Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax
|Doctor Who universe character|
From left to right: Vastra (McIntosh), Strax (Starkey) and Jenny Flint (Stewart), in the 2012 Christmas episode "The Snowmen".
|The Paternoster Gang|
|Home era||19th century|
|First appearance||"A Good Man Goes to War"|
|Last appearance||"Deep Breath"|
|Portrayed by||Neve McIntosh (Vastra)
Catrin Stewart (Jenny)
Dan Starkey (Strax)
Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (sometimes known as the Paternoster Gang, together with the Doctor) are a trio of recurring fictional characters in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, created by Steven Moffat and respectively portrayed by Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey.
The three characters first appear in the sixth series episode "A Good Man Goes to War". Madame Vastra (a Silurian) and Jenny Flint (a human) are a couple. In later stories we see them living in London during the 19th century. Strax, a Sontaran, is on his first appearance a nurse caring for wounded soldiers on another planet. They are all recruited by the Eleventh Doctor to help him to save Amy Pond, but despite the success of the rescue, Strax apparently dies in the battle. He is, however, shown to be awakened by Vastra and Flint a couple of days later in the webisode "The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later", and then became their butler in the 19th century.
Since their first appearance, the trio have appeared various times to help the Doctor, even having a central role in the first half of "The Crimson Horror". They most recently appeared in "Deep Breath", the first episode starring the Twelfth Doctor.
Steven Moffat has confirmed that they will not be returning in Series 9 and has said that it's unlikely they will return at any point in the future.
They also have their own spin-off novella, Devil in the Smoke, and the trio have appeared in several online "minisodes," with Strax additionally appearing in a series of "Field Report" videos posted to the Doctor Who website. The three characters became popular with audiences, with the presence of an inter-species same-sex couple also leading to some attention.
Vastra is a female Silurian warrior from prehistoric Earth who was awakened from hibernation in the 19th century when her lair was disturbed during the construction of the London Underground. Initially enraged, and after slaughtering five commuters, she was pacified by the Doctor and eventually overcame her race's hatred of humans to become a part of London society and a consulting detective to Scotland Yard and a possible inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Among her unseen adventures is her capture of Jack the Ripper, whom she eats (she finds him "stringy, but tasty all the same"). She hired a maid, Jenny Flint, who assists her in her investigations.
Jenny's backstory shows she was turned away from her family because of her "preferences in companionship", and saved from attackers by Vastra, who took her on as an employee. The Doctor was present at their initial meeting, during which he saved Jenny's life. She shows herself to have acquired extremely formidable skills as a hand-to-hand combatant and a swordswoman. She has also become familiarized with future concepts involving technology.
Strax is a member of the warrior Sontaran alien race forced to serve as a nurse, healing the injured as a punishment for being defeated by the Doctor during the Sontaran invasion of Earth. This is contrary to the Sontaran's warrior instincts and mentality and as such, Strax has been known to occasionally slip back to his Sontaran ways and mannerisms. In "A Good Man Goes to War", he states that he is nearly 12, suggesting that this is quite old for a Sontaran. A running gag is Strax's inability to tell the difference between genders and his obsession with using violent tactics.
Storyline within in the series
In their first appearance in "A Good Man Goes to War", the three, along with others who owe him favours, are chosen by the Eleventh Doctor to help him save Amy Pond from Madame Kovarian and the Order of the Headless Monks at Demon's Run. At the time, Strax is a Sontaran "nurse" taking care of the wounded soldiers on a battlefield as part of a penance imposed on him by the Doctor. They fight together against their enemies and succeed in saving Amy, but Strax is mortally wounded and appears to die after saying his last words to Rory Williams.
In "The Battle of Demon's Run: Two Days Later", a webcast set two days after the events of the episode, Strax is awakened by Vastra and Jenny, after they heal his wounds, and accept their proposition to join them into 19th Century's London. He subsequently becomes their butler.
