Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Continuing series 7B’s ‘Northern agenda’ (even better than Russell T Davies’ ‘gay agenda’), The Crimson Horror, Mark Gatiss’ second Doctor Who script of the series, took the Doctor and Clara, along with Victorian detective team Vastra, Jenny and Strax, to Yorkshire. Corpses stained crimson were washing up, with the suspicion pointed at a Saltaire-esque model town run by Diana Rigg’s Mrs Gillyflower.

Those familiar with Mark Gatiss’ macabre style of comedy from The League of Gentlemen will have recognised a similar style in The Crimson Horror. It was the most characteristically Gatiss script Doctor Who has had yet, and in that respect, was brilliant.  Gatiss conjured up a richly woven world of mad characters and lovingly over-the-top Northern dialect, with more laugh-out-loud moments than Doctor Who has had for a while – the hilarious highlight for me was the recurring fainting of poor Mr. Thursday.

I also really liked the way the plot progressed like the gradual solving of a Holmes-esque mystery, culminating in a stand-off resolved by sneaking and shooting rather than timey-wimey bollocks or the power of emotion, which was a nice change. Perhaps a leech that can live for 65 million years and then give an old woman the ability to build rockets that poison the world is a little dodgy plot-wise, but I’m inclined to forgive this for its contributions to the gothic steampunk aesthetic.

Another sequence I loved was the vintage style flashback, a fine experimentation with the Doctor Who form. It fit the genre of the episode perfectly and had a particularly catchy Victorian-esque tune. Plus, Matt Smith's Northern accent gets my “quote of the series” award - "Grand! That's smashin', that is. Ee, the missus an' I cun't* be more chuffed, eh, love?" 

While all the actors seemed to have fun revelling in the camp, it wasn’t an episode that stopped for many character developing moments. This meant Clara got left behind in the whirlwind of a plot, and it would also have been nice to have explored Gillyflower’s motivations, besides being ‘nuts', a little more. Rachel Stirling's Ada, on the contrary, was the most interesting of the guest characters, suffering under the oppression of her mad mother but rising against her after realising the extent of her brutality and splatting the villainous leech with her cane - the kind of violent retribution that the Doctor would never carry out (except in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) but feels appropriate and even blackly comic in Gatiss' dark world. 

All in all, T' Crimson 'orror wasn’t an episode without its flaws, but it was a magnificently enjoyable vintage adventure unashamed of its influences and all the better for it, as well as by far the funniest of the series. Compared to his so-so previous contributions to Who, Mark Gatiss has really been let free and upped his game this series. Don’t ask me to choose between them, but Cold War and this macabre comedy are his best Who episodes to date.

I’ve left my opinions on the final scene until after making my mind up on the episode, as it isn’t really part of the story at all. While the kids theoretically could mix up the TARDIS crew dynamic a little, they weren’t the best child actors, were they? And at what point did the Doctor and Clara stop battling Ice Warriors/dimensionally-lost-time-traveller-ghost-things to pose for photos? More than a little forced, but I am optimistic for the episode it’s leading into. Don’t let me down, Neil Gaiman.

*NB. Despite my best efforts, the Yorkshire conjugation of "couldn't" can't be typed without nearly writing "cunt", so sorry if writing "cunt" offends you.


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