2nd Opinion: The Crimson Horror
John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own verdict on Mark Gatiss’ latest episode.
Mark Gatiss returns with his second episode for Series 7 and provides another unique story filled with his usual traits of Victorian macabre, along with the return of the Paternoster Gang.
Clara was very much absent from the story in order to give attention to the expanding characteristics of the members of the Paternoster trio, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t see any further developments. She has certainly grown in character and has progressed as a companion, now fully mingled into the Doctor’s lifestyle and her duty as his friend. We also see that she is vulnerable, which is a good side to see in the companion. Sometimes it’s nice to see them in peril and needing to be saved, it showcases that they aren’t invincible and need the Doctor’s help from time to time. Vice-versa, it’s nice seeing the companion do the same for the Doctor.
The biggest revelation this week was of course when Clara was dropped off home and the children, Angie and Artie (last seen in ‘The Bells of Saint John’), somehow discovered via the internet her journey’s through time with the Doctor. Not only did it open the door to their bribe; let us travel with you or we tell Dad – leading to the dangers of what will happen to them in the next story when the Doctor comes face to face with one of his oldest and deadliest enemies – but also to Clara discovering a photograph of her Victorian-self, leaving her puzzled as to what it meant. Perhaps she slightly remembers the things the Doctor said to her in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ before it was erased from her mind. Either way, the finale closes near and I’m sure in ‘Nightmare in Silver’ we will discover some more answers that lead to the revelations of her secrets.
The Doctor was on fine form this week as always. It was interesting seeing him immobilised for a certain point within the story. His curiosity always seems to get him into trouble and he paid the price by getting himself imprisoned and Clara being turned into one of Mrs Gillyflower’s puppets as part of her twisted plans to escape an apparent doomsday. He certainly switched on his Sherlock Holmes mode, and even gained an outfit that fit the part, tone and atmosphere of the story. It reminded me a bit of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ where the Fourth Doctor investigated the activities of Magnus Greel in Victorian London.
The Doctor certainly showed off a very caring side towards Ada while showcasing a dark and angered side towards her mother Mrs Gillyflower. You could really tell the alien and dark side within him boiled around her and her twisted plans for humanity – a side to him I really like seeing and Mark Gatiss is really good at writing this. Another good example being in ‘Victory of the Daleks’ when he battered the ‘Ironside’ with a wrench. His curiosity for Clara certainly showed again as his friends Vastra, Jenny and Strax ask in confusion about the identity of the girl before them, a girl who looks the same as a dead woman. It seems now the Doctor isn’t too bothered about her secrets, after Clara reassured him in last week’s instalment she knew nothing about her previous lives. But I believe this way of thinking won’t remain long and I think all hell will break loose when revelations and secrets start to come out into the open over the penultimate story and finale.
Mark Gatiss tackled the Doctor-lite episode format very inventively by having the Doctor merely being a prisoner for the first half and then bringing him into the spotlight once he had been rescued. It gave all the characters plenty of screen-time and allowed for everyone to have a function and part to play within the plot. The flashback sequence was a brilliant point in the episode for its inventive way of allowing not only the characters, but the audience to catch up on what had been going on before the Paternoster Gang began their investigation. What added to it was the retro-look they gave to it, as if it were being played back on an old fashioned camera. It certainly enhanced the whole Holmesian feel of the story. Like with previous episodes this series, ‘The Crimson Horror’ also included a nice little reference to the past, this week giving a call-back to Tegan Jovanka, the Fourth and Fifth Doctor’s companion.
