Doctor Who series 7 – The Crimson Horror episode review

Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror poster

The classic sci-fi series that once held us enthralled by its mysterious story arcs and wonderful stories of two people standing up to evil across time and space continues its bizarre descent into utter mind-numbing banality with The Crimson Horror.

At first, I was convinced that The Crimson Horror was going to be a metaphor for periods. And when we saw that big vat full of red liquid, I was almost certain this was the long-awaited Doctor Who versus the Menstrual Cycle episode we’ve been anticipating since the series returned in 2005. Sadly no.

The episode did manage to get some things right though – it reintroduced Madam Vastra, her lover/companion Jenny and their hilarious Sontaran guard dog, Strax. I’ve not been particularly keen on this trio in the past, but I’m warming to them as an investigative trio in their own right. Strax is effortlessly funny, mostly since the partially lobotomised Sontaran’s first response to any problem is to nuke it. Jenny got more screen time than usual in this episode since she volunteered to go undercover in the bizarre Victorian town of Sweetville. And her fighting skills always come in handy in a pinch, so that was fun to watch.

Keeping Matt Smith out of the picture for almost half the episode was a double edged sword. On one hand, it allowed Vastra & Co to carry the story, but there was always the expectation that The Doctor would eventually have to muddle in and fix everything for them in the end.

As for the story itself, what an enormous disappointment. At its heart it was a human playing flunkie to a parasitic alien monster. In this case, Dame Diana Rigg played the dodgy Mrs Gillyflower, a woman trying to draw people to live in her town of Sweetville. Of course, the whole operation is a front for the enigmatic “Mr Sweets” who is the invisible force behind the town.

The thing is, it’s all dreadfully hollow, as all the present run of Doctor Who episodes have been. No-one can quite put their finger on what’s changed in Doctor Who to lead to this disconnected new vibe, but it feels like when you forgot to do your homework and rushed out a messy essay in the corridors five minutes before school starts. The stories – Crimson Horror included – have been almost phoned in. Smith’s Doctor isn’t as quick with the snappy dialogue as he has been in the past. That’s partly due to the poor writing (the opportunities for quoteworthy lines are few and far between these days) and partly because the chemistry is gone.

Clara, as always, is a cardboard cutout character. Or as one of my friends on Twitter put it, an empty cypher.

Only one thing really got me pumped during this episode, and that was the setup for next week’s Nightmare In Steel episode. I was a little miffed that Clara’s secret was outed by a couple of kids who had somehow pulled together photographic evidence of her travels through time. And now she’s being blackmailed to take them on a time-trip? Meh! The upside is that we’ve got a Neil Gaiman episode to look forward to. It’s funny, but I used to dread Cyberman episodes, but because Gaiman is the mastermind behind it, I have no doubt that it’ll be good!

On the subject of how bad Doctor Who has been this year, I’m sure some of these episodes would probably come off better if they’d been made with the lower production values of earlier years. The cinematic scale that Moffat/The BBC/Whoever are attempting here just doesn’t match with the less than stellar storylines.  Sorry, but it’s true. And what makes it worse is that it’s been a string of poor episodes rather than just the occasional bad one. This means that the series as a whole is out of ideas and running on empty.

Hopefully the Gaiman episode will signal a return to form in time for the series 7 finale and then the 50th anniversary episode. If not, I’d seriously urge the BBC to sweep the decks on Doctor Who and bring in some fresh production talent, possibly people who aren’t currently connected to the series and who might bring in some new ideas.


by Gerard McGarry on May 4th, 2013

Gerard is the founder and editor of Unreality TV. He writes about TV dramas as well as reality TV talent shows and is obsessed by sci-fi and Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @gerrybot or Google+


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7 thoughts on “Doctor Who series 7 – The Crimson Horror episode review

  1. doggmatic says:

    Wow. I could not agree more. One bad apple is acceptable and realistic but the whole of S7 has been disappointment after disappointment and it just seems to get worse week by week. And yes, Clara…the cardboard cut out…and I too disliked how easily those kids she looks after have found pictures of her online – who was taking these pictures? unless that is a plot for her secret, thats just dumb.

    Matt is doing all he knows to do, which is always good but there’s nothing new. And yes, it does really, honestly feel like everyone is phoning it in, except maybe some of the directors.

    I too hope Nei Gaiman can save whats left of this season, but I actually am not holding too much hope on it. It even feels like a good writer each week is ruined by the production team somehow.

  2. Ruth says:

    this was the worst episode of doctor who ever. I hated it. The stupid fainting and the incredibly hollow plot line which made very little sense. It was disgusting. Im not looking forward to next week with the kids, they far too easily found her out, it was a stupid and childish turn for the doctor who series. Im also nervous the 50th anniversary episode is going to be this terrible as well. It was pathetic.

  3. Louise Teesdale says:

    Totally agree. I have been an avid follower of Dr. Who since Jon Pertwee had me peering behind my cushion safety zone. I now have three children and it is a family ritual to gather together for Dr. Who. Lonely Child had our hearts running in over drive ‘are you my mummy?’ and we have shed tears over David Tennants acting! Matt Smiths portrayal of the Dr has left us cold and bored. Gone is the anticipation and excitement as we sit as a family to watch. When will the BBC listen? Spending thousands on the production can do nothing when it is not supported by captivating acting. Smith is a small child with all the charisma of a recently painted wall. We as a family want to see a mature doctor (after all he is over 900 years old and has used many lives to bring us the possibility of a Sherlock Holmes intelligence! BBC do us a favour?!

  4. Railway95 says:

    Meh Still better than the train wreck that was series 3.

  5. Rebecca says:

    While this wasn’t my favorite episode of Who, I don’t think it was completely terrible. The only part of this episode I really disliked was the kids finding out. But I imagine this was to have a reason to be at theme park in the next episode. Great? No. Worse Dr. Who episode I’ve seen? No.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I also wanted comment on some of the comments on these reviews. Why all the Matt Smith hate? I personally really like Matt Smith as the Doctor. I find him fun, somewhat alien, and totally serious or heartbroken when the situation warrants it. I like his portrayal.

    And, before someone says it’s because I don’t have anything to compare to, or I’m young therefore like they young guy, I’m 45 and I’ve been watching since Doctor number 3. I have loved, and detested various episodes of each season since I started watching. I personally don’t find the writing any worse than it was when Davies was at the helm. I thought they made Doctor #10 entirely too Messianic for my taste, especially in the season with Martha and the Master.

    There have been some really bad episodes prior to Doc 11. Gridlock? Love & Monsters? Pompeii? New Earth? The ridiculous Adipose? Daleks fighting Cybermen? And don’t forget “Fear Her” which I personally find the worst episode of Who ever made. (Not to mention some truly terrible ones prior to reboot episodes like the OK Corral, Invasion of the Dinosaurs or almost everything with Colin Baker.) I also know people who loved each of those episodes. We all like different things.

    I think no matter who is writing and portraying Dr. Who you will find some who hate and some who love each depiction. And that’s great, and one of the reasons I like that the Doctor regenerates and changes. You don’t have to be mean or insulting, or insinuate that someone is being “desperate to find something to like about it” just because you don’t like it.

  7. Al says:

    I think someone needs to launch an investigation. Clearly there is some show making the rounds that a few reviewers and disgruntled fans think is Doctor Who but they’re clearly watching a different show than the series I’ve been enjoying for the last couple of months. The Crimson Horror is one of the best episodes I’ve seen in quite a while, as part of one of the strongest string of episodes the show has had since Bad Wolf in 2005.

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