Sunday, May 5, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7, Episode 11: The Crimson Horror

Another awesome episode! I have to confess I generally don't like the historical period stories as much as the futuristic ones. I like spaceships and aliens, not bodices and gas lights! I thoroughly enjoyed this one from beginning to end though. Add Madame Vastra, Jenny, Strax, and even Dianna Rigg and you've got a can't-miss episode.

The Crimson Horror was written by Mark Gatiss, who's penned several previous episodes (including The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern and Victory Of The Daleks) and even acted in a few! 

Best of all, no one made the "Doctor Who?" joke this week! Huzzah!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
In 1893 Mrs. Gillyflower sets up a utopian community called Sweetwater in Northern England. However, no one who enters the community ever leaves. Madame Vastra and Co. investigate and discover the Doctor and Clara being held captive inside. The gang discovers that Mrs. Gillyflower plans to destroy the rest of humanity, with the help of her mysterious silent partner Mr. Sweet.

Thoughts:
• It's the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax! Once again, I'd totally watch a series starring those three! Hey, if they can make four seasons of Torchwood, anything's possible...

On the other hand, it's possible that they work best in small doses. They're pretty much one-joke characters: People gasp every time they see that Vastra is a lizard-woman, they look uncomfortable when they find out Jenny is her wife, and Strax always suggests a comically violent solution to the simplest of problems. If they did ever get their own series, the producers would have to add a bit more depth to the characters.

• I haven't yet mentioned the Fringe-like location captions that have been popping up in the second half of this season. You know, the kind that look like they're part of the scene instead of just being superimposed over everything. Nice touch. 

Mrs. Gillyflower was played by Dame Diana Rigg (she's been knighted, dontcha know) and it was great to see her on the screen again. To be honest I didn't realize she was still alive! She's popping up everywhere these days, as she's also in season three of Game Of Thrones (which I haven't yet seen). Good for her.

I was a bit dismayed though to see her looking so... grandmotherly. No doubt because she's forever frozen in my mind in her Mrs. Peel days, as seen above. Time sucks, don't it?

Speaking of Emma Peel-- now that I think of it, Jenny is more than a little Peel-like, what with the martial arts and the black leather catsuit and all.

• Mrs. Gillyflower's daughter Ada was played by Diana Rigg's real-life daughter Rachel Stirling. Supposedly Mark Gatiss wrote the roles specifically for them.

• When Vastra and Co. are heading for Sweetwater, Strax hisses, "Remember, we are going to... the North." That's one of those jokes that no doubt had everyone in England rolling in the aisles but left most Americans scratching their heads.

For the record, Southern Englanders are generally more affluent and consider themselves more civilized and view the North as more primitive and unsophisticated. Kind of the same attitude most Americans have toward the Deep South.    

• Is it coincidence that the door to Madame Vastra's home looks a lot like the one on the TARDIS?  

• Poor Mr. Thursday. His mind just can't process the existence of Silurians, Sontarans and TARDISes.


• When Jenny's in line to infiltrate Sweetville she meets a young woman named Abagail, who hopes her horrible-looking teeth won't keep her from being selected. Realistically just about every human in this time period should have teeth much like hers.

• Did you catch the Doctor's Northern accent when he and Clara first infiltrated Sweetwater? If you're not familiar with it, it's the way the Ninth Doctor used to speak.

• What did Mrs. Gillyflower spill during dinner? I thought it was salt, since she threw a pinch over her shoulder for luck. But then she sprinkled some down her dress, presumably for Mr. Sweet, who's secretly attached to her chest. Wouldn't salt be really bad for a leech? Even a giant prehistoric one? Most likely we're supposed to think it's sugar, since his name is "Sweet," but I've never heard of throwing sugar over your shoulder. Is that a British thing?

• I did not expect the Doctor to be the monster in the cell. They totally fooled me on that one. Lucky for him the leech venom doesn't work on Time Lords.

• Odd to have the Doctor's flashback look like an old-timey film, but it was kind of cool I guess (and yes, movie film was invented by 1893. Just barely). 

• When the TARDIS lands in Yorkshire instead of London in 1893, Clara says, "You're making a habit of this, getting us lost." The Doctor replies, "Sorry, it's much better than it used to be." That's a reference to the Classic Series, in which the Doctor had much less control over the TARDIS than he does now. Back then he rarely if ever knew where or when it would appear.

 • Wow, apparently the Doctor must not have liked Tegan! He said, "I once spent 'ell of a long time trying to get a gobby Austrailian to Heathrow Airport." That's new. Tegan Jovanka was the Fifth Doctor's companion for several years and he seemed all broken up when she decided to leave.

Right after they hear a scream in the distance, the Doctor says, "Brave heart, Clara.' The Fifth Doctor said that a lot during his run, usually to Tegan.

• Mrs. Gillyflower's plan is to detonate a rocket full of leech venom in the atmosphere, so it will rain down and poison everyone on Earth (except for her preserved acolytes, of course). Wouldn't dumping venom-infected corpses into the canal do the same thing? Madame Vastra even says that the venom infected the drinking water of her time.


• Did Ada know that Mr. Sweet was really a giant prehistoric leech? When they're eating dinner she asks her mother if Mr. Sweet's going to join them. To me that implies she thinks he's a man. Later the Doctor asks her the truth about Mr. Sweet and she sobs and says she can't betray her mother. So does she know what he is or not?

• Was Mr. Sweet sentient or just a mindless animal? Madame Vastra says, "My people once ruled this world as well you know, but we did not rule it alone." The Doctor then says, "It's been hanging around, lurking in the shadows. Maybe it's evolved. Maybe it's had help."

Those statements sort of imply that the leech is intelligent. Then again, it could be just a big dumb disgusting parasite. Did he have a stake in Mrs. Gillyflower's master plan, or did he just want to sit around on her chest all day and suck her blood?

• Mrs. Gillyflower is described as a prize-winning chemist and mechanical engineer. Pretty odd vocations for a bible-thumping Victorian era woman!

• Did you get the Tom Tom joke? When Strax is lost, a little boy appears and gives him directions in the stilted language of a GPS system. When Strax asks his name, he says it's Thomas Thomas. Haw!


• Lots of fun lines in this episode:
Strax: "If she hasn't made contact by by nightfall, I suggest a massive frontal assault on the factory, Madame. Casualties may be kept perhaps as little as 80%."
The Doctor: "I'm the Doctor, you're nuts, and I'm going to stop you!"

Ada: "You hag! You perfidious hag! You virago! You harpy!"
The Doctor: "Great. Attack of the supermodels."
Strax: "Horse! You have failed in your mission!"

• When the Doctor confronts Mrs. Gillyflower in her control room, she says, "Can I offer you something? Tea? Seed Cake? Oh! A glass of Amontilado?" An ominous Edgar Allen Poe reference, perhaps?

 • Luckily those Victorian era rockets didn't have much thrust, or everyone would have been fried when it took off out of the chimney/launch tube!

• Too bad the Doctor couldn't sonic Ada's eyes so she could see again. The sonic can do pretty much everything else!

• I wondered why Clara would bother to so obviously change her hairstyle just for a routine visit to the past. Apparently it was so she would look different when she saw a photo of the other Clara in Victorian times.

• So who took the photo of Clara and the Doctor in 1974 (during the Hide episode from a few weeks ago)? Everyone who was in that episode is in the photo! Did the alien monster take it?


• I loved how matter-of-factually Artie and Angie (the kids Clara looks after) accept that Clara's a time traveler and her "boyfriend" is an alien. I have a feeling that's exactly how it would be in real life.

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