Doctor Who: Hide (2013)

“It’s ghost time!”

While many Doctor Who episodes are a little bit scary (what else would make all those kids hide behind their sofas?), strict horror-based one are kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you have episodes like The Unquiet Dead that really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to atmosphere and scares, and unfortunately there are episodes like Fear Her. I think that a lot of this comes down to the fact that we will NEVER see a ghost story or monster story where the creature in question is really a paranormal entity, thus making the viewer question it the whole time. It’s kind of like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film; on one hand it’s usually sort of creepy, but on the other one becomes preoccupied with the upcoming “twist ending”. You may be assuming that I’m about to bash Hide based on the above sentiment, that’s where you are wrong – I loved it. Hide take’s everything you thought you knew about these kinds of stories and turns them on their heads.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and there seems to be a paranormal investigation going on in a large haunted mansion. Our two co-stars for the evening are a psychic named Emma Grayling (as played by Jessica Raine, soon to be Verity Lambert in the upcoming Doctor Who historical drama) and Professor Alec Palmer (played by Dougray Scott, known for Mission Impossible II and the recent Day of the Triffids films) as they try to find out the secret behind “The Witch of the Well”. It seems that the Caliburn mansion has been plagued by reports of a horrible spectre for hundreds of years, and since this is 1974, our ghost hunters are using all the latest gizmos to find it. Emma and Palmer are soon joined by The Doctor and Clara, who seem to be there on purpose for once exclaiming “we’re the Ghost Busters!” instead of the usual scenario of not knowing where they are.

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Dougray Scott is one of those actors that I am not really all that familiar with aside from a handful of film and TV roles, but always delivers with his acting. After seeing him in Day of the Triffids and this I can definitely say that he would make an awesome Bernard Quatermass if that franchise ever gets off the ground again. Sadly I cannot say that I am at all familiar with the previous work of Jessica Raine, but she did a fine job here. I’m looking forward to spotting her in the aforementioned historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time, soon to be hitting our airwaves this November.

For the most part, Hide reminds me a LOT of some of the older Big Finish audio dramas that I’ve listened to. I’m not sure why, but the mixture of decent, plausible science, and the moody atmosphere gave me a bit of a throwback to some of the 2001 Paul McGann audios especially. Notice that I said “science” up there when talking about a ghost story? That’s because this episode does have a twist on the origin of the “ghost”, but the reveal isn’t the usual Scooby Doo-esque “it looks like this ghost was really an alien!” Instead we are presented with a cool idea: The Doctor realized that “The Witch of the Well” never moves in ANY picture that is taken of it, so he decides to find out if this could be a fixed point in time. He and Clara board the Tardis and take snapshots throughout the lifespan of the Earth looking for the ghast. Sure enough, it’s there, but it’s not what he expected.

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It seems that the “ghost” is actually an ill-fated time traveler named Hila Tukurian (played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who disappeared after a time flight. Hila has been caught in what The Doctor explains as a “pocket dimension” where thousands of years in our time are mere moments there. This is the reason for the seemingly static shots of the ghost, as Hila is actually running for her life from an unseen enemy. So if Hila isn’t the “villain” of the episode, who is? It seems the unnamed “crooked man” briefly spotted in the final picture is the culprit, and The Doctor must save Hila from him. This “crooked man” is pretty unnerving and harkens back to movies like The Ring. When we do see him, he crawls around in an unnatural manner, his twisted face grimacing in anguish. But the crooked man has a reason for his actions, and it’s not because he’s evil – he’s in love!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying “love saves the day AGAIN!?” The Doctor beat the peg dolls and Cybermen with love last year, and this year he defeated the parasite sun-god of Ahkaten with it as well. Well, this is different. It seems that “The Crooked Man” is angry because his mate is trapped in the “real world” behind a door that The Doctor closes. The Doctor has unwittingly doomed him to the very death that was once going to be Hila’s fate. In a silly twist The Doctor flies in to save the beast, in one of the oddest endings that we’ve ever witnessed as viewers. Some people have complained that this ending was either “out of the blue” or “tacked on”, but I liked it because the Doctor would never let an innocent die if he could save them, no matter how ugly they are.

