Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Idiot Box: Doctor Who 7x11 - "The Crimson Horror" Review



Over the past few weeks, I've been harping on the fact that this current season of Doctor Who has seemed to suffer in quality in a way not yet seen in the relaunched series. At times I have been somewhat in awe of how bad some of these episodes have been, a feeling comparable to the same awe I once felt for how great it used to be. Take the subtle point where we realized the importance of the girl in the fireplace to the robots hunting her, or the tragic mistake of the nanogenes during the Blitz. All classic moments where everything came together so brilliantly that now in retrospect only serve to remind us how strange it is to see everything fall apart every week. The Crimson Horror did not leave me in awe one way or the other, neither being awful nor awesome in the end, and while that alone makes it one of the better installments this year, it also makes me very, very sad.



The Crimson Horror finds us back in the Victorian home of Lady Vastra the Silurian Detective and her small band of wacky sidekicks as they investigate the titular rash of, well rashes I guess, that just so happen to appear deadly, leading them to an apocalypse cult with an ancient weapon and of course, The Doctor. There was a time, back when I was under the assumption that the four crappy episodes between Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen were just a fluke, that I desperately wanted a spin-off series for these characters. Recent weeks had me worried that such a series might not be handled well in the hands of the current Who production staff, but this first episode back with them renews my faith in the possibility just a little bit.


All of their scenes are generally entertaining with a few downright delightful moments here and there, to the point that once The Doctor and Clara show up, the main characters of the show are often overshadowed by the trio of guest actors. The two groups begin the story looking into the same case separately, allowing for a narrative structure that jumps back and forth as new pieces of information fill in the gaps of our knowledge at different times, letting us at least pretend for a while that the story is going to turn out to be more clever than it ultimately does. Its a gimmick, but its better than nothing, and certainly better than the gimmick of just not being very good which they've employed so often this year, even if I don't quite know if it justified covering Matt Smith in all that red make-up.


The titular horror, which is arbitrarily crimson perhaps only for the dramatic title they seem to love repeating over and over, is of course something not of this Earth, or at least not of this time, and it leads to the one truly very good idea central to the episode. I won't go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but we find this makeshift village of religious zealots in fear of the End of Days seeking a way to save themselves from death that at least visually proves to be very creepy, even by Who-standards (or at least what they once were). The moment we see where the chosen ones are kept is the closest to that “ah ha!” moment we used to wait for in every Doctor Who episode back when we could count on it.


I would also say to this episode's credit that we get perhaps the best incidental villains since the last Christmas special, which is made more impressive by the fact that with one very small exception, they are just regular people. There's no attempt to create another Moffet-esque small army of creeps like The Silence or the upcoming Whispermen, and yet these Pilgrims are about as creepy as you can get just based on what they are doing and why. The politely psychotic Mrs. Gillyflower and her daughter Ada are on opposite ends of the spectrum, one monstrously evil and the other completely sympathetic, which works up to a point, until the final reveal of the mystery of Mr. Sweet sends the conclusion of the episode into a mad dash of craziness that, while fun, saps any subtlety from the proceedings.


And as for Mr. Sweet, I can only say that there is a brief suggestion of what a great threat he and his ilk were at one time, and once you seem him, you may have to laugh, which I'm not quite sure was the point. Still, overall The Crimson Horror is easily one of the better efforts so far this season, and while I can't stop myself from bitching about how bad its been up to this point, with this one, the marginally good preceding episode, and the Gaiman penned Cybermen story next week, I'm tentatively of the opinion that we might just pull this one out in the fourth quarter. Here's hoping.
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