By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | April 24, 2013 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | April 24, 2013 |
The Doctor and Clara arrive at Caliburn House in 1974, where they meet Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott - the guy who almost played Wolverine if not for that Mission: Impossible II commitment) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine, who I had not seen before but reminded me a little of Selma Blair and is featured in the current British series Call The Midwife). Alec and Emma are attempting to make contact with the infamous ghost that haunts the premises that always appears the same in captured images and cries out “Help me!”. Alec himself purchased the house, as the deaths he witnessed over the course of his military background left him obsessed with making some form of amends with those in the afterlife. Emma is a highly tuned empath with the ability to tap into the wayward’s spirit’s mind.
With time and space at the ready for his new companion, it might seem an odd destination in scope for Clara’s third outing; The Doctor and Clara only interact with three human characters, two non-human creatures, and the TARDIS in an uncommonly assertive role, but - as we eventually find out - The Doctor does have an ulterior motive. Until that’s revealed, however, The Doctor and Clara go along for the haunted house ride. He convinces Alec and Emma that they belong there, and they conduct their own investigation of the premises, complete with creaking boards, unsettling noises, and an unknown something that grabs Clara’s hand.
The Doctor expands his search for answers by taking the TARDIS through the entire history of the Earth in that very spot. Clara witnesses billions of years past and present - from days of primordial ooze to the eve of Earth’s destruction by a red supergiant Sun. It’s this venture that yields my favorite moment in the episode. Clara is brought to tears by this humbling sight; her existence is but a blip in the vast expanse to which this Time Lord has access. How can she or any human being be meaningful to him? Without the meter of time, she herself is nothing more than a “ghost” to him, is she not?
We of course know that The Doctor loves his human beings and loves his Earth, but it is difficult to imagine that there is not some inevitable emotional distancing that his travels have endowed in him, a point stressed by Emma’s warning to Clara that The Doctor’s heart contains a “sliver of ice.” The Doctor’s reassurance to Clara is not entirely reassuring, as his hesitant response to her question is to let her know that she is “the only mystery worth solving.” Does she interpret that as his saying that humanity as a whole contains unexpected greatness in spite of its limited temporal nature? Does she perhaps intuit that there’s more to his statement, giving her an inkling of his obsession with finding out why she reminds him of two someones that died and essentially making her a “ghost” yet again? Right now she’s his task at hand, and we’re beginning to see that while The Doctor cares about the concept of Clara (and her two previous selves that we have met) as his companion, he is prioritizing his quest for an answer to her origins to the detriment of any trusting personal relationship that he could be forming with her.
The Doctor’s TARDIS time-skipping reveals that the “ghost” in the house is no ghost at all; there’s a scientific explanation to what’s going on. This is a person that is trapped in an overlapping pocket universe, and this universe moves at a much slower rate of time. Her expression remains the same in all the sightings because we are seeing a few seconds there stretched across thousands of years here. She’s a time traveling Earthling from the future that slipped out of her normal time-space and is now being chased by something in that other universe.
The Doctor rigs some equipment that amplifies Emma’s psychic powers and links to the trapped traveler, thus opening a doorway to the pocket universe. They might not be dealing with ghosts on the other side, but the whole set-up of dangling The Doctor on a rope through the portal in the house does still have shades of Poltergeist. Once through the gateway, The Doctor finds a wooded clearing, the traveler, and the creature that is chasing them with apparent harmful intent. (He is described as the “Crooked Man” in the credits, and his grotesque appearance looks a little like Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly might have if he never had the fly but still was merged with the telepod a couple times over in teleportation malfunction. Try not to judge him by his appearance, though.) The Doctor leads Hila Tacorien (the stranded time traveler) to the rope, and she makes it back to the house safely, but Emma cannot hold the portal any longer, thus stranding The Doctor.
Sensing The Doctor’s great danger, the TARDIS’s cloister bell starts ringing. (That sound sent chills up my adolescent spine in the days of classic Who.) Clara makes her case to the TARDIS, and the TARDIS - after giving her attitude by rendering an interactive hologram of Clara herself to represent a person that Clara “esteems” - allows her inside, so that they can make a quick trip to the other universe to rescue The Doctor. There’s a concern about a power drain, and I’m not sure how much Clara has to do with how the TARDIS completes this rescue mission, but they manage to snag The Doctor and bring him back safely.
Alec and Emma overcome their romantic awkwardness at The Doctor’s urging and learn that Hila is a great-great-great…well, it was several “greats”…-granddaughter of theirs, and that’s why Emma’s connection to her was particularly strong in reaching across universes. In encouraging their love, The Doctor realizes that the two creatures - The Crooked Man in the pocket universe and its own romantic counterpart lurking in the house - had gotten separated via the inter-universe rift and were simply trying to make their own love connection. The episode ends with The Doctor setting back out with Emma’s help to reunite them.
The big revelation that came shortly before, however, was The Doctor’s revelation of why he actually visited this time and place. He discreetly asks Emma for an evaluation of Clara by way of her empath insight, and Emma tells him that she is simply a normal girl with nothing to hide beyond the fact that she is a little more frightened than she shows.
Thus, the mystery continues. Who is Clara? Rampant Internet speculation offers many theories. Is she a relative of The Doctor, perhaps hinted at by the reference to The Doctor’s granddaughter (William Hartnell’s original companion Susan) a couple episodes ago, a scenario that could serve as a natural segue into the potential disclosure of The Doctor’s name (i.e., “The First Question”)? Is she Romana? Is she The Rani? Is she a manipulative creation of an old enemy? How would any of these theories tie into the fact that she is just an ordinary Earthling with an ordinary life, and why would her multiple deaths not be of a regenerative variety if any of these theories were the case?
It looks like next week’s “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” will amp up the speculation and - if not provide any answers - at least raise the tension level between The Doctor and Clara. As it stands, his withholding information from her makes for an odd early situation for a Doctor-companion relationship, and the easy early chemistry between them is now strained.
Classic Doctor Who Bonus:
I was in a Peter Davison mood this week, so I revisited “Black Orchid.” Like “Hide,” much of “Black Orchid” is set in a big house. There is a “ghost” of a sort that lurks within, but it’s of the Jane Eyre variety, as this straight-up murder mystery offers no science-fiction elements beyond The Doctor and the TARDIS. This 1925 adventure is a rare two-parter; that makes it standard length for most adventures in modern Who.
The Doctor takes advantage of a mistaken identity upon his arrival to rock the field with his cricket skills. Tegan shows off the Charleston at a costume party, while Adric is baffled by dancing. Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) plays a dual role, as in a coincidence that the locals obsess over, she looks identical to the young lady of the aforementioned estate. There’s no big “Clara” mystery here, though. It’s just a coincidence, and the two women take advantage at the costume party by wearing the same outfit. Nyssa tells everyone she is from Traken, and the people assume this must be a little-known county in England. The Doctor wears a creepy harlequin outfit for the second part of the adventure, which inadvertently makes him the chief murder suspect. Part of proving his innocence involves taking the local constable aboard the TARDIS; in the old days it seems like many more people found out about the TARDIS.
The mystery is not tough to unravel, but I enjoyed this one for its little character moments. Davison and company are a fun TARDIS crew, and this light adventure was their final one prior to the tragic events of “Earthshock.” Particularly amusing to me was a moment in which The Doctor wondered aloud why the not-easily-controlled TARDIS kept taking them back to Earth. Why indeed, cruel BBC television budgets?
C. Robert Dimitri loves a sound scientific explanation for a seemingly supernatural occurrence.