It was only a matter of time until Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax made another appearance on DOCTOR WHO and, given their tie-in to the mystery of Clara from Christmas, that time was going to come sooner rather than later.
Yorkshire, 1893. Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) investigate when the latest victim of “the Crimson Horror” is discovered to have an image of the Doctor (Matt Smith) burned into his retina. The trail leads to Sweetville, a Utopian society operated by Mrs. Gillyflower (Diana Rigg), which accepts only exemplars of the human form. Jenny infiltrates the society and discovers the Doctor chained in a secret room, his skin turned crimson and waxy, just like the deceased victims of the Crimson Horror.
Returned to health in a restoration chamber, the Doctor explained how he and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrived and were drawn into the society, where Clara was accepted but the Doctor rejected and slated for death by immersion in a crimson liquid. But his Gallifreyan physiognomy enabled him to survive (though dyed red), and he was hidden in the secret room by Mrs. Gillyflower’s blind daughter, Ada (Rachel Stirling). The Doctor searches Sweetville and finds Clara preserved in a giant bell jar. He shatters the glass and takes her to the revival pod.
Meanwhile, Vastra looks into the other corpses and discovers the reason for the discoloring: venom from the red leech, a parasitic enemy of Silurian society some 65 million years ago. She arrives at Sweetville to tell the Doctor just as Clara is revived and informs him. The Doctor and Clara confront Mrs. Gillyflower, who admits she has teamed up with Mr. Sweet — in reality a red leech that has implanted itself on her chest — and plans to fire a rocket into the sky to spray red leech poison over the world, turning the populace into her slaves. Ada overhears this and confronts her mother, allowing Clara to head for the rocket controls. Ada is devastated that her mother’s utopia has no place for her, since she is “imperfect.” Mrs. Gillyflower holds a gun to her daughter’s head and escapes using the human shield. At the launch pad hidden in a chimneystack, she manages to launch the rocket — only to see that Vastra and Jenny have removed its deadly cargo. Frustrated, Mrs. Gillyflower tries to kill the Doctor out of spite. When Strax returns fire from the roof, Mrs. Gillyflower looses her footing and tumbles down the shaft. As she lays dying, Mr. Sweet abandons her. Ada vows never to forgive her mother — which pleases Mrs. Gillyflower, and she dies happy. Ada locates Mr. Sweet and beats him to death with her cane.
Later, the Doctor returns Clara home, and she discovers that the children she cares for, and Artie (Kassius Johnson) and Angie (Eve De Leon Allen), have found photographs on the Internet of Clara at different points in history and accuse her and her “boyfriend” of being time-travelers. They threaten to tell their father unless she takes them on a trip through time.
I wary of seeing another scary story so close to “Hide,” but this tale had its own unique feel, and was creepy in an entirely different way. And while the story was complicated, the way the plot unfolded out of order actually helped the audience get up to speed and keep track of what was going on. Also, structuring the story as a linear mystery helped everyone keep up.
As usual, the BBC did a bang-up job with Victorian locations, costuming and atmosphere. If there’s one thing the Beeb can do, it’s historicals.
Dame Diana Rigg made for a standout guest villain. She was completely contemptuous of humanity and boundlessly cruel; not only using her own daughter as a guinea pig but a human shield! And Rigg reveled in the role, spitting her lines with bile and gleefully laughing when she thought she was destroying the world. She was a delightfully evil one-off villainess. And not that dissimilar from fellow evil Victorian factory owner Mrs. Hartigan from “The Next Doctor.”
In another callback (this time to the classic series), the Doctor’s remark about a “gobby Australian” refers to Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), the air hostess who traveled with the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. The Fifth made a number of failed attempts to return her to London’s Heathrow Airport circa 1982, most infamously in “Time-Flight,” when they land in 140,000,000 BC — precisely when the Master was up to no good…
While this was something of a “Doctor-lite” story, Matt Smith got a chance to do some extensive physical comedy with his crimson-tinged mugging and Frankenstein’s monster-style walk. His eye-rolling and moaning, coupled with his stiff-kneed shuffling was absolutely hilarious. And Strax was in rare form with his laugh lines – “fourth one this week; and I’m not even hungry” indeed! However, Catrin Stewart was the big winner this week, as this was the first time that Jenny got the lion’s share of the action in a story; in fact, Vastra did very little. Even Strax had a bigger role than mere comedy relief this time, proving his value as the muscle at tactical strategist of the trio. Jenny’s leather-and-lace cat suit (loved the bustle on the rear!) and martial-arts prowess were obvious tributes to Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel from The Avengers.
The photo of Clara in Victorian costume is from London, which indicates it’s from “The Snowmen.” Since this Clara didn’t participate in that adventure, it’s an image of “another” Clara – backing up the Doctor’s contention from last week that he has met “her” before. So now Clara doesn’t know what to believe.
- This is the 100th story since the series was rebooted in 2005.
- This story marks the first time that Dame Diana Rigg has worked professionally with her daughter.
- Mrs. Gillyflower planned to poison the air – a stratagem attempted by the Sontarans during the 10th Doctor’s tenure in “The Sontaran Stratagem”/“The Poison Sky.” There are also resemblances to “The Mark of the Rani,” in which the Sixth Doctor found the Time Lady gassing Victorian workers in a factory to extract brain fluids. Add in Mrs. Hartigan and her child slave labor plan, and it seems that all Victorian-era factories were hothouses of alien/non-human activity!
- When Mrs. Gillyflower was preparing the organ to open the secret door, I was fully prepared for her to start playing a villainous solo piece to celebrate her “victory” — and laughed out loud when she didn’t!
- The urchin Thomas Thomas giving Strax directions was a pretty funny TomTom GPS gag.
- Jenny and Vastra insist several times that Clara is dead (indeed, they were present at her death over Christmastime), but the Doctor never explains how/why she is walking around again.
- I can’t help wondering how Artie and Angie managed to find a photo taken aboard a Soviet-era nuclear submarine. I know there’s a lot of strange stuff on the Internet, but that seems more than a bit unlikely.
- And why is the Doctor in that photo? I thought he’s using a sentient computer worm to erase all records of himself…
- The Doctor referred to an optigram as “an old Romany superstition,” however his fourth incarnation used the technique to lift an image from the eye of a dead Wirrn in “The Ark in Space.”
- The way Jenny slapped the Doctor and his reaction mimicked a recurring bit in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, in which Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is slapped by scorned women.
- In a directorial flourish by Saul Metzstein, the Doctor’s flashback is filmed to make it look like old-timey cinema footage, complete with scratches and slightly off-speed motion.
- Is it wrong that I love the moniker “Mr. Sweet” for a sentient evil leech from prehistoric times that looks like a wide-eyed lobster?
- I’ve decided I really like “Clara’s Theme” (if that’s what it’s called). There’s a twinkling playfulness to it that is really sweet.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“Kindly do not claw and slobber at my crinoline.” – Mrs. Gillyflower
“There’s trouble at the mill. [Motions to Vastra] She’s a lizard.” – the Doctor, to Clara
“Oh, ”the repulsive red leech.’ Nah, I think I prefer the ‘Crimson Horror.’” – the Doctor
“You know what these [holds out her hands] are? The wrong hands.” – Mrs. Gillyflower