Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror


Vastra: 'I was right then, you and Clara have unfinished business.'

When the Paternoster Gang are in town it's always fun and games, but Mark Gatiss excelled himself tonight. This has to have been the high point of the season so far, and what made it so perfect is that it was completely unexpected. Most of us were sat around, biding our time until next week's Neil Gaiman penned episode, yet tonight's offering had everything we could have hoped for: horror, pathos, adventure, humour... sonic screwdriver erection gags.

I know everyone's saying it, but the Paternoster gang really do need a spin-off show. I so want to be in their gang, it's killing me. In an episode decidedly light on Doctor/companion participation, Madame Vastra and Co. stole the show. Jenny and Vastra's relationship is so sweet that I lose a tooth every time I see them, and Strax's warmongering cracks me up every time. Him threatening to execute his horse for getting lost, and his suggestion that they tool-up for their trip up-north (we are rather savage), had me cackling like an old crone—as did the appearance of Thomas Thomas (TomTom), the Victorian Sat Nav. Great humour, great comic timing, appalling accents.

Obviously, the Doctor and Clara's accents were as stereotyped as pale skin, immaculate hair and withering humour on an evil vampire, but the fact that they were supposed to be winging it, made me not want to scoop out my ears with a spork. Despite initially looking visibly surprised by the Doctor introducing her as Mrs Smith, Clara recovered her composure quickly, and was soon joining in the fun. (Not that a Yorkshire accent is much of a stretch for a Lancashire lass.) I said last week that Clara was starting to bed in nicely as a companion, and tonight she and the Doctor played off each other like old pros. I loved Clara's face as she stood waiting for the penny to drop about the smokeless chimney. I'm also loving the closeness of the two characters and the big smiles they seem to almost constantly exchange.

Mark Gatiss' episodes have a chequered history. His earlier story this season, 'Cold War', was solid without being spectacular, but I don't think it unfair to say his efforts prior to that (save the excellent 'The Unquiet Dead'), have been something of a let down. But this was way beyond anything I was expecting from him. It bore all the hallmarks of classic Gatiss: from the Victorian charm, to the League of Gentlemen-esque town, to the Steampunk Sweetville, to the black humour. The only thing which slightly underwhelmed was Mr Sweet, although he actually was kind of sweet, so I really can't complain. He was just so un-monstrous.

If anything, the real monster was Winifred Gillyflower, played to perfection by Lady Olenna Tyrell. What a piece of work she was. Rigg chewed up and spat out her lines like Maggie Smith on steroids She even managed to speak in her native Doncaster accent—not something you hear from her that often. I love the way Gatiss took the apocalyptic fervour of the late 19th century (fuelled by the likes of Charles Taze Russell, William Miller, Nelson H. Barbour, etc.), wrapped it in a science fiction shroud, and turned it into a social commentary on Winifred Gillyflower's archaic (to our modern ears) views on salvation, self worth, and the effects of sin. Goodness knows what she would have made of Jenastra. (I just totally made that up! I think.)

The other real pleasure of the episode was seeing Diana Rigg acting alongside her real life daughter, Racheal Sterling. It's always nice to have a nugget of the serious nestling alongside the humour, and Sterling played Ada to perfection. It was virtually impossible not to be moved by her sense of worthlessness and loneliness. She cringed at even the most fleeting act of human kindness. That she found companionship in what her mother deemed as monstrous, and her jealously of Clara's relationship with the Doctor, perfectly highlighted her isolation.

Was the death of her mother enough to account for her stepping 'into the light', or is that too simplistic a catalyst for a full 360 degree turnaround? She after all offered no forgiveness to her dying mother, nor did she show mercy to the parasite which had replaced her in her mother's affections. The implication was that the Doctor's compassion, combined with being set free from the shackles of Winifred's false religious ideals, were enough to redeem her from a life of self loathing and bitterness. Try telling that to the Mr Sweet. She absolutely wrecked him with her stick. I loved Doctor's reaction to her mullering him—ditto his face when Winifred fell down the stairwell. The humour was a perfect antidote to the tragedy.

