Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (7.2.6)

Doctor Who Poster - The Crison Horror

BBC Doctor Who Site

Mrs Gillyflower: Join us in this shining city on the ‘ill!

There’s trouble ‘t mill in this splendid romp, written by that aficionado of cinematic horror, Mark Gatiss. Tough as old boots, Mrs Gillyflower is played by Diana Rigg, clearly loving the role of this completely over the top villain. In a stroke of genius her long-suffering daughter, Ada, is played by her own own daughter, Rachael Stirling. In addition, three of of my favourite characters show up to help the Doctor out of his pickle – Madame Vastra and her partner, Jenny, and the still bloodthirsty but well-trained Sontaran warrior, Strax. (“You’re over-excited. Have you been eating those jelly sherbert fancies again?”)

The episode is full of the sort of theatrical northernness you might find in the Fosdyke Saga, mated with cliches from cinematic horror movies, and tempered by a Whovian sensibility. I particularly enjoyed Mrs Gillyflower’s organ, which revolves to reveal the launch panel for her rocket. Touch of the Dr.Phibes there, which would have been even more perfect if Mrs Gillyflower had played something. And special mention for the engaging Thomas Thomas, who gives such perfect directions to Strax, just as he’s about to shoot his fourth horse in a week.

We don’t see the Doctor or Clara until well into the episode, except in the last image captured in a dead man’s eyes – a dead, red man, seeing a red Doctor. Madame Vastra and Jenny travel to 1893 Yorkshire, where Jenny infiltrates Mrs Gillyflower’s chilling cult of moral purity. Only the most perfect survive being dipped into a vat of red Jurassic leech venom. These lucky, petrified people get to live under glass domes in perfect little houses in Sweetville, Victorian values at their most explicit. Clara makes the grade, while the Doctor’s rejected, but doesn’t die like all the other rejects who get dumped in the canal. Blind, scarred Ada takes a fancy to him and locks up her “monster” in a cell.

Until he’s rescued by Jenny, and they rescue Clara, and the whole gang takes on the  evil Mrs Gillyflower and her “silent partner,” Mr Sweet. As well as being the modified descendant of Jurassic leeches, Mr Sweet has thriven on the polluted waters of the canal. Together, he and Mrs Gillyflower are producing industrial quantities of his red venom to purify the world.

Unmasked by the Doctor and his companions, Mrs Gillyflower tries to spread her red venom around the world, in the the form of a rocket (what else) hidden in a factory chimney. Foiled by Clara’s chair-in-the-control-panel ploy, she takes Ada hostage and triggers the secondary firing mechanism in the chimney. Too late! Madame Vastra and Jenny have the vat of red venom that’s the rocket’s payload. Strax shoots the pistol from her hand, she falls to her death, and Mr Sweet crawls off but can’t escape getting pulverized by an irate Ada. Huzzah!

Lots of questions from Madame Vastra and Jenny about Clara. The Doctor appears to be sticking to his conclusion from last week, that Clara is just Clara. But Madame Vastra is having none of it: “I was right then. You and Clara have unfinished business.” If that weren’t enough, there’s the photo of Clara in Victorian London (not Yorkshire), which is among the photos her charges have discovered on the internet. Come to think of it, the Doctor was extremely keen to get Clara to 1893 London, but by then she’d had enough of Victorian values. In any case, now the kids know their nanny’s a time traveller, they want a go in the time machine as well.

Perhaps this was the perfect episode, I don’t know. But aye, it were reet grand.

Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012 Christmas Special)

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

The Doctor as Scrooge? Why not? Steven Moffat pulls it off perfectly in this cracking Christmas Special, with the Doctor living in a cloud of his own misery, reached by a retractable ladder and an ornate, circular iron staircase (“It’s taller on the inside”). In keeping with his mood, he’s dressed in shabby Victorian clothes, dented top hat, and sans bow tie. The TARDIS could do with a lick of paint as well.

It is, of course, because of losing the Ponds – “He suffered losses which hurt him,” as Madame Vastra explains to Clara, who has a more down-to-earth take on it, “Mad.” The Doctor is indulging in a massive sulk, refusing to help humanity, until Clara appears like a force of nature to get him up and running.

While the Doctor still has loyal friends – Madame Vastra, her wife, Jenny, and Strax, the Sontaran warrior brought back from the dead – only Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is able to break though the scar tissue and enlist his help against the Snowmen. They are intelligent crystals who mirror human thoughts, given form by the lonely, bitter mind of a boy who decides he doesn’t need anybody. Grown up to be a lonely, bitter man, he colludes with the snow to destroy humanity.

This Doctor Simeon is another Scrooge, sharing the Doctor’s bitter loneliness. But the Doctor has Clara to save him. Mostly by irritating him till he has to recognise her as his new companion. And because he starts to care about her, he can care about the world again.

It takes time. The catalyst is Clara’s one word answer to Madame Vastra, encapsulating the problem – “Pond” – which cannot fail to attract his attention. To the extent that he subconsciously puts on a bow tie before dashing off to rescue the Latimer’s from a dead, frozen, vengeful Governess. To make sure Clara is the one, he tests her by asking what his plan is, while being pursued by the Governess. Clara gets it, and also sees through the subterfuge.

From then on, the Doctor is committed, perhaps in love. There’s a fervency in the way he offers Clara the key to the TARDIS: “I never know why. I only know who.” And he’s devastated when the Governess snatches her away, just as things are turning out right. So he fights even harder to save the world and her. Perhaps he tries to bargain with the universe.

The world is saved, but it’s through the tears at Clara’s death, which fall as salt rain to melt the Snowmen and destroy the globe that controls them. And yet, maybe that bargain has been struck after all, because the Doctor recognises her name from the gravestone – Clara Oswin Oswald. He remembers her as Souffle Girl, who though a Dalek herself, saved him and the Ponds from the Daleks. As she lay dying, he again gave her the key, saying, “I don’t know how. I only know who.” So now he dashes off to find her, on the principle that three times is a charm, and in this case death doesn’t seem to be an obstacle. The last scene shows a modern Clara, standing by the gravestone in an overgrown cemetery. Of course we know she’s the new companion, but it’s good to have the mystery about how it could possibly happen.

I’m delighted with Clara. She’s intelligent, sexy, independent, exactly what the Doctor needs to keep him on his toes. Looking forward to the new season. I also enjoyed the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Madame Vastra had one of the best lines in the show, with “Good evening, I’m the Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time, and this is my Wife.” Glad to see Strax alive and well – you can’t keep a good Sontaran down.

A superb Doctor Who Christmas Special, made more powerful by allowing the Doctor to reveal his dark side.