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If anything was bad about this episode, I think that Hila was not a very well-developed character. Granted, she is the focus for around three-quarters of the whole episode, but just stands there like furniture once she is safe. I almost wish that this episode was a two-parter with the haunting storyline reserved for episode one, and the time travels bits in episode two. Maybe in this arrangement, characters like Hila could have stood out more, but what we do have is more than sufficient.

My favorite bit of this episode was probably the interaction between The Doctor and Clara regarding her mystery. We are starting to see more and more that they really don’t trust each other at all, a fact that was hammered home no less than twice. In the first instance Clara stayed in the Tardis while The Doctor took tons of pictures to see if he could figure out if the ghost was a fixed point in time. We see a montage of sorts involving rapidly changing times from the dawn of the Earth to the very end. This disturbs Clara as The Doctor seems totally unaffected by what they just saw, but she just saw her entire existence pass before her eyes. This makes her realize that The Doctor is not like her and must see all humans as mere ghosts. The second instance is actually the entire reason that this episode happened. It seems that The Doctor tried to find Emma to ask about Clara, noting her strong abilities as an empath. When Emma remarks that “she is a normal girl” this sets him off, she must be a trap or something! Clara also asked Emma about The Doctor where she found out that he has a “ sliver of ice in his heart”; seems like he is still the Dark, brooding Doctor from The Snowmen, and Clara might be the only thing keeping him going.

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All in all, Hide was a fine episode, I’ve enjoyed this season a lot despite the fact that a bunch of other fans seem to be having trouble with it. The intelligent nature of the unorthodox plotting by Neil Cross is a breath of fresh air from the tendency to do “Doctor Who by numbers” that many writers fall victim to. I know some writers want to please the fans at every turn, but taking chances like this is the only way the show can keep going and staying fresh. Cross was the man behind The Rings of Akhaten as well, another unorthodox episode that I enjoyed. “The Crooked Man” was a creepy “villain” proving that less can be more sometimes. He wasn’t as ambiguous as the antagonists in Midnight or Silence in the Library, but he came across just as terrifying. Next week we have a Journey to the Center of the Tardis to look forward to, and it looks like all hell breaks loose in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor.

 

Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Hide

Hide [HD]

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The Day of the Triffids (2009) – Part One

Having enjoyed the 1981 BBC miniseries for The Day of the Triffids (review of that here),I jumped at the prospect of watching a newer take on the story. At some point I really need to get the books and dig into the original stories; but with my limited time as of late I have to settle for movies. The 1981 TV miniseries was fairly iconic, in that parts of it were used an inspiration for the film 28 days Later, especially the opening hospital scene. The one thing that really drew me to this show was the inclusion of a handful of actors that I really like – Eddie Izzard, Dougray Scott, and Brian Cox. These guys are usually in larger productions, and it was cool to see them here. Izzard and Scott are especially awesome actors in this film, basically carrying the production. With a bigger budget, a great cast, and modern special effects, one would hope that a new take on the story would be truly exciting and a feast for the eyes; luckily it is for about half the time.

Despite a few changes for the sake of modernity, and adding a more “cinematic” feel, a lot of the story in part one stays largely the same. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) is a scientist that studies Triffids on a Triffid farm – an area where an odd species of plant is harvested to make a type of fuel that has made fossil fuels obsolete. This comes at a cost, however, as Triffids are very dangerous to work with. Bill knows this all too well, as we see the death of his mother at the leafy hands of these creatures in the opening moments of the film. Bill is stung early on by one of these guys, and spends a while in the hospital with his eyes taped up. Luckily for him (as his eyes are covered), a crazy solar storm happens that knocks out power and makes much of the populace blind (those who were watching the storm), and helps cause a post-apocalyptic Triffid-running-amok scenario. He is joined by a BBC television reporter named Jo (Joely Richarson), a con-man (Eddie Izzard), and a few others as they try to survive the ordeal.