And despite being a tad under used, the Doctor was at the top of his game tonight. His enthusiasm at being rescued by Jenny (the inappropriate kiss followed by the slapped face), his joy at being reunited with Clara (lots of head holding and searching eyes), all felt like a Doctor content with those around him. And why wouldn't he be? Vastra's Victorian Scooby Gang, with its sword wielding captain, tight suited sidekick, Jenny, and the laser gun toting Strax, are the perfect armed response team. I don't know how I went from hating Strax to loving him, but it happened. Maybe next week Neil Gaiman can make me love the Cybermen again.

Other Thoughts:

—I always smile when they take archaic concepts/superstitions and give them a pseudo-scientific explanation. (The Octogram, evolution of the parasitic leech, etc.)

—Parry's Jerusalem wasn't written until 1916. Bit of a continuity error there.

—Loved Mr. Thursday repeatedly fainting at the sight of anything out of the ordinary.

—Great idea to give us the back story in faux-cine style. A device perfectly in keeping with the tone of the episode.

—If perfection was a pre-requisite for entering the New Eden, how on earth did Winifred qualify? Wicked old hag.

—Nice reference to Tegan the gobby Australian.

—I wouldn't like to be in the Doctor's shoes once Vastra finds out about that kiss.

Quotes:

Strax: 'Casualties can be kept to perhaps as little as eighty percent.'

Doctor: 'I once spent hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport.'

Strax: 'I think you will do well, Thomas Thomas.'

Doctor: 'Oh, great. Great. Attack of the supermodels.'

Vastra: 'Strax. You're over-excited. Have you been eating Miss Jenny's sherbet fancies again?'

Winifred: 'Forgive me.'
Ada: 'Never.'
Winifred: 'That's my girl.'

Doctor: 'You're the boss.'
Clara: 'Am I?'

---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

16 comments:

migmit said...

Yes, please! Spinoff for Vastra and associates! Is there a Kickstarter project?

Nick said...

Love this review, and I can't BELIEVE I did not get the TomTom reference. I kept scrambling around trying to figure out which famous figure this Thomas Thomas guy was; thankfully I found this review before wasting the whole day.

The only thing I'd add is that the resolution, much like those of many other episodes in this season, kind of let me down. It seems that nowadays the stories are resolved somewhat arbitrarily; if it's not the power of love or some variant, it's a deus ex machina or something as simple as Clara throwing a chair and Strax pointing a gun. Other than that, this episode was head-and-shoulders above last week's, and most of Series 7. Everything you pointed out: Strax, Jenny, Vastra, the acting, the mother-daughter story, the sets, the jokes. Series 7 has been bumpy but between this, next's week's Neil Gaiman episode and the finale, I'm pretty hopeful Series 7 will end on a great note. Though I hope 8 does better.

By the way, did anyone else think Mr Sweet was actually the Great Intelligence before we found out it was the leech? I thought, what with all the reference to Mr Sweet being absent, and then later Gillyflower saying he was 'everywhere' and with Clara going back to Victorian Clara's time, I thought they'd be advancing that story.

a.m. said...

I liked this one, but I didn't like the epilogue very much...those pictures looked horrible and made no sense. The sub picture looked horribly photoshopped together and who would have had a camera down there anyway? Also, if I remember correctly the haunted picture had all four of them in it...so who took it? And finally, the Victorian picture was taken with a modern camera. I know I'm being nitpicky but it sort of killed the ending for me...I know you can find just about anything online these days, but really? Really!?

Great review, as always! These last two episodes have been really fun so I hope Gaiman can live up to the pressure of making an amazing cyber man episode!

Juliette said...

I'd love it if Vastra's gang turned up at least once a season - it would be a great way to do Doctor/Companion Lite episodes.

The only thing that didn't work for me was the TomTom gag, which just seemed too ridiculous and took me out of the show. I did think Mr Sweet would turn out to be the Great Intelligence too - was almost disappointed that he wasn't!

Mark Greig said...

