Monday, 6 May 2013

Episode Review - "The Crimson Horror"

I approached this episode with a fair amount of trepidation - not only because it was the "Doctor-lite" episode of the season (and I have a loathing for those even though I understand the reasons why they have to have them) but also because it was, once again, a Mark Gatiss script.  I mentioned in the "Cold War" review that Gatiss' episodes have a tendency to have good moments within a very inconsistent 45 minutes and, with "Cold War" being such a good episode, could Gatiss really write 2 crackers within one season?  The answer, surprisingly, was a resounding "yes".  To me, one of the signs of a good writer is variety - not the same basic script over and over again - and Gatiss delivers here with something wildly different from "Cold War".

Mark Gatiss draws on his well-known love of horror and literature and the result is a fun yet creepy Victorian romp.  "The Crimson Horror" has an awful lot going for it - the cast which includes mother and daughter team, Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling, the return of Strax, Vastra and Jenny, nods to "Frankenstein", "House of Wax" and others - and with so much there it could have been a mess.  Thankfully, it isn't.  It's a beautifully paced, well written piece of fun - with dramatic touches and some quite moving scenes interspersed throughout.

It took about 15-20 minutes for the Doctor to show up in the episode - and normally, I'd be champing at the bit but instead I was completely caught up with Vastra, Strax and Jenny investigating the bright red bodies that had turned up in a Yorkshire canal.  The "mortician" had, with great relish, dubbed it "the crimson horror" and Jenny was sent into Sweetville undercover to find out more.  Mrs Gillyflower's daughter, Ada, who was blinded and disfigured was feeding a locked up "monster" - and when Jenny unlocked the door to the "monster's" cell, we had the shock of our lives.  Our first sight of the Doctor in this episode was chained up, bright red, stiff as a board...and wearing long johns.  I was quite impressed that "Mr Rubber Limbs" managed to walk like that actually but whilst Jenny was helping the Doctor escape, Ada had discovered that her "monster" was no longer there.  "You are all that I have, monster" tugged at the heartstrings - and here was the "Frankenstein" connection with the blind man and the monster.

One little gripe I have is that the sonic was used once again - this time to restore the Doctor to his usual self.  I won't jump on them too much for this though - mainly because this was a fun episode...and not an overtly serious one - but I think they do need to have a care because it's verging on overuse this season.  Once back to normal though, the Doctor, in his exuberance and delight at being alive and free, kisses Jenny.  She's married of course so she slaps him.  The Doctor is full of energy - and insistent upon finding Clara and stopping Mrs Gillyflower but Jenny, quite understandably, wants him to explain how he ended up resembling a bright red cross between Frankenstein and a mannequin.

One of the stand outs of the episode was the beautiful sepia, faded film sequence that was full of the kind of "noise" you see on the old 20's films that brought us up to speed on how the Doctor and Clara had ended up involved in the mystery...and showed that, whilst Clara had seemed to adapt to Mrs Gillyflower's "process" and become a kind of mannequin in suspended animation awaiting revival later, the Doctor had been one of the crimson rejects - his non-human attributes being the only thing that enabled him to survive.  The Doctor had been "adopted" by Ada and kept alive and fed by her in secret.

Finding Clara and restoring her - and avoiding questions from Vastra and Jenny about her - the scene was set for a confrontation with Mrs Gillyflower...but not before a quite superb scene where the Doctor talks to a weeping Ada.  She's delighted that he's been restored - even though she knows it'll mean she'll lose him and she'll be alone again - after all, her mother has made it quite clear that she won't be welcome in the new "Eden".  And her mother was a piece of work - Ada's blindness was caused by her mother experimenting on her to discover the amount of poison that should be used and she showed not a shred of remorse.  In fact, she practically gloated about it and I doubt that the nastiness was all down to Mr Sweet's influence.

The name "Mr Sweet" was mentioned throughout the episode - Mrs Gillyflower's silent partner who was never seen...and didn't even appear to eat.  The unveiling of Mr Sweet as a bright red parasitic leech attached to Mrs Gillyflower's chest was toe-curling.   It was horrid - especially when the head swung slowly around towards the camera and we saw that disgusting, round, teeth-filled mouth.  Beautifully done...but eww.  Just eww.  I, for one, was very glad when Mr Sweet got his just desserts at the end and Ada laid into him with her cane, splattering him everywhere.

This episode made me laugh out loud at times - and give the odd sniffle at others.  Mark Gatiss has to be applauded for the script but, my God, Dame Diana Rigg gave an absolute tour de force as the nasty, depraved and sadistic Mrs Gillyflower - ably assisted by her daughter, Rachael Stirling as the downtrodden, blind and disfigured Ada who had the heart to save the Doctor and refused point blank to forgive her mother at the end.  The Paternoster Gang of Vastra, Strax and Jenny were on their usual top form - Strax providing a lot of the humour whilst, in a lovely nod to Dame Diana Rigg's Mrs Peel in "The Avengers", Jenny got to strip down to a catsuit and lay some martial arts moves on a bunch of nasties.

Jenna-Louise Coleman definitely had very little to do in this episode - it was more Clara-lite than Doctor-lite but she was as good as ever in her few scenes.  Matt Smith was his usual self - playing Eleven with great aplomb.  He's just a visual delight - you can see the pain in his eyes when he's the "monster" and then the energetic, full of beans, bouncy Doctor that we know and love.  I did adore this episode...but the scene at the end with the children confronting Clara about the photos of her and the Doctor DID grate a bit.  It just seemed a bit out of place for what had been a delicious Victorian romp.

Kudos to all involved for this one - especially director Saul Metzstein who did an absolutely sterling job, especially with the idea of using the sepia, faded film "flashback".


Head nods to Classic Who continues with the Doctor mentioning the "gobby Australian" that he tried to get to Heathrow Airport and following it up with "brave heart, Clara".

Seems like the Doctor was initially trying to take Clara to Victorian London - trying to trigger her memory or something?  Clara seeing the photo of the "other" Clara at the end also could be significant as we ramp up towards the finale.

Episode Rating:  9.5/10 - lost half a point for the scene with the children at the end....