Dear Steven Moffat: Hide

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Dear Steven,

A violent kick in the guts: that’s the feeling you get when a word or phrase, benignly dropped, unlocks a suppressed memory, something you’ve kept in your mind’s attic for years; the door barricaded with paint tins and stacks of vintage porno mags.

Tonight’s trigger word was “Ghostbusters”. As soon as I heard it I was back there, stuck in the era of Russell Dust and David Tennant, like a wounded horse in a bog. I could see the 10th Doctor, that hyperactive show off, pratting about that fucking awful coral console room in his pin stripe suit with some object resembling a proton pack strapped to his back, giving the gormless, easily amused Rose, a karaoke rendition of Ray Parker Junior’s famous ditty. She laughed, as was her wont, and I winced, wondering now, as then, why a thousand year old time-traveller, to all intents and purposes a demi-god, wise with the knowledge of a hundred thousand civilisations and the entire sweep of the universe from birth to death, would have the same cultural reference points as a 19 year old girl from early 21st Century London.

Neil Cross’ second episode was only just beginning and already I was contemplating the appalling possibility that as we got closer to the show’s 50th anniversary and that multi-Doctor story featuring that Virgin Media sell out, the stories would veer toward the same tone and style. The condition, known medically as Tennantus, was coming back.

Well feel free to drown me with a thousand gallons of marshmallow, I was wrong. I enjoyed Hide more that any other episode this season and if arrested and forced to say why in a series of marathon interrogations without access to food, water or proper legal counsel, I’d say that it worked because it did what few other offerings this year managed; it surprised and advanced the characters.

As it began there was every reason to think this was going to be an atmospheric, yet essentially formulaic instalment, featuring a creepy house and an alien masquerading as a ghost. This being Who, we dismissed the phantasm’s spectral credentials immediately and looked to alternative explanations, knowing this universe is too rich and complexed to house anything as trite as an afterlife.

What initially seemed to be a straightforward mystery happily, delightfully, turned out to be anything but. In reality it was an investigation into our two favourite time travellers; a long overdue bit of digging while the incidental plot played out in the foreground. Dougray Scott’s solider turned scientist noted the Doctor’s deceitful side, a canny piece of observation that complemented the warning given to Clara from Jessica Raine’s psychic, that she shouldn’t trust the Galifreyian ganglinoid as he had “a sliver of ice” in his heart. She neglected to say which one but we took the point. Add to this an interesting bit of innuendo, The Doctor’s suggestion that “every monster needs a companion”, and you couldn’t help but wonder if Cross was trying to tell us something. Sure, the bow tied lank wasn’t talking about himself but this episode had more double meanings than a Carry On film. For once it was worth listening to everything everyone said.

Clara was at it too. Morbidly reflecting on her place in the universe, having seen the Earth’s final years during one of The Doctor’s experiments, she reflected that from the Timelord’s point of view she was both not yet born and long dead. “I am a ghost” she told him; words which carried extra power as they came from a woman we knew to have died twice. What did all of this mean in the grand scheme of things and why, for the love of Omega, does the TARDIS not like the precocious imp? Clara’s really noticing it now and so are we.

This after all was one of those rare episodes in which the time machine spoke, literally, using its on board projection system, figuratively, with the Cloister Bell tolling for The Doctor, assuming it’s not Clara it was bonging at, and through obstinacy, keeping its doors closed to her when she tried to effect a rescue. Yes, something’s afoot with this girl and it could be that the Doctor’s one permanent companion, his ship, is a lot closer to solving the only mystery left worth a fuck than the man himself.

So yes Steven, you can pull all my levers and twist my knobs if this episode wasn’t deeper than imagined. I enjoyed the irony that The Doctor’s true motive for visiting this haunted house was to meet a powerful psychic in the hope she’d reveal Clara’s secrets, only for the same woman to give his companion an insight into him. I also enjoyed the lashings of lore – not least the off-camera visit to Metebelis III, The Planet of the Spiders, and the action taking place in 1974, the year said serial went out. It was a bit of old series continuity that showed Neil Cross to be a paid up fan who, having got an RTD era episode out of his system with his debut, finally wrote one of his own on a superior second outing.

Indeed Cross reminded bastards like me that you can pack a lot into these 45 minute episodes if you litter your story with human (and inhuman) interest, while providing some decent questions for the viewers to chew over. Chuck in some sharp direction and a couple of nicely understated guest stars and we’re in business, Steven. It’s been a long year but tonight I finally had cause to wake up.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Noted with dismay your decision to name the series finale The Name of the Doctor. So sure am I that this is an allusion to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, not least because the episode that follows it features Billie Piper, that I’m going to read the bastard and send you a special letter on where I think you’re going with the anniversary special and what you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, the most important of which is DON’T REVEAL THE DOCTOR’S IDENTITY. Do keep an eye on the doormat!

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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