Mark Gatiss is just on fire this season. This was definitely the most League of Gentlemen-esque episode he has contributed to the series so far. I can easily picture characters like Mrs. Gillyflower, Ada and the coroner residing in Royston Vasey.

At first I did think that Mr Sweet was the Great Intelligence, but then I really started to hope that it would turn out to be the Kandyman. Surely he is long overdue for a comeback?

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for the last three episodes. I was about to give up on the show, but the past few weeks have been excellent. Can't wait for next week's episode. I just hope I haven't hyped it up in my own mind too much

Roberto said...

Great episode, great review, great sent of relief that it wasn't shit.

kikishua said...

At the start I was thinking that the name/concept for Sweetville had its roots in the village of Bournville that Cadbury built (Birmingham direction). Alas, no chocolate.

bekswhoknits said...

wow I can't believe I didn't pick up on the TomTom line.

I did laugh raucously at the "gobby australian trying to take her to heathrow" line. My non-who partner just looked at me strange.

Patrick said...

SUCH a fun episode!! I won't go over all of it, but three things really stood out for me:

1. Jenny, oh how I adore thee. She's definitely my favorite of the Paternoster gang(where did that name come from, anyway?). Catrin Stewart does such a great job playing her.

2. This episode is just goes one more step to making Matt & Jenna my favorite Who pairing so far(Please note, I'm only counting since the relaunch, since that's when I started watching). As much fun as Matt & Karen were together, Matt & Jenna are even better. The scene when the Doctor woke Clara up was incredibly touching and sweet. But even better was the scene when they figured out about the chimney. I loved that Clara didn't get upset with the Doctor for ignoring her, she just gently stopped him and pointed him towards the answer. Their little interplay once he figured it out was superb, and goes to show just what a dynamite team they are. I really REALLY hope Matt & Jenna stick around for a while.

3. Did anyone else let out a cheer when they heard Strax cry out "Sontar-ha!"? Just me?

So, two episodes left, then the 50th Anniversary special, and we still don't have a clue about the great mystery that is Clara Oswin Oswald. And you know what? I'm having way too much fun to mind. I almost don't want to find out, because I'm scared that when we do, it'll mean the end of these two as a team. Though, I DO still want to know who gave Clara the number for the TARDIS' external phone in "The Bells Of Saint John". My money's still on River Song. :)

Paul Kelly said...

Patrick, 13 Paternoster Row is the abode of Vastra and Jenny in Victorian London.

Juliette said...

Kikishua, I wondered that about Sweetville too! And the Cadburys were Quakers, so there's a sort of parallel there - except I rather like Quakerism so I wouldn't want to parallel it with Gillyflower particularly. But I do wonder if that was the inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Sign me up for a Madame Vastra and co spinoff. A miniseries at least..
What a fun episode..more old school Who than last week's confused offering. Diana Rigg was chilling, seeing her and her real-life daughter in such a dysfunctional relationship was unsettling in a good way.
I really don't care who Clara is. She's just a great companion.
Anna

TJ said...

Great review! I have been kinda off when it comes to Doctor Who lately, but this ep got me back big time.

Found this old cult song on Youtube, which was a #1 hit in UK in 1988.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdTELokKfCk

Sooze said...

This was the first episode in a LONG time that I laughed out loud several times (mostly at Strax - love him!). And now I truly like Clara. Very fun!

The Fearless Freak said...

I've honestly been putting off watching this episode because I'm about done with the show as a whole. I don't like Matt Smith, I don't like Moffet and while I like Clara, I'm completely over the "who or what is she" story line. After last week's episode, I just didn't want to see another one (A freaking reset button? Are you kidding me?). Finally, my husband insisted that we watch it, if to just get it cleared an dI'm really glad he did.

I love Strax and his warmongering ways ("I'm going to go play with my grenades") and Jenny is adorable. I was glad that we got a Doctor and companion lite episode, because it allowed some fun to be brought back to the show. It also stopped them from beating me about the head and shoulders with "who/what is Clara?"

As for next week? Kids on the TARDIS and Cybermen? We'll see if they can hang on to it or if it goes as badly as I'm expecting that particular story line to go.