The second half of this series has seen the Doctor travel a 1,000 leagues beneath the sea in a Soviet Submarine, journey to the centre of the Tardis, and now visit...Yorkshire. For a show set predominantly around London it was good to see the Time Lord venture north in a relentlessly fast-paced horror story by Mark Gatiss. The Crimson Horror was certainly a return to form after the lackadaisical plotting of last week's episode, with the main gripe being that the elements of the episode all flew by before they truly had a chance to settle.
Jenny, Vasta and Strax
The opening 15 minutes are all about lesbian detectives Jenny and Madame Vastra, making another great appearance after we last saw them in the Christmas special. It provides a nice change of pace having the two of them investigate the mysterious proceedings without any sign of the Doctor, and it was only when a bright red Matt Smith turned up that I realised that him and Clara had been missing. The lovable sidekick Strax also continued to put in some great one-liners as the war-hungry Sontaran, running into battle laser gun blazing and preparing to execute his own horse after getting lost.
They're investigating the imposing Victorian factory of Sweetville, where fears of industrialisation on working class people in the countryside are shown by the nasty fate of its employees, turned bright red in what has sensationally been described as, "The Crimson Horror". The Doctor is found struck by the virus, his jangling motions an ode to Frankenstein's monster and allowing Matt Smith to showcase once more his gift for physical acting. The sepia photography snapshots are an ingenious way of providing literal flash backs to show us how the Doctor and Clara got caught up in the factory and subjected to the evils machinations of Mrs. Gilliflower.
Dianna Rigg, whose been stealing a fair few scenes recently in Game of Thrones as the prickly Olenna Tyrell, plays a deliciously histrionic villain with a sickeningly symbiotic relationship with the red leech attached to her chest. Both Dianna Rigg and her real-life daughter Rachael Sterling star together for the first time here, but the family relationship between the two is far from affectionate.
The blind Ada is promised salvation by her mother ahead of the upcoming apocalypse. Little does she know that through the red venom from the factory the apocalypse will be of their own making, and that her blindness comes from being effectively her mother's guinea pig. From being the sweet and naïve young woman who saves the Doctor and calls him, 'My monster", her realisation of how her mother has cruelly treated her is the tragic heart of the episode.
A Suffocating Experience
With these complex characters, scary setting and thought provoking themes, this was an episode that whilst rich in story struggled to squeeze all its elements into 45 minutes. It seems that show-runner Steven Moffat is adamant to dispel with two-part episodes in favour of the 'movie of the week' series that we are being currently offered.
The problem is that 45 minutes does not provide enough time to develop the characters and setting enough so that we should care whether the Doctor succeeds or not. After the brilliant build up of the first half hour of this episode, the 15 minute flurry with the rocket launch at the end was so rushed that no sooner had we become engrossed in the story that we were plucked right out of it again.
Doctor Who is becoming an increasingly suffocating experience as the stories we follow are rarely given the necessary chance to breathe. The ending in which Clara returns home to find out the children she cared for know about her travels occurred so abruptly it appeared to be an afterthought of the writers.
At least Clara's story arc is beginning to move forward, but with only two episodes left we'll have to hope the mystery will have enough time to be resolved.