Monday, 6 May 2013

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror

“I think I’m going to go and play with my grenades…”

You know how a couple of weeks ago I expressed some lukewarm sentiments towards Mark Gatiss, and how last week I expressed some disquiet about how this series was perhaps catering a bit too much to the fans and not enough to, as Steven Moffat would say, the “other 100% of the audience”? Well, panic over. This week’s episode is outstanding, and its only overt continuity stuff is fairly recent stuff that the general viewer would remember. And, yes, it’s by Mark Gatiss, who has penned the best story of the season and his best since Night Terrors.

I have to start, though, by praising Saul Metzstein’s extraordinarily brilliant and stylish direction, evoking a Hard Times- style Victorian Yorkshire which is notably different in style from the Victorian London he gave us in The Snowmen. I was delighted by many things, but particularly the sepia textures of the flashbacks. With a quality script and quality direction there’s not much that can go wrong, and it doesn’t.

Gatiss deserves particular praise for the fact that this seems to be a “Doctor-lite” story, and yet the Doctor’s and Clara’s relative lack of screen time is used positively to add mystery and suspense. It’s good to see Vastra (of whom we actually see little), Jenny (who doth rule verily), and the ever-amusing Strax. Our favourite Sontaran nurse gets all the best lines and my favourite scene, in which a “Thomas Thomas” gives him directions. Delightfully, he is in a different and more comedic genre than the rest of the story, although no story in which none other than Diana Rigg gives us a broad Yorkshire Avengers baddie can be considered to be uber-serious. It’s a gloriously bonkers twist, though, with the revelation of “Mr Sweet” as an alien parasite.

There’s a little social commentary amongst all the fun, with a fairly thorough skewering of those patronising Victorian communities created by various tycoons for the benefit of their employees, complete with loads of social engineering- it’s not hard to see the relevance here to the present day, where there is much hand-wringing in right-wing circles about how the poor would be in much finer fettle if they would only have their access to alcohol curtailed by minimum pricing, and their benefits restricted to the basic necessities. Sadly, attitudes to the poor seem to be reverting to Victorian examples.

Friendly to the casual viewer this may be, but there are a couple of nods to the past. The Doctor refers to a certain Australian wanting to get back to Heathrow, and the Doctor being kept in the cell, referred to as a monster and fed through a grille evokes Control in Ghost Light. Mostly, however, the nods are to the present and future. The Doctor pointedly refuses to explain to Vastra and the gang how Clara, who died at Christmas, is seemingly alive again. Most intriguingly, we end with the two children Clara is babysitting blackmailing her into letting them tag along in what the clever kids have worked out is her friend’s time machine.

I’m excited about the future. This episode was excellent, but next week’s is written by Neil Gaiman.

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