Mon
May 6 2013 11:00am

Grossly Gothic: Doctor Who “The Crimson Horror”

Some of the most beloved episodes of Doctor Who from across its entire run have been moody gothic numbers, evoking a Sherlock Holmes meets monster-centric sci-fi vibe. In the Tom Baker adventure, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” the Fourth Doctor even dons a full on Sherlock Holmes costume, echoed in the recent Christmas special by Matt Smith parading around in a deerstalker and cape. But these days, the detecting in a Victorian setting is done by the reptilian Madame Vastra and her gal pal Jenny. Along with the Sontaran Strax, they’re back for the latest Who goes gothic adventure. All the ingredients are there for a classic by-the-numbers Doctor Who story. Did it work?

Without being too dramatic, the answer is no. This episode had everything going for it in terms of mood, casting, character and concept, and yet it was poorly structured, sloppily executed, tonally erratic, and worst of all, dull.

Oddly, the plot of this episode is revealed in a roundabout way. The story is initially told through the perspective of Victorian-era dwelling Madame Vastra and her wife Jenny taking on an investigation because the image of the Doctor was found in a dead man’s eye. The case leads them to a strange cult called Sweetville which echoes aspects of the Temperance movement. Its leader is the creepy, preachy Mrs. Gillyflower, played wonderfully by Dame Diana Rigg. In almost every sense, Rigg’s cackling performance is the bright spot of this episode. You’re convinced she’s crazy and evil and she comes across as genuinely scary.

And though her plot is unveiled in a weird roundabout fashion, it is essentially to kill the majority of the world off with some red venom from the dinosaur times by launching a big rocket over the planet. She’s been preserving “perfect” people who will emerge into her brave new world. This is basically the same thing the bad guy wanted to do in the James Bond film Moonraker. I guess I like this connection because Diana Rigg was of course in the real Avengers and also played Tracy in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I say this because I’d rather watch any of those things than this episode.

So much of “The Crimson Horror” could have been good, but the idea that a lot of these people are turned red by the ancient red venom is really, really hokey. We know Doctor Who is supposed to be silly, but when Jenny eventually finds the Doctor, Matt Smith’s lurching Frankenstein bit really, really tests your patience. Further, I sort of assumed the episode would have a kind of Doctor-lite feel to it, with Jenny, Madame Vastar, and Strax sort of taking center stage.

The episode pretty much splits the difference here and almost doesn’t seem sure who to focus on. I find myself saying this a lot about the Stephen Moffat era, but really, why are there so many characters in this episode? The super-screwed up relationship between Gillyflower and her daughter Ada (played by Rigg’s real life daughter, Rachael Stirling) seems sort of drowned out by all the other very big characters. I liked this character and enjoyed her immediate love of the Doctor and her calling him her “monster.” But there was so little time spent on her, that I wasn’t sure how to feel in the end.

And while I loved Strax’s outburst of “Horse, you have failed in your mission!” I don’t really find him all that funny. He’s like that character from Police Squad Police Academy—Tackleberry—where the joke is just talking about weapons all the time. His randomly calling some women “boy,” is also sort of tiresome, and also confusing, as he was able to identify Diana Rigg as a “human female.” Point is, I like it when Strax is saying things about breast-feeding human babies in a militant voice, rather than just constantly suggesting grenades or whatever in every single situation. Jenny and Madame Vastra are cool enough on their own, I’m not sure I need him, too.

My favorite part of the episode was easily the old-timey sepia film section in which the Doctor recounts to Jenny how he got in the situation he’s in. It’s cute, and looks great, but it also simultaneously shows the cracks of what’s wrong with this episode. After the Doctor tells us how he got where he is, the rest of the episode lacks mystery. Sure, we still don't know who Mr. Sweet is, but for the most part, the whole mystery of the episode is solved WAY before the episode ends, meaning the tension is sort of drained out of the rest of the episode. If you’ve watched Doctor Who before, you know the rest of it will just be a lot of running around and sonic screwdriver-brandishing. Like the old-timey movie section, everything here looks good, but is ultimately a little tensionless.

Imagine if the episode hid the Doctor for much longer, and the mystery about Ada’s monster grew and grew. What if the red venom truly had turned the Doctor into a monster, leaving Jenny, Vastra, Strax and Clara to figure out how to deal with him? In that kind of scenario, Diana Rigg’s plot would become way scarier, and you’d actually be worried about her spreading the red venom to everyone. As it stands, the episode seems hastily written, and sort of confused. Also, it was kind of gross. When the little parasite was revealed to be sucking on Diana Rigg’s chest, I didn’t think it was creepy, just gross!

