Doctor Who: Series 7
“The Crimson Horror”
Aired: May 4, 2013
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Saul Metzstein
“I’m The Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you.”
– The Doctor
There are parts of “The Crimson Horror” that worked quite well. But as a whole, it was my least favorite episode of the season thus far. I just found myself underwhelmed by it.
My biggest qualms are with the two villains – Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet. Making the episode’s big bad a mute, prehistoric red slug is okay, but it means that he isn’t going to be a very flashy or interesting foe on his own. That means it falls to Mrs. G to do the heavy lifting. And as enjoyable an actress as I think Diana Rigg is, she wasn’t given a great character to work with. Mrs. Gillyflower was cartoonishly evil. She cackled and took great glee in the suffering of others. She had no issues experimenting on her own daughter, then casting that daughter aside for being “imperfect.”
The biggest problem is that we never got a clear sense of why she was so evil. Any great writer will tell you that villains don’t think they are villains. They think they are right and that their actions are justified. We needed more insight into why Mrs. Gillyflower was carrying out her evil plan. We found out that she found Mr. Sweet and was working to create his perfect Utopia, but why? What happened in her life that made her willing to sacrifice her daughter’s health in favor of creating a world populated with unblemished model types? We needed to get a bit deeper into what made her tick to make her a believable and engaging bad guy.
The other thing that bothered me quite a bit about this episode was the way it handled the gun battles. Historically, The Doctor is someone who is very anti-guns. While Steven Moffat’s reign as showrunner has shined a light on the blood on The Doctor’s hands, he’s still someone that usually tries to find a nonviolent resolution to conflicts. And he hates guns. Yet, for some reason, this week he was smiling as Strax opened fire on Mrs. G and her cronies. It was a bit jarring to see.
Speaking of Strax, I was happy to see him return, along with Jenny and Madam Vastra. In fact, I really enjoyed the beginning of the episode, which focused on that trio as they tried to solve the mystery on their own. For a while, I was hoping this would turn out to be an episode like “Blink,” where The Doctor only exists as a background character. I could have really gotten into a Jenny and Madam Vastra-centric version of this story. (Especially after seeing this new, bad ass version of Jenny.) But unfortunately, that gimmick was completely abandoned once Jenny found The Doctor and he brought himself back to normal. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
I did, however, enjoy the flashback sequence showing us how The Doctor ended up chained in that room. Director Saul Metzstein did a great job with that sequence, giving us a clever grainy, sepia-toned, “old timey” feel to the entire thing. It felt totally appropriate given the time period and it was really a joy to watch.
I also enjoyed Rachael Stirling’s portrayal of Ada (when she wasn’t being asked to mindlessly club things with her cane). Stirling is actually Rigg’s daughter in real life (which makes Mrs. Gillyflower’s rejection of her daughter all the more twisted). This is the first time the two have ever worked together on-screen. Stirling did a great job with her part and I certainly felt like her performance was one of the bright spots of the episode.
I just wish the final product had been a bit better. Instead it felt like a missed opportunity. There were some good ideas there, but overall it was an episode that just didn’t really work. It was a bit too broad and cheesy to be a memorable Doctor Who outing.
And another thing …
- Diana Rigg, who plays Lady Olenna Tyrell, is now the third Game of Thrones regular to appear on Doctor Who this season. Coincidentally, the previous two – Liam Cunningham and Tobias Menzies – appeared in the other Mark Gatiss’ penned episode, “Cold War.”
- I never tire of the Bugs Bunny “wrong turn at Albuquerque” gimmick of having The Doctor show up in the wrong place, which just happens to be the exact place he needs to be to save the day.
- Vince McMahon would be proud of all of the chair-related violence on display this week. The Doctor uses a chair to save Clara from her protective bubble and to smash a window and Clara uses a chair to smash the rocket’s controls.
- Clara playing with a Transformer while saying “I am the boss” is one of the most adorable things I’ve seen in a while.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.