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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Crimson Horror”

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Diana Rigg Jenna-Louise Coleman Matt Smith

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”)

(get my downloadable discussion guide to “The Crimson Horror” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)


This episode completely freaked and creeped me out. In the good way.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith

To see the Doctor this vulnerable and this scared is kinda horrifying. He’s supposed to be the guy in charge, the one who, if he doesn’t actually know what’s going on, is in the process of figuring it out without ever letting anyone get in his way for long.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Catrin Stewart

When the Doctor is afraid, you know things are really bad.

And here, he doesn’t even know how long he’s been chained up. Days? Weeks? And totally at the mercy of someone like Ada, who actually seems to be enjoying her “dear monster” like he’s a pet:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Rachael Stirling

She really is her mother’s daughter, getting off on her power over someone else. And yet she is a victim, too. It’s never quite clear, though, why her mother had to experiment on Ada, when surely any old bum off the street would have done. I mean, people don’t even seem to notice when fine upstanding respectable citizens go missing, and obviously Mrs. Gillyflower isn’t even upset to lose some of her “best and brightest” when her preservation process fails, so why Ada as guinea pig? Eh: here’s a case where a plothole is forgivable for all the other interesting stuff it gives us, like the moral complexity of Ada’s position — she could have blown the whistle on her mother but never did — and the Doctor’s somewhat surprising gentleness toward her:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Rachael Stirling

I’m not entirely convinced that Ada isn’t going to get up to something just as weird and creepy as her mother. For society’s own good, of course.

Ah, and Mrs. Gillyflower! Surely one of the most marvelous Doctor Who villains ever.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Diana Rigg Matt Smith

She’s so gleefully evil! And she’s certainly a genius. She invented that rocket and her poison and perservation process all by herself, didn’t she? I mean, she makes one or two references to help from “Mr. Sweet” — he’s “such a clever old thing” — but then she also says that all she got in return from “him” for her rescue of him is his venom. Mr. Sweet doesn’t seem like an intelligent or sentient creature to me… or if he is, is he technological? Was he whispering advanced sci-tech to Mrs. Gillyflower… or was it merely her delusion (or a plain ol’ outright lie) that she was getting anything more from him?

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror

*shudder*

Even the Doctor is grossed out by this:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Jenna-Louise Coleman

And when a guy who calls monsters “beautiful” is squicked, you know it’s extra gross on a galactic scale.

But this

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror

might be a little sad, too. Especially if Mr. Sweet really is just a creature, not a sentient bad guy.

This is the sort of thing I want from Doctor Who: I want to sometimes not be sure how to feel about what I’m seeing. I suspect that’s the sort of emotional situation you would encounter a lot traveling with the Doctor.

This, on the other hand,

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Jenna-Louise Coleman

is unreservedly disturbing. It’s like Mrs. Gillyflower was making her own life-size Victorian dollhouses. Which is creepy in a way that is also kind of cool and uncomfortably funny. As are the episode’s other twists on Victoriana: penny dreadfuls and optigrams, ideal communities, the gleefully gruesome undertaker, the completely insane play on the “madwoman in the attic” trope.

I’m not sure the running motif about how people keep not seeing things that they don’t want to acknowledge or that make them uncomfortable quite gels, however. Apparently no one noticed that Sweetville’s factory isn’t actually producing anything. And no one noticed that the blind lady was banging around bringing trays of food to the attic. And, c’mon, no one (except for the one moustache guy who keeps fainting) notices that these two are not human:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror

Certainly it is true that people are very good at ignoring things that they don’t want to deal with, but all of these things that people are ignoring go way beyond the sorts of things we’re usually able to ignore. If only this had been actually woven into the story…

Ah, well. Mostly, this is good Doctor Who. It has lingered with me in ways that other recent episodes haven’t.

Random thoughts on “The Crimson Horror”:

• I love Vastra and Jenny. But Strax… not so much. He’s a one-joke character, and that one joke was barely funny the first time. You think he would have accepted by now that Jenny is a girl, and that frontal assaults will never be a thing for Vastra.

• Also: Thomas Thomas is too cutesy and serves no purpose except for an anachronistic joke. Coulda done without that.

• Ah, so Jenny is the Doctor’s type!

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Catrin Stewart

That kiss could be seen as a simple physical expression of happy-to-be-alive (though it’s not the sort of thing you’d expect from a guy who’s been acting the way he’s been acting around Clara), but this is not:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith Catrin Stewart

Lesbian Victorian chambermaid in a leather catsuit gives the Doctor sonic boner:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Matt Smith

Kids’ show my ass…

• I don’t know about next week. Don’t Tell Dad the Babysitter’s a Time Traveler? Oh dear…

• Great quotes:

“She needs only ignore all Keep Out signs, go through every locked door, and run towards any form of danger that presents itself.” –Vastra, on how Jenny will find the Doctor

“Oh, great. Attack of the supermodels.” –the Doctor

“What’s going on?” –Clara
“Haven’t you heard, luv? There’s trouble at t’mill.” –the Doctor, in his best Yorkshire accent

“I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts, and I’m gonna stop you.” –the Doctor to Mrs. Gillyflower

“Do you know what these are? The wrong hands.” –Mrs. Gillyflower

“Forgive me, my child. Forgive me.” –Mrs. Gillyflower
“Never.” –Ada
“That’s my girl.” –Mrs. Gillyflower

(next: “Nightmare in Silver”)



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