Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror

“The Crimson Horror” brings together a team of characters to tackle a somewhat stereotypical evil, but with some interesting religious elements to explore for those interested in the intersection. Spoilers ahead!

The story is set in the Victorian Era, with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax providing heroism and laughs. It begins with a mystery – dead bodies have been turning up, colored red. Early on, mention is made of the idea of an Optagram, which Vastra calls it the “silly superstition that eye retains image of the last thing it saw.” This is used to clever effect as it turns out that there is something to this – and the last thing the dead man saw was the Doctor!

Later in the episode, the Doctor refers to it as a Romani superstition, but he says it works if the chemical composition of the person/eye is changed in the right way. And so here we have the familiar element of a quasi-scientific explanation being offered for something superstitious, so that it becomes possible for it to actually happen.

The investigation leads to one Winifred Gillyflower, who gives a lecture – or perhaps it should be called a sermon – on the present moral decay. She talks about the end of days, judgment, and apocalypse, and then offers as a safe haven Sweetville, which she refers to using the Biblical idiom of a “city on a hill.” And they sing a bit of the Hymn “Jerusalem” – and later Gillyflower's blind daughter will say to an incapacitated Doctor, “Imperfect as we are, there will be room for us in a new Jerusalem.”

The religious themes continue as we discover Gillyflower's aim to wipe out kife in Earth using an ancient toxin. She has made arrangements for some to survive, and she refers to them as “My new Adams and Eves.”

“Victorian values” are mentioned again, as they were in “The Snowmen.”

The viewpoint of the Doctor, and the episode as a whole, is that religious apocalypticists are (or at least can be) “nuts” who actually long to see destruction come upon the Earth, and don't merely foresee it.

The ending has a nice element that explores what one would expect to happen in a world with modern technology and time travelers. The kids for whom Clara is a nanny discover photos of Clara from the past and realize that she is a time traveler – and threaten to tell their father. Will that be significant? Will Clara seeing a photo of “herself” in Victorian London – where she had not been – lead her to realize something of the mystery about herself that currently puzzles the Doctor?

The allusions to Tegan were a nice touch.

I enjoyed the episode – the right balance of the eerie and the comical for my tastes. What did you think of “The Crimson Horror”?

 

  • Octavo

    I was pretty disappointed. Did not enjoy seeing the Doctor leer at Jenny, and then forcibly give her an unwanted kiss. Other than the ending, it felt like some good ideas that were poorly executed. For instance, it would have been better if Clara got more than a couple of lines of dialogue.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Given that Jenny’s costume was an allusion to Emma Peel, as a tribute to Diana Rigg being on the show, I wonder whether the kiss (which was very strange) was an allusion to something either from the Avengers or perhaps James Bond, in tribute to her as well?

      Perhaps interpreting it as a nod and a wink at the viewers might make sense of it? Anyone know The Avengers well enough to comment on this?

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I agree with Octavo—I really didn’t enjoy this one. I found Strax particularly annoying—he was simply there for a few cheap laughs. He was always the butt of the joke (a Sontaran nurse is always going to struggle to maintain his dignity) but his character has developed in a pretty silly direction. He doesn’t seem like a Sontaran so much as a caricature.

    And the Tom-Tom joke was weirdly out of place. I was having trouble suspending my disbelief as it was, and that pulled me right out of the episode.

    Yet my kids loved it, and probably for the same reasons I didn’t. Perhaps I wasn’t the intended audience for once. Still, Doctor Who is at its best when it works for all audiences simultaneously.

    I liked the uniforms worn by the bad guys. They are very similar to the Salvation Army uniforms of the time, especially the women’s uniforms. There are other parallels here with the Salvation Army. The Army had some interesting apocalyptic tendencies in the 1890s and certainly enjoyed lecturing all and sundry about the moral turpitude of the day. At about this time the Salvation Army launched its ‘Darkest England’ scheme, which could uncharitably be compared to Mrs Gillyflower’s plan. Oddly enough, the Salvation Army also famously bought a match factory at about the same time as this episode was set.

    I do have one or two questions that will hopefully be answered soon. Where did the rocket technology come from? Where did Clara’s kids find those photos?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Facebook suggests photos that might be of the same person. The Bells of St. James had the people checking in their location on Facebook. It seems as though they are trying to work in at least the current technology a bit more. Not that it is plausible that there would be such photos – but the very fact that it is so contrived and implausible suggests that this may be important for the developing story.

      • cameronhorsburgh

        That’s pretty well what I thought. That sort of implausibility might work in a cheap kids’ show, but not here (this episode’s immaturity notwithstanding). I’m hoping a reasonable explanation might be forthcoming!

        All that said, I’m pretty excited about the prospect of kids appearing in next week’s show. Dr Who seems to have people of all genders, species, ethnicities and sexualities, but for a show that is so popular with older children the number of recurring characters in their preteens is smaller than it could be. Let’s hope we see Clara’s charges a bit more often!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Indeed, now that Doctor Who is an expensive kids’ show, it needs to hold itself to higher standards! :-)

          But seriously, precisely because Doctor Who is watched by people of all ages, it needs children as characters. But having children as regulars and always in harm’s way throughout would probably change the dynamic of the show. And even with teens like Susan way back when, the tendency to just have them scream in fear and be rescued was disappointing. And so it will be interesting to see what direction this all takes.

          • cameronhorsburgh

            The question would really be how do we deal with children? They could always be in harm’s way and in need of rescue. Or they could rise above the limitations of their age and provide the key discovery or insight that the Doctor needs to save the day. In other words, they’d be like pretty well every companion the Doctor has ever had.

            A better way might be to have recurring characters that don’t always accompany the Doctor but do crop up from time to time. Clara’s charges seem to be well positioned to do that.

            Still, they do need to be properly developed. My two favourite child characters—Amelia Pond and Reinette—both grew up, which made for some great story development. Just so long as they don’t do what they’ve done to Strax!

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Strax is there for laughs, and he usually provides them. But he will soon get to the point of distracting rather than enriching. Otherwise he will be worse by far than Jar-Jar Binks.

              Having Clara’s charges become occasional fellow travelers could be very interesting!

              • cameronhorsburgh

                I didn’t want to speak the name that begins with ‘J’, but if you dare… ;-)

  • Pseudonym

    I thought that Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachael Stirling had some amazing chemistry. Enjoy it; it might be the last time you see them on screen together.


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