Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What's Red And Dumb All Over?


With The Snowmen, I had commented that it was basically a pilot for the much-wished for Madame Vastra/Jenny spin-off that NuWhovians are clamoring for.  I am not one of those people: I find the Silurian and her lesbian Cockney lover (or wife, in Steven Moffat's delusional world) to be idiotic.  However, given that NuWho now basically caters to those with simple minds, who don't object to plot holes or who believe "you don't apply logic to Doctor Who", I guess same-sex bestiality is something to celebrate.  With The Crimson Horror, what we have is basically an episode of The Lizard and The Lady (as I call the Madame Vastra/Jenny Show) with special guest star The Doctor.  As much as I love Dame Diana Rigg and as good as she and her daughter Rachel Stirling are, The Crimson Horror takes too much away from the main character to make it a true Doctor Who episode, and even goes so far as to make things worse for the leads (but more on that later).

The 'Great Detective' Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) is consulted by a Mr. Thursday (Brendan Patricks) on a most curious case in distant Yorkshire.  Bodies with waxy, glowing, red skin are found in Victorian Yorkshire, among them his brother (Patricks again), and who else but Vastra, her maid/mistress Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Sontaran manservant Strax (Dan Starkey) could go to the North to investigate? (Answer: no one else, because, after all, this Unholy Three are the stars of at least this episode, but I digress).  This is especially vital since in the photograph of the victim's eye is implanted the visage of The Doctor (Matt Smith).  The plan is simple: Jenny will infiltrate Sweetville, the factory/cult founded by Mrs. Gillyflower (Rigg), a religious fanatic (and really, is there any other type) and look around the factory.

Damn it, I'M the Star of This Show...
Jenny goes into Sweetville while Vastra goes to the morgue where the mortician is all too happy (for a price) to have people look upon "the crimson 'orror."  Vastra recognizes the symptoms the victims have encountered before, and Jenny (a good 18 minutes into the episode) makes a shocking discovery.  The "monster" that Mrs. Gillyflower's blinded daughter Ava (Stirling) keeps as her pet/companion is The Doctor!  He is bright red, stiff, and can barely speak.  Jenny rescues him and with the help of his handy-dandy sonic screwdriver he is able to return (24 minutes into the episode) into the goofy Doctor I've come to hate and suffer through.

In a pastiche of old-style cinema (deliberately scratched audio and picture, sepia-tone, jumping picture), the Doctor has a flashback to bring Jenny up to speed.  He and his Companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) had come to Victorian Yorkshire (aiming for London but missing it as is the Doctor's want...if only River Song were there to pilot the TARDIS correctly) and discovered the truth behind "the crimson 'orror."  Mrs. Gillyflower is preparing for Apocalypse, and taking the humans selected and dipping them in the red liquid to preserve them.  Those in the rejected pile (who tend to be on the ugly side) were the ones who got that lovely red tint.  Ada, however, took a shine to the Doctor, who had survived the process because he is not human.  Ada luckily locked him up secretly as 'my monster' gave her a little bit of company (or as much company as a virtually mute red zombie can give a blind spinster). 

Fortunately for everyone, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax rolled around to save the day, otherwise the Doctor would have been permanently sidelined and Clara would have remained in a jar...seriously, she was trapped in a jar.

Now with Vastra/Jenny/Strax to sort it all out, The Doctor need only find Clara (confusing Jenny who saw A Clara die in The Snowmen) and stop the mad Mrs. Gillyflower from TAKING OVER THE WORLD.  Now, how is this mysterious silent partner Mr. Sweet?  Well, Vastra knows that the particular odor from the red liquid is from the Repulsive Red Leech the Silurians encountered when they dominated the planet.  As the Doctor confronts Mrs. Gillyflower, we make the shocking discovery: Mr. Sweet is a giant red leech sucking on her tit!


