The Crimson Horror, written by Mark Gatiss, is a great Stuffisode. There’s a lot of great stuff going on in it. Whether all that stuff develops into a solid episode is inconsequential because this stuff is so damn entertaining.
By the way, tread lightly. Here, There Be Spoilers.
Twice previously I’ve called Mark Gatiss a hit-and-miss Doctor Who writer. Here he hits so often you ignore the occasional whistle of his metaphorical bat cutting through the air. He has done such a great job of creating charismatic and likable characters, each with their own satisfying moments, that the episode’s flaws are, for the most part, enthusiastically forgiven.
The stuffisode works well as a series of character pieces as opposed to a functional or engaging story. I found myself appreciating it more as an observer than an emotional participant. There was never an instant of suspense or true mystery. I never really knew where the story was headed, except for the big reveal of who the “monster” being fed by the blind girl was, yet neither was a invested enough in it to be genuinely surprised. For me it was more about watching these personalities mingle and bounce off each other.
Matt Smith finally has a lot to do. Something his role has been lacking since The Rings of Akhaten. Not having him appear for the first twenty minutes made his arrival to the story a mini event. He has a lot of time to make up for, and delivers magnificently.
Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Straxx are as wonderful as ever. They account for most of the stuffisode’s charm. Their dynamic is perfect. The fact that this easily goofy trio is played totally strait, with no winking, or nudging, to the viewer is amazing. Whether it be Straxx running down a hall shooting with glee, Jenny stripping down her unassuming demeanor, and clothes, to her cat suit and kicking ass, or Vastra’s authority, intellect, and penchant for making people faint, they are always fun to watch. So fun to watch in fact that they deserve a…what’s that?…yeah, a Spin-OFF!
Seriously. The first twenty minutes of the stuffisode is devoted to them and it was awesome. It reminded me of the X-Files Spin-Off (and one of my personal favorite shows ever) The Lone Gunmen. Three cool characters who steal the show whenever their on screen. True, The Lone Gunmen never made it passed their first season (why does FOX hate their shows?!), but these three really deserve a shot. Again, if Captain Jack can get a lame show, why can’t Vastra, Jenny, and Straxx?
The real star of the stuffisode (literally, she is the biggest name in the cast) is Diana Rigg. You may remember her as Emma Peel in The Avengers (the non-marvel, inspired the Uma Thurman flick, Avengers) and Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, the girl who stole Bond’s heart. Maybe you even know her Shakespearean work. I personally know, and love, her as the stern and constantly annoyed Miss Constance Hardbroom in The Worst Witch.
Here she plays the totally batshit crazy Mrs. Gillyflower. She is a simple woman who wants everything to be so perfect and so sweet. Her gated community of Sweetville is meant to be a beacon of purity. Most of the time she comes off as your typical antagonist with a secret agenda. When the stuffisode goes off the rails (and boy does it) we not only learn her plan, but also see how delightfully bonkers this insane old lady is. At that point her performance is dialed up so firmly to eleven that even Matt Smith pales in comparison. I loved her.
Rachel Stirling, real life daughter of Diana Rigg, brought the dramatic weight to the madness. Experimented on and then held at gun point by her mother, she was the one character I felt anything more than amusement towards. Her sentimentality for her “monster” was sad and touching. Unleashing her broken rage at the mother she served, only to be manipulated by, was powerful and chilling. Seeing her smile, accepting of her station in life, brought closure.
As I said, the end goes off the rails. No, it FLIES off the rails, into glorious insanity. Revealing the omnipresent Mr. Sweet as an evolved parasitic slug thing was genius. No smart timey-wimey twist. No reintroduction of a classic foe. Just a schlocky slug with black eyes and sharp teeth. It reminded me of my favorite episode of Tales from the Crypt. The one with Don Rickles. You know, When his murdering tendencies turns out to be the work of the conjoined twin living on his hand? Awe-inspiring.
If there is any weak link it’s Clara. I know I bash her all the time. There’s nothing really wrong with her here. She just comes off as a bit out of her depth. They have yet to reveal anything interesting enough about her to be able to stand out amongst such effervescent weirdos. Even her line about not needing the sonic screwdriver because she has a chair felt like a desperate effort to make her match up with the rest.
Speaking of the sonic screwdriver, I must tell you I am a little fed up with that magical everything stick. Every season it does something more advanced than before. It’s getting to the point where the Doctor won’t even need the Tardis anymore. Pretty soon he’ll just scan himself with his magic science wand and zap to wherever he wants to go.
There was a period of time in the ’80s when they did away with the screwdriver for that very reason. They even referenced it in the comedic short “Time Crash” when the Fifth Doctor refuses the Tenth’s offer to use the tool. The Doctor should be able to use his gigantic space brain to get out of danger. Or use the sonic as a last resort. When 11 used it to held heal himself it eliminated any semblance of menace the stuffisode may have had.
Every time he came up against an obstacle, I expected him to sonic it. Why not? Why not sonic all the people in jars? Why not sonic the rocket, to cause a sonic boom? (You can laugh at my bad puns. It’s okay.) Why not sonic the poor blind girl who helped save your life?
That’s really just a nitpick. What matters is the overall effect, and overall this was a fun, wild episode made of stuff.