The Crimson Horror promised the same sort of Classic Doctor Who Victorian horror mystery as the Fourth Doctor serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang.  There’s something about the Victorian setting that allows Doctor Who to shine in a Gothic, almost Steampunk sort of way.  I regard Talons as one of the best Classic serials, and so while it may be an impractical comparison, I set the bar pretty high for The Crimson Horror. 
doctor-who-the-crimson-horror-promo-pics-3-170x125One important aspect of this episode is that it was “Doctor-lite”, at least the first half.  This format has worked well in the past with episodes such as Turn Left, Blink, and my personal favorite, Midnight.  It is a format that must be handled with great care and cleverness, otherwise you end up with Love and Monsters, which… well… Abzorbaloff… need I say more? 
So the episode begins with a man meeting his untimely demise.  Next, in the morgue, we see his body frozen in terror and tinted blood red.  We’re told by the mortician that this is not the first occurrence.  The victim’s brother enlists Madam Vastra and her wife Jenny to investigate.  Images taken from the dead man’s eyes—just go with it—show the last face he saw before his death was the Doctor’s!
This first half of the episode basically serves as a pilot-like presentation of The Vastra, Jenny, and Strax Show.   The Doctor’s friends try to unravel a mystery surrounding him amidst a serial murder investigation.  And so off they go to “The North”, as Strax so dreadfully accentuates.  There they find Mrs. Gillyflower preaching some pseudo-apocalyptic sermon.  Frightening the assembled rabble, she unveils Sweetville as a haven from the sinful world.  Jenny infiltrates while Vastra and Strax investigate from the periphery as the mysteries of Sweetville are unveiled.  Early on the creep-factor is laid on thick with the gruesomely disfigured Ada, Mrs. Gillyflower’s daughter, passes food through a slot in a door. 
doctor-who-the-crimson-horror-promo-pics-5-170x125Jenny eventually happens upon the same door, and when she peeks in the hatch she is grabbed by a blood-red hand.  She pleads with whoever is inside to stay calm as she opens the door.  When she enters she is shocked to see the Doctor bound and chained, his skin all crimson.  The Doctor is in obvious pain, gripped by fear, and his skin oddly hardened, presumably a result of the “reddening” of his skin. 
As they flee, Jenny and the Doctor see a rack full of people being slow-dipped into a vat of glowing red bubbly goo.  The Doctor manages to get Jenny to help him into a sort of shower that reverses the effects of the “reddening”.  When he comes out he’s all “Doctored” up and ecstatic.  He even kisses the married Jenny in a moment of pure joy at being revived. 
The show flashes backward at this point, as The Doctor recants the tale of how he came to be trapped in Sweetville.  This is when we see the Doctor and Clara arriving at an earlier date and investigating the very same mystery of the crimson horror.  We learn that people have been entering Sweetville but never coming back out for quite a while. 
doctor-who-the-crimson-horror-promo-pics-15-170x125There’s a moment very reminiscent of the 3rd Doctor working in his lab at UNIT headquarters as the Doctor plays with a chemistry set to figure out what the red goo is.  The Doctor and Clara interrogate Mrs. Gillyflower but the Doctor ends up being dipped in red the red goo.  The process apparently didn’t work and as he’s lying in the reject pile he reaches out to Ada.  The next scene is her promising to care for “her special monsters”.  A rather horrifying montage follows as we see a the doctor living in his cell, followed by the moment the man from the morgue bursts into his cell and drops dead, explaining why the Doctor was the last thing the man saw.
The Doctor eventually finds Clara trapped in some sort of stasis jar and promptly frees her by bashing the jar with a chair.  He puts her into the reviving shower but is interrupted by Mrs. Gillyflower’s goons.  Jenny volunteers to distract them and begins whipping their hides.  Unfortunately there’s too many of them, but this is when Strax and Vastra arrive, laser rifles firing and swords swinging.  They manage to chase the goons away and Clara is revived. 
A far as the crimson horror is concerned, Vastra has insight into the mystery.  She explains that back when her people ruled the Earth—65 million years ago—a deadly parasite known as the Red Leech was one of the greatest scourges of the time.  Also contributing by playing her part as clever companion, Clara helps the Doctor realize that Sweetville’s chimney isn’t blowing any smoke. 
doctor-who-the-crimson-horror-promo-pics-13-170x125They find Mrs. Gillyflower and interrogate her about Mr. Sweet, a mysterious figure  of whom she often refers but nobody else has ever seen.  In a moment of very real shock Mr. Sweet is revealed to be a grotesque little parasite living on Mrs. Gillyflower’s chest.  I was pleasantly grossed out by the creepy little critter.    

The little creep is a surviving ancient remnant from Vastra’s time that provides Mrs. Gillyflower with its venom in return for sustenance and protection.  Mrs. Gillyflower’s ultimate plan is to detonate a rocket in the atmosphere which will spread the venomous crimson horror across the planet.  She’s pretty much just wacky and wants to create an Eden for herself and Mr. Sweet.  We learn that she actually experimented on Ada, saying that “sacrifices must be made”.   Ada steals the show here as she explodes into a rage and begins beating her mother with a cane.  It was actually quite powerful.  Clara seizes the moment to smash the rocket’s controls with a handy chair. 

Mrs. Gillyflower recoups and takes Ada hostage before running away.  The Doctor and Clara follow and suddenly it’s a race against the clock as Mrs. Gillyflower ascends the chimney-silo to use the rocket’s manual controls.  The very Steampunk-looking rocket launches, but it’s too late; Vastra and Jenny removed the nectar in time.  Finding herself suddenly surrounded Mrs. Gillyflower fires her gun.  Strax fires back and Mrs. Gillyflower plummets down the chimney.  At the bottom Mr. Sweet abandon’s Mrs. Gillyflower and crawls away as she dies.  As the Doctor is deciding what to do with Mr. Sweet, Ada smashes it to pulp with her cane. 

doctor-who-the-crimson-horror-promo-pics-16-170x125This whole episode was great, but it was the very end, after the main story had finished, that deserves the most attention.  We find Clara as she is dropped off back home.  She finds her laptop open with pictures of her from all different time periods.  The children she was nanny to in The Bells of Saint John walk in and confront her about how she could be in all those pictures.  Her response isn’t what I would have expected; Instead of smirking and trying to convince them they aren’t real she actually seems genuinely shocked to see herself in some of them.  It’s as if through this whole second half of the season the Doctor hasn’t really been traveling with just the Clara he picked up in Bells.  He’s been traveling with even more Clara duplicates than we knew existed.  I have absolutely no idea what to make of this but it really did refresh the whole mystery surrounding Clara, as well as turn it on its head and twist it around.  I am so deeply confused and I love it!

I can’t sufficiently relay how much I loved this episode.  It successfully mixed the Doctor-lite format with some of the best horror mystery storytelling Doctor Who has ever seen.  It just worked on every level.  In many ways it managed to blend not only the Moffat and Russell T. Davis eras of NuWho, but feel very much like Classic Who as well.  The acting was beyond superb, the look and feel of the episode was captivating, and the moments with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax worked better than I thought they would.  The Crimson Horror is an example of what Doctor Who is capable of at its best.  

image source: [doctorwhotv]