What were these beautiful giant phonographs for that Jenny discovered? I loved these. They looked like an art installation I’d see at the Dia Art Museum or something. Explain these things to me, Mark Gatiss!

Because it was tensionless, “The Crimson Horror,” was simply a missed opportunity. It was nice to see Jenny and Madame Vastra again, and I enjoyed the Holmesian quality of the initial mystery. But because the plot was mismanaged, and a bit generic, the episode probably won’t enter into the same category as other much-loved gothic Who outings. Which is too bad, because all the ingredients were there. I feel like if there was just a slight re-write and re-ordering of events, this one would have been WAY better.

What did we learn about the mystery of Clara this time? Very little, but the kids Clara nannies for learned a lot about her!

  • The kids know now Clara is a time traveler, they’ve found pictures.
  • Clara sees a picture of herself in Victorian London, which wasn’t where she recently was, freaking her out about her future.
  • The Doctor calls Clara, “The Boss,” a notion which she cutely repeats later.
  • Awesome references to old school companion Tegan! Matt Smith references an “Aussie,” and also says, “Brave heart, Clara,” which was the Fifth Doctor’s catchphrase with Tegan.

Next week, it looks like the kids are jumping on the TARDIS for a new Cyberman adventure. Come on Neil Gaiman! Let’s salvage this lame-duck season with an AWESOME Doctor Who episode!


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.

54 comments
Lev Rosen
1. LevACRosen
You left out the ABSOLUTE worst part: Thomas Thomas, the random Dickensian Urchin who shows up when Strax gets lost and gives him directions like a modern day GPS. Like a TomTom. Get it? I actively wanted to shoot someone right then. I became Strax.
Dominic Stevens
2. dk_stevens
Yet another really negative Doctor Who review from Ryan Britt. It almosts seems like you are going into each watch of Who this series already determined to hate it. Personally with the exception of last week's Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, I have really enjoyed the JLC run of episodes.

This episode was great fun, with a great cast, and had lots of horror as well as comedy. Much to recommend it.
Ryan Britt
3. ryancbritt
@2
But I wanted to like it! I liked IRON MAN 3! I really just felt the structure was so weird!
Steven Halter
4. stevenhalter
The phonographs were faking the noise that would have come from a real factory.
Fenric25
5. Fenric25
Again, another review where I must disagree. I found "The Crimson Horror" to be entertaining all over the place, well-played, well-written, even if the Strax jokes are the same as before (though Dan Starkey plays the character with such enthusiasm I always forget that whenever he's actually on screen.) Diana Rigg and Rachael Sterling (sic) stole the show, of course, and I had no problem with the creepy prehistoric leech-it was a tad bit gross, yes, but considering the obsession with the bizarre and grotesque that the Victorian era had, it was quite appropriate, in my opinion (this episode also nicely calls back to much of the body horror of the classic series episodes). As for extra tension, the ending still had some as they still had to stop Mrs. Gillyflower and her rocket and she was still a bit of an unpredictable woman, being quite mad, so I wasn't certain exactly what she was going to do next, only that it would be diabolical (and wonderfully so-aside from Madame Kovarian and the Great Intelligence, it's been a while since the show's had a good old silly, insane villain, I miss them). Also, the bit with the giant gramaphones felt self-explanatory to me-Sweetville is pretending to be a factory, and while the various applicants are heading in, they need to have the sounds of industry around them to assure that the facade is maintained, otherwise such a quiet industrial center would likely result in more questions from visitors. If there was any disappointment for me in this episode, it was that Clara didn't get enough to do (though the chair scene was great) and Jenny, while getting more to do than on her previous outings, still doesn't come across as a full-fledged character to me (why does Vastra love her? Is it a simple matter of same orientation and both of them being crime fighters/action heroes? That's how it comes across at times, their relationship hasn't developed too much despite how wonderful they are together). The episode does fall just short of being great, but I feel that it was only intending to be fun, evocative, quirky and edging on dark without being overly grim (especially considering the subject matter-the episode does have a good deal of death for the Moffat era, which usually avoids death, retcons, or brings back people who have died through various means). For me, "The Crimson Horror" worked on almost every level. Ah well, I'm a lifelong Who fan and I love almost every episode so I guess I'm just easy to please. Next week's episode seems likely to be a great one, Neil Gaiman's work has seldom disappointed me and this one's only potential problem is the inclusion of the kids that Clara looks after, still a relatively unknown element that could prove troublesome for an episode full of potential to be a classic... Edit for this comment: I didn't get the TomTom joke at first, not owning a GPS. When I did get it, I found it to be midly amusing, the sort of thing that people who like puns and silly jokes would find funny and would infuriate others who often can't lighten up a little and enjoy some cheesy humor. Just my opinion, of course. Also, I liked the structure of this episode, felt nice and different and shook things up a bit. Also, Mrs. Gillyflower's plan, while likely similar to James Bond, is actually meant to evoke the 3rd Doctor story "Invasion of the Dinosaurs," where Operation Golden Age was a secret project designed to use a Time Scoop to bring dinosaurs forward, kill everyone save for a chosen few sent off in a fake spaceship (like the new Adams and Eves of this story), then have them return to colonize a peaceful planet free of corruption and environmental decay.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
Tackleberry was from the Police Academy movies, not the Police Squad! TV series.

