The Crimson Horror
|237 – "The Crimson Horror"|
|Doctor Who episode|
Official Poster from the BBC Website.
|Directed by||Saul Metzstein|
|Written by||Mark Gatiss|
|Produced by||Marcus Wilson|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||4 May 2013|
In 1893, Silurian Madame Vastra, her human wife Jenny Flint, and their Sontaran butler Strax are asked to investigate "The Crimson Horror", a mysterious cause of death in which victims are found dumped in the river with bright red skin. Superstition states that the retina retains the image last seen by the person (an "optogram"), and they are shocked to find that not only did this really happen, but that the latest victim had seen the Doctor. They travel to Yorkshire, where Jenny infiltrates Sweetville, a utopian community led by Mrs Gillyflower and the never-seen Mr Sweet. Mrs Gillyflower preaches about the coming apocalypse to encourage people to come, using as an example of their doomed and corrupt society her blind daughter Ada, who had been beaten by her late husband.
Jenny discovers the Doctor, who is chained up and exhibits red skin and a stiff stature. At his silent direction she puts him into a chamber to reverse the process. Once restored, he explains to Jenny that he and Clara had arrived in Yorkshire and were also investigating the mystery of "The Crimson Horror". They had also joined Sweetville to investigate, but learned that they were to be preserved to survive the apocalypse. The process did not work on the Doctor because he was not human, and he was saved from being destroyed by Ada, who affectionately called him "my monster" and had hidden him from her mother. The Doctor finds the preserved Clara in one of Sweetville's houses and manages to reverse the process on her. Meanwhile, Vastra recognises that Sweetville is using the venom of a prehistoric red leech that was a major pest to her people. The Doctor and Clara confront Mrs Gillyflower, who reveals that she plans to launch a rocket to spread the poison all over the skies; everyone on Earth will die except those "perfect" people she had preserved, who will then start over to make a better world. "Mr Sweet" is also revealed to be a red leech from Vastra's prehistoric times that has formed a symbiotic relationship with Mrs Gillyflower. The Doctor berates Mrs Gillyflower for experimenting on Ada to get the preservation formula right. Ada, overhearing this, angrily advances towards her mother, giving Clara time to smash the controls. However, Mrs Gillyflower holds a gun to Ada's head and heads into the rocket silo, which has been disguised as a chimney, to reach the secondary control.
Mrs Gillyflower launches the rocket, but Vastra and Jenny reveal themselves with the vat of leech poison that they have removed from it, rendering it worthless. Mrs Gillyflower turns on the Doctor, but Strax appears at the top of the chimney and shoots at her, causing her to tumble over the staircase. As Gillyflower dies from her injuries, proud of her daughter's hatred towards her, Mr Sweet abandons its host before being smashed to death by Ada's cane. The Doctor and Clara say goodbye; Ada says that she is looking forward to finding new opportunities in life. Vastra and Jenny ask about Clara, as they had previously met a Victorian version of her in "The Snowmen", in which she died. The Doctor does not wish to explain, however (as he hasn't yet worked it out himself).
The Doctor drops off Clara in modern-day London. When she returns home, she finds the two children that she babysits for, Angie and Artie, have discovered photos of her on the Internet from the past, including one that she does not recognise of herself in Victorian London ("The Snowmen"). They assert she must be a time traveller and threaten to tell their father if she does not take them on a trip.
When the Doctor arrives in Yorkshire, he mentions to Clara that he once spent ages trying to get a "gobby Australian" to Heathrow Airport, a reference to the Fifth Doctor's companion Tegan Jovanka and his efforts to get her back to Heathrow from Four to Doomsday to Time-Flight. Further reference to Tegan is made when the Doctor tells Clara, "Brave heart, Clara," a phrase he often used when talking to Tegan.
In the flashback sequence, the Doctor says that the Romani people believe that the last image a dead person sees is retained on the retina. This is similar to a version that the Fourth Doctor tells the crew of Nerva Beacon just before he connects his mind to the retina of the dead Wirrn in The Ark in Space.
