The Crimson Horror – Episode Review & Analysis

Ah, Ah, Ah… Spoilers

By gum we’re in Yorkshire in 1893 me lad! A husband and wife are discussing strange goings-on at a factory. He kisses her before going into a red room. Immediately, a lift opens to a group of black-clad women. Diana Rigg (Mrs Gillyflower) immediately informs the simpering wife that she is sorry for what happened to her husband; he is dead. But she cannot understand – he has only just gone into that room and was perfectly fine. She hears a scream and then screams herself.

Next we see a body in the morgue; it is very red and probably the result of a steampunk (steampink?) sunbed. He seemed to be in the process of screaming at the point of death. The mortician calls the condition “The Crimson Horror”. The person viewing the body is the brother of the deceased. When back in London he goes to see Vastra and Jenny and gives them an explanation including reference to an Optogram. They dismiss this as nonsense but the body did have an image in the eye upon death. Vastra lifts her veil and the man collapses in shock. The image is The Doctor! The pair devide to go to Yorkshire.

CREDITS (Another Mark Gatiss episode)

Vastra explains to Jenny and Styx about Mrs Gillyflower and her factory. Jenny travels to Yorkshire to attend a speech given by her about a place called “Sweetville” a kind of commune-cum-workhouse where they can take sanctuary away from the sins of modern life. She explains that her daughter was blinded by her drunken husband and only in this place can they gain a true moral existence away from the decadence of normal society. She leads them in a rendition of Jerusalem. Jenny intends to infiltrate Sweetville and find out what is going on.

The blind girl has something or someone in a cell and she secretly takes things to it, food for example. Back in Yorkshire, the man who brought the case to the attention of the trio has returned to check on progress. Seeing Styx he collapses again. Styx takes him inside and suggests if they don’t hear from Jenny they might travel to Yorkshire – of course he favours the “all guns blazing” approach.

Jenny gets talking to a girl in the queue while waiting to enter Sweetville; she sees a door and decides to break through, encouraging the girl to create a distraction. She does so and Jenny slips through into a room with some old-fashioned speakers pumping factory noises around Sweetville. It seems that Vastra is now there and she has gone to see the mortician that investigated their client’s brother’s body. He presents her with a jar of red stuff and she looks shocked – she knows what it is!

Mrs Gillyflower and her daughter (Ada) are eating and discussing a person called “Mister Sweet”. He never seems to join them for dinner it seems. Mrs Gillyflower creates a distraction for her butler to go away and then slips some salt into her bra. Weird, I’ve heard about socks in the bra but a pinch of salt?

Jenny has discovered the cell. She opens the food hole and a red hand shoots and, trying to grab her. She talks to the person through the door, getting him or her to agree not to attack her. When satisfied, she opens the door. It’s The Doctor and he’s looking a bit red! He can’t speak, his jaw seems stuck open. She releases him from his shackles and the pair make their escape, watching a group of people being dropped into a vat of the red stuff in the meantime. Ada realises that her “monster” has disappeared. The Doctor requests to be placed into some sort of storage cupboard with his sonic screwdriver (oo-er, no time for that). After a flash of green he bursts out. He’s normal again! In celebration he kisses Jenny and she slaps him (she’s a married woman and a lesbian!). Before they stop Mrs Gillyflower they must find Clara. In Sepia flashback, he explained what happened to the two of them including an attempt at an awful Yorkshire accent, ecky thump! She has set up a match factory in her own town and it is funded by her silent partner “Mister Sweet”. Next thing you know, The Doctor is being dunked in red goo and Clara has an expression on her face like a Victorian Stepford Wife. The Doctor it seems was supposed to have gone onto the scrap heap but Ada saved him and stowed him away. Jenny cannot understand why he is looking for Clara because she is dead. He cannot and will not explain to her because he must find her. The Doctor finds Clara in a house smiling stupidly inside a giant bottle. Grabbing a chair, he breaks the glass.

Styx is berating the horse for being unable to find Sweetville. It has “failed in its mission and faces summary execution”. But a boy named Thomas Thomas gives him quite specific directions. Nice in-joke there!

Back at the cell, Mrs Gillyflower finds Ada and demands an explanation. She is angry that Ada saved one of the condemned.

In the process of saving Clara, The Doctor and Jenny are confronted by a group of Mrs Gillyflower’s followers. Jenny removes her Victorian outfit and reveals her “I’m kicking arse” leather number. After smacking down a few, they decide to run. But Styx turns up shooting and the bad guys run away. Clara is revived and all of them have lots of questions, including Vastra who cannot understand why Clara is alive. Because Vastra knows what the Crimson Horror is, she explains. It was the venom excreted from a Jurassic parasite. The Doctor realises that she is going to poison the air by dispersing the venom from a rocket.