And yes, I agree with #4. The giant phonographs were faking the noise of factory machines so that passersby outside would believe there was an active factory inside, but it was really just a front. (Although it was an oversight not to fake smoke coming out of the chimney as well.)
s lussenburg
7. Grubnessul
It was very much traditional Dr Who. Kinda a relief after the chaos of the previous episode. Riggs was a classic badgirl and character chemistry was generally good. The "but these are the wrong hands" remark was golden, mr Sweet wasn't that particulary gross, we've seen worse things. Also a lot less Deus ex Mechanica than the previous episode as well.
Sky Thibedeau
8. SkylarkThibedeau
I liked the nod to Diana Rigg the other 'Avengers' when Jenny tossed off her Victorian clothes to fight the diciples and revealed the type of outfit Mrs. Peel would have worn before kicking butt and taking names.

As my TomTom is programmed with a Dalek voice I apreciated the joke.
Fenric25
9. Puff the Magic Commenter
Loved this episode. In fact, I think each recent episode has been better than the last and this whole half season has actually made me forgive the mess of last fall. Nothing so far this spring has been worse than the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel.

First of all, I believe it's a mistake to file this one in with past "moody gothic" storylines. It was obvious to me by the end of the cold open that this was this year's overt comedy episode (ala "The Lodger" and "Closing Time"), and as such all the farce and physical shtick went down just fine. The mortician trying unsuccessfully to creep everyone out with "The Crimson Horror" was one big clue. Thomas Thomas giving directions another. The Doctor's northern accent and Jenny as Mrs. Peel? I mean, c'mon. Comedy gold.

"Imagine if the episode hid the Doctor for much longer, and the mystery about Ada’s monster grew and grew." Well, that'd be kind of hard because there was no mystery about Ada's monster. My daughter and I figured it was the Doctor right away.

Anachronism alert: the music part of "Jerusalem" wasn't composed until WWI. Tsk, tsk. Nice to hear it, though.

Holy Crap Moment: Madame Vastra is Fuchsia from Gormenghast! Had no idea.

I give it an A.
Amal El-Mohtar
11. amalmohtar
Totally agreed about the episode being a mess with a lot of potential. I think the thing that annoyed me most was how the Doctor just ... Sonic'd himself into being not red? What? The sonic screwdriver doesn't work on wood but it works on toxins? Bwuh?

Also -- I may have missed it, but what was the red venom actually supposed to do? Yes people were being dipped into it and it was scary when it went awry, but what was its non-destructive purpose? Was it mind control? Was it just a preservation of the body? If it's not mind control, why are all those people just blithely doing Gillyflower's bidding? If it is... HOW? And how did the reporter dude burst in on the Doctor through his barred door? And ... Bah. It was fun to see Madame Vastra and Jenny again (although I questioned Jenny still calling her "Madame" when they're MARRIED NOW and I HATED the Doctor kissing her when he KNOWS that and blech, what!) but it felt like, as you say, it just needed some more editing / resequencing and it would've been properly good.
Joris Meijer
12. jtmeijer
I thought the episode worked perfectly fine as a nice light humerous take.

The 'selected perfect few' plasticized to keep them safe, with only a few errors or strange reactions leading in the red dead. This covered in plastic also explains the way the Doctor moves.

For me the phonographs, they reminded me of a scene in "Tintin in the land of the Soviets" where industry was faked in a similar way. And the closed factory remeniscent a bit of Willy Wonka's factory.

Diana Rigg was perfect, as the evil scientist that was actually not a front for the alien. The great interaction between her and her daughter.
Fenric25
13. Ser Tom
I rather liked this episode. The plot had far fewer holes than many of this season's other episodes. I'm looking at you The Rings of Akhaten. The Thomas Thomas bit made me laugh. As did the "chairs are useful" line. Diana Rigg was wonderfully insane and her plot against the Moral Decay of society so fittingly captured some of the spirit of the Temperance Movement. Also, Jenna-Louise Coleman rocked the Victorian Era fashion.

