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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Cool, looking forward to it.

"Granted, The Crimson Horror rarely soars"

This has been a problem for me this series, aside from the amazing 'Asylum of the Daleks' everything that's followed has been merely ok or complete rubbish. Definately The Moffs worst series at the helm, not convinced by Clara either.

Agreed. Although I thought "Asylum Of The Daleks" fell short too. This whole series so far has been pretty "meh".

That said, I do feel the last few stories have tried to hark back to the horror driven "Hinchliffe era" of the 70's which I do feel is a definite improvement on the start of series 7.

When I first saw the word'Sweetville' my mind was instantly transfixed on the Bertie Basset guy from McCoy's era.

I've liked most of the episode this season. Asylum of the Daleks is up there as one of the best with The Rings of Akhaten being my least favourite. As my mate said: "You can't have a series that's being going for almost 50 years without the odd poor episode or two."
Really enjoyed Cold War, Hide and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and this weeks is looking promising too. All-in-all I'm happy with the quality of Doctor Who these days as a long standing fan since the early 80's (born in the 70's). Bring on the 50th.

But I'd much rather next series they focus on larger stories - everything feels so rushed now. Lets have some epic (by recent standards) stories that runs over 3 or 4 episodes.
The whole a 'thin' series arc being played out over a bunch of quick standalone episodes formula is growing tired in my opinion.

Does anybody really - really - want a spin-off series for the comedy Sontaran and his chums? Terrible, terrible characters; Moffat has ruined forever two of the great, iconic Doctor Who creations all for the sake of a few lame gags.

Agreed completely. Not looking forward to another episode that "rarely soars."

"Potentially interesting final scene, too..."
Does this mean we have finally have a good ending? Haven't seen one of those since The Bells of St. John.

in other words, boring, mundane, and nothing out of the ordinary. Just like the previous episodes.

And here we go. 'Fandom' picks out the one negative in a mostly positive review and runs with it. Along come their fellow incessant whingers to back them up. No time travel needed here. It ALWAYS runs like clockwork.

THOSE WORDS ARE BLASPHEMY. DO NOT BLASPHEME. DO NOT BLASPHEME. Seriously, though, given that I can honestly say you are the first person I've ever seen expressing anything other than joy at the prospect of a Vastra, Jenny and Strax spin-off, I'm pretty certain there are an awful lot of people out there who do really want a spin-off series for the comedy Sontaran and his chums. But, hey, it's Doctor Who fandom, haters gonna hate.

Oh how I hope so! That would liven up things!

Bullshit! Strax is a great character. He is ONE Sontaran. The comedy comes from him behaving exactly as a Sontaran would in the alien environment he finds himself in. In no way does this detract from the whole race, even for most sci-fi geeks who take it too seriously. Just another in long line of excuses to bash Moffat. Coming from Old Whovian farts or RTD bunnies is usually the only variable. Which are you?

Hardly a "whinger".

Being a "fan" allows me to be critical of the show's shortcomings as well as praising it when it excels itself. It doesn't mean I'm right or wrong as it's purely my opinion.

Perhaps you'd like to offer your opinion of "Doctor Who" so far rather than your opinion of "fandom"?

I agree with you 902%, it's a weak comedy crime-fighting act in the making.

Yeah but they've picked out a comment that applies to the WHOLE episode, not just one small negative point. That fact that it "...rarely soars..." seems like a fair reasonable cause for concern. It's hard to be too excited about something which sounds like it doesn't have much special about it, particularly when that applies to most of the series so far in the anniversary year. Doctor Who has been going, on and off, for 50 years. If you love most of it but are getting increasingly disappointment with just the last few years, then I'd say you still count as a fan. Tuning in in the hope that it improves, and complaining when it doesn't, is fair enough in my view. If the new show did not explicitly link itself to the older series then it might be more justifiable to say "It's a different show now", but it isn't. Every now and then we get a glimpse of what went before. If a person happens to think that what went before was, by and large, better than what's being produced now, then that does not make then an old fogey who's stuck in the past. It makes them a fan of the show, faithfully tuning in and hoping it will pick up.

