1. The Baker Street Irregulars
Major Palmer is described by the Doctor as one of the “Baker Street Irregulars”, in this case indicating he was part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, which conducted espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance against Britain’s enemies. For more information, see the BBC’s history website.
Given his age in 1974, he must have been very young to send other operatives to their deaths during the war, as he states here.
2. You say Metebelis, I say Metebelis
The planet Metebelis Three, and the mind-focussing powers of its crystalline substances, formed vital plot points in 1973’s The Green Death and 1974’s Planet of the Spiders, making its first appearance in Doctor Who contemporaneous with the setting of this episode.
Of course, back then the Doctor pronounced it differently – MeteBEElis rather than, as here, MeTEBBelis. It does seem odd that the production team would include a deliberate back-reference to Classic Who and yet not pick up on the apparent discrepancy.
But then again, maybe it was the Third Doctor who got it wrong in the first place. Also in The Green Death, he mispronounced the word “chitin” as “CHITTIN”, rather than the correct “KITE-IN”. Which precipitated a famous letter to the production team of the day:
The reason I’m writin’
Is how to say “chitin”
Perhaps Matt Smith took elocution lessons from Siri? This is how Apple’s UK voice (based on Jon Briggs, voiceover artist for The Weakest Link and other shows) pronounces it.
3. The witch of the well
So the “well” is actually a wormhole – although to gain that nickname, it would have had to have been seen many more times than just when a psychic empath who is related to the Caliburn Ghast is present.
The ghost’s other names – the “Wraith of the Lady”, the “Maiden of the Dark”, are far more explainable. I must admit that I hadn’t heard the term “ghast” before. A search online seems to trace it back to H.P. Lovecraft, but I’d be intrigued to know if it had a longer heritage.
4. “The only mystery worth solving”
Clara’s questions about humans “all seeming like ghosts to you” does, of course, unwittingly play on his doubts and fears of Clara’s identity. As a result, his response – “you are the only mystery worth solving” – is easy to take as being all about his companion. But, just as her questions have a double meaning, so does his answer.
True, the Doctor’s love of humanity was more explicit during Russell T. Davies’ custodianship, e.g., “An ordinary man: that’s the most important thing in creation!” (Father’s Day); “[Wilf: 900 years. We must look like insects to you.] I think you look like giants.” (The End of Time). But the innate mystery of humanity to the Doctor has always been there, and always will be, whoever is steering the ship now or in the future.
5. I don’t think it likes me
The antagonism between Clara and the TARDIS is clearer again here, after first being mentioned two weeks ago in Neil Cross’s first script for the series. It’s clearly tied in to the mystery of Clara’s identity. Emma’s insistence that she is an “ordinary girl” suggests that, empathically at least, she’s human – so anything else would have to be something that an empath could not pick up on.
But clearly the TARDIS isn’t the only one who doesn’t trust Clara. Given that the Doctor was so quick to offer Victorian Clara a key to the ship in The Snowmen, it’s notable that he has to leave the console to let the modern-day Clara in.
`With the next two episodes delving into the heart of the TARDIS and then back to Victorian London, I’d suggest it’s likely that we’ll get some more concrete clues soon. But speaking of which…
6. The Dawn problem
In the fifth season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Buffy acquired a younger sister out of nowhere, who had never been mentioned at all before but who was clearly known to all the other characters. Within the story’s universe, she was a “key”, who had been engineered into human form and then conjured into place such that she had always been Buffy’s sister, in an attempt to hide her from the demon who was hunting for it/her. From an external point of view, it also gave a sly wink to all the TV series where previously unheard-of relatives would blink into existence in the gap between seasons.
Which is unlikely to have a direct bearing on Clara’s mystery. Except that, after Dawn’s role as The Key ceased being of use, she was left being “just” the younger sister. Without the Macguffin that brought her into existence, she became a flatter character – possibly even more so than if she had been brought in as just a sibling.
What worries me is – what happens to Clara once we find out the mystery? What are the plans for how her relationship with the Doctor will develop? I do hope something is being prepared for…
We are so used to calling series costars “companions” these days that it’s rare that we stop to think just how odd it sounds to use that description in everyday conversation. The initial exchange on that score between the Doctor and Jessica Raine’s Emma, while being a play on the Doctor Who universe’s shift away from the term “assistant”, comes across as a little too metatextual and self-indulgent for my liking.
8. Ignorance is Carlisle
A beautiful bit of wordplay between the Doctor and Clara over “the opposite of Bliss”. It reminded me of the book created in 1983 by John Lloyd and Douglas Adams. The Meaning of Liff was a spoof dictionary “of things there aren’t any words for yet” which used place names. (“Affpuddle (n.) A puddle which is hidden under a pivoted paving stone. You only know it’s there when you step on the paving stone and the puddle shoots up your leg.”)
There was no entry for Carlisle. Maybe there should be. Contributors to the message boards of QI (also cerated by John Lloyd) suggested:
Any swingers’ resort primarily targetted at oral fetishists.
I think I prefer the Doctor and Clara’s version.
9. “It’s a love story”
So the two loved-up aliens got separated, with one being trapped in the pocket universe. In which time progresses hugely slowly. So while he’s been lolling around the countryside for a few minutes, his partner’s been trapped in a haunted house for (potentially) millennia.
That reunion’s gonna be fun.
The one-word episode title seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years (this was the first since 2007’s Utopia). I’m not sure this title works, really. Nobody’s hiding from anything, or trying to – everybody spends the episode trying to find the Caliburn Ghast/Hila Tukurian, or to reveal their feelings for one another.
Next week: Journey to the Heart of the TARDIS. And secrets will out…