As for the ongoing mystery of Clara, what are we to make of Clara's surprise at finding a picture of herself in Victorian London rather than Yorkshire? I am still holding to my theory that she is under the influence of a Chameleon Arc.
Fenric25
14. laotsekung
@11. Agree about the sonic screwdriver. It's basically a magic wand/deus ex tool to get out of situations, and whilst previously I've been able to put up with it, the almost exclusive reliance on it this season is getting wearing - the Dr should solve things with his brain, not a wand!
That aside, I thought it was a good episode, heavily referencing many of Gatiss' favourite Hammer era horror movies.
Shelly wb
15. shellywb
This is the second Gatiss episode I've been disappointed in this season. It was fun and energetic, so it was better than the submarine one, but the plot was just all over the place. It says something that what made my heart beat fast was the end of the episode where the kids found out about Clara. I knew what was coming, and I almost jumped up and down. I can't wait for the next episode!
Jonathan Crowe
16. mcwetboy
There were a lot of things I liked about this episode, which I think was the strongest since “The Bells of Saint John” or even “The Snowmen.” Certainly the funniest in long enough.

I’ve been bored by the narrative structure of Doctor Who episodes lately, so this was a refreshing change. So too was the pacing, which finally felt right: not too slow or too rushed. The rest of both parts of season 7 has often felt as though they were trying to get 60 minutes’ worth of story into a 45-minute episode.

That Jenny was front and centre for a good chunk of the episode was a nice thing to see as well; she’d been the quietest member of that bunch in past appearances.

And I’m probably the best possible audience for a TomTom joke. I’ll be most disappointed if that was product placement.
Jenny Thrash
17. Sihaya
Liked this episode. I thought it was complex rather than messy. Strax was fine. I find that the one issue with bringing Madame Vastra onto the scene is that she has two companions. If you put the three of him with the Doctor and his plus one, then there are five good guys on the screen, vying for time. So somebody gets shorted a bit. This time it was Strax. In previous episodes it's been Jenny. I thought she'd been kind of boring until now, so I'm glad the writer took the opportunity to put her upfront and give us a proper introduction.
Erik Harrison
18. ErikHarrison
As someone who is normally "Meh" about Gatiss's Doctor Who work and this half season in general, I actually enjoyed the crap outta this one. I admit that the voice on Strax seemed off, but he's also never been written by anyone but Moffat, and TomTom was exasperating, but otherwise I had a great time.

After last week's somewhat ambiguous reference to the Fourth Doctor, I got a clear Fifth Doctor reference. So, do we get a call back to Attack of the Cybermen and ol' Sixie next time?
Fenric25
19. Kaye
I was also confused by the phonographs (although I loved the scene). They sounded like they were playing Tardis-landing or take-off noises, and I kept expecting it to mean Something Very Important.

I also didn't understand Clara's shock at finding those photos on her laptop. She didn't know they were there? The kids randomly found them at the library? Explain.
Jenny Thrash
20. Sihaya
#19: There was a gal at the library who gave them this book ...
Joris Meijer
21. jtmeijer
@Kaye
To me it was clear that Clara did not put the photos there, and was shocked to see them there. The kids found one at school (doing a project on submarine disasters in the cold war perhaps), and did some more digging. Or perhaps someone nudged them to find them... there is still the mystery lady that gave Clara the Doctor's number in the first place.

The noises were 'very important' because they signified that the factory was not a front for slave labour or something similar, but for something else that did not involve work and production.
Fenric25
22. mutantalbinocrocodile
I did actually find this one effectively tense and scary until the pacing got rushed and messy in the endgame (though part of that might be that it tapped into a MAJOR childhood fear I put myself in for by reading the back of an old videotape of "House of Wax"). However, I am having a really hard time forgiving the writers for resurrecting Strax and turning him into the lame comic relief. His death last season was one of the best DW tearjerkers and is now totally undercut.
Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@19: The laptop isn't Clara's; it belongs to the family she's the nanny for. Remember, when we met her in "The Bells of Saint John," she was completely computer-illiterate, which was why she called "tech support" and how she met the Doctor in the first place.
Fenric25
24. Natenanimous
@11 and @14 Re: Sonic screwdrivers,

I believe the Doctor used the sonic to activate heat from pipes or something in the little compartment he went into. The heat thawed him out. In another portion there was a reference that his skin had been very cold. I think the red venom sort of froze him, so he thawed it to become normal. That was why he was able to revive Clara in the same room. She was frozen. But it wasn't very well explained.

Lately I haven't found myself agreeing with Ryan's Doctor Who opinions very often, but this time I do. The episode had some fun bits and a lot of potential, but it didn't manage to pull it off.