Despite what she's done to her own daughter, and despite the combined forces of the stars of the show...and The Doctor & Clara, Mrs. Gillyflower is determined to TAKE OVER THE WORLD by wiping out all humanity and start her own master race...I think.  Even more spectacularly, despite falling several feet Mrs. Gillyflower STILL has enough energy to make a plea for forgiveness to her daughter, which is promptly rejected.

After The Doctor deposits Clara back to her own time, she is accosted by the children she's been watching, Angie (Eva De Leon Allen) and Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson), who have discovered that their nanny is a time traveler (thanks to some pictures of Clara from previous adventures available online).  Despite her protests, Clara it appears MUST take the little tykes on a ride on the TARDIS, and is left to solve the puzzle as to why she was photographed in Victorian LONDON when she was only in Victorian Yorkshire... 

I went back and forth on The Crimson Horror a great deal.  I think that the thing that is saving the episode from being among the worst for me is that we have two great actresses in the story...and I'm not referring to McIntosh, Stewart, or Coleman.  I have great personal affection for Diana Rigg (the Best Bond Girl of All Time...screw YOU, Adele and your crappy Skyfall song), and she seems to delight in being evil.  It takes a lot to make me accept (not believe, but accept) that one  has a big red leech sucking on your breasts and not make it look totally idiotic, and to her credit Rigg managed that neat trick.

I have to give credit where credit is due: Stirling manages to outshine her own legendary mother in the first project that they have ever done together.  She is mostly sympathetic as the blinded Ada, who still fears that she will have no one to love and will not be allowed into her mother's predicted Paradise.  I say mostly because sometimes I wondered if she wasn't at least either a little dim or weak to realize what her mother was actually up to.  This is particularly true with regards to the affection she has for her 'monster', where she appears to be less lonely and more in the Annie Wilkes in Misery mode of keeping someone prisoner.

Other than Rigg and Stirling, I found very little to like in The Crimson Horror.  Well, apart from the costumes, but then I'm almost a total sucker for costume pictures (you should have seen me while watching Jane Eyre starring the unofficial love of my life, Mia Wasikowska).  The Crimson Horror does what Doctor Who should most definitely NOT do...make the main character irrelevant.

Jenny'll Fix It...
Let's be honest: the show was about Madame Vastra & Company.  In all The Crimson Horror, if one removed the Doctor and Clara (whom I'd argue was basically already removed given the almost absolutely no importance she played in the episode) and replaced him with any generic character.  Let's say it's just a Professor from a nearby school, or an intrepid reporter.  Let's say that he somehow survived the Crimson Process (I'm sure Mark Gatiss could come up with something), and kept pretty much the same story.  Would we have had anything different in The Crimson Horror?  Sadly, I don't think so. 

In fact, I think that there is something wrong when the main character of a show does not appear until almost half the episode is over.  Even then, that perhaps can be forgiven, if Smith's now-official take on the Doctor as almost this idiot who can't do anything except flash his sonic screwdriver around weren't the one we see.  Doctor Who may be thought of as a 'kid's show', but why does the 30-year-old lead behave as though the main character was 12?

I've seen the sonic screwdriver do some pretty stupid things, and I've seen it used as a Deus Ex Machina far more times than I care to remember, but this is the FIRST TIME I've seen it basically heal the Doctor from something that perhaps with a little forethought he wouldn't have needed to be healed from.  As I watched The Crimson Horror (in horror myself, I might add), I said to myself, "sonic screwdriver heals as well?  My God!"  I sat there, astounded that A.) the titular lead was placed in this position in the first place, and B.) that such an easy way out was granted to him. 

It's not just bad writing (which it certainly is: Gatiss is NO genius).  It's just lazy writing.

Even worse, The Crimson Horror basically makes out that the Doctor was almost WAITING for Jenny/Vastra/Strax to rescue him.  "Just when you think your favorite Victorian chambermaid won't come..." or something to that effect the Doctor tells Jenny when he sees her.  Since when was the Doctor HOPING someone else would come to save the day?  What if Vastra & Company had NEVER come up North?  Did Gatiss ever think of that?  I know it is perhaps odd speculation to think of such things as logic, but this is what I was thinking while watching. 

