It’s a dark and stormy night, so let’s settle in for some good old fashioned ghost-story-style Doctor Who! Is she sure she wants to go through with their ghost-contacting project, the craggy-handsome older professor-type gent asks his younger sexy-elementary-school-librarian kick-skirt-clad female assistant? “She’s so lonely,” the assistant says in her affirmative.
Time to rev up the state-of-the-art (circa 1974, ho ho) ghost huntin’ equipment to “speak to the lost soul that abides in this place.” “Let me show you a way home,” the young woman pleads, and they snap photos of a — HOCRAP! Man, but it’s nice to shriek out loud at a DW episode again!
The lonely ghost shows up as a Scream-faced apparition, advancing on and overwhelming the professor and his assistant. Gah, anyone else think this was the return of the Gelth?
An ill-timed knock at the door interrupts the parapsychology-focused couple’s post-ghost-spotting adrenaline-filled almost-kiss. “Boo!” It’s the Doctor and Clara, who ain’t ‘fraid no ghosts, and more than ready to interfere with whatever is afoot, whether we’ve got Gelth or trans-dimensional Cybermen masquerading as dearly departed loved ones, or anything the Whoniverse may throw our way.
The Doctor muscles into the supernatural investigation, declaring Professor Palmer (our craggy hottie) isn’t, as his assistant Emma Grayling believes, a POW/ normal psychology professor, but “Major Alec Palmer, member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the ministry of ungentlemanly warfare, specialized in espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines.” Well, Alec just got about a billion times hotter.
The Doctor keeps up a ruse of being sent by the Ministry (why not use Psychic Paper proof at such a great opportunity, DW?) and coos over the Old Skool equipment: “I do love a toggle switch!” Luckily a scan of the Sonic Screwdriver proves Alec and Emma “haven’t been exposed to any life-threatening trans-mundane emanations,” so now it’s time to grab the candelabra and go ghost searching!
Emma’s not just a psychic, we learn, but an Empath who “senses feelings the way a telepath can sense thoughts.” They’re among the most compassionate beings, the Doctor compliments her before freaking her out by musing they’re “the loneliest, I mean, exposing themselves to all those hidden feelings and all that guilt, pain and sorrow.” Lucky Clara’s there to drag him away so we can all learn the history of Caliburn House, where the “Gast” has been haunting people since forever!
Our Gast’s an “objective pheonomenon” (looks the same no matter the camera, no matter the angle”) though she’s managed to freak out the locals big time throughout the years (they’ve left her notes pleading with her to “stop screaming,” yikes). Equipment can’t pick up Our Lady Scream without a psychic present, hence Emma’s gig helping the professor hear the Gast’s cries of “Help me!” EEEK, who else saw that shadow move past in the doorway? *clings to you all*
Among the names for our ghost is the Witch in the Well. “So where’s the well?” the Doctor asks. “Are you coming to find the ghost?” he asks Clara after hearing there’s technically never been a well on the property. She totally wants to! “I dispute that assertion,” Clara hisses, before relenting and telling the Doctor to “Dare me”. “No takes-ies-back-sies,” the Doctor says, dragging her off on his search playfully.
Alec tells Emma the Doctor may not be a Ministry man, but he fits the profile: “capricious, brilliant.” “Deceitful,” Emma adds coyly (you’re not off the hook for covering up your heroic covert-strategies war past yet, buddy). That’s just how it goes when you’ve seen stuff: “Experience makes liars of us all,” the Professor explains, which is why he can’t admit to his Feelings. They have another Moment of almost hand-touching when he backs off because he’s all awkward traumatized retired secret Major and she’s a shy pixie-ish empathetic assistant girl.
“Your pants are on fire,” The Doctor advises Clara when she claims she can’t feel anything in the music room, “the heart of the house.” Okay, she feels like they’re being watched. “Is that a funny tickly feeling on the back of your neck?” the Doctor inquiers. “That’s the chap!” “Then a bit…quite a big bit.”
He finds a cold spot, box-stepping in a “spooky, cold, warm” formation before chalk-circling the area. “I’m not happy,” Clara announces, and they skedaddle.
Over at the High Tech 1970s Machinery Central, the controls go crazy while the chalk circle starts to puff out gusts of cold air. “Does it seem colder?” Alec asks Emma. Alec, it’s so hard to tell in these draughty old English country manors! While the Doctor and Clara hear a “very loud, very angry noise”, “I may be a teeny tiny bit terrified,” Clara observes, but “there’s no need to actually hold my hand.” “Clara,” the Doctor says seriously, “I’m not holding your hand. HOCRAP! They run like hell.
Downstairs, a black disc whirls in midair, and the ghost becomes ever clearer, a dark-haired white-clad woman calling, “Help me!” Gah, at this point I thought maybe the ghost was Clara, which would have been scary and eerie and BOSS. “Help Me!” appears on the walls (“Don’t blink!” I can’t help but shout), and the spinning black disc winks out of existence.
Over at the fireplace, Emma and Clara warm up with whiskey, which Clara deems “the eleventh most disgusting thing every invented.” And now we all want to get our hands on the Top Ten of Clara’s list. The Doctor rattles off Alec’s impressive military accomplishments including disrupting U-Boat operations, sabotaging railway lines, and “the one with the carrier pigeon, brilliant.” How on earth did that hero Major guy end up in a dank country house ghost-hunting? Alec feels guilt because he killed and “sent young men and women to their deaths. But here I am still alive, and it does tend to haunt you.” We’ve all got our ghosts, man.
So, Emma, you and Professor Palmer, wink wink, nudge nudge, Clara wheedles. Uh, Emma isn’t sure how he feels. “You of all people,” Clara wonders, but Emma explains as empaths “sometimes we get our signals mixed up,” thinking people are feeling how the empaths want them to feel “when really there’s nothing there.” But pffttt, this is super obvious, sticking out “like a big chin,” Clara says (ho ho, Matt Smith has a big chin, chortle snicker!). But “don’t trust him,” Emma cautions Clara about the doctor: “there’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” Gah, I’d love to see even more of that sliver of ice — though I love Matt Smith, I don’t see the menace and coldness that Nine and Ten could so capably display as often as I’d like.
The Doctor grabs Alec’s camera and drags Clara out in the rain back to the TARDIS, which “doesn’t like me,” Clara complains. “The TARDIS is like a cat, a bit slow to trust. We’ll get there in the end!” he reassures her. But when she shakes the droplets from her umbrella inside, “How do you expect her to like you if she’s soaking wet?” the Doctor bursts out (I like to think that noise is the TARDIS making a cranky sound). Where are we going? Well, we’re staying right here, “this exact spot”. “When are we going?” Clara asks, cottoning on, which the Doctor praises as “top notch” before explaining “We’re going always” and fetching a red astronaut type suit out that he thinks goes with his eyes and Clara thinks “makes my eyes hurt.”
Alec and Emma stand at the window, trying to figure out what the Doctor’s up to, and ARGH, SCARY GHOST WOMAN WITH OPEN MOUTH BEHIND THEM!
*pants* This ep has been great for shriek-aloud or scramble-on-the-couch-spilling-your-seltzer moments!
The Doctor and Clara zip in and out at different points throughout time, snapping photos. As they ready to get back, Clara marvels the Doctor “watched the entire life-cycle of Earth from birth to death” and “you’re okay with that?” The TARDIS is time, “we vortex,” the Doctor stammers to explain, but to Clara, who hasn’t been born yet to the Doctor, and simultaneously has been dead a billion years, she can’t help but think “we’re all ghosts to you, we must be nothing.” No, the Doctor objects: “You are the only mystery worth solving.” I rather think he could be talking about all of humanity here, but certain it’s Clara’s unique mystery that’s currently capturing the Doctor’s attention, and keeping him going.
