Ten Things About Who: The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

1. “Only the crumbliest, flakiest humans…”

The naming of Mrs Gillyflower’s match factory as ‘Sweetville’ invites comparison with Bournville, the community created by George and Richard Cadbury to house the workers and families of their chocolate factory when production moved out of Birmingham to a new greenfield site.

As it is, it is more a pastiche of the whole ‘model village’ movement, in which industrialists whose new, heavily industrialised factories constructed whole townships for the required large workforce and their families, on philanthropic lines infused by the owners’ Christian values. Bournville is, of course, one such community, formed by the Quaker Cadbury brothers. Sweetville’s Yorkshire location more closely invites comparison with Saltaire, founded by Sir Titus Salt and now a World Heritage site.

Mind you, I did for one moment wonder whether the fuchsia-coloured liquid that Sweetville’s inhabitants were being doused in was fondant, and that Mr Sweet would turn out to be The Kandyman from 1988’s The Happiness Patrol

2. Special stuff

Maybe it’s just the camp sendup of the gothic, maybe it’s the Yorkshire accents – but this week’s episode felt like it was a (family friendly) sibling to The League of Gentlemen. The mortuary attendant, with his leering tone and wandering tongue, could easily have been a Steve Pemberton creation.

3. “Vastra, Jenny and Strax”…

Vastra and Jenny’s detective work, coupled with Strax’s trigger-happy befuddledness, delights once again here – so much so that by the time the Doctor appears on screen, we’re one third of the way through the episode and yet it feels perfectly fine.

Yes, it’s a pretty straightforward setup, but when the joke is this good it feels churlish to complain.

I’ve heard rumblings from fans that they’d like to see Vastra, Jenny and Strax spin off into their own series. Laying budgetary requirements to one side (make-up and period, both essential for the setup, would add inevitable expense), if they did ever spin off I would hope they’d keep up the level of humour. Rather than being a straightforward companion action/adventure series, it would be intriguing to see if one of the BBC’s top drama series could spin off a period sitcom…

Spin-offs don’t always have to mirror their progenitors’ genre. In the States, drama Lou Grant was born from comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And here in the UK, Coronation Street’s Leonard Swindley, played by Arthur Lowe, went from soap to sitcom in 1965’s Pardon the Expression, and then spun off into a third genre, with the supernatural comedy drama Turn Out the Lights.

4. …meet Jago & Litefoot

When the Fourth Doctor visited Victorian London, in 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the characters of musical hall barker Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist George Litefoot sparked so well together that a spin-off was briefly considered. That idea finally came to fruition in the summer of 2010, when audio drama company Big Finish started a run of Jago & Litefoot adventures.

Licensing issues aside, a crossover between the two bands of supernatural detectives must surely be inevitable…

5. “You know what these are? The wrong hands”

Diana Rigg is just superb here. The best villains are the ones who are so full of their own self-belief that they just don’t care that other people think of them as evil.

It also makes her the 67th actor to have featured in both Doctor Who and the James Bond movies, according to Cavan Scott and Mark Wright’s glorious new book, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany. A fascinating collection of trivia, anecdotes and facts, it covers most of the series’ 50-year history – officially up to The Snowmen, but with flashes of knowledge of the current series of episodes. There’s a real sense of completeness within it, but without ever feeling like it’s taken over by pedantic nit-pickery. Whether you dip in from time to time or read from start to finish, any fan of Doctor Who should find it engrossing.

Given Scott and Wright’s credentials over at Big Finish, it’s also no real surprise that other licensed media – from comics to audio and the 1960s films – also creep in from time to time.

6. The gillyflower

The fairest flowers o’ the season
Are our carnations and streaked gillyvors
Which some call nature’s bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.

– A Winter’s Tale, Act IV, scene 4

Gillyflowers – also known as gillyvors – were a popular flower in Shakesperean times. However, it was also a popular nickname for a harlot, the gillyflower’s streaked coloration putting one in mind of the ‘painted’ lady. Natural beauty was personified in – what else, for Doctor Who? – the rose.

7. Trouble at t’England’s dark Satanic mills

William Blake’s short poem, And did those feet in ancient time?, is inspired by the legend that Jesus visited England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimethea, and was first printed in 1808.

Today it is best known as the anthem Jerusalem, sung at rugby matches and WIs – and after Mrs Gillyflower’s sales pitch. Unfortunately, Sir Hubert Parry’s music wasn’t written until 1916, so quite how it was so well known in 1893 Yorkshire is an ongoing mystery…

8. Caption this

One thing I’ve noticed for a while now is that Doctor Who has got much smarter about the metadiagetic way it incorporates date and location captions into its scenes. Here, as grubby working folk climb the cobbled streets (sadly, Murray Gold’s theme not quite pastiching Dvorak’s New World theme, and with nobody carrying loaves of bread, in tribute to Ridley Scott’s famed Hovis advert), “YORKSHIRE 1893” is seemingly painted on the side of a worker’s cottage.

It’s not always needed – Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS has that spaceship establishing shot to place it firmly in the future; Hide uses dialogue to mention that it’s set in 1974. Cold War, though, placed a very 1980s digital effect typeface hovering over the ice, and both The Bells of Saint John and The Snowmen used the same technique.

I love the effort that goes in to ensuring that the typography is appropriate to the era. It feels less like a caption to avoid unnecessary exposition (which, of course, it is) and more an intrinsic part of travelling through time with the Doctor.

(I’m indebted to Jonathan Morris for his suggestion of the word ‘metadiagetic’ here.)

9. Flashback!

It’s uncommon for so much of an episode to be told in flashback anyway – however effective it is to ensure that the expesitionary elements that have previously taken a back seat to the Madam Vastra show get delivered at breakneck speed.

It’s not a technique Doctor Who should get into the habit of using – but the visual grading to make it feel like an old, degraded film is just superb.

And a great reference to Tegan, as well. What more could a child of the 1980s want in a story of the 1890s?

10. No clarity for Clara, again

Clearly the Doctor’s aim to get to Victorian London was another attempt to find out more about Clara. Unfortunately, the alien detectives ended up even more confused than we did by the end – although a little bit of detective work by (seemingly new companions) Angie and Artie have at least ensured that Clara can’t be ignorant of her namesake any longer.

With just a couple more episodes to go until her background’s revealed, do we have all the clues now? I think there are bound to have been more that we’ve missed.

When the Doctor leafs through her book of 101 Places to Go in The Bells of Saint John, there’s a sealed envelope among the pages. The ages crossed out in the front of the book miss out 23 – why? And who was the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number?

I tend to think that River Song is involved. “Run, you clever boy – and remember” sounds very similar to River’s style. Alex Kingston will be coming back in the final episode of the series, The Name of the Doctor – and the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine suggests that she does so at a very interesting point in the character’s timeline…

But next week: Theme parks! Cybermen! And the most annoying children to travel in the TARDIS since either John and Gillian (read Who-ology if you don’t get the reference) or that moment when Nyssa and Tegan were de-aged in Mawdryn Undead

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

6 thoughts on “Ten Things About Who: The Crimson Horror”

  1. Again, for me, a little over analysed but somehow this time I don’t mind. Perhaps because I really enjoyed the episode. Maybe because it was, in itself family friendly. (I’m not a League of Gentlemen fan.) Or I should say I was not reaching for the mute during the episode. I’d love to see a spin off with the lizard woman and her servant, providing it was aimed at the Sarah Jane audience. As you say it would be expensive, they could relocate to Beamish in Co Durham for location