Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror"

As usual, if you have not seen this episode, make sure you see it before you continue

I approached "The Crimson Horror" with mixed feelings. The episode was written by Mark Gatiss, one of my favourite writers, set in the Victorian era and promised a bit of a horrific nature, but reports indicated that this story would be Doctor and companion-lite. In other words - the Doctor isn't the main attraction here. So, how did I end up feeling about this story?

It's 1893. Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax (a trio of detectives last glimpsed in "The Snowmen") are asked to investigate the strange goings-on in Yorkshire. Bodies have been discovered, waxy and bright red and no one can discover what's wrong with them. What's more is there a connection with the mysterious Mrs. Gillfylower, owner of the Sweetville Mill, and what's happened to the Doctor?

I will say right now, I was very surprised by this episode. I didn't know exactly what to expect from this story and it exceeded any expectations that I may have had. It proved to feature a great deal of atmosphere, some fine performances and was an all-around fun time. Mark Gatiss has written yet another fine episode, and possibly one of his best. What he captured best was the mysterious element of the story. Although we know almost from the start that Mrs. Gillyflower is the villain of the piece, there are a number of twists and turns which the viewer encounters during the episode. I'll try to refrain from spoiling them because there was one aspect of the story I really didn't see coming. In addition, the Victorian setting is presented wonderfully. Episodes like this make me wish that the BBC would invest in a period-set Sherlock Holmes series (though I LOVE "Sherlock" - so don't get me wrong).

"The Crimson Horror" promised that it would feature Vastra, Jenny and Strax a great deal, and it did. It was great fun to see how the problem lands in Madame Vastra's hands and what leads this rag-tag group to Yorkshire. How the Doctor and Clara became involved was wonderfully presented as well through a very well-done flashback sequence. What was rather curious though was the fact that this episode wasn't really all that Doctor-lite. He appears perhaps a bit later than he usually does, but he takes center stage thereafter. In some respects it follows the pattern set by "A Good Man Goes to War." The Doctor is talked about a good deal during the opening stages and then appears and takes over.

It's a bowler hat...bowler hats are cool
Performance wise, the episode was dominated by Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling as Mrs. Gillyflower and her daughter, Ada respectively. The real-life mother and daughter team were both fantastic in this story. You could accuse Dame Diana Rigg of hamming it up a bit, but it really fit in with the over-the-top nature of the story. The entire plot was absolutely bonkers - and yet I really liked it. The whole plot was really wild and over-the-top giving it the feel of a pulpy novel or penny-dreadful from the time. That aspect of this story was quite entertaining and it went a long way towards creating some of the Victorian England atmosphere. Oh - and Mark Gatiss managed to weave a Sherlock Holmes reference into his script. At one point the Doctor refers to the titular Crimson Horror as "the repulsive red leech." Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle should recognize that from "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez."

So, I'll sum up here. "The Crimson Horror" was a much better than I thought that it would be. Featuring great performances from Matt Smith, Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling, the story also boosted great atmosphere and a truly crazy plot. It was a lot of fun to watch and it kept me entertained for 45-minutes. And to be honest, that's really what I hope for when I watch "Doctor Who." Against all odds, "The Crimson Horror" is awarded 4 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: It's the return of the Cybermen (and Neil Gaimen) in "Nightmare in Silver." (Click here for a teaser)

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