The best thing about ‘The Crimson Horror’ is that the Doctor isn’t in it for the first half.
The worst thing about ‘The Crimson Horror’ is that he isn’t in it in the second half, even though they got Matt Smith to turn up anyway. But I’ll get to that later, because I want to say some nice things about this story before I tear it to pieces.
It’s quite intriguing, having a story that Doc-blocks us and guides us into the story via Jenny and Vastra. I’m certainly grateful to have a tale that’s trying something new, as well as a chance to expand Jenny beyond “I’m gay and plucky”. I mean, they don’t actually do that, but at least we got to spend a bit of time with her. Vastra, sadly, just gets to play her usual (entertaining) notes of quiet intelligence; at one point it looks like we’ll be delving into her past, but that’s pretty much a one-scene dead-end.
These early scenes also take the time to set up Ada’s character, who becomes quite sympathetic and interesting. Rachael Stirling gives the best performance of the episode: the lonely soul who rescues the Doctor because she feels an immediate connection with someone deformed and strange.
The concept of Sweetville, and some of the imagery, reminded me a lot of the Bioshock games, which was quite welcome, and filled in for me some of the details that fall by the wayside. Diana Rigg does well with her part, but Mrs Gillyflower’s horrible, exclusive religious fervour falls rather flat when these elements are forgotten and she becomes a crazy parasite-posessed loon.
When Jenny finally catches up with the Doctor, the backstory is shown with sepia tones, still frames, in a marvellous and playful way. At this point, I was generally quite excited. Seeing the show try something as peculiar as this was encouraging: if they’re trying something this mad, imagine how this story will end! Well, badly, as it turns out.
I talked last episode about how awkward it is for these poor writers that they’re supposed to be writing about someone who doesn’t use violence and is really clever, persuasive and devious. Well, they’re still having issues with it. Holding off on the Doctor for half a story would work really well if he comes out in a blaze of Doctorish glory, a la ‘The Christmas Invasion’. In ‘The Crimson Horror’, he starts out with some promise, but then just seems to forget how to do anything at all. He’s stuck in front of a loopy lady with disturbing décolletage, and can’t really manage to put up much resistance to her at all.
After a not-particularly-convincing “If we follow her, she’ll shoot her daughter, so let’s follow her” sequence, the Doctor is finally faced with a crazy old lady with a gun whose schemes have come to absolutely nothing. At this point, the heroic Doctor lets his comedy sidekick shoot her, offering an oddly comedic “Ouch”. He knows it’s not right to kill a helpless evil slug-monster, too… so he lets his blind friend do it, and mugs in vague disapproval. Once upon a time, they’d have done something interesting here. The Doctor once brought down a Prime Minister for that sort of “we can kill the the helpless monsters and it’s totally okay” bullshit. These days: ahhh, go ahead. I don’t really care. I am the Doctor, maybe, whatevs.
Good start though. That’s something. It’s not enough, but it’s something. I wonder if they have a good end saved up for ‘The Name of the Doctor’.
It seems peculiar, and I don’t want to get all politically correct about a fictional species, but ever since the Doctor got all racist with Strax at Christmas (what’s more Christmassy than racism, eh?) I feel extra bad when they make the character into a one-note comedy buffoon. What happened to the nurse thing? That was potentially both funny and interesting. ↩︎