The Paternoster Gang had a nice little return in ‘The Crimson Horror’. Their last appearance was of course in ‘The Snowmen’ and now they return as reoccurring characters as they investigate the mysterous goings on in Sweetville after seeing the Doctor captured in the last seconds of a dead man’s eye. I very much like their characters, and have done since their first appearance in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, as they are interesting and amusing. They add to their stories, which is a good thing. Vastra didn’t have much attention this time round, which is a shame on one hand but good on the other. This story allowed more focus to go to her wife Jenny Flint who got a chance to shine in the spotlight on more than one occasion. Not only was she at the centre of the investigation, i.e. being the one undercover in Sweetville, she also temporarily became a one-off companion to the Doctor. She is certainly my favourite out of the three, so it was nice seeing her get some well deserved character expansion. Plus it was great seeing her beat up those guards, although it would’ve been nice to see the Doctor join in with his Venusian Aikido but alas, it would seem the Doctor’s fighting days are over. Strax as ever was there for entertainment values and is essentially the clown of the group. But none the less, he had his moments of glory especially when he returned to his Sontaran armour and charged in with his blaster.
Mrs Gillyflower was a great villain, displaying a character that was totally bonkers. It’s rare we get these kinds of villains as normally they have motives or an idea that can be understood, if essentially totally insane in the process. With Mrs Gillyflower, she became totally corrupted by the powers of Mr Sweet, a small creature from the Silurian era that contained a deadly virus which the mad woman had been trying to harness. With this deadly virus she used it to turn her chosen prey into dummies until an apparent apocalypse passed, with her and them becoming humanities new light in a brand new era of prosperity. The most evil part of the story was Mrs Gillyflower’s cruelty to her daughter Ada, who as it turned out was blind due to her mother experimenting on her – a dark revelation that even left me disgusted. To top that off, Mrs Gillyflower even declared that Ada was not allowed to join her and her chosen people in the new world and would perish along with the rest of humanity when she released the deadly virus. You really felt sorry for her and I was extremely happy to see her end up with a happy ending. As for Mrs Gillyflower, she got what she deserved, especially when Ada refused to forgive her for her dark deeds.
Mark Gatiss excelled himself once again with his unique style of story-telling and I look forward to whatever instalments he has planned for the future. Now I wait in anticipation for ‘Nightmare in Silver’ where we not only see what dangers lie for Angie and Artie but also the reconstruction of the Cybermen which will bring them back to their former glory.
I’ll begin by saying this: change is good. Change is influential, and therapeutic; it can renew hope in the pessimist. If The Crimson Horror succeeded in one facet, it can be safely said I’ve reconsidered my original evaluation of the Paternoster Gang, and I’ll retract my critique – to an extent. Gatiss has shown potential exists in the characters of Jenny and Vastra (under Moffat, it seemed they existed merely to ‘spice things up’ – an indictment of the decline within his own writing). Catrin Stewart is a marvellous actress, her performance both succinct in conveying emotion, and understated; by far, the highlight of the episode.
The pervading issue with the Paternoster Gang is Strax: a character written in egregious taste. There’s nothing clever or charming in presenting painfully puerile ‘jokes’ pertaining to any mentally-challenged character’s struggle (or incapacity) to adapt to social mores. The character exists solely to entertain young children; even then, it’s an insult, displaying embarrassing underestimation of children’s intelligence, appealing to the lowest denominator. Children, frankly, deserve better. If Strax been eliminated, and the narrative instead focused on Jenny and Vastra, as they conducted their discrete investigations, later corroborating their evidence about the dark nature of Sweetville, it would have improved both narrative flow and entertainment value.
As with Cold War, Clara could have been dropped from the plot with no consequence: she appears only to be rescued by the Doctor. (I don’t think Clara’s leitmotif was necessary: there’s been no accomplishment or development within the character, or her dynamic with the Doctor.) If Gatiss had no interest in Clara, or developing her character, then rather than awkwardly incorporate her presence into the plot, why didn’t he suggest Clara had temporarily resumed her nanny duties (say she’s feeling homesick), whilst the Doctor ventured solo, his path intersecting with the Paternoster Gang’s?
It’s disappointing Gatiss never fully exploits the richness of Victoriana Britain, because in several respects, The Crimson Horror feels like it should be the successor to Gatiss’ earlier The Unquiet Dead: a depiction of turn-of-the-century Britain, shifting from the heart of darkness that was Dickensian London, to the factorial industries of the North; a time of pre-modernity.
[You can read Adam’s full verdict here.]