“Will you be found wanting when the end of days has come, when judgment reigns down upon us all? Or will you be preserved against the coming apocalypse?” If you came here looking for a radical cult sermon offering you an escape from eternal damnation, well I’m afraid you arrived at the wrong place. However, if you take the time to watch this week’s episode of Doctor Who, you may perhaps find what you’re looking for.
“The Crimson Horror” is an interesting mix of the past and present for a show that is constantly testing the boundaries of temporal existence. Immediately, we are thrust into Victorian England – Yorkshire, to be exact. This is a time period we’ve explored quite a bit – including very recently with our current companion, Clara – on Doctor Who.
Looking back to the first season of the show back in 2005, one of the first episodes of the new version of Who was “The Unquiet Dead,” which brought us to Cardiff in 1869 to hang out at a funeral parlor with Charles Dickens. The next year the show returned to the period to spend some time with Queen Victoria in “Tooth and Claw.” In “The Next Doctor,” a special which aired in 2008 as the Who Christmas special, we’re back again watching the Cybermen attempt to conquer the world with the help of a Victorian woman of questionable morals named Miss Hartigan. And so on and so forth.
It’s only appropriate that this show, which is so deeply rooted in its Englishness, takes it upon itself to utilize such an important era of British history in more than a single episode. And to be quite honest, episodes that take place in the Victorian era tend to be very good.
“The Crimson Horror” was no exception. This is the second episode of the season written by Mark Gatiss (the first being “Cold War”) and while the former was kitschy to a point that it became a bit less-than-thrilling, this strange little insight into how religious fanaticism can lead a woman to go, as the Doctor put it, “nuts.”
It’s true that Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower – this woman who has essentially gone crazy in her expectation for the coming apocalypse – could have existed in any number of periods in history. However, the great thing about bringing Doctor Who back around to the 1800s is that it reintroduces us to where the second half of the season began.
In December we officially met Clara Oswin Oswald in the episode “The Snowmen.” At the time, she was living in Victorian England as a barmaid and a governess. Who she was, we still cannot say. All we know is she has something to do with the Doctor’s current companion, Clara Oswald. However, when we met the Victoria incarnation of our now-main-character, she had no idea who the Doctor was.
It’s all very confusing, and of course to get a full detailed understanding it is probably necessary to go back and start from “Asylum of the Daleks,” the first episode in which Clara (who is continually proving an unfathomable anomaly) appeared, albeit with simply the name Oswin Oswald.
Taking Clara back to Victorian England, however, brought her story back into some perspective. We are reintroduced to a few characters who we met in “The Snowmen,” namely Madame Vastra (a Silurian), Strax (a Sontaran) and Jenny, who bring up the same question – how in fact is Clara still alive? And who is she?
Though those questions remain unanswered – and will likely stay that way even once Steven Moffat wraps up the season in a couple of weeks – “The Crimson Horror” stands alone as well. It’s a haunting tale of a mother gone mad, putting her daughter and the rest of the world in danger. It’s a confounding science fiction story with the novelty introduced by Mr. Sweet and his red, petrifying venomous poison. And, among my favorite traits of any episode of Doctor Who, it has a lot of moments of surprise and excitement.
Looking forward, however, some of the most exciting developments in the seventh season of Doctor Who are still to come. The next episode, “Nightmare in Silver,” was written by Neil Gaiman, the famed writer and graphic novelist. This is only Gaiman’s second Who episode, the first being “The Doctor’s Wife,” in which we met the TARDIS in human form for the first time. And as a follow-up to that, we will have Steven Moffat’s closer to the season, “The Name of the Doctor.” As any Doctor Who fan knows, when Moffat is writing, you are sure to have a whirlwind adventure.
So “The Crimson Horror” was a good jumping off point for what should be an interesting end to the season. With two great writers slated to bring us the final two episodes, there’s truly no way for the series to go but up.