Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Idiot Box: Doctor Who 7x09 - "Hide" Review

Yep, its official, Neil Cross still sucks at writing Doctor Who. Yeah, I know he did Luther, and of the one season I watched, two episodes of that were decent, and yes, I know he also wrote Mama which I heartily enjoyed. The thing is, you can be a good writer and still not be a good Doctor Who writer. I'm fairly certain I wouldn't be very good at it, but then again I'm not being expected to actually do it. After The Rings Of Akhaten, if you needed anymore proof that this very accomplished screenwriter should stay as far away from this series as possible from now on, you need only watch his second effort (apparently his first to be produced, Akhaten being the second), a lackluster sci fi take on haunted house stories called Hide.

Hide follows The Doctor and Clara to a spooky mansion in the 1970's where an ex-British military man and his psychic unrequited lover are trying to unravel the mystery of what appears to be a ghost haunting the grounds. To be fair, while still not very good overall, Hide is better than The Rings of Akhaten, if only slightly, and I wasn't expecting to enjoy it even as much as I did considering that this kind of story is not one that I particularly enjoy in the context of this show. I'm still not quite sure whether I actually liked more individual things about this episode, or if those things I liked were simply integrated better into the plot so as to be more satisfying. Still, in the end, the result is only barely watchable and not nearly up to the standards this show had set for itself as recently as last season.

The same major problem I had with Rings persists here, in that it does not appear that Cross knows how to pace out the revelations of his story in a way that leads me to be excited about them. He establishes the setting, the characters, and the strange Whovian elements like deformed aliens and wormholes, but makes no real attempt to actually build suspense by bringing it all together. Smith and Coleman do their best to pretend their characters give a crap, but there's only so much these two very talented actors can do when the material is so weak and the structure of it stubbornly refuses to escalate into a climactic resolution. Instead, we get a lot of things that happen, some more interesting then others in the abstract but not in practice, and then thankfully its over and we have the promise that the next episode might be a bit better.

I liked the general concept of this episode a lot more than Rings, but at the same time I think it might have been a little too easy as far as Who mysteries go. When we finally learn what the ghost is at about the half way point or so, it sounds like something more suited for an episode of Star Trek, ultimately lacking the kind of off kilter style and whimsy that infuses most Who plots written by Moffet, Gattis, or Gaiman. The final lighthearted thematic twist is heartwarming, but not exactly earned, and by the end of it, I found that the thing I enjoyed most about the episode was the design and presentation of the monster, which to me is always a sign of a failed episode, when prosthetics work is better than the writing.

I would love to say that Hide and The Rings Of Akhaten are momentary stumbling blocks in an otherwise great program, but this season has shaped up to be one of the worst of this entire series, and this latest episode and its writer's previous one are sadly typical of the quality so far. I think it is clear that the shift from an ever present arc to more self contained stories has really hurt the show, and I can only hope that the producers will realize this eventually, in time to turn the ship back around and start producing consistently good Doctor Who stories again. I remember thinking back in season six after watching Night Terrors and Closing Time how strange it was that in a year filled with so many great episodes, that we would ever get anything less, and now I can only hope we get a few good ones in the few episodes we have left. I don't want to harp on it anymore, but its starting to get really sad at this point.

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