THE WHO REVIEW: Series 7, Episode 12 – “The Crimson Horror”

Diana Rigg, Silurians and someone called Mr. Sweet. It can only be a Who episode by Mark Gatiss. 

Episode twelve of fourteen is the 100th episode since Doctor Who‘s triumphant return to BBC One back in 2005. Here, Mark Gatiss contributes his second script for this series, “The Crimson Horror” (although, it should be written as ‘orror with the northern accents on show). The always-reliable Gatiss gave us another entertaining adventure.

The opening fifteen minutes would have made casual viewers reach for their TV guides as no Doctor or Clara were to be seen in what was a nice change in plot structure. However, regular fans will have enjoyed watching Jenny, Strax and Vastra (Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey and Neve McIntosh) investigating the mystery of the Crimson, and why The Doctor appears in the image of a victim’s eyes.

This tweak in structure also allowed for a wonderful flashback to what happened to The Doctor and Clara once they had arrived at Sweetville. The Sepia look fit perfectly with the Victorian setting, and even our heroes dressed for the occasion. It was different and I liked it. Seeing The Doctor doused in crimson was quite creepy, too. Having them be a part of the mystery only helped to heighten the story’s mood. Doctor-lite episodes were commonplace during the traditional thirteen-episode run of Russell T. Davies (yeah, remember those?). They were needed to give the  main actors more time to film other episodes, but the deliberate structuring by Gatiss really becomes an asset.

The whole plan was formed by a Mrs. Gillyflower (Dame Diana Rigg), who was using the prehistoric crimson poison substance that the Silurians had considered a threat. Her plan was very Moonraker-esque – build a rocket to poison the Earth. The poison itself had come from a red leach that had created a symbiotic relationship with the little creature attached to Gillyflower’s chest (known throughout as “Mr. Sweet”).

If Mr. Sweet was creepy for anyone else, he was ruined for this viewer when the person I was watching it with referred to the little red monster as “cute.” I am sure she was not the only one, and I disliked the main enemy for being just that. Main enemies are not supposed to be cute. It’s a good thing that Rigg is great at being the real villain, in an old crone sort of way. This is also embraced in the script by Gillyflower’s mistreatment of her own daughter Ada (Rigg’s actual child, Rachael Stirling). I’d like to personally thank Ada for squashing Mr. Sweet with her cane during the climax.

The script from Gatiss is brilliant. Everything from the running joke of a fainting man to his usual horror style works in a very logical story. There was even room for a reference to Fifth Doctor companion Tegan. Brave heart, everybody. I do hope I was not the only one laughing my head off at Thomas Thomas helping Strax reach his destination. Poor failing horse.

Being set in Yorkshire, I was expecting the usual stock accents from the guest stars, and so they are here in abundance along with many northern jokes, too. I expect a few forum posts of complaint. However, I did enjoy Matt Smith’s attempt at the accent – something he had done before in Series 6’s “The Almost People.”

With fans still wondering who Clara really is, the closed format of this series has not really allowed for many revelations. In this episode, Jenny, Strax and Vastra reveal that they had met a Clara before at Christmas. Their confusion was understandable and certainly matches that of the audience. The epilogue does throw something out there, though, with Clara’s friend’s children checking up on their guardian. Of course they find a picture of a previous Clara from Victorian England, which she is rather shocked by. Better get used to Angie and Artie, folks, because they join their guardian in the TARDIS next week. Hmm.

So “The Crimson ‘orror” was creepy and laugh-out-loud funny in equal measure. With a great guest cast, great writing and great direction, it was all rather… good. For me, this is Gatiss’ best contribution to Doctor Who. A lot of fun before the expected darker stories to come.

Next week, Neil Gaiman has promised to make the Cybermen scary again as they return in this series’ penultimate episode, “Nightmare in Silver.”

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