Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror spoiler-free review

Review Simon Brew
1 May 2013 - 07:00

Mark Gatiss takes Doctor Who to 1890s Yorkshire in The Crimson Horror. Here's our spoiler-free review...

It'd be remiss to call Mark Gatiss' The Crimson Horror the Doctor-lite episode of series 7. But were you to go with the description of it as the-one-where-the-Doctor-takes-a-surprisingly-long-time-to-show-up, you'd be more on the money. 

Set in Yorkshire in the 1890s, it's actually left to the returning trio of Strax, Madame Vastra and Jenny to do the early heavy lifting in the episode. As such, we get one or two references back to The Snowmen here (which was the last time we saw them), not least because the last time they met Clara she was suffering a little from being, well, dead. But this is primarily a standalone tale, a period mystery with horror under and overtones. Pretty much perfect for Mark Gatiss, then. 

Interestingly. it's more Jenny that gets her place in the limelight this time out of the aforementioned trio. She's been overshadowed in the past, not least by Strax The Sontaran's evolution as Doctor Who's finest contemporary comic character. And we dearly, dearly hope that the spin-off series for the three is getting closer. They're tremendous fun to spend time with, and The Crimson Horror throws more light on just what you can do with three such varied characters working in tandem. It's like a good, old-fashioned point and click adventure game, if you wanted to be nerdy about it. And it really is good to see Jenny taking the lead a bit more. Catrin Stewart eagerly grabs the chance to impress. 

You do get the Doctor and Clara in the mix of course, though, and their attention is focused on The Crimson Horror of the title. Without giving too much away, said Crimson Horror is taking its fair share of victims, and there's a little bit of a detective yarn here, as five characters try and unravel just what's happening. There's even room for a "trouble at mill" line, too. No Hovis is eaten, mind.

The added treat this week is the mother and daughter team of Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling, and they're both as much fun as you'd hope. Gatiss' script gives them good material to play off each other with, and the dashes of comedy and something more sinister gel really rather well.

The unheralded star, though, might just be director Saul Metzstein, who's willing to shake the rule book up a little here in the way he presents the episode. It's nothing radical, but it's a little different for Who what he puts on screen here, and it's certainly effective. 

Any good, then? Yes, it is. Gatiss harked back to vintage Doctor Who with his earlier series 7b adventure, Cold War, and he's blending old and new a little here too (albeit not to the same extent). He's also throwing into the pot a fair few horror cliches which he has a lot of fun with, chucking in the odd Yorkshire-targeted joke as he does so. 

Granted, The Crimson Horror rarely soars, but it proves to be an interesting collection of characters, in an interesting set of circumstances. It's breezy, and occasionally just stopping short of a cheeky wink in your direction. The Crimson Horror is a fun, standalone mystery, with lots of little things to like about it, that add up to a perfectly solid whole. Potentially interesting final scene, too...

Read our spoiler-filled review of Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, here.

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