‘Doctor Who’ Review: S07E11 – ‘The Crimson Horror’
The story opens in Victorian era Yorkshire where a small gated community and match factory called Sweetville, run by the persuasive Mrs. Gillyflower, comes into operation at the same time as crimson coloured corpses beginning turning up in the river. Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax – multi-species detectives and allies of the Doctor – take on the job of infiltrating Sweetville and finding a connection. Jenny manages to get accepted into Sweetville where she is surprised to find the Doctor already held captive and carrying the same bright red hue as the bodies that have been turning up. He reveals that Mrs. Gillyweather’s partner, Mr. Sweet, has been chemically altering the young workers in order to preserve them against a coming apocalypse with the rejects, turned crimson, dumped in the river.
What their investigation uncovers is that Mr. Sweet is a leech like creature from the Jurassic period who has turned up in the 1800s and been found by Mrs. Gillyflower. The demented woman has formed a symbiotic relationship with it and uses its toxins to ‘preserve’ people. Her ultimate plan is to launch the toxins into the atmosphere and preserve the entire human race to protect them from an imagined apocalypse scenario. To emphasise her monstrous ideology she had used her own daughter as a test subject, leaving the girl blinded.
One of the more interesting factoids about this episode is that Mrs. Gillyflower and her daughter Ada are played by the real life mother and daughter Diana ‘Queen of Thorns’ Rigg and Rachel Stirling, with the parts written specifically for them by Mark Gatiss. They do have a good rhythm to their performance even while it isn’t essential to the plot.
The Doctor and Clara are completely absent for the first act of this story, leaving things in the hands of Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny. Stephen Moffat has mentioned beginning a new spin-off (following Torchwood, K9 and The Sarah Jane Adventures) and this could be the beginnings of that concept. The three of them work well together but we never quite get in-depth with them for long enough to appreciate it. The writers seem more concerned with using Strax for comedic value than focusing on Jenny and Madame Vastra, who are the more interesting characters. Granted, Strax’s conversation with his horse is bloody funny, but the downright bizarre Tomtom gag that follows it falls flat.
When the regular stars of the show step up to centre stage things fall into a familiar pattern. The Crimson Horror feels similar to The Snowmen in that the dialogue and banter have taken precedence over developing the villain or providing a satisfying pay-off. As good as the performances from Rigg and Stirling are they seem a more cheesy then threatening. At the beginning the trio of Victorian detectives are building up a good speed but they get moved to the sidelines well before the finale. Although some fans have voiced their disapproval concerning the Doctor playing a small role in this episode it may have worked better if they’d shifted the focus entirely onto the detective and put the Doctor in a supporting role. As it is neither faction gets the chance to fully flex their muscles.
Not a bad episode by any stretch, but it never seems to find it’s feet. Plenty of potential but little of it taken further than that.