It was a dark and stormy 70s and the Doctor and Clara are hunting a ghost… or are they? This episode worked best when the Doctor and Clara stuck to exchanging witty remarks in a house haunted by spooky cliches but the convoluted plot and dull side characters soured what could have been a great ghost story.
Full episode review – huge spoilers
The episode opens with two ghost hunters (Professor Palmer and Emma Grayling) as they go through a quick seance with the ‘witch of the well’. Immediately afterwards the Doctor and Clara announce their arrival with a jovial ‘Boo!’ before the opening credits role. Next comes my favourite scene – the Doctor’s whirlwind entrance. Complete with witty banter and confuddeld supporting characters, in these entrance scenes (which almost every episode contains) the Doctor can be his most eccentric and the companion play his apologist/fellow-eccentric. Best bits from this week’s whirlwind introduction were:
Doctor – “I’m the Doctor.”
Professor Palmer -”Doctor What?”
Doctor – “Oh, I suppose that’ll do.”
Doctor – “I do love a toggle switch. Also, the word ‘toggle’. Nice vowel, excellent verb!”
The whirlwind was followed by the standard set up and this week’s was a wonderfully creepy ghost story. Primerally recounted by the Professor, the tale of the Caliburn ghost contained some choice spooky cliches such as “The witch in the well is accompanied by a knocking that sounds as if the devil himself is demanding entry” and “Written on the wall was “for the love of god, stop screaming””- chilling indeed.
One thing I that I didn’t really like in this episode was the Doctor’s patronising tone towards Clara. The best example of this came straight after the ghost story set up. Being the last remaining Lord of Space and Time means that talking down to his companions comes naturally to the Doctor but “I dare you. No takesies backies” and “your pants are so on fire” took the talking to a child tone a little too far and I hope this doesn’t continue through the rest of the series. That being said, in ‘Hide’ the Doctor and Clara looked more comfortable together than ever before and she is beginning to feel like a real companion, which is odd because it is actually the first episode that Jenna Louise-Coleman filmed for the season.
Throughout the episode, there was a subplot of unspoken love between Professor Palmer and Grayling but unfortunately these side characters were extremely forgettable (they are no Thomas Kincade Brannigan from ‘Deadlock’). It’s ironic that in an episode in which an empath plays a vital part, the Professor and his psychic love-interest assistant left me as cold as the Doctor’s icy hearts.
Whilst the dull side characters were failing to express their love for each other, the Doctor and Clara explored the dark corridors with a candelabra that begged to be blown out by a mysterious gust of wind, which of course happened about five minutes later. The cliches came thick and fast: Cold spot, chalk on the floor, dodgy ghost-detecting machinery, a huge drop in temperature, ‘HELP ME’ being written on the wall, and the classic “if you are not holding my hand, who is?” Cliched? Yes, but these ‘the Doctor meets a ghost story’ scenes were the most enjoyable and saved the episode from its flabby narrative.
The rest of the story followed along the usual lines – mini-scary part, a lull in which the characters have deep conversations and the Doctor figures out what is really going on, followed by the bigger dramatic scary bit.
This week’s lull involved the doctor have a manly war chat that included carrier pigeons and Grayling and Clara have a heart-to-heart culminating in the former telling the latter not trust the Doctor. The Doctor and Clara then travel in time (but not space) so that the Doctor can take pictures of the ghost who he has worked out is a pioneer of time travel (named Hila) trapped in a pocket universe – as usual the you really have to ignore the appalling pseudo-science. During this sequence there was a lovely reappearance of the orange heat suit from ‘The Satan Pit’ and Clara and the Doctor have an exchange in which she claims that the Doctor must view us all as ghosts. The Doctor responds by saying that “you” (not clear whether it is Clara or humans/mortals in general) “are the only mystery worth solving”.
Now that the Doctor has solved the problem, he rescues the pioneer using Ms Grayling’s empathic powers and a make shift psychochronograph (wonderfull pseudo-science again). Unfortunately, the rescue leaves the Doctor trapped in the misty pocket universe alone with the monster (a crawling boney creature) that has been causing the pioneer all the distress felt by Grayling. At this point I was praying that as he didn’t have to get out using love and memories like the last time he ended up trapped on the outside of reality (‘The Big Bang’). Thankfully, it was Clara and the TARDIS who come to the Doctor’s rescue and he hitches a ride back to safety.
In the episode’s resolution phase, the Doctor reveals to Emma Grayling that he came here for her and not the ghost because he wanted her to ‘read’ Clara and tell him if there was anything odd. To the Doctor’s annoyance Grayling says she is just an ordinary girl.
After the Doctor lets slip that the link between Hila and Grayling was so strong because the former is the latter’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter he has a head-slapping ‘Doh!’ moment and realises that the monster he met in the pocket universe was just trying to get his mate. It only remains for the Doctor to reunite ‘old romeo’ with his corridor dwelling love, which he does before the credits role.
‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ looks like my favourite kind of Doctor Who episode – dark industrial space drama; I just hope this episode can combine the elements of this promising genre with a tight narrative so that is doesn’t leave me as cold as this week’s did.