The Crimson Horror Spoiler-Free Review
Mark Gatiss’ past Doctor Who episodes seem to have divided opinion somewhat. His most recent story from this year, Cold War, was generally well received by fans and critics (Doctor Who TV awarded it 7.5/10), but how does his second story of Series 7 shape up?
This is what has been coined the “Doctor-lite” episode. For the uninitiated it basically means the Doctor is not the star of the show here. In fact, he turns up a fair way into the episode. Not only that, but Clara is absent for a large chunk of the story too, so it’s companion-lite too, perhaps even more so. With our regular heroes’ absence it’s up to the Paternoster gang to fill the void. This gang being the trio made-up of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, last seen in the 2012 Christmas special, The Snowmen.
The Paternoster trio head to 19th century Yorkshire to investigate a strange case, the titular Crimson Horror. People are going missing and waxy, crimson coloured bodies are turning up. Their search leads them to the mysterious Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) and her Sweetville mill. What they encounter inside means the Doctor has to rely on his companions more than ever.
Jenny has been the most underused character of the Paternoster trio and felt like a bit of a third wheel in past episodes. However this episode finally sees her take on a much more active role as she investigates the sinister goings on. Once the Doctor turns up she essentially becomes his companion for a good part of the episode, while Clara is missing in action. It’s the first time Jenny has felt like a bit more of a rounded character and Catrin Stewart delivers.
It’s Vastra who gets the least screen time this week. Strax, as usual, is played for laughs and is the butt of many jokes with his war-bred nature constantly clashing with everything he encounters, including a horse. Although later on Strax finally gets a chance to briefly return to his Sontaran roots in an exciting scene.
The guest cast this week is led by real life mother and daughter Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling. Here they play mother and daughter, only their relationship is far more twisted than in real life (we hope)! Diana Rigg is great as the main villain. There’s a bit too much scenery chewing later on as events escalate, but it fits the overall tone of the episode. Stirling is good too with her character Ada easy to sympathise with and one who grounds some of the more outlandish moments.
The episode can be praised for some striking visuals and inventive sequences by director Saul Metzstein. By far the highlight of the episode is the fantastic flashback scene that is brought to life with some retro flavoured flair.
If you’re looking for a more serious episode of Doctor Who, this one falls firmly into the “romp horror” category so it will not be for everyone. Some of the latter scenes push things a bit too far into pantomime territory. Overall though, it’s a fun ride, but it never really reaches anything higher than that.