Doctor Who #913: The Crimson Horror

"I have no interest in the deplorable excesses of the Penny Dreadfuls."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 4 2013.

IN THIS ONE... Victorian Yorkshire, Dame Diana Rigg, Madame Vastra et al., and people dying a colorful death.

REVIEW: While not without some clever elements, returning to Victorian England so soon after The Snowmen, even if we accept Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax as worthy recurring characters, seems redundant. Where Strax was amusing then - and yet not quite as amusing as when he was a nurse - now he's a tedious, petulant child. We've heard these jokes before. Writer Mark Gatiss' attempts at humor in The Crimson Horror are just that, attempts, gags always coming in threes, progressively less amusing - the man who faints when he sees something alien, the gratuitous use of chairs to break things, etc. Much better is the Doctor's recap in scratched sepia-toned film/photographs, a clever visual even if it isn't truly motivated, and Diana Rigg gets a couple of nice lines (in particular, the one about the wrong hands). However, we're also strapped with the Doctor kissing Jenny for no discernible reason, and a tone-deaf ending that has the Doctor this close to uttering a death pun when an old woman falls to her death, and also includes a gory end to the featured monster. Ick.

I'm more than a little disappointed that Rigg, currently specializing in tough old battleaxes, took on such a paper-thin role. To call Mrs. Gillyflower two-dimensional is an insult to the 2nd dimension. She's evil, just evil, perhaps delightfully evil in places, but over time, it just becomes ridiculous. She's a wretched and cruel woman, fine. She's a moral censor, but I guess it's all for her own ends, which are never made clear, nor do we know how she built all that technology. At least Gatiss resisted calling her gated community Whitehouse (old time fans will get the reference, and why it's surprising reference monger Gatiss didn't try it). This is a woman so evil, she congratulates her daughter for not being able to forgive her. Bizarro World! Rigg has such presence, making her play this is a waste, and an undignified waste at that, considering that she's got a gross worm thing sucking at her teat. I do like that Mr. Sweet has a link to prehistory, tying him into Vastra's story, and he's a cool if disgusting puppet. I suppose "Sweet" and the color is meant to evoke candy, but a Scarlet Horror would have been a lot freakier and might not have looked like my one-time roommate's syrupy Carrie costume on Halloween. Pinked up for the kiddies, maybe.

While the recurring Victorian characters get a lot of play, they don't do anything new. Oh Jenny has a new leather fighting suit and throws a couple pretty people to the ground, but that's hardly all that different from A Good Man Goes to War. The mysteries piling up in the first act do a good job of emulating strange mystery stories of the era, but the solutions to those mysteries are merely ordinary. The way this starts, it's almost a Doctor-lite episode, with the Doc showing up after the 14-minute mark, and not being himself until 17:30. Even in the remaining half-hour, he's unusually ineffectual. Other characters switch out the poison, trash the launch console, and kill the villains. He's mostly a bystander with a knack for explaining things. Clara fares even worse. Does she even have a reason to be there except to make Vastra et al. go "huh?". I think she gets so bored with doing nothing that she needlessly breaks something with a chair when, really, the Doctor was about to sonic it. I love how gleeful the Doctor is about not being able to explain Clara, but otherwise... And that final scene leading into the next episode - ugh - those precocious kids are not people who've earned a TARDIS ride. We hardly know them, and the pictures they've found on the Internet are completely ridiculous. I doubt their existence in the extreme, and why oh why do they look like bad Photoshop? Didn't think to take pics during the shooting of the relevant episodes? And why not let the kids tell their dad Clara is a time traveler? Like he's going to believe that. Nightmare in Silver is coming and it looks like I'm pre-irritated.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Cardboard villains and jokes that overstay their welcome against a backdrop that nevertheless manages to capture something of the era represented.


Toby'c said...

I'm a lot more forgiving of the jokes here than you, especially the bit with Strax talking to a human SatNav.

I assumed you noticed the Five reference, (about the time he spent trying to get Tegan to Heathrow)?

Siskoid said...

Yes, followed by "brave heart".

SatNav? Is that what Thomas Thomas was supposed to be about? Teach you to make jokes a non-driver won't get.

I won't deny there are smiles to be had in The Crimson Horror - I gave it a Medium, after all - but it's not about to dethrone The Romans or anything.

Toby'c said...

I didn't understand the pun at first either, but I have been in cars with similar systems.

LiamKav said...

As amusing as the Tegan joke was (and I did like "Brave Heart, Clara"), it also felt a little bit mean. It felt like it was at her expense. (This is coming off me having just listened to "The Gathering" where it's clear the Doctor does have affection for her.)

Anonymous said...

"he's unusually ineffectual"

So, a homage to Five then.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

Wow. Anothe rperfect analysis of the highs and lows (with the sepia recap one of the few highlights). But, man- "To call Mrs. Gillyflower two-dimensional is an insult to the 2nd dimension." You may have missed your calling as an insult comic. The zingers this time around are acerbic (though not at all undeserved!) :-)

The Tomtom bit I got, but... why? It's just very random, having nothing to do with anything.

With the giant vats of red goo and the name of Sweetsville, I had half-hoped for a return of the Kandyman. That an episode could cause anyone to hope for that rather than what they're watching is a commentary on this story in and of itself.

Siskoid said...

"You may have missed your calling as an insult comic." That's why I have so few friends.

Your last zing isn't bad either.


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