Upon arriving home, Clara discovers that the children she looks after have found historical photographs of her from 1974 ("Hide") and 1983 ("Cold War"). They also found an 1892 photo of Clara Oswin Oswald / Miss Montague ("The Snowmen"), whom they assume to be their Clara. Clara doesn't recognise this one at all, unaware as yet that the Victorian Clara is a fragment of herself created in a future episode.
"The Crimson Horror" saw the return of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax from "The Snowmen". Executive producer Steven Moffat told Radio Times that the story would be from their point of view, for the audience "to see them tackle a case of their own, and stumble across the Doctor's path, quite accidentally". Moffat had planned to write the episode from the trio's point of view himself, but he realized he would not be able to and called his "old friend" Mark Gatiss.
The episode was specially written for mother and daughter Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling. It was the first time the two had worked together on screen. Gatiss had worked on a play with Stirling, who mentioned that she and Rigg had never appeared in something together, and Gatiss offered to "tailor" them into his Doctor Who episode, for which he had devised the basic premise. Stirling said that Gatiss had written "an on-screen relationship between Ma and I that is truly delicious. We have never before worked together because the offers have not been tempting, but when such a funny and original script comes through you know the time has come." Gatiss stated that he wanted to write "a properly northern Who" and revealed that Rigg was able to use her native Doncaster accent for the first time. He also included numerous homages to Rigg's work in the British TV show The Avengers: a similar over-the-top melodramatic tone ("The wrong hands!"); an eccentric English woman bent on destroying the entire world; and Jenny fighting the henchmen hand-to-hand in a leather catsuit that was a trademark of Rigg's Emma Peel from almost a half-century ago.
Broadcast and reception
"The Crimson Horror" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 4 May 2013. Overnight ratings showed that it was watched by 4.61 million viewers live. The final consolidated rating was 6.47 million viewers, making it the lowest rated story of the season. It received an Appreciation Index of 85.
"The Crimson Horror" received generally positive reviews from critics. Ben Lawrence of The Daily Telegraph gave the episode five out of five stars, writing that it "crammed in idea after idea while still maintaining a terrific, breezy pace and delivering a fantastically satisfying story". He praised the way the Doctor and Clara did not enter the episode for fifteen minutes, which cut down on the amount of exposition. The Guardian reviewer Dan Martin was positive towards the way the episode played with genre and form, saying that it "was as demented and creepy as the show should always be". Neela Debnath, writing for The Independent, said that the episode had a "great plot to match the gigantic scale".
Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times wrote that it had "decent mystery, a logical plot, a dollop of camp but perhaps most rewarding of all it's a danse macabre". He noted that the episode had "more than a dash of The Avengers", in which Rigg is famous for starring. IGN's Mark Snow gave "The Crimson Horror" a rating of 8.7 out of 10, calling it "the best yet" of this half of the season. He praised the humour and style, and commented, "the threat was never truly looming, nor was the scale as grand or epic as its recent predecessors, but that also meant that for once there was just enough story to fit into one sole episode". SFX reviewer Nick Setchfield gave the episode four out of five stars, describing it as a "sufficiently sure-footed to waltz right to the brink of parody and no further". While he praised Rigg, he said that Stirling had "the stand-out performance". Digital Spy's Morgan Jeffery was more critical, giving the episode two out of five stars. He remarked that it felt like "filler" and criticised Rigg's character for being scripted as "an over-the-top cackling crone". However, he praised the emotional depth added by Stirling's character and the direction.
Graham Kibble-White, reviewer in Doctor Who Magazine, also gave it a positive review, calling it "bloody brilliant" and "a remarkably well-told tall tale, in which every element - including its name - radiates a real luminosity." He described the story as "a thoroughly wicked yarn full of sly jokes," and complimented the way that the Doctor wasn't in during the first third, calling it a "bold move." Additionally, he praised Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, saying "once again they have the wherewithal and the panache to hold their own against the mighty magnetic pull of When's the Doctor coming on?" He claimed that, to him, Strax's "continual championing of things like triple-blast brain-splitters is starting to grate." He complained that he already hated Artie and Angie, and that the scene in which they appear felt "as if we've careened from a Sunday afternoon serial into a Saturday morning cartoon."
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