This week’s episode features the return of some of the more intriguing recent additions to the “Doctor Who” mythos. Last seen building reputations as great but mysterious detectives in “The Snowmen,” the Silurian Madame Vastra, her human companion Jenny Flint, and her Sontaran valet Strax return to confront “The Crimson Horror,” but where are The Doctor and Clara? Check out my recap and review, after the jump…
“Doctor Who” second series veteran writer Mark Gatiss returns as well this episode, his last episode being “Cold War.” As has been done in previous seasons, this is a story told through the eyes of others – rather than The Doctor and/or his companion(s). In this case, it’s Madame Vastra and her crew as they investigate the Crimson Horror, as well as Mrs. Gillyflower and her dream community, Sweetville.
Like the Van Baalen brothers in our last episode, and the Gunslinger earlier this season, it feels like the BBC is trying generate backdoor pilots for spin-offs of “Doctor Who.” They hit pay dirt twice with both “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures” (the less said about “Rose Tyler: Earth Defence,” probably the better), why not try again? I would definitely watch a Vastra series.
At least with Madame Vastra and company, they are characters we have seen a few times, and their species at least are very Who-centric. Madame Vastra was a Silurian (evolved from the dinosaurs and the supposed true dominant race of Earth) awoken by the building of the London Underground and befriended by The Doctor.
She fell in love with her human maid, Jenny Flint, and married her. Their penchant for investigation and detective work brought them to the attention of Scotland Yard where they became consultants. They were soon joined, after their first appearance in “A Good Man Goes to War,” by the Sontaran Commander Strax, who became their butler, and our comic relief. I love Strax.
Vastra became known as The Great Detective and the two became the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The writer changed them to human men, because, after all, women, especially an alien woman, would be just too unbelievable. Riiiight.
We don’t see The Doctor until about twenty minutes in, and we don’t see The Doctor we know and love until the twenty-four minute mark. And Matt Smith is so glad to be back he plants a kiss right on Jenny Flint’s lips. I’m not sure who was more surprised by that – her, him, or us, but it was great, especially when she slapped him.
We had been dropped into this story right in the middle, but unlike Age of Ultron from Marvel Comics, we get a flashback to tell us what we missed. The cool part is that the flashback comes in grainy old timey film clips, complete with bad cuts, spots and scratches on the lens, calliope music, and faded sepia tones. Brilliance. Props to director Saul Metzstein.
As it turns out, both Madame Vastra and The Doctor have been investigating a fatal affliction called ‘the Crimson Horror’ that leaves victim in a stiff shock and painted bright red. Our villainess, Mrs. Gillyflower, played by Dame Diana Rigg who has aged so much it breaks my heart, is trying to save people from the apocalypse, by luring them to Sweetville and perfectly preserving them in bright red paint, I mean venom.
Gillyflower’s perfect people will take over the planet after she poisons the planet with the venom of Mr. Sweet, her parasitic silent partner. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this kind of manic human evil on “Doctor Who,” nice change of pace. And it doesn’t hurt she’s being portrayed by a great actress.
When Jenny first finds The Doctor, she asks him how long he’d been trapped in the red, he replies that he doesn’t know, it could be weeks or months. But it didn’t matter, he once took ages to get a gobby Australian back to Heathrow, rudely referencing old school companion Tegan Jovanka.
Trivia time, Mark Gatiss wrote this episode with Diana Rigg specifically in mind, as a vehicle for her to play alongside and against her daughter Rachael Stirling. Stirling plays Ada, Gillyflower’s blind and imperfect daughter.
Also when The Doctor mentions Clara, Jenny is taken aback. The Clara she knows is dead. There’s also the boy who helps Strax find Sweetville, named Thomas Thomas, and leatherbound Jenny kicking ass. The best part is that when Clara goes home, the kids she cares for have found proof that she’s been to the past.
This was a great episode. And best of all, Clara didn’t save The Doctor for a change. Here’s a peek at the next episode, “Nightmare in Silver,” the return of the Cybermen by Neil Gaiman. See you next time.