Don’t tell dad the babysitter’s a time traveler! Well, we’ll get to that in a bit. “The Crimson Horror”. Sounds like a Conan Doyle title, doesn’t it? Well, it should, since it featured that crime solving mastermind Sherlock Holmes… errr, Madam Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. They are hired to find out what is happening in Sweetville, which has the cacktackular (means she looks like a witch, luv) Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower at the helm. Such a sweet name for a sour woman preaching the end of days and judgment raining down upon us all.
We don’t see The Doctor (except as a picture in a man’s eye) for the first fourteen minutes. In fact, he is the reason that Madam Vastra consents to go north. Jenny signs up to be a part of Sweetville. She gets there and meets a woman who hopes to get in, but if Sweetville indeed accepts only the finest and the fittest, then she will not be making it. Pity. Oh… wait… Jenny convinces her to cause a scene (for a guinea) which she uses to pick a lock and go behind the walls. There she finds a big door with a great red circle. She looks through it and might have gone through if not for the noise. She follows the banging up the stairs and checks the doggy door. A red hand shoots out and she still decides to help. But what if the Crimson Horror is a thing itself? I’m sure I would have been scared to death if a red hand shot out towards me. Curious? Maybe? Enough to pick the lock if it was close enough to reach me through the food door? Probably not. But Jenny is trying to solve a mystery so she does. Good thing, too, because it’s The Doctor.
Ummm, what happened, sir?
Once The Doctor sonics himself back to his normal pink tones, the story is revealed. In a very clever montage, done up 1893 style, complete with sepia tone moving pictures filming (the edges are darker and it’s like looking through a circle). They were supposed to be traveling back to Victorian London (mayhaps The Doctor is trying to jog Clara’s memory?) but end up in Victorian Yorkshire “by mistake.” Except we know that the TARDIS never makes a mistake (thanks Neil Gaiman). As they walk through, the see a group gathered on a bridge over water where a body, completely red, has been dumped. The Doctor decides to believe the man who says that something is horribly wrong. They get a picture of Mrs. Gillyflower in the eye of the dead woman with the unloveably grimy mortician who coins the term the Crimson Horror. They join Sweetville posing as Doctor and Mrs. Smith and are trapped before they have a chance to investigate. The Doctor does not take to the dipping process, though Clara does, and we realize all who have been afflicted with the crimson horror are the rejects of a diabolical experiment.
As Jenny discovers and helps The Doctor, Madam Vastra visits the grimy mortician and realizes she may know what the Crimson Horror is. It is a very old parasite called the Red Liege that gave off a small amount of poison. Time and tinkering has made it become the crimson horror in 1893. Also, I like the Crimson Horror much better as its name. More Conan Doyle and less Marvel. We also see Mrs. Gilleyflower and Ada eating. Mr. Sweet, her silent partner, is mentioned but nowhere to be seen. However, Mrs. Gillyflower puts a bit of salt down her blouse, which means something not good is going on under there.
The Doctor and Clara find Mrs. Gillyflower just as she is preparing to launch a rocket to rain destruction, aka the poison from the crimson horror, upon the earth. In a very clever bit of writing/acting The Doctor asks if Mrs. Gillyflower knows what the poison could do in the wrong hands and Mrs. Gillyflower shows The Doctor her hands and asks if he knows what they were. The wrong hands! A real laugh out loud moment for this viewing audience. However, Ada discovers that she was not blinded, as her mother had told her, by her father in a drunken rage. Instead, her mother had experimented on her for the sake of her plans to destroy the world. Take into account that Mrs. Gillyflower also continuously made Ada feel as if the deed was done for the sake of the evil and darkness in her heart and I think you have just about the most diabolical evil we’ve seen on Doctor Who because it’s the closest to real. In the end, there is defeat for Mrs. Gillyflower and redemption for Ada. Madam Vasta, Jenny, and Strax are left to wonder how The Doctor could possibly be traveling with Clara when she died and Clara makes it home safely.
But wait! The mystery is not over because the children for whom Clara is nanny has found her image littered all over the past. From the 1983 Cold War to the 1893 Crimson Horror – although technically it is from Victorian London, not Victorian Yorkshire (date coincidence?). Unless she takes them time traveling with her, they’re going to rat her out. The next Doctor Who is a Neil Gaiman written episode involving these kids, time travel, and Cybermen. Don’t tell dad! Also, after what Gaiman did for the TARDIS, I can’t wait to see how he imagines (reimagines?) the Cybermen.
Observations: We saw the Doctor through the circle of a man’s eye. Which makes me wonder, have we seen him through the circle this whole time as well, all hearkening back to the fact that Clara becomes a Dalek? There is a eyestalk like circle behind her head when the Doctor washes the Crimson Horror off of her. Ada calls him Monster. Is that a precursor to something? We already know that The Doctor has changed the meaning of the word doctor from healer to great warrior. Could he also be changing it to Monster, or maybe his real name is Gallifreyian for “monster”? As a Doctor Who story, though I believed this was specifically meant to be a Vastra, Jenny, and Strax story, what does The Crimson Horror add to the mystery that is Clara – well, other than showing us (and her) where she’d been in the past?
I have to say I was a bit disappointed by this one. While there were plenty of good humorous moments, like when The Doctor awakens from his crimson horror “confinement” and sees Jenny, Strax talking with the horse and walking GPS Thomas Thomas, the man who hired the trio’s reaction to anything otherworldly (he faints), and the Doctor as he deals with Mrs. Gillyflower at the end, the horrifying moments are fewer and gives the episode a bit of an imbalance. However, at the end, Strax asks Madam Vastra if he should put the great jar of the crimson horror poison in “the vault”, which suggest that they have other such… for lack of a better word… treasures. As a Doctor Who story, I was a little unimpressed, especially after the great stories found in Hide and Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. However, if The Crimson Horror was a “backdoor pilot” for a Sarah Jane-esque children’s alien mystery (Thomas Thomas was very K-9, am I right?), I’m all for it. Nevermind that Doctor Who is still considered a children’s show. The right amount of humor with horror aspects, the possibility of seeing The Doctor, and mysteries to solve in consideration of the larger scope of society at the time- Madam Vastra is still Sherlock Holmes by the way – makes this a must watch if it comes to pass.
Did I mention how excited I am for Neil Gaiman’s Cybermen episode?