In the original, the bright lights that blinded everyone were the result of a meteor shower, so changing it wasn’t too much of a change at all and somehow seems more realistic. This inclusion also helps tap into the zany 2012 theorist wet-dream that we are going to be hit with a large EMP/solar wave that will destroy the Earth this year.

While I feel that our films and other media are largely getting over-saturated with zombie apocalypse stuff, Day of the Triffids puts a new spin on this trope. Instead of the horror of mindless masses of flesh eating monsters running around, we have a situation where most of the world has been rendered blind resulting in a writhing mass of humanity trying to stay alive when the more predatory folks out there try to take advantage of the situation. These people aren’t zombies, but are fueled by pure hysteria and helplessness. In many instances, when someone finds out that someone else can still see, they try to harm them or force them into a situation where they are now these people’s eyes. The hysteria causes many a massacre with policemen firing on civilians trying to get to safety, people getting trampled, and the weak (children and elderly) getting lost in the shuffle.

With everyone on Earth subdued, suddenly we are at the bottom of the totem pole with Triffids suddenly at the top. There are ten million of them out there on various farms, and they are hungry for human flesh. This is especially made more shocking when we find out that these monsters are most-likely intelligent and seem to communicate to each other.

My main concern going into this film was that the production staff would somehow mess up the design of the Triffids themselves. Granted, the 1981 series depicted them as slow bell-shaped pitcher plants made out of fiberglass. Since these guys could “walk” the 80’s take would scoot around on the ground ever so slowly. It seemed that as long as people could take them out within about three feet or so, and keep from being over-run, everything might be cool. This time around, the Triffids have long tentacle-like appendages that can go great distances and sting anyone capable of doing them harm. Rather than a three foot radius, these new stingers are truly terrifying and could come out of nowhere. In the first part we gradually see the Triffids, but in very small doses. They stay in the shadows for the majority of the film, making them a bit scarier despite the silly premise of the creature (sentient walking plants). When we do finally see them, they are pretty well done special effects-wise.

After all the praise for story and acting, there has got to be a few bad apples in the bushel. Some of the CGI effects in this movie are questionable at best. Towards the beginning of part one, we see a multitude of news reports rolling in, talking about an impending solar storm hitting the Earth. For some reason we see these news reporters standing in front of obvious green screen backdrops of swirly sun energy in the sky, the effect it so bad that I cringed a bit. In an era where one can see even the cheapest of TV shows implement some sort of competent computer effects, it makes this stand out even more. This isn’t to say that it all looks bad; some of the cinematography and effect shots are quite impressive for a TV miniseries –bordering on Hollywood caliber. Scenes like one in which an airplane crashes into a busy city-scape after the EMP hits are quite scary and very well-done. One can definitely see where the money went, I just wish there was more consistency.

In the first of two parts, we also see the ugliness of heavy-handed preachy dialog starting to roll in. Bill talks about global warming, fuel consumption, and other ills that we are currently dealing with at this time. I’m really worried that the production will suddenly turn into a PSA for the environment or something that wasn’t intended in the original story. This sort of thing makes sense in a film like The Lorax, which was based on a book about the ailing environment. Subtlety can be great with messages in movies, but when overdone you can end up with something like October Baby, which was more message than film.

Aside from a few wonky solar flares, I really enjoyed part one of Day of The Triffids, and am confused by all the bad press this movie got. Looking at Amazon.com’s listing for this DVD, one comes away with the impression that Ed Wood had directed it. Maybe I’m easy to please, or maybe the whole thing goes awry in part two; all I know is that this first episode is well worth a watch for fans of the original 1981 miniseries and sci-fi fans as a whole.