Well, color me surprised. That was a rather fun episode of Doctor Who. For the first time in a long, long time I wasn’t too excited about the show this week. It was a combination of a few things really. For one, I had heard that this was going to be a Doctor-lite story, and I wasn’t sure if it was too soon for that, considering Clara hasn’t been a companion that long. Then there’s the fact that this was written by Mark Gatiss, who’s a great writer but hasn’t written a particularly brilliant Doctor Who episode so far. His first episode this series, Cold War, remains the weakest episode of Series 7 as of now.
Perhaps coming in with the low expectations helped though as the episode was a lovely surprise. The Crimson Horror is the 100th episode of the show since its 2005 revival, and it may very well be Mark Gatiss’ best. By no means perfect, but definitely his most entertaining. Of course, that’s what I said about Cold War. Maybe I was exaggerating a little bit at the time. But for this episode, I mean it. Promise.
The biggest appeal of the episode (at least for me) is the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, and we see things unfold from their point of view. Their return is a welcome one, especially Strax, who is still funny. The real star this time though, is Jenny Flint. She gets to shine and kick some butt, too.
The pre-credits sequence was pretty well done, setting up a very intriguing mystery of why the Doctor was the last thing a man saw before he died. It also sets up the villain of the episode, Mrs. Gillyflower, played by Diana Rigg. I liked how the music was sort of ‘Sherlock-ian’ almost to reflect the detective work done by Vastra and co. After all, she did inspire the Sherlock Holmes character, as mentioned in The Snowmen. Strax’s lines are brilliant once again too. In the hands of any other actor, these lines would’ve maybe come off as too cheesy. But Dan Starkey does a mighty fine job as the Sontaran.
Jenny gets herself recruited into the “shining city on a hill” known as Sweetville, led by Mrs. Gillyflower, and eventually finds the Doctor. I really enjoyed the reveal that the Doctor was a ‘monster’ and was already sort of defeated. But when he gets back to normal is when the real fun starts. I haven’t been a huge fan of the excessive use of the Sonic Screwdriver lately, and it continues when somehow the Doctor uses it to get his body back to normal. Although, Clara doesn’t need it when she does the same. So surely the chamber does the trick for you. In which case, why need the screwdriver?
Anyway, in the middle of all this we are introduced to Mrs. Gillyflower’s daughter, Ada, played by Diana Rigg’s own daughter, Rachael Sterling. Now we all know Diana Rigg is excellent, as seen most recently in the current season of Game of Thrones. But Sterling did such an excellent job and I was way more entertained watching her character.
Ada is blind and scarred all over her face, and she forms a relationship with the Doctor while he’s locked away as a monster. We also see she has a somewhat hard relationship with her mother. I don’t know what went wrong with Cold War but Mark Gatiss did really well with the characterizations here. Mrs. Gillyflower may have been a bit over the top at times, but the episode had a great, fun vibe that it didn’t seem out of place.
Our reference-to-Classic-Who of the week comes when the Doctor mentions how he once spent ages getting an Australian to Heathrow Airport. He is referring to Tegan, a companion of the Fifth Doctor. He also repeats a phrase that the Fifth Doctor constantly used with Tegan, “Brave heart, Clara!”
Once the Doctor is free we get a flashback of what happened with him and Clara. In a really smart move, the flashback is presented in an old-film-y, grainy way. It just felt like a fresh idea and added much to the flashback sequence. The flashback shows us how the Doctor and Clara got into this mess (and also their attempt at Yorkshire accents). They’re taken in and put into the red goo that turns everyone stiff. The Doctor ended up on the rejection pile, but was saved by Ada. The gooey stuff didn’t work so perfectly with him but it’s probably because he’s not human.
Continue reading on the next page…