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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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Comments

strange_complex
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.

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