Not to mention, how did the lady build a huge rocket in Victornian London? The creature couldn't have told her how; it came from the Jurassic, it wasn't a futuristic alien. And even if she could have built a huge rocket, it would have burned them to death with its lift-off in that narrow tower.

At least there was more Jenny and Vastra. Love those two. Though I agree that Strax was a bit too one-note in this one. However, his scene with the horse was gold.
Fenric25
25. Deadly Kwob
About the venom and the sonic screwdriver:

From my understanding, the villians were preserving "perfect" people by freezing them, with the intention of thawing them out to make the perfect society after they killed everyone else with the leech venom. The guys who were red (including the doctor) where people for whom the freezing process didn't work right.

The closet that the doctor thawed himself (and later Clara) out in was specifically designed to reverse the freezing. The doctor used the screwdriver only to turn it on.
Christopher Bennett
26. ChristopherLBennett
@24: Homo reptilia came from the Cretaceous, yet they were a technologically advanced civilization. The leech could've retained that ancient knowledge.
Fenric25
27. mutantalbinocrocodile
And the issue of Clara's wildly fluctuating intelligence continues as well. Throughout the episode she showed a level head, good judgment, and generally deserved the Doctor's "clever clogs". But as soon as she walked back into the London flat, the light went out behind her eyes and she reverted to being a bubblehead. She came off as thoroughly dumb, not just surprised, in the final scene with the kids.

What is going on with this? Poor writing or a major piece of the puzzle?
Fenric25
28. matt s
I thought this episode was dreadful. The dumbest one since series 1 (2005).
Douglas Freer
29. Futurewriter1120
Go to ramblingsofanerdywriter.blogspot.com for my thoughts on the episode.

@11 The venom was a preservative for humans. It doesn't always work, hence the red skinned people. I saw Jenny calling her wife madame as more a habit thing where she was so used to calling Vastra madame that it became second nature. As for the Doctor kissing her, he was just reliefed to be normal again that he kissed her since he kisses people when he gets really excited or reliefed, but it was good of her to slap him back into his senses and to show how displeased she was at him kissing her.
Fenric25
30. harmonyfb
Some of y'all seem to forget that this is also a kid's show. You may have thought the red skin and rictus was silly - my eight year old found it terrifying.

I thought the 'Tom Tom' reference was eyeroll-worthy - my 12 year thought it was hi-larious.
Fenric25
31. Nick 2013
All of your objections to the execution of this episode are a reflection of the fact that, Like Journey, it did in 40 minutes what the old franchise would have taken at least an hour and a half to do. Don't say that you thought everything in the episode had potential, only to complain about it's execution unless you are going to acknowledge the very real time constraint that a one episode format puts on the writers of this franchise. I thought it missed the mark myself; but I rather enjoy the arc of the second half of this season. It seems that Moffat and his team are deliberately recalling the aesthetic and execution inherent in the franchise during the eighties. And please, please, please.... Will everyone stop complainig about the new format just because Amy and Roroy are gone. I know that's why so many of you are so averse to the latest episodes. Even if you don't say it. Every time a new companion comes along, the chatter lights up with reasons why the new format sucks in various ways. Just enjoy the show and appreciate the historical achievement that is the Doctor Who Television franchise.
Christopher Bennett
32. ChristopherLBennett
@27: I don't get why you're interpreting Clara as stupid every time she's not completely on top of a situation. That seems grossly unfair to me. The kids ambushed Clara with evidence of her secret time-traveling life, so naturally she tried to play dumb and act like she didn't know what they were talking about. And then she was confused by the photo that didn't fit, the one of the other Clara in Victorian London. That would naturally be bewildering, and bewilderment in the face of a paradox is hardly evidence of stupidity. On the contrary, a stupid person wouldn't recognize the paradox or would just ignore it.
Fenric25
33. Nicholas Winter
The London photo is particularly telling as The Doctoroffered at the end of the episode to take her to Victorian London and she decided not to go there. The photo suggests that a version of Clara and The Doctor *did* go there. It seems that the the Multiverse is even odder than we think it is!
Fenric25
34. matt s
@33 Nicholas Winter

I interpreted the London image to be of Clara-that-died from The Snowmen, not present-Clara...which would be the first indication to present-Clara that other Claras exist/existed.
Christopher Bennett
35. ChristopherLBennett
@34: Yes, that was clearly the intention: that Clara was seeing a photo of the other Clara, the one that Vastra and Jenny were talking about throughout the episode, the one who died.
kos eighty
36. koseighty
@33 Nicholas Winter

Towards the beginning of the show, The Doctor is taking Clara to London but lands in Yorkshire by acident (as happens with the TARDIS).

