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New Who 7.11 The Crimson Horror

Yay! For the first time this season I was able to watch Doctor Who live on broadcast, it was a good episode, and I have time to write up my thoughts this evening! Happy times.

I am so glad that the Jenny, Vastra and Strax Show is becoming a regular feature, and even more so that we haven't had a weak episode with them in it yet. I wouldn't call this episode mind-blowing, but it definitely qualified as a really good romp, and because it didn't try to position itself as anything more it left me well satisfied. The running jokes around Strax's battle plans and Mr. Thursday repeatedly fainting, the proper mad-scientist-style steaming coloured liquids in conical flasks, and the brilliantly groan-worthy satnav urchin all helped to seal the silliness deal. Meanwhile, Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling both entirely lived up to their promise, were done great justice by the script, and delivered the proper character-driven drama which I craved and missed in Cold War and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.

We have seen the 'crazed villain tries to enslave humanity with the help of an alien parasite' plot a quazillion times before on Doctor Who of course, but by framing it as a Jenny, Vastra and Strax story, keeping the Doctor off-screen for the first ten minutes and even then revealing him as helpless and paralysed, it felt fresh enough to capture the attention. I loved the flashback scenes in which the Doctor explained how he and Clara had arrived in Yorkshire, too, with their fake 'old film' look - a classic device. That said, I wasn't too sold on the magical machine which could undo the effects of the red poison, which felt like a rather easy cop-out - although I suppose it could reasonably be explained as the end result of the experiments which Mrs. Gillyflower performed on Ada. I also wasn't sure what we were supposed to make of the Doctor kissing Jenny, followed by the rather teenage joke involving his sonic screwdriver when she stripped down to her leathers. Matt Smith's Doctor has reacted uncomfortably in the face of previous romantic advances from both Amy and governess!Clara, and has shown no interest (that I can remember) in Jenny before, so it seems oddly inconsistent to have him suddenly going all Benny Hill over her.

Still, it was great to have a story set in Yorkshire, and some fab northern jokes to go with it as well (Bradford - "All a-swarm with the wretched ruins of humanity"). 'Sweetville' wasn't just riffing off local industrial magnate Titus Salt's planned workers' village Saltaire. It used the design of the factory there directly, with even the concept drawing unveiled at the talk which Jenny attended clearly based on the real equivalent for Saltaire. Apparently the actual filming happened in Bute Town, though, which would explain why the stonework on close-up shots of the cottages looked wrong. People were very into regularly-laid square-cut stone in Victorian Yorkshire, but the cottages of Sweetville have irregular stone.

Finally, sure enough, as I predicted earlier in the week, we had a prominent reference to the Fifth Doctor era, in the form of the line about struggling to get a 'gobby Australian' (i.e. Tegan) back to Heathrow. But, as you'd expect with a series that has as much back-catalogue to draw on as Doctor Who, and a writer who knows that catalogue as well as Mark Gatiss, there were other nods and winks for the knowing as well. The gramophones playing fake factory noises in particular reminded me of the Meddling Monk's recordings of Gregorian chants in The Time Meddler, while the line about the red leech growing fat on the filth in the rivers recalled the eco-warrior stories of the Pertwee era - and especially The Green Death, which seems to have inspired the structure of the title as well.

I feel much better for that episode, and am actively looking forwards to next week's now. Having actual children in the TARDIS promises to be interesting, and certainly something which I don't believe has ever happened before outside of the two films made with Peter Cushing. I wonder if it is in part a reaction to the fact that The Sarah Jane Adventures sadly cannot continue any longer, with the format of the spin-off being folded back into the main show? Anyway, it is certainly something new for new Who, and I hope it makes for interesting new story-telling possibilities as a result.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 4th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
I completely misunderstood what the gramophones were doing... I'm glad you enjoyed it, as I thought it was brilliant on first viewing. The curse of being able to watch this a few times before transmission is that one begins to doubt what one first saw...
May. 4th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, it was definitely good, and I think will reward re-watching as well - which can't be said for most of the other episodes this season.
May. 4th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
It's almost becoming spot-the-Classic-Who-reference, isn't it? I wonder if the rocket was meant to be reminiscent of the Thal rocket in Genesis of the Daleks, although I suppose you could say that if your plot involves a big rocket in a silo then it's going to look like a big rocket in a silo.

