Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 12 Review: The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror

Directed by Saul Metzstein

Written by Mark Gatiss

Starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) once again find themselves in the Victorian-era this week, though arguably, it’s a story that’s not entirely theirs, for returning characters Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) take more of the stage on an investigation of their own this time. 

It appears that in Victorian Yorkshire a supposed utopia has something much more sinister behind closed doors (as seems to be the case with a lot of Doctor Who set-ups), with charismatic Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) boasting a salvation from the upcoming apocalypse in return for moving into her idealistic community named ‘Sweetville’.

Of course, at the same time while this is all going on, bodies are being found where people have perished and have been left with a curious red pigmentation on their skin and a fearful expression on their face – a death caused by the titular ‘Crimson Horror’. 

Enter Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, the crack-team set to investigate any connection to the events and get to the real bottom of things. Along their way they come across Mrs Gillyflower, as well as her daughter Ada (Rigg’s real-life daughter Rachel Stirling), and of course, the Doctor and Clara.

This week’s episode is written by Mark Gatiss, who also wrote the episode Cold War this series of Doctor Who. Is The Crimson Horror an improvement on the already solid Cold War?

Well, no. 

The episode is very flat. There are a few highlights, but for the most part it doesn’t feel as sharp or gripping as it could have been. Gatiss is a funny writer that also does well for writing suspense and period pieces, but we can only see hints of that this time around. One particular running visual joke that’s written into the episode never hits regardless of what time its used. When the Doctor finally shows up there are a couple moments, and Strax does have some too, though both aren’t used to their full potential this time around.

One could argue that this is more of a Doctor-lite episode – an episode such as Blink where the Doctor isn’t as much of a focus, but once he crops up he’s there until completion, and it just highlights how weak the episode was in areas.

There just didn’t feel like there was enough of anything this episode. There are a few scenes of action that are resolved before they’ve even begun, Strax is criminally sidelined, Sweetville (even though it was the point) feels like a complete waste of space, and the entire climax felt underwhelming.

That all said, the one thing that the episode did have was very solid: Impressive performances from Rigg and Stirling. The Crimson Horror itself was certainly tailored for the mother and daughter duo, which led the rest of the episode to suffer for it.  

Rigg plays a wonderful antagonist in Mrs Gillyflower, all the more impressive when compared to other roles she’s played in her career. Her northern villainess is the perfect disillusioned acolyte with plans bigger than anyone could imagine, and her caustic relationship with her blind daughter Ada brings the real conflict and resolution to the plot.

It’s a powerful performance, especially when contrasted by Stirling’s desperate Ada, but it is such a shame that none of the other characters are even given a chance this episode. Even Clara, the big mystery this series, is put on the backburner as we watch Rigg and Stirling play unmatched performances. It would probably be more excusable if it was put earlier in the series’ run, but as Doctor Who is very close to the finale, and the sheer fact that the series is essentially about Clara and her mystery, it sticks out.

The Crimson Horror is just a big “meh” of an episode, which is disappointing given the recent string of Who episodes, the fact Gatiss has shown he can do good this series, and with the realisation that next week is the penultimate episode, suddenly the pace of the series has hit a brick wall. 

Everything this week just felt like a tiny dot on the radar. Rigg and Stirling pull it out of the bag, but so much other than that ruins it. It should at least be acknowledged that director Saul Metzstein helped bring some very interesting stylistic choices, but Gatiss’ writing was the fault here.  Gatiss brought together so many elements and just couldn’t deliver. Bringing back Vastra, Jenny and Strax, as well as getting Rigg and Stirling to guest-star and still involve the Doctor and Clara was ambitious, but it was rather too ambitious.

The episode ended with a whimper, rather than a bang. And that’s just disappointing. The end does at least flow rather neatly into next week, so I guess that’s something.

Next week’s episode is written by Neil Gaiman.

That’s really something.

The Crimson Horror premiered on BBC One on Saturday 4th May 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return next Saturday 11th May 2013 with Nightmare in Silver.

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