The Doctor goes back to see Ada and thanks her for saving him. She explains why her mother would not choose her for the coming apocalypse. Clara and The Doctor then go to see Mrs Gillyflower and they reveal that she has one of the parasites attached to her body. After revealing her dastardly plot she sets the rocket in motion for launch. Jenny and Vastra though are at the launch site and are planning something. She will wipe out most life on the planet, leaving a select few for a new golden age.

Ada has been listening at the door and realises that her mother has deceived her all this time. She attacks her mother and Clara throws a chair at the launch computer. Mrs Gillyflower tricks Ada into coming to her and she takes her hostage, making an escape to the launch site – there is a second launch mechanism. The Doctor and Clara give chase. But it is too late – she launches the rocket and it explodes over the Yorkshire sky. But Vastra and Jenny have removed the vat of venom. The rocket has been wasted and Mrs Gillyflower foild. Styx shows up and begins shooting again. In the struggle, Mrs Gillyflower falls over the banister and to the bottom of the stairwell. While she lies dying, Mister Sweet crawls away and she pleads for him to stay. Ada thinks a skewer might do wonders for his dress sense before deciding that no, he should be beaten to death.

At the finale, Clara enquires as to why they were heading to London. All nonchalantly The Doctor proclaims there was no particular reason. He says his goodbyes, wishes Ada good luck and Jenny presses him again for an explanation on Clara – he once again refuses. Their client arrives just to watch the departure of the TARDIS and promptly disappears again.

Back in the modern day, enter pesky children who have discovered a collection of photographs of Clara throughout time. She accidently ‘fesses up but cannot understand the photo from Victorian London – she hasn’t been there and wasn’t The Doctor going to take her? Now she is intrigued and perhaps the penny has dropped. Let’s hope she gives him a grilling soon.

Next week… THEY’RE BAAAAACK! And The Doctor goes all Locutus of Borg.


I enjoyed this far more on a second viewing. First time around I felt it was confusing and not particularly coherent, especially in view of what the Crimson Horror was actually supposed to do to people. At first I thought the red skin was the point of it but now I realise that these were the disposed, people who were not good enough for Mrs Gillyflower’s new order. The actual victims are those who are docile and obedient to Mrs Gillyflower and these are the ones who would be saved – those already in Sweetville while the rest of the world is killed off.

I was expecting/hoping that there would be a reference to The Great Intelligence. Mostly because of the Victorian setting and partly due to this being similar to previous plots (Christmas and the first episode in this half of the series). Moffat missed a trick here but there is the possibility that he may have been linked to it in some way down the line.

Otherwise this was a bog-standard episode. Not great but not awful either. Generally pretty forgettable in that I can’t imagine it being on anybody’s best or worst list. Slightly concerned about the lack of overall plot arc in the last few episodes too considering we are supposed to be leading up to something big (and The Great Intelligence seems far too mute considering he is supposed to be this season’s big bad). That is one thing that Moffat’s tenure has been keen on but these all feel so bizarre as a series of stand-aloners. It is always good to see the return of Vastra, Jenny and Styx and they were used effectively. Vastra is quickly becoming my favourite part-time companion. Jenny’s voice annoys me but I like her and Styx adds a good dose of humour without being absurd.

And now Clara knows about her other self in Victorian London. The Doctor had hinted that she “reminded him of someone” and until this point she had left it at that. I imagine in her wildest dreams she never imagined it would be her doppelganger with the same name. Expect some development along those lines soon enough. This is about to get very interesting!

4 thoughts on “The Crimson Horror – Episode Review & Analysis

  1. Matt

    I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it is a best episode but best of the historical ones maybe. The story itself was very stereotypical of Who but I liked the fresh perspective of following the sidekicks and joining in halfway though the story, skipping all the landing-wrong place-someone screams instantly- mission afoot stuff (that was actually stylishly retold in old style instagram video. I think the sheer craziness of the villain and the violence of her daughter at the end raises the standard a bit. I felt the ending was a bit silly though. Clara just happened to be in all the photos they just happened to be using at school? Lame.

  2. cjmoseley

    Personally I think the best part of the episode were the “extradordinarly long time trying to get a gobby Austrailian to Heathrow” and “Brave heart, Clara.” Both referencing Tegan, arguably the longest running and most annoying companion ever (Adric and Turrlough are also in the running of course). It wasn’t brilliant, Vastra was underused, and as for that bright red muppet…

    1. Yes, I loved those references to Tegan. I quite liked her at the time, found her preferable to the wet lettuce that was Nyssa – I hasten to add that as a scientist she was woefully misused as a companion most of the time.

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