First, I did not blog on last week's episode, "Cold War." I just didn't have much to say about it. It was fine, I guess. The Ice Warrior was cool enough, and it was basically "Alien" on a nuclear sub. If you were looking for adventure, you got it. (Though the setting nor the time period never felt believable to me - not for a second did those actors read as Cold War-era Russians.) But it was basically a stand-alone episode, and just didn't resonate with me in any real way.
This week's episode, "Hide," did strike a few different chords. It was by no means a perfect episode. In fact, the ending was a giant mess. But I will always applaud an overly ambitious attempt over rote melodrama, and it gave us some new tidbits on the ongoing Clara mystery. Plus, it was by turns creepy and charming. So I'm giving it two sonic screwdrivers up.
The Doctor and Clara arrived at a giant manor in the English countryside in 1974. There the house's current owner, former professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott), and his empathic assistant, Emma, were trying to communicate with the Caliburn Ghast, a spirit that has reportedly haunted the property for centuries. The Doctor and Clara joined the pair on their ghost hunt, and after doing some time-span reconnaissance in the TARDIS, The Doctor concluded that the ghost was not in fact a ghost - it was actually a time traveler who had been knocked into a pocket universe, calling out over the centuries for someone to save her as that dimension rapidly dissolved in quantum nothingness. Oh, and something in the pocket universe was stalking her.
I won't deny that the episode was marred with problems. Some of the ghost-hunting sequences made no sense, especially given the ultimate explanation for the "haunting" (how did the stranded time traveler write "Help Me" on the wall of the foyer?). The Doctor broke protocol several times, including explicitly spoiling the future for at least two characters. And I personally hated the touchy-feely - and totally unnecessary - conclusion for the "Dark Tower"-esque monster in the pocket universe. I get it: love conquers all, blah blah blah. But I felt that weird coda weakened the episode. It also left for a disturbing cliffhanger. Are those terrifying creatures just going to hump it out in the second floor of the house for eternity? Will Dougray Scott charge them rent? How do you get monster splooge out of shag carpeting?
But there was a lot to like here. The atmosphere was gloriously 70's, and the ghost-hunting stuff referenced everything from "Scooby-Doo" (loved Emma's Velma Realness) to "Poltergeist." I love when the show offers scientific explanations for paranormal phenomenon, and I thought the whole time-traveler angle was interesting (if fraught with plot holes if you think about it too long). The research and rescue operations were appropriately gonzo (and echoed "The Impossible Planet" more than once). And the reason for the Doctor showing up at that very place, at that very moment, was smart and added to the season-long mystery surrounding Clara.
Because as Emma deduced about 3/4 of the way through the episode, the Doctor was not there for the ghost - he was there for her. The Doctor explained that Emma is one of the most renowned empaths (a kind of psychic who can read emotions, not minds) in history, and he wanted her to get a read on Clara. Emma, slightly offended, said that Clara is exactly who she appears to be: a normal girl, who is more scared than she lets on. That was clearly not the answer the Doctor was expecting, and possibly not the answer he wanted.
But the fact that he even asked to begin with underlines that The Doctor is still very much preoccupied with figuring out what Clara is, and that he does not trust her. I hastened to point out to my viewing group that Emma could have been lying to the Doctor about what she read off of Clara. She and Clara had bonded earlier in the episode, and Emma informed Clara not to trust The Doctor because "he has a sliver of ice deep in his heart." That is an accurate description of The Doctor, particularly Eleven, as was his line that, "Every monster needs a companion."
The Clara mystery also deepened vis-à-vis her dealings with the TARDIS. It's been established that the TARDIS does not like her - that it sometimes refuses to open its doors for her. That happened again this episode, and after The Doctor got stuck in the pocket dimension and Clara went to save him in the TARDIS (I did not understand how this worked, incidentally), it projected a hologram to explain to Clara why it could not go after him. Interestingly, the TARDIS hologram took the form of Clara herself because it searched its catalogue of millions of species/people for the one that Clara would "esteem the most." Of all the beings in the universe, the person Clara esteems the most is Clara?! No way. The show has established several defining qualities for Clara, and self-centered/egotistical is not one of them. My reading on that is that there was nothing for the TARDIS to read, because Clara doesn't exist. She's a cipher.
It dovetails nicely with this episode's focus on ghosts, and Clara's point to The Doctor that everyone and everything is ultimately like a ghost to him - he's seen the end of it all, so why do any of them matter? The Doctor had a very comforting Doctor answer to all that, but the point remains that Clara LITERALLY is a ghost. She's died twice so far, and the entire reason he sought her out as his new companion is because he is trying to figure out who/what/how she is. The entire second half of Season 7 can be seen as The Doctor ghost hunting Clara.
I'm not sure how all of this fits into my previous theory that Clara is somehow related to The Doctor's granddaughter, Susan. But with only a few more episodes to go, and the distinct lack of a Big Bad since the Great Intelligence popped up briefly in "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of Saint John," I suspect our main antagonist will end up being Clara herself.
Next week: "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS"! What will we find there? My guess is nougat.