Doctor Who: The First Woman in Space/Time
There are really two ways to look at the latest episode, "Hide." One is that it is objectively the best episode in this half of Season 7 so far. It's the first truly frightening episode since "Blink." I mean, "Night Terrors" was scary as hell, but the warm ending sort of skews it. Doctor Who doesn't do near enough horror episodes, so it was nice to return to that.
It's 1974, and The Doctor and Clara stumble across Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) as they investigate ghosts in an old English mansion. Palmer is a brilliant scientist and former member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a Special Forces operation group that serves as Winston Churchill's personal A-Team and included, we are in no way joking, Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee being all kinds of still classified badass. He seeks to assuage his survivor's guilt by helping a legendary specter trapped near the house.
Emma is his assistant, a medium and empath who can sense the ghost and who is also madly in love with Palmer. The tension between the two is wonderfully sweet, often mirroring the relationship with the battered soldier who was the Ninth Doctor and warm, loving Rose Tyler. Raine in particular is such a happy, brilliant spot in the episode that frankly I can't believe she actually survived. I very much look forward to seeing her portray Verity Lambert, the amazing young BBC producer who gave us Doctor Who in the first place, when An Adventure in Space and Time debuts later this year.
This is truly Clara's most consistent performance as a regular companion. Ever since her Victorian self's wonderfully confident and cheeky accompaniment to The Doctor, we've been so eaten up with the hesitancy in both her trusting him and him getting too close to the person and not the mystery of her existence that the dynamic between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman has honestly suffered.
We're on her fourth or sixth episode by this point, depending on how you look at it. Think of Rose and Ten in "Tooth and Claw" (Their second together) and how they already had an easy, inside-joke relationship. Donna was even further along in her very first episode, or think of the solid assistance Amy offers in "Victory of the Daleks." It's almost as if we're being challenged on the very nature of the Doctor/Companion symbiosis.
Clara fears the Time Lord's capriciousness, while he is doubtful of her as a human being. Both of these things are the absolute basis of what makes the show what it is. The God Who Needs Us...The Child That Saves Us...Infinite and terribly, terribly finite holding hands together against the universe.
Amid the absolutely spine-tingling ghost story that "Hide" lets loose, we finally see The Doctor and Clara ease a bit into each other, though not in any way that represents a comfortable relationship. "How do sharks reproduce?" asks The Doctor, to which Clara replies with that old Oswin on the Alaska spark, "Carefully." After an impossible rescue, their high five is wonderfully exhausted and easygoing. The seams of their partnership feel as if they are starting to be pulled together. I just wish they'd hurry it up, because I have absolutely zero faith in Clara's ability to survive this season.
Now, let's talk about the other way to look at this episode. What do you know about the early Soviet space program? Never mind, it doesn't matter. All you need to know is this: It was as brave as it was ball-bustingly insane. Much of that information is still classified, of course, but a total disregard for safety more or less led to feats of courage we as Americans simply did not have the vodka-filled testicles to attempt.
There is a story, a legend really, of two Italian brothers who enjoyed fiddling with radio equipment in the '60s. Supposedly they managed to come across the last transmissions of a female cosmonaut whose ship had irrevocably malfunctioned coming into a crash landing on Earth.
Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it's all... it's all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two... thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes, I feel hot...I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I'm hot!
Other "lost cosmonaut" transmissions have been recorded, and none have ever been acknowledged by the Russian government. Nonetheless, it's pretty clear that unlike the American space program, many of the early pioneers did not make it, and for all we know may still be circling above us in the ether of space.
Now...think very carefully about what's going to happen to the first human to truly travel back in time.
Sorry if this is a spoiler, but that is the main premise of the ghost story in "Hide" and, more disturbing, possibly of many of the ghost stories in the Doctor Who universe. What starts out as a haunted-house tale becomes a rescue mission for a lost chrononaut that is actually even more frightening once you know anything about the Soviet space program. "Hide" gives us a bald, chilling look at the mistakes we as a species are going to make in the future, and the Hells and tortures who will almost certainly befall the brave, beautiful men and women that first step across the threshold of the impossible and the possible.
So maybe it's fitting that this is the first time we see Clara truly embracing her role as companion. She sees the end...and she fights on.
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