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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doctor Who Review: The Crimson Horror

Doctor Who

Brace yourselves, friends, because as our favorite Sontaran warned, we are the North! And let me tell you, Victorian Yorkshire seems like one hell of a creepy place to reside. Written by the brilliant Mark Gatiss, "The Crimson Horror" brings us a sinister villain, a few cringe-inducing moments, and the return everyone's favorite crime fighting trio.

I have to say, I found this episode a lot creepier than "Hide" (Crooked Man and all). Let's start with the premise: An old woman, Winifred Gillyflower (fiendishly played by Dame Diana Rigg), seeks to rid the world of imperfection and, utilizing a primordial ooze, freezes those she deems "perfect". They shall remain in suspended animation until her plans to cleanse the Earth are complete, and then the residents of Sweetville will repopulate the Earth according to her design. But not even the "best of the best" are so lucky....some do not survive the freezing process. They end up suffering from, as the mortician calls it, "The Crimson 'Orror!"

Doctor Who
THIS is what happens when you read spoilers for the 50th Special.
I was also really disturbed when Gillyflower's daughter, Ada (performed marvelously by Dame Diana's real-life daughter, Rachael Stirling), whose jerky movements and scarred face were already pretty jarring, went to feed her pet "monster" (because, after all, "every lonely monster needs a companion"). Let me explain, I once had a very vivid dream about going up a staircase to peek through a single door and see a crazed something flailing on the other side. That, of course, was brought on from seeing the first glimpses of Sloth in The Goonies when I was young and it scared the hell out of me when he finally got the tray of food and held it up in triumph.

The Goonies
This...this freaked the HELL out of me as a kid.
 I will say, though, that the Doctor's affection for her after he is released from the 'Orror was really touching, especially in light of how poorly she was treated by her mother. And when Jenny picks the lock and runs through the other side, to reveal a Frankenstein-like Crimson Doctor, I almost hid under the covers. To see big face with that long chin frozen in pain reminded me of the victims in The Ring, and his wide eyes still give me the shivers.

Doctor Who
Before You Die...You Regenerate
But that's nothing compared to the reveal of "Mr. Sweet", the namesake of the pristine community, the source of the poison that induced the 'Orror (I love saying that!),  and someone with whom only Mrs. Gillyflower could speak. Naturally, this was because he was a prehistoric parasite living off of her own body.

Moments later he would don a top hat and sing "Ragtime Gal"
(10 points if you get the reference)
When Mrs. Gillyflower is finally thwarted (taking the Palpatine Express right over the railing in the missile silo), it was so satisfying to see Ada walk over and, when asked for forgiveness, whispers "Never." She then squishes Mr. Sweet with her walking stick, ending the parasite's disgusting existence (and preventing him from launching into an eery chorus of "Under the Sea"). I should point out that this is the second episode to deal directly with a parasite (the first being Akhaten itself in "The Rings of Akhaten") could this be a clue about Clara? An odd coincidence? Or my own mind making random connections?

Doctor Who
By Jove, I think it's all three!
This episode also delivered some fantastic bits of comic relief. Strax's frustration with the horse and his subsequent interaction with young Thomas Thomas, who provides directions much like the GPS of his future, was really amusing. And when he crashes into the Sweetville complex with a mighty "Sontar-ha!" and blasting away, I felt glad to finally see him experience some action.

And, may I say, I've never seen anyone elicit such a passionate reaction from the Doctor as Jenny. The giant snog after she freed him from the Crimson Horror, his "sonic excitement" when she reveals her skintight bodysuit, and when she kicks some supermodel tail; it was all so unlike the Eleventh Doctor, who has ever only been seen being slightly flirty with River Song. It was a surprising departure from his character, but one that I thought added a really interesting new layer to his persona. I definitely wouldn't mind going a few rounds with the Victorian housekeeper...if only I was her type...and gender...and species.

Doctor Who
"Uh, please don't tell my wife."
Ahem, moving on. The flashbacks to when the Doctor and Clara first arrived and investigated Sweetville, told via grainy camera footage, old-timey music, and sepia-toned photographs, was absolutely brilliant. It was so different from anything we had seen before. And the reference to the Fifth Doctor, his adventures with Tegan Jovanka, and his oft-used phrase "Brave Heart" was a huge treat for this Five fan.

I also really liked Matt Smith's Northern accent, not seen since "The Rebel Flesh". It was also a great throwback to Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor, who was called out by Rose for his accent, to which he replied "Lots of planets have a North!" And I love how Clara took charge, smashing the chair into Mrs. Gillyflower's organ in order to stop the launch of the missile. It was nice to see the sonic not be the only way to solve a problem. And the interplay between Gillyflower, the Doctor, Clara, and Ada at the end was just classic Who.

Now, lest we forget, this is the first time the Paternoster Gang has seen Clara (or any version of her) since she died in "The Snowmen". They are all rightly confused, and the Doctor isn't giving them (or us) any answers. I actually really liked that we didn't learn anything new about Clara. Especially after "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", it was nice not to focus on great mystery of Series 7B. And to so casually dismiss it in the very time we first (er, secondly) met Clara was an obviously playful jab at the fans.

Doctor Who

Ultimately, the TARDIS takes Clara back home, where she discovers that her little charges have found pictures of her online (...not that kind), detailing all of her adventures through time. Clara tries to deny that it's her, but when she sees a picture of her in Victorian London, not Yorkshire, she unwittingly spills the beans. The kids threaten to tell their father unless they can come with her on the next trip. And so we head into the eagerly awaited "Nightmare in Silver"!

All in all, "The Crimson 'Orror" might just be one of the best episodes of the entire Series 7. Creepy, exciting, funny, and with tons for Whovians to fan-gasm about, I wouldn't mind being frozen watching this until Judgement Day.

Til next Time (and Space!)

- Joe

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