This episode was all about the things that can be hidden from us: feelings, motivations, intentions, truths… And while the title might be a bit on the obvious side, it is more connected with the heart of the story than some of the other titles in recent memory (“The Bells of St. John,” I’m looking at you). This story was actually the first written by Neil Cross, (although it was broadcast after his second script, “The Rings of Akhaten”), and this one is a much stronger script than “Akhaten,” which I thought was a bit of a mess. This one has a very engaging plot that has some intriguing ideas that are woven throughout.
The year is 1973. The Doctor and Clara arrive as Professor Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling, his assistant, are attempting to contact the ghost that haunts Caliburn House. Alec was an important man in espionage during the war and Emma is an empathic psychic. The Doctor immediately takes over the investigation and soon develops a theory when he notices that the “Witch of the Well” (as the ghost is called) is always in the same position in every photograph. He and Clara hop into the TARDIS and he takes a series of photos from the same spot as Caliburn House, but taken across the lifetime of the earth. The Doctor is able to use the photos to deduce that the “ghost” is in fact a time traveler trapped in a pocket universe.
Thanks to Emma’s psychic abilities, a crystal from Metebelis III, and some help from the TARDIS, the Doctor is able to rescue the time traveler, Hila Tacorien, from the pocket universe where she has been running from a rather grotesque monster. The Doctor then reveals that Hila is a descendant of Alec and Emma, which is why Emma was able to have such a strong connection with her. The Doctor also realizes that the monster from the other universe was just lonely and looking for its lost love, who is in this universe. The story ends with the Doctor going back into the pocket universe one more time, to rescue the lonely monster because “every lonely monster needs a companion.” (See the parallel there between the lonely Doctor and the lonely monster?)
As I said in the introduction, this episode is all about things that are hidden from view. The main focus are the hidden feelings of Alec and Emma. They are in love, but neither one is aware of the other’s feelings. However, this is not the only hidden thin gin this story. Emma points out to the Doctor that Clara hides her fear from him. I thought this was a nice carryover from last week’s episode, in which Clara was quite clearly terrified, but did not want to admit it, even to Professor Grisenko. There is the hidden universe in which Hila is trapped, as well as the hidden feelings of the two separated monsters, who seem scary, but are actually just lonely. There is the hidden truth of what happened to Hila, since all that is known to history is that she was lost (Why is this a fixed point in time, while the Cold War could have erupted and ended the world in the previous episode?) and the still hidden truth about Clara.
The Doctor is, of course, always hiding his true motivations. He did not come for the ghost, as he pretends to, but instead came to see if Emma could give him any clues as to the truth about Clara (which is something that is hidden from him). All she is able to tell him is that she is a clever, but ordinary girl. However, Emma is a bit more perceptive in reading the Doctor. She warns Clara not to fall in love with the Doctor because there is “a sliver of ice in his heart.”
There is also some interesting development of the idea of what is a ghost. Clara become disturbed by the casualness with which the Doctor is able to visit the end of the world. To him, it is just a moment in time, but to Clara it is the end of everything she knows. She realizes that at this point in time she is long dead, and confronts the Doctor about what that means to him. Since he can travel to points way in the future, is she, in fact, anything more than a ghost to him? The Doctor doesn’t give this idea much thought, but it is an interesting idea to explore. What does it mean to the Doctor that he will outlive his companions? This is probably a truth that he would rather not face and keeps hidden from himself.
The story was helped immensely by great performances from Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine as Alec and Emma. In a very short time, they were able to make you invested in their characters and believe that they really cared for each other. From their first scene you got a sense of the characters and their unspoken feeling for each other.
In continuing with references to the past in this 50th anniversary season, there were a few references to previous stories, like the Doctor’s orange protective suit appeared to be the same one from “The Impossible Planet” and “The Waters of Mars.” However, the most noticeable reference to the past was the use of the blue crystal from Metebelis III. This, of course, is a reference back to the era of the Third Doctor. The blue crystal figures into both “The Green Death,” when we learn that the Doctor has stolen a powerful crystal from the planet, and in “The Planet of the Spiders” in which the Doctor must return the crystal and sacrifice himself to restore order. How the Doctor has come to have the crystal again, I have no idea, but I’m willing to accept an unseen adventure might have taken him back to the planet (I’m also not terribly concerned by Matt Smith’s mispronunciation of Metebelis). It was another nice nod to the past.
My only real complaint would be that the ending was, once again, a bit rushed. The story about rescuing Hila actually had nice development and an ending, but the whole monster subplot felt a bit tacked on. We never really learned who these creatures were. Were they completely harmless? How was the Doctor so sure that they wouldn’t harm him? From where did they originate? Where was the Doctor going to take them? I would have liked to have seen just a bit more of them or, better yet, just cut the subplot, and use the time to tell us a bit more about Hila. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to travel back to see her ancestors or if she was simply drawn there by Emma’s psychic abilities.
Overall, this was a good episode. Aside from the rushed ending, the story was solid and the characters were engaging. The whole episode had an eerie atmosphere, worthy of a ghost story. I even enjoyed the twist that it was not a ghost story after all, but a love story. The ending brought together two pairs of lovers and even brought some romantic advice from the Doctor, which I thought was the perfect way for him to look at love. His advice: “Hold hands. Keep doing that and don’t let go.”