Then at the end, he tries to convince Clara to now go on to London as planned. She declines.

I got the feeling The Doctor was trying to set up a "serendipitous" meeting of the Snowmen Clara and the current Clara in an effort to further explore and expose the mystery that is Clara.
Christopher Bennett
37. ChristopherLBennett
@36: Definitely the Doctor was trying to take her to Victorian London in order to explore her connection to Clara Oswin Oswald, but I doubt he would've gone back in time to before that Clara died. That would be altering her personal timeline, and that's against the rules of time travel that the Doctor usually follows. More likely he was hoping to see if Modern Clara recognized anything in Victorian London, if it triggered some kind of buried memory. Or maybe he just wanted to see what, if anything, would happen if Modern Clara were put in the same environment as her Victorian double, short of actually meeting her.
Drake Stephens
38. MynameisDrake
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Gatiss is a terrible writer. He can't do good Doctor Who, and his Sherlock episodes are adequate at best.

I thought the episode was doing alright until around when the Doctor was saved. Actually, I really dug the flashback, so maybe until Clara was saved (though her thing with the chair was kind of fun). It was nice to see more of Jenny though. Usually whenever this trio pops up Vastra and Strax get all the attention, so it's cool to see the one character who isn't usually utilized used a little. Though the Doctor kissing her... I mean, I'm not one of those viewers who thinks the Doctor should never show any sort of affection or romantic interest in anyone, but it just seemed sort of... I don't know. Unethical and homophobic. Unethical for the Doctor and homophobic for Gatiss.

Looking forward to the next two, though. "Nightmare in Silver" is sure to be a treat. Gaiman's said he thinks it's better than "The Doctor's Wife," and he's usually a decent judge of his own work. And "The Name of the Doctor," which probably won't deliver what it's title is promising, will probably be fairly epic. Hopefully more "The Big Bang" than "The Wedding of River Song."
Fenric25
39. Goblin
You are making the same mistake as virtually everybody else who's discovered Dr Who with the reboot. Dr Who has, is and always will be a children's show. Don't view it through the same eyes as those that critique the likes if Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek or Stargate. Dr Who is a children's show that adults like. And that's all it is. The BBC might not present it that way but that's the facts
Alan Brown
40. AlanBrown
I always thought of Doctor Who as a family show, one that can be enjoyed by folks of all ages. And I think it succeeds pretty well in being that. Now, if only I could convince my granddaughter to give it a try, perhaps we could share another show in addition to My Little Pony!

Regarding this week's show, I rather liked it. The story hung together pretty well, I thought the Doctor as Monster scenes were quite entertaining. And there were lots of nice touches, and some good quips. Second place was the interchange about 'chairs.' First place was the statement that 'these are the wrong hands.' The mother/daughter conflict was painted with a rather broad brush, but I thought it played rather well. And when the daughter told her mother she would never forgive her, and mom replied "that's my girl"--well, I guess I found my favorite quip number three. And I always love villians who play the pipe organ, that never gets old.

I was excited to see Vastra, Jenny and Strax again, but found that Strax, adorable as he is, has begun to be kind of a one-trick pony--the writers need to give him a little more attention next time or he risks becoming cardboard. Vastra, who usually gets to chew the scenery, was rather subdued. It was fun, though, to see Jenny in the forefront. And I loved her revealing her leather catsuit, and going into Venusian aikido mode on the bad guys.

On the negative side, I totally missed the TomTom joke. Perhaps if his name was Garmin...
And I did find that the missile taking off while they were still on the spiral staircase to be a bit jarring--as pointed out above, it would be difficult to survive being in a launch silo when the rocket goes past.
And I find that, whenever prehistoric times come into the story, it seems writers always assume that all of prehistory happened at kind of the same time--whether Cretaceous or Jurassic or whatever. It was a remarkable coincidence that, among all the hundreds of million years to choose from, Vastra came from a period where she could recognize the parasite slug.

