Doctor Who (7.11): There’s trouble at mill…

The Crimson HorrorWell that was fun! And funny too. Master of gothic humour (or perhaps I mean gothic and humour) Mark Gatiss has turned in one of the best episodes of the series with The Crimson Horror.

Look at the ingredients – Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, more Victorian references than you can shake a stick at, ‘trouble at mill’, Diana Rigg AND her daughter Rachael Stirling, creative use of flashback and a Willy Wonka-esque ‘manufacturing process’ – and you can’t help but get your hopes up.

[Spoilers below the line….]

The plot is straightforward enough – mad, bad Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg giving a glorious performance) is plotting to poison most of humanity with the venom of an ancient leech from pre-human Earth, leaving only those that she has inoculated to build a better civilisation. The Doctor and his companions are out to thwart her…

There’s a lot to be said for straightforward plots like this. First there are far fewer holes to distract you and second, you can concentrate on all the decorative twiddles that can be overlooked or overshadowed if the writer is tied up in timey-wimey knots.

Also, I get to review in bullet points…

  • It’s always a treat to have Madame Vastra et al along. The sight of her Tardis-blue front door is a promise of good times ahead. Poor swooning Mr Thursday will continue to make me smile right up to his last fainting fit. 
  • So many questions are posed by that photo he gives to Madame Vastra. How is it possible that the eye has retained the last thing it saw? And why was the last thing it saw the Doctor?
  • I love Strax. How could I not when he suggests the issuing of scissor grenades, limbo vapour and triple-blast brain splitters “just generally. Remember, we are going to the NORTH.”?
  • A gold star for the misdirection with Sweetville too. I was convinced that Mark Gatiss must have had a bad experience on a tour of Bournville – a rotten Creme Egg perhaps? – but Sweetville is supposed to be a match factory. Interesting that Sweetville was built in the same year as Bournville though, and that the Cadburys were also greatly concerned with the health and fitness of their workers.
  • And it’s always a pleasure to see anyone take a well-aimed swipe at Victorian moralising…
  • Madame Vastra’s response to Strax asking how Jenny will find the Doctor inside Sweetville: “To find him, she needs only ignore all keep out signs, go through every locked door and run towards any form of danger that presents itself.” Strax: “Business as usual then.”
  • AdaWatching Ada confidently climbing the spiral staircase to visit her “Monster” (a tip of the hat to Mary Shelley I think), I had high hopes for her showing the world how real blind people get about, only to have them dashed by her groping for a hatch she has obviously used before three feet too high (she’s blind, not suffering from dementia). Still, although Ada is a victim of her monstrous mother, she’s allowed to take a very active revenge, and she hasn’t been gifted super-hearing or turned into a Blind Seer.
  • Speaking of the Monster, we all knew who that was going to be didn’t we? Even before Jenny opened the door into a Tardis-blue room, there could only be one person locked in there.
  • I wouldn’t slap the Doctor for a lovely dip and kiss like that (but then Jenny is spoken for) and I have something of a crush both on the Doctor and Mr Smith.
  • Can we presume the Doctor was intending to run Clara past Madame Vastra in London (cf that little dance of frustration in the flashback as the Tardis lands them in Victorian Yorkshire instead of Victorian London)?
  • Strax reprimanding the horse (on Corporation Way, another teensy link back to Birmingham perhaps), the knowledge that he’s shot (and eaten) three horses already this week, the satnav child who could only have been called Thomas Thomas, all had me grinning from ear to ear.
  • As did Jenny going all kick-ass on the supermodels, Strax being let off the leash to shoot bad guys (Son-tar-HA!) and Madame Vastra making him wait outside for getting overexcited (probably as a result of eating Jenny’s sherbet fancies).
  • Mrs Gillyflower Diana Rigg is brilliantly monstrous as Mrs Gillyflower, and her gleeful delivery of the answer to her own question (“Do you know what these are? *giggles* The wrong hands!”) is pitch-perfect.
  • I don’t mind a bit of the old sonic screwdriver myself, but it was lovely to see a more traditional spanner put in the works. If a chair can be a spanner. Anyway, you get the idea.
  • Should we be noticing that Ada is still calling the Doctor ‘Monster’ even as he says goodbye? You know, what with only the cybermen standing between us and The Name of the Doctor…
  • Which leads us to the nifty little set up for next week. Bonus marks for the alien chin comment and for the curveball that is the picture of Clara in Victorian London.

And so, the brilliant Neil Gaiman is back next week. See you for the post-match analysis round about the same time?

Posted by Jo the Hat


Filed under Dr Who

6 responses to “Doctor Who (7.11): There’s trouble at mill…

  1. dogdrovenorth

    Over-loud background music has disgruntled me again this week. I think I missed all the non-shouted dialogue. As did fire-proof main characters standing next to a rocket launch. (If you want proper heat-’em-up rocket launches see Moonraker or The Incredibles.)
    I did not guess the Doctor was behind the door, and was exceedingly pleased to have a third of the episode without him, because his appearance was then full of energy – especially his eyes while he was pretending to be Ken.
    Strax was indeed a joy at every appearance. So too was ‘the creative use of flashback’, especially the wobbly-film moments.
    What were the gramophones doing? Why did they need four? Why keep people in glass jars? These are the real questions that need answering!

    • The gramophones were to fool the outside world into believing actual manufacturing was going on. Presumably they had four to ramp up the volume…

      My best guess is that the Victorians kept other specimens in glass jars to admire (there’s something small and furry in a glass jar in Mrs Gillyflower’s room).

  2. Tim

    Oops. We appear to have been thinking along very similar lines!

    However, this didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. The individual elements of this story were good, but there were too many ideas competing for attention. It could have been a properly horrific parable about parental abuse and Victorian values gone mad, but it got diluted somewhere along the way.

    That’s not to say there weren’t elements of this episode I didn’t enjoy – I liked lots of it – but looking back at the whole thing it just didn’t fit well together..

    Definitely a Frankenstein riff, but also a nod to V, perhaps? More thoughts here …

  3. inkface

    Young Master Inkface and I loved this episode to bits. Totes hilair. Madame Vastra, Jenny and Drax our total favourites. A bit Brazil in places wasn’t it?

  4. holbylover819

    I want a Madame Vastra spin-off series.

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