The Doctor has had impossible companions before, but this time the problem is more than stubbornness. He’s desperate to learn why he has encountered two previous “versions” of his new companion Clara in different eras, both of whom have died. Since he’s linked up with her “modern” incarnation, they’ve battled Wi-Fi body-snatchers, the ancient evil god of a faraway world and a notorious Ice Warrior with nothing left to lose. Now it’s time for a good, old-fashioned ghost story — with a twist.
In “Hide,” the ninth episode of Doctor Who’s seventh season, a ghost is exactly what brings the TARDIS to Caliburn House, a haunted mansion on a desolate moor. Right away, the Doctor and Clara meet troubled war veteran Professor Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his psychic assistant Emma (Jessica Raine, Call the Midwife and the upcoming Doctor Who docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, in which she plays founding producer Verity Lambert). When they’re not studying each other, they’re studying the Witch of the Well, an apparition who appears throughout the site’s history.
The Doctor is eager to help, under the guise of a “health and safety” inspection. But as is all too common with the manipulative Time Lord, his true motives are concealed.
In a touching scene when the Doctor’s thorough investigations have shown Clara something she wishes she could forget, she asks the question too few companions ask this early in the relationship: Why does he bother with human friends? Aren’t we the real ghosts to one such as him? And he answers with the virtue of our mystery, though she doesn’t realize that he’s referring to her, specifically. We do.
Clara’s tiff with the TARDIS gets more screen time this week, though don’t expect a quick resolution to this mystery. At least they clear the air, a little. And come to a certain understanding in their common interest.
The Doctor’s not actually there to hunt ghosts, of course. He’s really there for Emma’s insight, hoping it can help him unravel the mystery of his companion. Raine, as Emma, is the star of this episode, and her character’s destiny figures prominently in the story. It matters that she and Palmer are in love but don’t know how to admit it, and not just because Doctor Who is more sentimental these days. “Hide” is a story with as many layers as Caliburn House has rooms.
This being Doctor Who, a ghost isn’t simply a ghost. Of course, there’s a timey-wimey explanation, and it’s a pretty tight one as these things go. Fans of the classic series will recognize parallels between “Hide” and older, creepy stories from the gothic Tom Baker era such as “Image of the Fendahl” and “The Stones of Blood,” as well as several televised and audio spinoff adventures starring Elisabeth Sladen as journalist and former companion Sarah Jane Smith. (Comparisons to the Sylvester McCoy serial “Ghost Light” are inevitable, but ultimately superficial.) Script writer Neil Cross also obviously drew inspiration from the BBC’s paranormal postwar Quatermass serials, which themselves have influenced many aspects of Doctor Who over the years. It’s a rich heritage that should be mined more often.
Up next: A long-awaited story that delves deeper into the Doctor’s ship than we’ve been in a long, long time.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – Episode 10
A spaceship salvage team drags the TARDIS on board, sending its systems into meltdown. As the Doctor marshals the motely salvage crew outside, he realizes Clara is still trapped within his malfunctioning ship, pursued by a dangerous group of ossified monsters. He has just 30 minutes to find Clara and save his TARDIS before it self-destructs.