On a stormy night in 1974, at Caliburn House, Major Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), a psychic, are conducting an experiment to communicate with the spirit inhabiting the house, when there’s a knock on the door.
It’s the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). The doctor says he’s looking for a ghost. He also lets Palmer, who specialized in espionage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines in World War II, believe he’s with military intelligence.
A reluctant Palmer tells the Doctor and Clara that while Caliburn House has been around more than 400 years, the “Caliburn Gast” has been around much longer, having been mentioned in local Saxon poetry and parish folk tales.
He shows them a board of photographs depicting a translucent figure in various locales throughout the house.
Clara asks why the figure, who screams, according to various reports over the years, is always in the same position, regardless of the angle or the framing of a particular photo.
“We don’t know,” Palmer says. “She’s an objective phenomenon, but objective recording equipment can’t detect her.”
“Without the presence of a powerful psychic,” the Doctor interjects.
“Absolutely,” Palmer confirms.
For her part, Grayling says she can feel the ghost, who knows she’s there, calling out to her, saying, “Help me.”
As they talk, a figure flits past them.
When the Doctor asks if she’s coming to find the ghost, Clara replies with the very sensible, “Why would I want to do that?”
But she goes off to investigate, anyway, especially when the Doctor agrees to dare her.
Palmer recognizes the Doctor as a liar, though he doesn’t know if he’s lying about being from the ministry.
“But, you know, that’s often the way that it is when someone’s seen a thing or two,” he tells Grayling.
During their investigations, the Doctor and Clara hear a loud thudding sound, which the Doctor, not-so-helpfully, identifies as, “a very loud noise.”
In a scene reminiscent of The Haunting, when Clara tells the Doctor that while she’s a tiny bit terrified, there’s no need for him to hold her hand, he shows her that he’s not. A flash of lightning reveals something and they run.
They rejoin Palmer and Grayling, where they see both a spinning disc and a woman shouting, “Help me.” The words subsequently appear on the wall.
The Doctor borrows Palmer’s camera and uses the TARDIS to take a series of pictures from throughout the history of the Earth.
Returning to 1974, he shows the slides he’s taken, asking what if the Caliburn Gast isn’t trapped in a moment of fear and torment, but just trapped somewhere where time runs more slowly?
“What if a second to her was 100,000 years to us?” he asks.
The Doctor reveals that the Caliburn Gast isn’t a ghost, though she is a lost soul; she’s a time traveler named Hila Tacorian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs).
He also says Tacorian crash landed three minutes ago, from her perspective, in a rapidly collapsing pocket universe and tells Grayling that she’s a lantern, shining across the dimensions and guiding Tacorian back to the land of the living.
The slides also reveal that Tacorian is running from a creature of some sort.
One of the names for the Caliburn Gast is “The Witch of the Well”, though Palmer said there’s no well on the property, so far as they know. Once he knows the truth about the “ghost”, the Doctor realizes the “well” is a wormhole, “a door to the echo universe.”
With help from equipment cobbled together from the TARDIS, Emma Grayling opens a portal and the Doctor goes into the pocket universe to retrieve Hila Tacorian. She gets back safely, but the Doctor isn’t so lucky. It’s now up to Clara to convince the TARDIS, which apparently doesn’t like her, to travel into the pocket universe while an exhausted Grayling tries to open the portal again.
The Doctor, successfully retrieved, explains why the psychic link was so powerful: Hila Tacorian is Emma Grayling’s many times great granddaughter.
But if Hila Tacorian was a time traveler running for her life in a pocket universe, who or what held Clara’s hand inside the house? The penny drops as the Doctor realizes the full truth about the creature and the episode reveals its second twist.
Although “Hide” is not a Halloween story, per se (it takes place in late November), I thought it apropos for discussion today. It is a ghost story, after all.
Speaking of ghosts, I particularly liked a scene in the TARDIS, after the Doctor has taken the final picture at the end of the Earth’s life. When he confirms that he and Clara have just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death, she asks if he’s okay with that.
“How can you be?” she asks, adding that one minute they’re in 1974, looking for ghosts. “But all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet. And to you, I’ve been dead 100 billion years.”
She asks if her body’s out there somewhere, in the ground.
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“But here we are, talking. So, I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you.”
“Hide” is an enjoyable Doctor Who episode, suitable for Halloween viewing. The revelation about the Caliburn Gast probably explains every ghost story out there. Oh, those pesky time travelers, always causing mischief. 🙂
Seriously, though, the idea that a “ghost” seen for centuries is, in fact, a living woman who’s only experienced three minutes is pretty cool.
All things being equal, I like the truth about the ghost more than the truth about the monster, though I recognize that the latter has a thematic connection to the story of Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling.
Again, “Hide” is a good tale to revisit on Halloween.
Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.