But all in all, from my viewpoint, any flaws were quibbles at the worst. There was much to enjoy about this episode--not the least of all the man who was prone to fainting--the episode was definitely above average, and I think in time, I will remember it as one of my favorites from this particular season. And it sets up the highly anticipated Gaiman episode, which will be fantastic if it is even half as good as last season's The Doctor's Wife!
Fenric25
41. TimeTraveler222
I disagree with the commenter above. The reboot is not for kids. I think it has been very clearly targeting adults from the start. The old Who was broadcast on Saturdays at an early timeslot--for kids. Nowadays, it's primetime. The reboot is also much darker and more adult in theme. They've covered everything BSG and Stargate have covered, except sex. Sex is the only taboo, although technically Amy and Rory made babies on the tardis "off screen," as it were. I agreed with this review 100%. I found the plot incomprehensible. A bunch of running around, people dyed red for little reason other than the creators must have thought it looked cool. And what's with Vastra walking around in a transparent veil? I mean, you could see she was a lizard. That would turn a few eyeballs in Victorian England. Most Who stories are implausible, but this one went over the edge into surrealist Dada land.
Fenric25
42. NiktheHeratik
I liked the episode, but it was in spite of the flaws mentioned. The plot desperately needed some kind of coherancy rewrite. The threat and the response to it just did not make sense.

There is no way that one implausibly designed rocket ship could have carried enough of any kind of toxin to actually wipe out all life on Earth. While I could believe that someone that unhinged could convince themselves that they were wiping out humanity with their little toy rocket. The Doctor shouldn't have gone along with it. Just like the threat fail in the Gattiss submarine episode earlier.

The entire pre-Cretaceous parasite was also just dumb. Mr. Sweet needed to be the motivation behind why the mastermind went from being a brilliant chemist to being unhinged and bent on world destruction. That would have made for a better mystery.

What Gattiss does well is making interesting characters that you can enjoy and identify with if you have a good actor behind them. There was a lot to enjoy, but he needs someone to rein in his dubious plots and focus the story. That's as much a failure of the show runner as anything.
Christopher Bennett
43. ChristopherLBennett
@38: There was nothing "unethical and homophobic" about the Doctor kissing Jenny, because he had no sexual intent behind it; it was merely an innocent expression of enthusiasm and gratitude, as in "I'm so happy I could kiss you." (I'm choosing to ignore the sonic-screwdriver erection gag when Jenny stripped to her catsuit.)

@40: As for Strax being "a one-trick pony," I'm not sure what else a Sontaran could be. He was literally bred for a single specific function. His whole identity is that of a soldier. I kind of feel sorry for his desperate efforts to achieve relevance in a context he's fundamentally unequipped for -- to find some opportunity to fulfill his purpose in life, because it's the only thing he's any good at. Looked at that way, it's kind of poignant.
kos eighty
44. koseighty
@37 ChristopherLBennett

You are right, of course. Trying to trigger something in Modern Clara from Snowmen Clara's past makes more sense than setting up a meeting.

But the idea's the same -- The Doctor is trying to shake something loose in the Clara mystery.
Fenric25
46. LuisWho
I disagree with this review, mostly.

Diana Rigg is just AWESOME in this. Every time she was on screen I had a big goofy smile on my face. Would love to be able to bid in Ebay for any of the scenery that still has some of her bite marks on it. You could see how much she was enjoying herself in this role.

Her daughter makes the most of a mostly under-written character. I truly belived and cared about her deep affection for her "monster". She and her mother played off each other very well. Loved Ms. Gillyflower's last words: "That's my girl..."

Thomas-Thomas, what can I say, it made me laugh.

I do wish this had been a truy Dr.-Lite episode. Keep him hidden until the end, increase his through-the-door interactions with Ada, have Mme. Vastra, Jenny, and Strax solve the mistery and save the day.
Matt Stoumbaugh
48. LazerWulf
I love Strax, like @43 says, he's trained for one thing, unfortunately, there's not much use for what he does. He's striving to be relevant, so every time a problem arises, he's like "I can be useful!" in his own little way, but when they shoot him down he gets this adorable "kicked puppy" look.

I realized that "Thomas Thomas" was sounding like a GPS, but I didn't get the "TomTom" reference until now. In hindsight, that's hilarious.

Also, I found the leech thing oddly cute, in an eldritchian way.
Jenny Thrash
49. Sihaya
And tune in next week, for what I suspect will be a rather spooky episode. Cybermen or not, this is an episode written by Neil Gaiman about children at an abandoned faire. I'll quote Gaiman's story from Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury:

I would like my ashes scattered in a library, or possibly a funfair. A 1930s funfair, where you ride the black ... the black ... the ...

I have lost the word. Carousel? Roller coaster? The thing you ride, and you become young again. The Ferris wheel. Yes. There is another carnival that comes to town, as well, bringing evil. "By the pricking of my thumbs ..."
Danny Stocker
50. openquin
@41 I've been watching since Troughton and have always thought of it as a family show , I always watched with my parents.

Having checked broadcast times the old who was shown between 5:15 and 6, the reboot between 6:15 and 7, later yes but hardly primetime.

As to darker/adult more a change in society than anything else?

Loved the old Who and love the reboot and really enjoyed this episode.

