Saturday, 4 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.11: The Crimson Horror
Flashbacks are done in a show-reel style.
I was expecting something a great deal more offensive than what I read into the premise. The last time Doctor Who went to the Industrial North, in The Mark of the Rani, we got a cavalcade of accents and stereotypes that became hammy and silly. The Crimson Horror, the latest contribution from Mark Gatiss, continues his current streak of great episodes after Cold War, bringing together a number of unlikely elements into a fun historical for the modern age.
     This was something of a Doctor-lite story for the most-part, with The Doctor and Clara only appearing in Victorian Yorkshire half-way through the story, with their role instead being taken by the charming Paternoster Gang, composed of detective Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her resourceful chambermaid wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and bumbling Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey), investigating mysterious disappearances at the contructed factory town of Sweetville in Victorian Yorkshire, as run by the sweet Mrs. Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) and her blinded daughter Ada (Rigg's real daughter Rachel Stirling).
     The Paternoster Gang are welcome guest stars. The three, first introduced in the fluffier-than-a-feather-matress A Good Man Goes To War, initially felt a little gimmicky, but their more in-depth appearance in The Snowmen at Christmas convinced me of their worthiness. With Catrin Stewart's Jenny being the least developed of the three, The Crimson Horror allowed her the role of inquisitive companion for the vast majority, rounding off the group into a spin-off-worthy lineup.
     Gattiss' core tropes - incredible nostalgia for historical time periods, classical horror elements - were all here, but Saul Metzstein's direction took a few twists and turns that turned it into something more special. Diana Rigg's Mrs. Gillyflower was wonderfully demented, with the twist of her parasitic life-partner Mr. Sweet being both grotesque and slightly comical. The mother-daughter dynamic (almost method acting, I suppose) was remarkably well done and formed the cornerstone of the episode's drama.
The Paternoster Gang carry
most of the episode - and marvellously.
     As we head into next week's Neil Gaiman-written finale, Gattiss has delivered on every count - atmosphere, characterisation and concept. Ever since Cold War, it's like a shroud has been lifted and he's gained this extraordinary sense of balance. He's also the first person other than Moffat to write for the Paternoster Gang, who avoided 99% of their cliched traits and have left me waiting for what should be an inevitable spin-off. ("Madame Vastra Investigates" anyone?)


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