“I hated this episode. Hated it, hated it, hated it. I hated it for its lack of originality and for its contempt for the audience. I hated it because since 2005, Mark Gatiss has been plundering the work of better writers and not getting called out on it,” from my review of Cold War.
I was not looking forward to The Crimson Horror, the eleventh episode of the latest season of Doctor Who and the second to be written by Mark Gatiss, whose work I am not (to put it as unactionably as I can) a fan of. His work has an uncomfortable tendency to think it’s smarter than it actually is – like what would happen if a gypsy curse had turned Stephen Fry into a 45 minute episode of a long-running BBC science fiction series.
In the parlance of old-Who fandom, The Crimson Horror would be firmly classified as a “romp”, putting it in the same category as The Androids of Tara or The Creature from the Pit. Gatiss is evidently far more comfortable in the realms of pop-Victoriana than he is aboard a Soviet submarine, and as a result there was an energy to this script that we haven’t seen since the inadvertently reactionary The Unquiet Dead from 2005.
A return to the nineteenth century means the Paternoster Gang is back. It was great to see Jenny take the spotlight – she’s been relegated to the sidelines in her previous appearances, which is understandable when your girlfriend’s a crimesolving lizard monster. And for once, we didn’t get a string of childish innuendoes about Jenny and Madame Vastra’s relationship, making this a refreshingly queer-friendly episode of Moffat’s thus far aggressively heteronormative vision of Who.
The Sontaran, on the other (three-fingered) hand… while Dan Starkey is undoubtedly a serviceable actor with a good sense of comic timing, Strax is becoming such a relentlessly one note gag that it’s difficult to feel anything for him other than a sense of weary resignation. Hopefully, if the Gang makes a comeback in later episodes, the writers will find something more interesting to do with him.
With the first twenty minutes devoted to Vastra and Jenny’s investigation of Mrs Gillyflower (a predictably brilliant Diana Rigg), the decision to have the Doctor’s first appearance act as the traditional “Episode One cliffhanger” reveal of the monster was a fantastic conceit. Unfortunately, the narrative strained a little under the weight of his explanation, and the surfeit of characters meant that no one really seemed to have a great deal to do towards the end of the episode – Clara in particular felt very underused.
But on the whole, this wasn’t a bad episode of Doctor Who. It was camp, illogical and unceasingly silly, but it was also a whole lot of fun. If you’re after a TV show with a ridiculous premise that takes itself too seriously, go and watch Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones.
This is Doctor Who. We’re all mad here.
(Well done Mark Gatiss. I’m sorry I said all those mean things about you.)
FINAL RATING: 3.5/5
ODDS & ENDS:
- There were so many groanworthy gags in this episode, from Thomas Thomas to the Amazing Fainting Man; at times it was like watching Doctor Who written by your Dad.
- That said (and for all my moaning about Strax), “Horse! You have failed in your mission!” was pretty funny I guess.
- I’m not a big fan of kids on board the TARDIS, but hopefully Neil Gaiman will find something interesting to do with them next week.
- Ooh! Neil Gaiman’s back, which means we might finally get a Cyberman story worth telling. And Warwick Davis is finally appearing in Who. Next week’s going to be fun.
- This new coat was laaaaaaaaaaame.
- Remember, Phil Sandifer’s TARDIS Eruditorum Kickstarter is still running for another week or so. Go and donate!
When not reviewing Doctor Who, Patrick Magee is a Middle and Upper Devonian genus in the oncocerid family Brevicoceratidae. More of his ramblings can be found here, and you can buy his novel As Baile: A Story here.