are but a few of the things that make it so great. But the radical nature of the series doesn't mean it can never be written with plot-holes flushing the experience down the toilet somewhat. Within a universe of non-sensibility, weaving the threads of a mad man in a box and his many friends and foes, things still have to make sense, and this is something that a fair few episodes trip up on. Continuing on with the important aesthetics of Doctor Who, I doubt I have to explain to anyone who's reading this that story, characters, emotions, direction and dialogue are important. Well, guess what? Hide ticks all of these boxes and then some; It's logical within the series' universe and the direction, story, dialogue, characters and the emotions unleashed by all of the above are in near-perfect order.

Let's start by analysing the story. It's not too complex at first, but it grows and expands as the run-time of the episode passes like some kind of dramatic sponge. It's 1974, and The Doctor and Clara visit what appears to be a haunted mansion, inhabited by the charming Alec and Emma; two of the best supporting characters in the show in recent memory, brilliantly portrayed by Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine respectively. Alec is a former war veteran, in some ways similar to The Doctor, and Emma is... well, you're going to laugh, but... She's a psychic, basically. It's not as silly as it seems, trust me. Oh, and Caliburn House also happens to house a ghost, which attracts our protagonists. Things soon get hectic and clever use of time travel, parallel universes and psychic powers soon comes into play. It may seem like a bit of a generic set-up, but like the aforementioned sponge, it soon expands as more is poured into it.

Being a horror story, you'd wonder if they actually managed to make this one scary. For the average viewer, I highly doubt it, but I can imagine Hide must've terrified some younger fans. Without spoiling anything, some of the imagery in this story is actually pretty disturbing in comparison to the show's usual quirky standards, a feat achieved by some clever filming techniques, and neat use of sound design. Really, though, at the heart of this story are the characters and how their threads weave and overlap each-other as the mystery progresses. I've already noted similarities between the male halves of the two duos, something that comes into play in an impressively staged scene in which both The Doctor and Alec have a brief chat about their war-torn pasts. Another highlight is a scene in which The Doctor and Clara travel not in space, but in time alone, witnessing pretty much the entire history of a single location from the birth to the near-death of the Earth. It's a scene that finally brings some emotions out of the formerly rather two-bit Clara, a character who's been needing a little more development since she was first introduced. Clara contemplates how insignificant she believes life must be in the eyes of the time-travelling madman, and it's a touching scene and one of the many highlights of the story.

Production is also a superb aspect in Neil Cross' latest. The monster design in later scenes is weird and wonderful, captured through previously mentioned clever filming techniques. Caliburn House is shot beautifully with direction from newcomer Jamie Payne, who I hope to see return in future as he's pretty nifty at making everything stand-out, particularly the whimsical retro tech the Time lord has fun with at the start of the episode. It's scenes like this that aren't completely necessary, but add a little backbone to an already pleasing story in the grand scheme of things. Every scene is superb and pleasing.

In fact, it's difficult to say what isn't pleasing about this instalment of series 7. What makes Hide so masterful is that it more or less feeds you absolutely everything you could possibly require to fill up your metaphorical stomach when feasting on a Doctor Who episode, or at the very least everything I personally could ask for to justify my very first 5-star rating of the series. Amazing production value, a wonderful supporting cast, a clever plot that, despite the fact it could've potentially been something of a clichéd nature, surprises and delivers on so many fronts... It's because of all of this, that I've decided to award Neil Cross' surprising second contribution a hefty score of five out of five stars. In a time in which people tend to skip to the end of articles to have a numerical rating sum something up for them, this should fill up a fair few people who, for whatever reason, haven't yet witnessed this fantastic ghost story. In short, I freakin' loved Hide: it has cemented itself as one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who and if that places me in a minority, then so be it. I ain't afraid of no backlash.

No comments: