Grab some popcorn, a blanket, and a good friend to cuddle up next to, y’all, cause we’re in for a good scare. It might also be wise to keep a flashlight nearby incase the lights go out, and maybe a flask or glass of your favorite adult beverage to settle your nerves through the heebies and various jeebies.
We’re in the Caliburn mansion in 1974, which feels like a fantastic mash-up of Agatha Christie and Scooby-Doo. A psychic, Emma, asks dapper Professor Alec Palmer how things are looking as he fiddles with mounds of electrical equipment. “Pip, pip, cheerio!” he replies, or something else that’s quite British, and after some small talk about radio interference, the two share a Meaningful Look. Perhaps his machines are just picking up the frequency of their sexual tension.
After bracing themselves, they go full-on Ghosthunters as Emma summons a lonely spirit and Alec snaps pictures of a creepy ghost, reaching out towards them, face distorted, and it charges through Emma. “She’s so…so…dead,” she gasps, before a knock at the door rattles them both—but it’s just our beloved Timelord ghostbuster and Clara.
Ummm—how did I not notice that there is a celestial WOLF in the new credits until just now??
Back in Ghost Town, the Doctor is nerding out over meeting Alec because he was a member of Special Ops in WWII and Emma is a bona-fide psychic. He grabs a candelabra and charges into dark hallways while a thunderstorm rages outside (ghost story hat trick!)
Alec is angry, though, assuming the Doctor is from the ministry and will be stealing all of his research (dude is tightly wound), but they pacify him. Meanwhile, Clara talks to Emma about her powers as an empathic psychic. The Doctor cluelessly steamrolls over the conversation, saying how empaths are the most compassionate and lonely psychics until Alec interrupts with the information they have on the ghost so far.
Dude has employed his own inner Carrie Matheson and pasted pictures and clues about the ghost all over a huge corkboard. The ghost is known as the “Witch in the Well” in Saxon poetry and folktales, and an eye witness account from the 17th century says she’s accompanied by a “dreadful knocking.” Clara notices that no matter the angle or framing of the picture, the ghost is always in the same pose. Why? No one knows.
Back with his less-enchanted version of Lumière from Beauty and the Beast, the Doctor encourages Clara to explore the Caliburn manse with him. They have what is my favorite exchange between the two of them so far—the Doctor just says she wants to join him, she says “I dispute that assertion,” and he finally coaxes her over. “Dare me,” she says, and he does, indeed, dare her, capped off with “no takesies backsies.”
They head to the music room because Emma says it’s the “heart of the house.” Okay, I’m calling a trend here. This is the third episode in a row to emphasize music/songs in some way. While the Doctor and Clara are ghostbusting, Emma and Alec are being very British about their feelings. Alec clumsily mentions how “experience makes liars of us all” and skirts around his feelings for Emma. The actors do a good job of selling it—after a few beats of intense eye contact, she reaches for his hand but barely grazes his fingers before he pulls away.
Back in the music room, Clara and the Doctor get a case of the wiggins. It’s cold, spooky, and they start to hear a knocking. A gust of wind blows out their candles and the window frosts over. There are THREE LOUD KNOCKS. The Doctor doesn’t even know what’s going on. Clara quips that though she’s scared, he doesn’t need to hold her hand. But…he wasn’t holding her hand! There’s a flash of lightning and some scary creature is lurking in the shadows—both Clara and the Doctor scream and run back to Emma and Alec.
A big spinning disc appears that cracks open a bit, looking like a portal to another dimension. Emma starts seeing the ghost in the middle of a wooded area, and you can hear its distorted screams. SERIOUSLY SPOOKY, GUYS. The ghost screams “help me!” before vanishing, and the same words appear on the wall of the mansion. Then the portal snaps shut.
Emma and Clara try calming their nerves with whiskey (right there with you, ladies) but switch over to tea because England. The Doctor keeps Alec company while he develops the pictures he took earlier. The Doctor grills him a bit, asking him why someone who did Special Ops is now chasing ghosts in a haunted mansion. Alec gets into some survivor guilt in a moment that is more of what I wanted from Cold War—obviously, the Doctor has outlived not only most of his companions, but his entire species—and he can relate.
