There’s something very odd about Mrs Gillyflower’s Sweetville mill, with its perfectly clean streets and beautiful people.
There’s something even stranger about the bodies washing up in the river, all bright red and waxy. When the Doctor and Clara go missing, it’s up to Vastra, Jenny and Strax to rescue them before they too fall victim to the Crimson Horror!
Let’s get one thing straight, I am a Yorkshire lad, through and through, my bones are probably strengthened with White Rose’s and I’m sure you can make a great cup of Yorkshire Tea using my tears. That’s how Yorkshire I am. Very Yorkshire.
The episode starts not with the Doctor and Clara as one would expect in an episode of Doctor Who, but instead, after a brief introduction with some proper Yorkshire folk and none other than the marvellous Dame Diana Rigg, it’s the Paternoster Gang (well, Jenny and Madam Vastra) that we start with. As a northern lad, I’m more than capable of handling the joke when Strax says he better have Scissor-Grenades and other alien weapons “just in general” as they are heading to the north. An interesting concept that I really think works well in the opening minutes of the episode is that even in the 1800’s, the fact that people assumed an apocalypse coming; especially as nowadays it seems to be a Hollywood must to have at least one apocalypse movie every other month.
Generally for me, the Paternoster Gang can be a bit hit and miss, even though I do love them more than I find them an annoyance. The one member of the Paternoster’s that really stood out to me this episode more than the other two was Jenny, the character who I feel personally, up to this point, had very little plot development at all. The fact that Jenny more than holds her own whilst left to see what’s happening at the sinister looking Sweetville proves that even though on paper she’s the least extraordinary character in the Paternoster Gang, she’s more than capable at helping the Doctor whilst he’s crimson.
Another of the better performances from this episode come’s from the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith himself; especially when he’s Crimson Doctor, as he shines whilst giving a purely physical performance, with no dialogue other than the occasional grunt. My only gripe with this is that Crimson Doctor is only seen for a very brief time, and I don’t feel was utilised to it’s full potential, as there could have been some excellent moments for comedy sequences, such as seeing Crimson Doctor struggle down a flight of stairs, or seeing him with an itch. (The drawbacks of only making episodes 45 minutes eh?)
Personally, my highlight from this episode is Mark Gatiss’ callbacks to previous Doctor’s, namely the Fifth Doctor, in the flashback scene where he talks about ‘Trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport’ and saying ‘Braveheart Clara’ in an homage to the Fifth Doctor saying ‘Braveheart Tegan’, the gobby Australian he was referring to. One thing I’m not too sure about from the flashback is the idea to make the film look old, using a grainy quality and Victoriana piano music.
Whilst Gatiss’ stories tend to be a bit hit and miss on Doctor Who, his characterisation tends to be pretty good; his jokes however… not so much. Mainly the joke that went over my head during my first watch, with the young boy who gives Strax perfect directions named Thomas Thomas (a joke about TomTom’s I do believe), the reason the “joke” initially went over my head was the fact that it just wasn’t funny to me. Or anyone. I hope anyway.
Mrs. Gillyflower and Ada Gillyflower’s relationship is one that shows just how cold people can be when they think they can be hindered by someone else. What makes this dynamic even more resonant with me is the fact that the relationship between Mrs. Gillyflower and Ada is one of a mother and daughter, a relationship that is supposed to be one of the strongest bonds you can have. Gattis made sure that Ada’s disability, her blindness isn’t something that any of the characters mention, apart from her mother, which to me is a great message to give to kids who watch the show; the message that, just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of other things, and you shouldn’t let a disability define who you are. If it wasn’t for Ada in this story, chances are that the Doctor would be dead and also a waxy crimson.
Dame Diana Rigg’s portrayal of the unstoppable force that is Mrs. Gillyflower is truly great. She’s cold, ruthless, humorous in her evil and she truly believes in her and Mr. Sweet’s evil plan. The revelation that Ada was used to experiment on so Mrs. Gillyflower could be safe shows just how cold and calculating she truly is. For me, Mrs. Gillyflower is one of the greatest human villains of NuWho. She’s not just mad and ruthless, she’s also a fascist who wants her version of Utopia to rule the society everyone inhabits.
The fact that Mrs. Gillyflower’s demise isn’t a particularly extravagant one, after falling down a few flights of stairs in her old, frail state and being abandoned my Mr. Sweet I feel highlights that, even though she was truly evil and cold, Mrs. Gillyflower was still just a misguided human, and her death (although not seen, maybe she’s still alive) isn’t a blaze of glory like she had probably hoped for.
Overall, I feel that The Crimson Horror is a great episode that strays, if only slightly, from the normal Victorian London setting we see so regularly on Doctor Who. There was no need for the story to be set in Yorkshire at all, but it did allow for a bevy of different actors to showcase their talents on the show, let some puns in and we got to hear Matt Smith’s rather mediocre Yorkshire accent whilst he was the Doctor.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved with on a scale of 1-10.
For The Crimson Horror, I will give a rating of: