Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE CRIMSON HORROR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE CRIMSON HORROR

Matthew Kresal returns to Sweetville.
For years, there was chatter among Doctor Who fans around a spin-off based on the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. Perhaps because of its period setting and two regulars in make-up, it’s proven something that Big Finish rather than the BBC have taken up. The template for those further adventures lies in The Crimson Horror, aired as part of the second half of Series Seven in 2013.

Written by Mark Gatiss, it's an episode that plays with many of the writer's favorite tropes. After all, it's a combination of Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers (that would be the one with Steed and Mrs. Peel) and of course Doctor Who itself. The first of those shouldn't come as a surprise since Gatiss is the co-creator of Sherlock after all. It's fun to watch here, especially in the opening minutes as Vastra's services are engaged in the same style as many a classic Holmes story. Elsewhere, The Avengers influence comes in Jenny's effort to infiltrate Sweetville (which, as a mysterious factory, also has echoes of Nigel Kneale's seminal Quatermass II from 1955) and the leather catsuit she wears during the episode's latter half. The science fiction nature of the plot owes much to Doctor Who itself of course but the combination of all these elements made for a solid script from Gatiss. Is that because he got to play with so many tropes along the way?
The Crimson Horror also shows how strong the casting of the three Paternoster Gang members was. For the opening fifteen minutes or so, and for a good chunk of the running time even after that, they are the lead characters. Along the way, all three actors get the chance to shine. Neve McIntosh shows off the intelligent but cheeky side to her Silurian detective, Catrin Stewart gets to play Jenny as the on the ground operative picking locks and beating up baddies, and Dan Starkey provides comic relief mixed with lasers as Strax. Separately and together, they very much carry the episode even with the presence of Matt Smith's Doctor, which is the all more to their credit.

They aren't the only highlights of The Crimson Horror, though. The Avengers influence is the all the better for the presence of its longtime leading lady, the late Diana Rigg, as Mrs. Gillyflower. It’s a role Riggs seems to relish in playing as it falls in the tradition of so many of the baddies she faced as Emma Peel in that iconic series. Her daughter Rachel Stirling appears in the episode as, appropriately enough, Mrs. Gillyfower's daughter Ada. The real-life mother/daughter play off each other splendidly as the relationship between their two characters is a less than happy one which might be to their credit as performers and Gatiss as the writer. They and the Paternoster Gang also have some nice interactions with Smith's Doctor and Jenna Coleman's Clara whom, though sidelined to an extent, still make their presence felt when they do appear.
Additionally, the episode's production values are strong. Production designer Michael Pickwoad and costume designer Howard Burden are up to the challenge of creating the larger than life, steampunk Avengers world that Gatiss hands them on the page. From Jenny's leather catsuit to a steampunk rocket hidden in a mill smokestack, they bring the episode to life superbly. Murray Gold's score brings in plenty of action and suspense themes which compliment the production as a whole. Brought together under the direction of Saul Metzstein, the results are solid throughout.

The combination of all these elements made for one of the most memorable and enjoyable offerings of Series Seven. The Crimson Horror is a fun mix of genres from a writer clearly enjoying what he's writing. That it's brought superbly to life is even better, especially given how it shows off its guest cast.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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