Talking of rockets, wasn't the plot pretty much that of Moonraker?
May. 4th, 2013 09:48 pm (UTC)
Also reminded me of the Gwyneth Paltrow film Sky Captain and the something of tomorrow.
May. 4th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
It's almost becoming spot-the-Classic-Who-reference, isn't it?

Yep! As parrot_knight has pointed out, this episode had some considerable resonances with Ghost Light as well. I'm happy enough with it in this anniversary year, but I'm starting to hope it will ease off a bit next season. A little every now and then is nice to create a sense of continuity, but it can jar when it is being done constantly for its own sake, rather than to enhance the story we are watching.
May. 4th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
I also wasn't sure what we were supposed to make of the Doctor kissing Jenny, followed by the rather teenage joke involving his sonic screwdriver

No one seems quite what to make of the Doctor's sexuality any more. In The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe he seemed quite disgusted at the thought of anyone fancying him and he panicked when Amy made a pass at him at the end of Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone. At other times, as here, he seems as sexually-confident as the tenth Doctor. It seems very inconsistent to me and I don't really know what Moffat, Smith et al are thinking, unless they're trying to make him sexual and asexual at the same time, in a 'have cake and eat it' sort of way.

Re: children in the TARDIS, John and Gillian were the Doctor's grandchildren and accompanied him in TV Comic in the sixties, beginning as children and eventually reaching adolescence before going to "galactic university". (The DWM comic later implied that the Doctor dreams the sixties strips when he needs an innocent adventure away from the stress and moral complexity of his usual ones.)
May. 5th, 2013 11:18 am (UTC)
Ah, yes - good point about John and Gillian. I did know about them, mainly from DVD extras on some of the '60s TV stories, but didn't know about them going to 'Galactic University' in the end.
May. 6th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC)
I dislike that he seems to have been regressed from where he seemed to be a series or so ago having a grown up if rather kinky relationship with River (her being in jail all day and all) to this pantomime creepy stalker kids entertainer type approach. I think they've lost the plot a it actually .
May. 5th, 2013 07:11 am (UTC)
For me, it wasn't just the kiss with Jenny, but the business afterwards where she slaps him and he says 'you've no idea how good that feels. I mean yes, I get the humour, but it also looks uncomfortably like a man sexually harassing a woman and then laughing off her reaction. Which is something I do not want in my Who.

He also kissed Ada on the cheek and Clara on the forehead. I don't want to get all 'is this a kissing story?', but one of the things that I usually like about Who is that it presents respectful, friendly relationships between men and women without suggesting that there has to be a physical or sexual element. If every other media representation did this then I wouldn't mind, but Who is precious and rare in this respect.
May. 5th, 2013 11:18 am (UTC)
There's a definite attempt to explore the way the Doctor uses language and actions which signify attraction to the opposite sex, but I don't think it's being done very well.
May. 5th, 2013 11:23 am (UTC)
You're right about the humour. Within the story, it was obviously supposed to be an expression of how glad he was not to be paralysed any more, but that could have been demonstrated in a hundred other ways which didn't also read as "Woo-hoo! Isn't is fun to violate a woman's boundaries so much that she feels compelled to slap me?!"
May. 5th, 2013 08:17 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed that - as I have most of this half-season. However, there seemed to be a little bit of time-travel as Parry's version of Jerusalem dates only from 1916!
May. 6th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
I did recognise the into roam philanthropist model village thing but forgot about Saltaire. Of course! I was hung up on New Lanark..
May. 6th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
A few of us watching here felt that there were very clear parallels between 'Sweetville' and 'Bournville', which was established as a bit of an ideal community - and also with 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory', most notably the line from one character that nobody ever comes out of Sweetville (in the Gene Wilder film version, there's a character who says 'Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever goes out')...even the exterior was vaguely reminiscent of the chocolate factory.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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