Tuesday 23 February 2021

Story 238 - The Crimson Horror

In which Madame Vastra is approached by a man named Mr Thursday, who wishes her to investigate the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of his brother, Edmund. He was found dead in a river in Yorkshire, his body rigid and and its flesh turned bright red. Vastra visits the morgue, where the ghoulish attendant has termed the condition the "Crimson Horror". She uses an optogram - photographing the dead person's eyes as it is believed that they might hold an image of the last thing they saw.
She is shocked to see an image of the Doctor's face, his skin bright red...
Edmund was a journalist who was investigating an industrial new town called Sweetville. This is run by a woman named Mrs Gillyflower, and her secretive business partner Mr Sweet. She has been leading a popular moral crusade - claiming that the end of their decadent society is nigh. She has been recruiting followers, all of whom tend to be good looking young men and women. Jenny Flint is despatched to Yorkshire to infiltrate the factory as a prospective follower.She sneaks off to explore and discovers that the factory is an empty shell, the sounds of machinery being played on a huge gramophone recording. Another chamber hold massive vats of bright red liquid, and numbers of young people are seen being dipped into these. In a storeroom she finds the Doctor locked away, his flesh red and his limbs rigid, almost unable to speak or walk. As Jenny rescues him she is almost stopped by the arrival of a young woman who is blind and disfigured. This is Mrs Gillyflower's daughter Ada.                                       

The Doctor has Jenny take him to a small chamber where he is restored to normal. Mrs Gillyflower's people attack them, but Jenny overpowers them.
It transpires that the Doctor and Clara had visited Sweetville some days ago, after being approached by Edmund Thursday for help. They too had gone to the factory posing as prospective followers. Some people were rejected by the process to convert them - the dipping in a vat of red liquid - and their bodies get dumped in the nearby river. Clara is found in one of the cottages, under a huge bell jar and in suspended animation.
Vastra and Strax arrive in Sweetville, and she reveals that she knows what the "Crimson Horror" is. In prehistoric times her people encountered a red leech creature, which produced a highly dangerous crimson toxin.
Ada Gillyflower is bullied and abused by her mother. She has been told that there is no place for her in her mother's promised Utopia, due to her disfigurement. She had rescued and protected the Doctor as she saw in him a monster like herself.

The Doctor and Clara confront Gillyflower and learn that she has formed a symbiotic relationship with a surviving red leech, which she calls Mr Sweet - her mysterious business partner. Her plan us to fire a missile into the skies above Sweetville, full of red leech poison. This will spread through the atmosphere killing millions, but leaving her elite group of converted people to restock the planet. Ada discovers that her injuries weren't caused by her father, as her mother led her to believe, but by Mrs Gillyflower using her as a test subject for Mr Sweet's toxin. The Doctor, Clara and the Paternoster Gang attack the missile silo in the factory, assisted by Ada. Mrs Gillyflower falls from a gantry to her death as the missile launches, but Vastra had earlier removed the poison from it. Ada then kills Mr Sweet as it tries to crawl away. Vastra will dispose of the toxin, whilst Ada will live a new life, free of her mother's malign influence.
On her return to 2013, Clara has a shock in store. Her young charges - Artie and Angie - have been searching on-line and have discovered evidence of Clara's ventures into the past. One of the images, of her in Victorian costume, she does not even recognise...

The Crimson Horror was written by Mark Gatiss, and was first broadcast on 4th May, 2013. Steven Moffat had intended to write a story himself which would feature one of the Doctor's adventures as witnessed and experienced from the viewpoint of someone else - in this case the Paternoster Gang of Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Moffat was then too busy to write the story himself, and so handed it to Gatiss, who decided on a northern Victorian setting. The Doctor and Clara hardly feature in the first half of the story, as the Gang take centre stage - especially Jenny. Events leading up to the Doctor being found in his crimson state are shown in flashback. This is the only story featuring the Paternoster Gang written by someone other than Moffat.
Gatiss took as inspiration for his story title that of The Green Death, a favourite of his from the classic series.
Gatiss had earlier worked on stage with Dame Diana Rigg, of The Avengers, Game of Thrones and James Bond fame, and he also knew her daughter Rachael Stirling. Mother and daughter had never worked together on screen, and so Gatiss wrote this story specifically to address this. Diana Rigg plays the formidable Mrs Gillyflower, whilst Stirling plays Ada.

The monster of the piece - the red leech - is inspired by one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, as "The Repulsive Case of the Red Leech" is referenced in The Adventure of the Gold Pince-Nez. As the red leech derives from prehistoric Earth, this is the first story in a long time to have no alien interventions.
Sweetville derives its name from Bourneville, the new town created at Birmingham for the chocolate manufacturers. It is also based on the area of Bradford known as Saltaire - another industrial new town founded by the wool magnate Titus Salt in 1851.
Other than Rigg and Stirling, the other actor worth noting is Brendan Patricks. He plays both Edmund Thursday and his unnamed brother who instigates Vastra's investigations. We should also give a mention to Jack Oliver Hudson as "Urchin Boy". He gives his name to Strax as Thomas Thomas, thus setting up a rather funny TomTom joke.

Overall, it's a fine, full-blooded bit of Victorian Grand Guignol, with some great performances. Diana Rigg really relishes the chance to go full-on nasty.
Things you might like to know:
  • Jenny's fight against Mrs Gillyflower's henchmen, clad in a leather catsuit, was a deliberate homage to Rigg's time on The Avengers.
  • Mr Sweet was named after Gatiss' friend, the broadcaster Matthew Sweet (who is currently conducting the in-depth interviews for the Complete Season Box Sets).
  • This was the 100th episode of Doctor Who since its return in 2005.
  • The story is set in 1893, yet Mrs Gillyflower and her followers are playing a 1906 version of the hymn To Be A Pilgrim (aka He Who Would Valiant Be).
  • There are a couple of Tegan Jovanka references. Mentioning that the TARDIS was better at getting where it is supposed to go, he states that he once spent a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport, and he later says "Brave Heart..." to Clara.
  • The Fourth Doctor had earlier mentioned the concept of optograms in The Ark in Space, where he does get a Wirrn's retina to show its final actions before death.
  • I strongly suspect that the idea of dipping people into a bubbling vat to preserve them comes from Carry On Screaming.

1 comment:

  1. I got the "Carry on Screaming" vibe too. It wouldn't surprise me if that was deliberate on Gatiss' part. After all; Jon Pertwee was in it.