I would not watch such a spin-off. Strax is funny when he's playing off the Doctor. I liked the interplay between them; but I agree that Sontarans should not have been turned into comedic relief. For the record, I am a fan of both classic and new Who, have really enjoyed Moffat's run of the show, and am definitely NOT an Old Whovian fart, as you put it.

one problem ive noticed with the series...

they introduce the "whats wrong with Clara" arc sooo early, right off the bat...that trying to solve that mystery every episode overshadows each individual tale and diminishes the quality of each viewing - cause you're solely focused on when is the little clue or reference or easter egg going to appear...and you forget to sit back and enjoy the ride

Completely agree with you!!! Shame on all the people who try to be critical about an episode that they haven't even seen yet! Don't judge it just by one review - I've disagreed with lots of reviews in the series so far, and not just the ones that said the episode would be terrible - some reviews were praising episodes as if they were better than God, and the actual thing turned out to be awful. In short, WAIT for the episode to have aired before you start to judge it so much.
Well, that's what I think, anyway.

Good to hear it. This always looked good, and fun. (NOT seeing this spin-off series with the trio, though.)

Mark Gatiss does a very nice job, and it will be interesting to see Diana Rigg -- one of the ultimate '60s icons -- in her "Dame" phase.

Must say, though, that I'm a bit under-wowed by Series 8 (excuse me, "7b," lol) especially as a 50th anniversary season.

I'm getting more of a very pleasant feeling from the show these days than a lot of dazzle.

Haven't felt the dazzle since Series 5 and RTD days (daft as some of the eps were) before that.

Oh, this year is better than last year.

The only good episode last year was the departure of the Ponds -- whom I very much liked -- and that one makes absolutely no sense.

I still love "Angels Take Manhattan" probably one of my favorite episodes. I do like 7b as a whole so far better than 7a. But still "Angels.." is well acted, well written, and well directed. A good farewell to the ponds.

"Three characters working in tandem"??? Time to look up,the meaning of the word Tandem I think... (Sorry to be so pedantic)

I'd love a 3 partner, the problem is that the format of this series seems to be a direct reaction to people complaining about the long arc of last series. A lot of people seem to have attention spans too short for even a two partner!

Rarely soars is being misread as either doesn't soar at all or the episode is crap. Pretty sure it means neither of the two.

Because one Sontaran= ruining the whole race. Brilliance.

I have not had that problem at all.

idk i feel like the episode starts and i am immediately looking for the clue or something hidden to help with the clara mystery...hanging on every word...whereas...other story arcs evolve over the we were given a big (?) right off the bat...

Asylum of the Daleks, amazing? Yeah, an episode with shitty characters, plot holes galore, trite and pointless subplots and no impact from the Daleks is a sheer masterpiece.

The ending to Akhaten was very emotional and actually made complete sense, and Cold War's, while a bit rushed, wasn't bad in principal.

I just wait naturally for it to occur and enjoy the episode. Matter of opinion, I suppose. :)

The word "interesting" used three times in the last paragraph...they used to call Steve Davis "interesting". Might let the V+ box take this one.

Really? "In tandem" is a commonly used idiom meaning in partnership or association.

I have found this second half of the series underwhelming

I've found this tribute-heavy sub-season very enjoyable (knocking some points off for some of the soppy excesses of Akhaten), but I have some trepidation about this one. Victoriana again, the return of the Scooby Gang, another take on the evil gloop idea, &c.
Sorry guys, I just don't get the love for the are-they-aren't-they lizard and companion with panto spudhead factotum. Perhaps they should give them a spinoff, so those that like it can enjoy the antics (much like Cpt Jock Harness and Shagwood) and the others don't have to bother.
Also, although looking forward to properly frightening Cybermen (who could actually sneak up on you or at least outpace your gran), I find Who goes a bit wonky when it strays into theme parks/circuses/carny etc (another nod backwards, of course). Still, looks like we're due a return of the trope where Doctor's mind is probed for a little clip show, which is fine by me.

I completely agree! Angels was awesome and is very hard to overtake with its in depth beauty and writing. It also proves how good Steven Moffat is as head-writer (eventhough he doesn't beat RTD imo) anyway... well said :P

I think a review of "fandom" would be rather interesting, personally. It'd be fascinating to see the critics critiqued, don't you think? ;)

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