Doctor Who series 7 – The Crimson Horror episode review
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.