The TARDIS rematerializes (in exactly the right place; the Doctor’s very precise in this ep!). “I just saw something I wish I hadn’t,” Clara explains sotto voce when Emma asks what’s wrong. “That everything ends.” “No, not everything,” Emma demurs: “Not love, not always.” But no time to discuss love, because the Doctor’s prepared a slideshow featuring shots of the Gast of Caliburn House “never changing, trapped in a moment of fear and torment — but what if she’s not?” If she’s in a place where time runs more slowly, someone “could take snapshots of her every few million years” using “magic, a blue box probably” (not that the Doctor knows anything about that, ‘course!).
Emma’s lonely ghost isn’t a ghost at all: she’s Hila Tacorian, time traveler. From Hila’s perspective, she crash-landed minutes ago in a “pocket universe”, a “distorted echo of our own; they happen sometimes but never last long.” The Doctor does a completely pointless demonstration with balloons to charm Emma and distract her from the fact that she’s going to be the one to save Hila: “You are the lantern, the rest of us are just along for the ride.” Psych!
“Don’t do it,” Alec tells Emma, not wanting her to risk her life: “however brilliant, however brave [the lost woman is], she’s not you.” They finally get their Moment, when Emma says, “Read my mind,” and despite not having her gift, Alec finally gets that she likes him bunches.
Okay, the TARDIS can’t fly into the pocket universe (it could be trapped). The Doctor grabs clocks, rope, and a crystal from Metebelis III to amplify Emma’s natural abilities, “like a microphone or a pooper scooper” (say what now?). His resulting Psycho-chronograph is “a little bit, well, make do and mend,” Alec says doubtfully, but non-psychic technology won’t work in the pocket universe. But please, this is simplicity itself! “All I need to do is dive into another dimension, find the time traveler, help her escape the monster, get home before the entire dimension collapses, and bob’s your uncle,” the Doctor explains. Well, when you say it like that!
“Doctor, will it hurt?” asks Emma fearfully. Oh, no! Well, there might be some eensy bits of agony. “To be perfectly honest, I’d be very interested to find out,” he says keenly. Wow, he is the least reassuring ever sometimes. The clocks whir, the equipment jolts, and the black disc is back again, now more clearly the “well” of legend: “a wormhole, a reality well, a door to the echo universe”. With a crack of his neck and a “Geronimo!” the Doctor, cable-attached, runs into the wormhole, and unstraps to find himself on a floating segment of land, unmoored from the rest of the planet or reality.
Gah, I loved the pocket universe, so creepy, foggy, and otherworldly! He and Hila run right into each other before running together away from the creature. As we flash back and forth between the two universes (poor Emma looks pained and drained) the Doctor realizes he’s “misplaced” the exit, good gravy. Thankfully Emma musters a version of Caliburn House in the pocket universe “an echo house in an echo universe…that is just top notch!” the Doctor exclaims.
Hila and the Doctor scramble inside while the monster is “looking for a way in.” “Grab the rope, give it three tugs as quick as you like,” the Doctor tells Hila, sending her to safety. Clara looks shocked when she and Alec pull in Hila without the Doctor, just as the Doctor realizes the earlier angry sounds he heard were the monster tramping about: “Oh, that’s what that noise was, lovely.”
Emma, pushed beyond her limits, collapses. The “well” to the pocket universe goes bloop and disappears. “Oh dear,” the Doctor murmurs, trying to track the scary critter skittering after him. Alec reassures a horrified Emma she’s not at fault, because “what you did–” “wasn’t enough,” Clara interrupts, demanding Emma do it again. No time for niceties! Alec points out Hila is only rescued here “because of your strength, and so am I.” “You brought me back from the dead,” Alec explains, telling Emma she saved him from being lost, awww!
Clara bolts for the TARDIS, but it still won’t let her in, “you grumpy old cow!” “Whoa,” Clara continues, freaked out when a digitized version of herself appears. Ah, it’s the TARDIS voice visual interface, programmed to show an image that Clara would esteem the most; out of the several billion in her database “this one” (of Clara) “best meets the criterion.” Me-ow! The TARDIS can’t land in the pocket universe without begins stranded and dying, TARDIS!Clara explains, to which actual!Clara retorts, “You’re talking but all I can hear is meh meh meh meh!”