I had to recover a long unused account just post which shows my depth of feeling!
Ian Gazzotti
51. Atrus
I think this was, while not one of the greatest stories ever, definitely the best episode of the current season in terms of plot, pacing and character. So pretty much the opposite of your review.

Vastra, Jenny and Strax are definitely ready for their own spin-off, Clara actually did something for once, Ada was a complex and interesting character, and Diana Rigg was just delightful as the bad guy. "You know what these are? The wrong hands!" indeed.
Fenric25
52. Joy V. Smith
I missed this episode because I was watching something else, and I'll probably always be a week behind now. I was looking forward to seeing Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax; they're fun. Anyway, I think I'll watch it but not expect much; it sounds a bit sloppy; at least I know now what a Tom Tom is. (Not on the cutting edge.) And I hope they'll use Clara better soon; she's by far the most boring of the current crop of companions.
Heather Dunham
53. tankgirl73
I just wanted to say one thing about this episode. I'm speaking as someone who has only been watching reboot-Who for this current season. The first episode I've seen was Bells of St John. The previous 6 and a half seasons? I know there was some big recursive time paradox thing about River Song, but that's about it. The whole Clara thing is new to me (but I'm learning).

In other words, I had never heard of this Madame or Jenny or Strax before this week. When they were first revealed, I did not get the "oh THEM!" reaction. I just got "oh, it's a lizard" and "I wonder if she's a good guy or a bad guy."

When it was clear she knew the doctor, I still didn't know that WE were already supposed to know her as well. I thought they were still just establishing the character... a Victorian lizard with an alien butler who knows the doctor.

Not until Jenny rescued the Doctor did I realize that these were supposed to be familiar characters. But, hey, at least at that point I did realize it.

But what I didn't realize? What didn't seem to be hinted at in the entire show? Which I had no clue about until reading it here? Was that the lizard lady and Jenny were supposed to be MARRIED.

I honestly did NOT see that at all. From the point of view who did not already know the characters and their history, I just thought she was an assistant, a partner, a companion. Not a 'mate'. Didn't get that vibe at. all.
Fenric25
54. Marebo
What really worked for me in this episode was that Matt Smith really seemed to own the role more than he typically does. I think Matt Smith is a genuinely goofy guy and this episode worked well for that. I have not seen Matt Smith believably express anguish, grief, or even frustration. Tennant was much more earnest and he did it well. Earnest doesn't work for Smith. So I think Smith and the writers should run with it. Carefree goofiness. Let the companions play the straight man/woman, let the storylines be deadly serious, and have the Doctor let loose. You have to work with the actor and I feel that the writing is usually working against him.

Not the best storyline, but I thought it was good all in all. The Thomas Thomas joke was groan-worthy. The Doctor's reaction to the slug smashing was satisfying.
Fenric25
55. LIAN
@11 @29 So, Jenny still calls Madame Vastra "ma'am", even though they are married. This is actually historically correct. Married women usually called their husbands by their last name in public. Even though Jenny and Madam Vastra are quite a 'modern couple' by our standards, Jenny was born and bred in Victorian times and she may not fill too comfortable calling her spouse by her forename, at least not in public settings.

Or it might be because of the fact that they come from different social classes. Madame is a (reptilian) member of the educated upper class -or upper middle class- and Jenny comes from the working class. They might be married, but Jenny was Madame's servant, at first. If a master married his servant in Victorian times -very uncommon, but not completely unheard of ( see LOVE AND DIRT: The Marriage of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick by Diane Atkinson for more details of such a case)- the servant's position did not become elevated. They were husband and wife, but the wife-servant kept to her usual work, with added wifely duties, and they were rarely seen in public together. It goes without saying that the wife kept calling her husband "master".
Fenric25
56. philosoraptor
I certainly enjoyed the attempt to return to the show's gothic horror era during the Baker years. I agree that, while the elements were there, their ability to come together as a whole was lacking.

One observation I've made with the 7th season has been the abandoning of the multi-episode "serial" format, and I suspect this has placed too much of a constraint on the time it takes to really develop out a storyline that often took 2 episodes (2 hours). Looking back at the Baker gothic horror era, the serials all ran 4-6 half-hour episodes (equating to 2-3 hours). My belief now is that the move to ensure all serials fit into a single self-contained episode disrupts the pacing of stories that need that extra time to develop. (Also note: 3 hours may be too long, since, along with the writing, the pacing of Classic Who episodes could often drag a bit compared to Modern Who. 2 hours is probably about right though, at least for SOME of the serials during a season.) I'm not entirely sure I recall what the explanation was for changing it, but so far I feel like it hasn't worked that well..

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