Doctor Who is a series with a rich tapestry of themes, styles, concepts and ideas. From clever cerebral time twisters to emotional personal stories the programme has something for everyone. At its core, of course, is a rich vein of good, old-fashioned adventure stories. The Crimson Horror, Mark Gatiss’ second episode in the second half of season seven, is exactly that a good, old-fashioned adventure story. Although to be honest it is much more of a very good old-fashioned adventure story.
The Crimson Horror is such an enjoyable romp the delayed appearance of the Doctor is barely noticeable and the triumvirate from Paternoster Row lead the show from the start. These three, the mysterious Madame Vastra, the reliable Jenny (the maid) and the enthusiastic Strax, are so engaging it is easy to see why some fans would like to see a spin off series. Their journey northwards and off the cuff plan making cracks on at a terrific pace without feeling rushed. The mystery and threat of the plot is neatly balanced by some lovely touches of humour, mostly centred around the ever violent Strax. The Thomas Thomas line is worth watching the episode for alone.
Of course this is the Doctor’s show and his ‘reveal’ in the episode may not have been a complete surprise but was very neatly achieved. There is a slight worry that, with the Doctor on board, everything may now be wrapped up with a wave of the sonic screwdriver. However, one scene in a cupboard aside, the narrative progresses naturally and follows neatly on from the beginning.
It is testament to quality of the production that there is still room to fit in an unrushed flashback sequence without the feeling of an over crowded episode. The threat offered by the villains is believable and the solution satisfying, and this is due, in no small part, to the guest cast.
Rachel Stirling as the blind Ada is excellent, first of all in the underserved loyalty she displays to her mother, through the kindness shown to her monster, to a vengeful and righteous saviour at the climax. However, the real treat in the episode is Diana Rigg as the insane and villainous Mrs Gillyflower. Following on from other British greats she ‘chews the scenery’ with relish and steals every scene she is in with a wicked glint in her eye. Her insane ramblings when the secret of Mr Sweet is revealed raises Mrs Gillyflower to the higher echelons of Doctor Who villainy.
Those yearning for a younger Diana Rigg, from her days in the Avengers, are also catered for with a nice throw back scene involving the Doctor, Jenny (the maid) and a leather catsuit. In an episode jam-packed with goodies like this it is hard to make note of them all, although it was a nice touch to hear the brave hearted Tegan invoked by the excellent Matt Smith. All the cast appear to be having great fun, something which is contagious for the viewers as well. The climax is logical and believable and the story feels well paced without being rushed. The Crimson Horror is not only not a horror but also a marvellous template in good old-fashioned adventure story telling.