Emma gathers her strength, holding Alec’s and Hila’s hands to call for the Doctor. Outside, Clara grins as the TARDIS finally lets her in. Back in the foggy enchanted forest, the Doctor calls to the “bogeyman under the bed,” it must want to frighten him. “If you want me to be afraid, then well done,” he calls. Ah, but the thing wants to “piggyback across” with the Doctor, to escape back to the actual universe. “Come on, then, big boy, chase me,” the Doctor taunts. Meanwhile, Clara maneuvers the TARDIS, flailing and spinning, to the pocket universe forest. When it gets close enough, the Doctor jumps atop it, hitching a ride back to the regular universe.
Back at Caliburn House, Emma is screaming like a screaming thing (and I start to worry her brain is going to explode). The TARDIS materializes in the room, the Doctor clinging to it, and when Clara exhaustedly exits the TARDIS door they tiredly high-five one another.
As day dawns, “you wanted a word,” Emma prompts the Doctor. “You didn’t come here for the ghost, did you? You came here for me.” Yes, he went to the 1970s so he could ask Emma about Clara: “What is she?” “A perfectly ordinary girl,” Emma objects, pretty, clever, “more scared than she lets on.” “And that’s it, is it?” “Why, is that not enough?” Emma asks. Hmmm.
Haha, I love the Doctor glomping himself on to Emma and Hila’s hug — he is so good at messing with Moments! Clara drags him off, but when Emma and Hila wonder how they know each other, he interrupts. Turns out Hila’s actually Emma’s great great great great granddaughter. “Yours too, of course,” he says offhandedly to Alec, who did NOT realize this until now, heee. And that’s why the psychic link had such power, “blood calling out blood out of time.” “Not everything ends, eh?” the Doctor says, pleased. “Not love, not always.” It’s so nicely done, this moment, a paradox-threatening family reunion while the Doctor hovers awkwardly and happily nearby.
Well, what are they supposed to do now, asks Alec. Hold hands, “keep doing that, and don’t let go, that’s the secret.” Suddenly the Doctor flashes to earlier moments. “Oh, I am slow!” he exclaims though “I do get there, oh yes.” Every lonely monster needs a companion, and that’s what’s happening here: the monster wanted to get to its mate in the regular universe. “Oldest story in the book,” the Doctor says, delighted by the tale of boy and girl separated: the monsters, yearning for each other across time, space, and dimensions, make this not a ghost story but a love story.
The Doctor, startled he’s cuddling Clara, yanks back his arm, while Clara looks remarkably sanguine about the whole thing. “Sorry to interrupt the rest of your life,” the Doctor hedges to Alec and Clara, but he’s got one more “tiny favor” to ask. With Emma helping off-screen (her poor head, sheesh), the Doctor jumps to the pocket universe to explain he can take the monster to a safe place where he’ll be together with his lady love. Yay! The monster, hopeful, pops up rather close and ARGH, it’s like a freakish twisty tree-stump scary-skeleton monster bug! But it is in love, so! “Well, hello again, you old Romeo, you,” the Doctor says fondly. The TARDIS comes spinning back to hover in the pocket dimension, the Doctor tells the monster, “get ready to jump!” and restores happy Moments to lovers everywhere, be they nerdy ghost hunters or creepy monsters!
Woo-weeee raphoooo-theoooo! I loved this episode! So far it’s my favorite Clara-adventure (with The Bells of Saint John running second). It’s also far better than other creepy-house DW episodes, like Tooth and Claw. And I’m going to have to persist in thinking all the talk of blood calling to blood and sticking in more parent-child type relationships (even if Hila is a great-great-great-great-however-many-great granddaughters, it’s the link Alec and Emma have to understanding they’re going to have children together, and she’s their family) is reinforcing an eventual reveal that Clara is part of the Doctor’s family somehow. Am I in good company with this theory? :D In any case, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode! *hops about, waiting*