Clara and Emma share some Girl Talk about Emma’s feelings about Alec. Emma worries she’s projecting her feelings onto him, but Clara assures her she’s not imagining it. Alec expands on his melancholy while a photo develops—a hilarious shot where the Doctor’s scared face is photobombing the ghost in the background—and the Doctor borrows Alec’s camera while Emma warns Clara not to fully trust the Doctor. “There’s a sliver of ice in his heart,” she portends.
The Doctor and Clara rush off to the TARDIS and the Doctor zooms through various points in time, from the formation of the Earth to its destruction, taking pictures at regular intervals to capture images of the ghost through time. There’s a great moment that rivals the shot from Power of Three where Mr. Williams sits on the edge of the TARDIS with a cup of tea and observes the Earth from orbit when Clara realizes she’s watching the destruction of the Earth as the sun supernovas.
To the Doctor, it’s just another day, just a moment in spacetime, but of course for Clara it’s far heavier. “To you, I haven’t been born yet. And to you, I’ve been dead a hundred billion years,” she says, “we’re all ghosts to you.” The Doctor says no, she’s not, and says “you’re the only mystery worth solving.” That could mean her own individual mystery, but I took it as the Doctor referring to humankind as a whole. Dude loves his humans.
Back in 1974, the Doctor whips through a slideshow of all of the photos he just took. He posits that the ghost isn’t a ghost—she’s just a person trapped in a place where time runs much more slowly than it does here: moments to her are millions of years to us. He has a clear image of her, Hila Turkurian, running away from something. The Doctor explains that she is in a pocket universe, similar to our own. He uses balloons in an explanation I still don’t quite understand to illustrate her predicament, but basically, he says that Emma is a beacon to Hila, across the dimensions.
But what is she running from? SOME WEIRD CREEPY BEAST MONSTER. The solution is for Emma to use her powers, amplified by a crystal he has aboard the TARDIS, to open the gateway between the universes so that Hila can cross over. While the Doctor and Clara go to prepare the amplifier, Alec freaks out and tells Emma that this other person is not worth her risking her life, making it obvious that he DOES have feelings for her.
Clara asks the Doctor why they can’t just fly the TARDIS into the universe to get Hila, and he says it’s because it’s collapsing and that it would drain the TARDIS of her power. With a piece of the Eye of Harmony, Emma’s powers will be enhanced. The Doctor tethers himself and jumps into the pocket universe when it opens up, landing in a foggy, eerie forest.
The Doctor literally runs into Hila, and tries to take her across to our universe, but can’t find the portal. Emma projects an image of the Caliburn mansion that he runs to, but there’s only time enough to send Hila back before Emma’s powers are drained, leaving the Doctor alone in the pocket universe with a the growling creature (credited as The Crooked Man in IMDB, but not mentioned by name in the show).
The TARDIS starts chiming the cloister bells in urgency, and Clara insists that Emma needs to open the portal again. Alec argues that she can’t, she’s too drained, and Clara runs to the TARDIS. As she does so, we get a good shot of a crate that happens to say ROSE.
Alec gives Emma a pep talk while Clara tries to get into the TARDIS. Alec full-on confesses his love, saying that she gave him a reason to exist again. The TARDIS activates its voice-visual interface, projecting an image of Clara back to Clara, getting in a good dig by saying it picked the image of someone she holds in the highest esteem. The two snit at each other until the TARDIS opens its door, letting Clara in, then flies to pick up the Doctor just in time to pass through the portal that Emma had re-opened.
We learn a lot as the episode ends: Hila is Emma (and Alec’s) descendant, and there are two Crooked Man beasts, also separated in the different dimensions and trying to reunite themselves. Most importantly, we learn that the Doctor paid Emma a visit to see if she knew something about Clara, but she insists that Clara is just an ordinary girl.
BUT IS SHE?
What was totally awesome? This was the first episode that I felt a real, organic Companion vibe between the Doctor and Clara. She’s been good so far, but their chemistry and dialogue this time round felt comfortable, fun, and familiar. And it was spooky! It did a good job being a ghost story with a Who twist.
What could have used a little more sonic? Well, love technically did save the day again, but it didn’t bother me as much, maybe because the stakes were smaller than nuclear annihilation in Cold War. The Alec/Emma romance was a bit rote, and I wish we could have spent more time with Hila.
Rating: 4 out of 5 fezzes.
What did y’all think? Did you have as much fun as I did with this one? Sick of hearing about Bad Wolf/Rose? I personally can’t wait to journey to the center of the TARDIS next week.