The genre whiplash of Doctor Who's seventh series has been mostly an exciting conceit -- it's allowed the series to avoid staleness while exploring a wider tonal pallete than usual. But, as Saturday's outing "Hide," proved, the novelty of series 7's movie-of-the-week format can be a bit of a double-edged sword. "Hide" delivered in areas we didn't expect it to (namely, with fantastically-written character moments), but failed to deliver on the promised white-knuckled terror. But did the positives outweigh the negatives?
"Hide" was the second episode this series to be penned by Doctor Who newcomer Neil Cross (Luther), following his relatively underwhelming showing with "The Rings of Akhaten" two weeks before. Of the two, "Hide" was far superior, though like "The Rings of Akhaten," it did wander a little too far into the jungles of sentimentality. The episode's final minutes did a lot to subvert the subtle character development of the two guest stars with a particularly meaningless twist (Hila being their granddaughter was nonsensical at best). That other twist -- where it turns out the Crooked Man was just looking for his lost love -- felt even more tacked-on (and, more importantly, ultimately robbed the Crooked Man of any scariness).
Like the Vigil from 'Rings', the Crooked Man could have carried the entire episode, but was instead pushed aside for a much less interesting main plot. The Crooked Man was an unsettling creature (particularly in the way he clacked when he moved), and the sequence of him chasing the Doctor through the woods was brilliantly orchestrated. But ultimately, both he and the episode fell victim to Cross's apparent penchant for completely overstuffing his episodes. "Hide" would have benefitted from being a much simpler episode, but instead found itself weighed down by its complexities by the end.
What made "Hide" ultimately work, though, was the fantastic character writing. The characters of Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), unlike most guest characters in Doctor Who, were three-dimensional and subtly developed. "Hide," when it wasn't busy yammering on about pocket universes and needless plot contrivances, was spending time getting to know these characters. The two were an interesting foil for -- or were they a reflection of? -- the Doctor and Clara, and the dynamic between the two couples (and between the individual characters) was enough to make the episode's bloated plot forgivable.
The best moment of the episode, though, was the scene halfway through between Clara and the Doctor in the TARDIS, as she confronted him for being nonchalant at witnessing the entire life-cycle of the earth. "We must be nothing [to you]," she told him, horrified. "No, you're not that," he replied. "You're the only mystery worth solving."
There was a darkness to Matt Smith's delivery of that line that was positively chilling -- and it served as a reminder of the fact that, despite spending all this time with the Doctor, we don't really know who he is, or how he feels. His excitable, happy demeanor is undeniably part of him, but it's only one facet of a man who has witnessed so much horror that he's had to bury the darkness away. In moments like this, where the Doctor lets this guise slip, it's easy to remember that fact -- and even, in a way, to be afraid of the Doctor.
It was this dark moment that was the scariest part of "Hide," not the Crooked Man or the Witch of the Well. It was the reminder that the Doctor isn't just this two-dimensional good guy -- he's just as complex as we are, with, as Emma put it, "a sliver of ice in his heart." This ambiguity is where Doctor Who is the most exciting, and hopefully we'll see it explored further in this year's remaining episodes. B-