What if The Lizard & The Lady HADN'T come up?  What then?  The Doctor, who has escaped and defeated Daleks, Cybermen, The Rani, The Master, the Silurians, the Sea Devils, Fenric, even the Myrka in Warriors of the Deep couldn't escape some old lady with a big red leech on her tit!?!

I know Gatiss wanted some shocking twist in that the DOCTOR was the one who was 'the monster', but really the only thing he accomplished was to have shown that on NuWho, we might as well dump the main character and replace him with a Silurian, her lesbian lover, and a Sontaran who is there for comic relief...and have a man faint about three times because all men faint at some point.

One aspect of The Crimson Horror I didn't care for one bit was the Doctor's flashback to bring Jenny (and us) up to speed as to how he got there.  I've never been fond of bits that are too self-conscious of how they look.  Case in point is how the flashback was presented: the sepia tones, scratched picture and soundtrack.  Why are we going through all that?  I know it was director Saul Metzstein's efforts to give Crimson Horror a more distinct/era-appropriate look, but it was more than distracting.  It was pointless.  What would have been so wrong with starting at this point and moving forward, with the Doctor sending a message to Vastra & Company to bring them here (if you really wanted to include them in the episode)?

Finally, what I found really hideous was in how Artie and Angie are shoehorned into the next episode.  Just what we need: two annoying (or dare I call them, meddlesome) kids to take up more time.  I could also point out the logical fallacy of how someone could take pictures inside a secret Soviet submarine or show clear pictures of the Doctor and Clara in a haunted house but then given how I've been asked NOT to apply logic to Doctor Who, why bother? 

Seriously, though, since when are pictures of secret subs so available...even if it IS the Internet?

Now, again I don't want to say that everything in The Crimson Horror was the usual bad Doctor Who stuff.  There were some good parts.  Stirling really gave a great performance (mostly, at times Ada was a bit whiny for my tastes), and it was nice to see Rigg got some of the joke of it all.  "In the wrong hands, that venom could wipe out all life on this planet," the Doctor tells Mrs. Gillyflower.  "Do you know what these are?" she asks while thrusting her hands at him.  "The wrong hands," she all but cackles. 

Somehow, a villain telling The Eleventh Doctor to basically F**K himself delights me.
I've wanted to say that to him for some time now.

I did also laugh when the Doctor, looking at the group about to attack him and Jenny, remarks, "Attack of the Supermodels."  That WAS funny.

Side note: did anyone else wonder how an old lady who fell several stories managed to survive that, and live long enough to continue monologuing...I mean, speaking?  Is it me or is that....A CLICHE?

If it weren't for the fact that it is comedy-heavy (Strax is still stupid, the Doctor more so, men fainting at every turn), had a sadly dumb monster (though Rigg as the villain was great), and had an irrelevant title character and even more irrelevant Companion, The Crimson Horror on the whole made for a good Madame Vastra & Jenny Show episode.

Just get rid of that guy with the bow tie and the tart with him.  They're unnecessary on Doctor Who...


Next Story: Nightmare in Silver    

1 comment:

  1. I kind of agree with you. I am very disappointed with this .5 of the show in general, and I agreed with most of your points about this episode and feel that they may be generalized to all the...dare I call them..."Clarisodes." I don't know whether I don't like her or whether I don't like the shows she has been on, but a long-timer fan (I listen to the shows that are missing the audio...I am devout), is losing interest. My one point of disagreement is that I actually like Vastra and Jenny. I don't care for Strax. I don't care for idiocy to replace comedy. It is low. I absolutely think that logic should be applied, and I think that is why the show is losing some of its beauty. Less and less care is being taken with the logical process. I am very sad.


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