They then appear in "The Snowmen", trying to convince the Doctor to come out of retirement (into which he has retreated after losing Amy and Rory in "The Angels Take Manhattan"). They help the Doctor's future new companion Clara Oswald to find him and support them in their fight against the Great Intelligence. A high fall kills Clara, whose death indirectly lets the Doctor defeat the Great Intelligence.
The trio - and more particularly Jenny - have a central role in the first half of "The Crimson Horror", set in 1893, in which they investigate a series of strange deaths. They travel to Yorkshire, where Jenny infiltrates a suspect community called Sweetville, led by Mrs Gillyflower. She finds the Doctor, kept prisoner in Sweetville, and the trio reunites to help him defeat Mrs Gillyflower, by sabotaging the rocket she was planning to use to poison the skies. They discover that Clara appears to be alive (the Doctor's companion being another version of the one seen in "The Snowmen", coming from another era), but the Doctor does not explain why to Jenny, as he himself does not know the answer at this time.
The three characters reappear in the seventh series finale "The Name of the Doctor", where they organize a meeting in a dream with Clara and River Song. During the "conference call", the three are captured by the Whisper Men, minions of the Great Intelligence, who uses them as bait to bring the Doctor to his tomb on the planet Trenzalore. After the Doctor arrives with Clara, the Great Intelligence scatters itself across the Doctor's timeline to destroy him. As history changes, Jenny disappears and Strax forgets his friendship with Vastra and attacks her, forcing her to defend herself. She points a weapon at him and it glows, but Strax disappears suddenly, leaving Vastra bewildered and calling his name. After Clara enters the timestream to save the Doctor and undo the Great Intelligence's changes to history, Jenny and Strax are restored.
In "Deep Breath", the first episode of the eighth series, Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive in central London to witness a dinosaur marching through the city and proceeding to cough up the TARDIS. Upon finding the TARDIS, they find emerging from it a recently regenerated Doctor, who falls unconscious. The three, along with Clara, take him back to their home to rest, while they attempt to solve the problem of the dinosaur. However, the Doctor soon wakes up and tries to solve it himself, only to witness the dinosaur spontaneously combust, and Vastra informs the Doctor that there have been similar murders recently. The Doctor and Clara go searching for the culprit; when they are about to be killed by robots, the Paternoster Gang rescue them, fighting along with Clara until the Doctor defeats their leader, leading all robots to be deactivated and saving his friends. After the Doctor takes off, leaving Clara in Victorian London, Clara asks Vastra if she can stay with them. Vastra states that she is of course welcome, but she should have no doubt of the Doctor's return. The Doctor then indeed comes back to pick her up, and they leave the house to bring Clara back home.
Casting and development
Starkey previously played Commander Skorr, one of the Sontarans in the double episode re-introducing the species, "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky". He also portrayed another Sontaran character in "The End of Time", the Tenth Doctor's final episode and two more in "The Time of the Doctor", the Eleventh Doctor's final episode.
In November 2013, the long-running children's show Blue Peter announced a competition for fans aged 6-15 to design 'sonic devices' for the characters, with the three winning designs appearing in Series 8. The following month the winning entries were revealed as a Sonic Hatpin, Sonic Gauntlet, and Sonic Lorgnette for Vastra, Jenny, and Strax respectively. The devices were featured in "Deep Breath".
Steven Moffat has said that the BBC suggested a spin-off series about the characters, but he rejected the idea given his other commitments.
The three characters have met with positive reviews from critics who praised their chemistry, as well as the humour concerning Strax and his Sontaran warrior habits, often at odds with the context. Nick Setchfield of SFX called Strax "just the right side of crowdpleasing." Discussing their first appearance in "A Good Man Goes to War", Dan Martin from The Guardian called the three "the finest thing about it, lighting up the screen with every appearance." He called their return in "The Snowmen" wonderful, calling Strax "scene-stealingly adorable". He also stated "with marriage equality so much on the agenda, the divine Vastra and Jenny can only be a good thing to have on screens at tea time."
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- Setchfield, Nick (25 December 2012). "Doctor Who "The Snowmen" Review". SFX. Retrieved 5 November 2013.