The Crimson Horror
When I sat down to watch Doctor Who last week, I really wanted to like it. I always want to. I’m most certainly not a “fan” who delights in picking apart every episode and finding things to complain about. I’d rather make a list of the bits I love. When I sat down to write this “Last Word” post, I wanted to focus on those happy bits. But as I looked over my notes and mulled over what I felt, I realized that would be disingenuous. Much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes just don’t like an episode of Doctor Who very much.
Nits to Pick
Some of my problems are nitpicky—so incredibly nitpicky that they’re laughable. Or they would be if they didn’t irritate me like sand in my shoes. Let’s zip through those and get them out of the way.
- When the Doctor is locked up as Ada’s “monster,” we see his clothing in a heap on the floor. His bow tie sits atop the pile, perfectly tied. How did that happen? Did they cut it off him? Did someone re-tie it after removal? Or has the Doctor started wearing clip-on bow ties? (If so, it was recently ‘cause we saw him untie his bow tie in the forest in “Hide.”)
- How long has Ada lived at Sweetville? She doesn’t move around like my blind friends do when they’re in familiar circumstances. Blind folks can be positively graceful. I feel like that was a small failure in directing—having her over-act the blindness. It wasn’t necessary, and it kind of ticks me off a bit for making the sight-impaired look so maladroit.
- Did the optogram of the Doctor match from scene to scene? I forgot to go back and check, but it seemed like what we saw in the developed picture didn’t quite match what we later saw reflected in the poor fellow’s eye. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.
- How much did Ada know about her mother’s plans? I think Deb might be right about Ada’s moral failings. When the Doctor asks her who Mr. Sweet really is, she says she can’t betray her mama. But if she truly has no idea, then there’s nothing to betray, and she could have said she didn’t know. Perhaps she knew (or suspected) and was mostly on board with the plan. I think I’d like to see Ada reappear some time as a villain—picking up not quite where her mother left off, but following in her footsteps. (Preferably in a more sinister and less cartooney fashion.)
- I will admit that by the end of my second viewing of this story, I was very cranky indeed. (I almost turned it off.) So that’s probably why I noticed (and was bothered by) the fact that when Ada bashes Mr. Sweet’s guts out, there are two problems:
- There are far more gooey guts flying about than there should be, given the volume of his tiny body.
- Perhaps it’s a trick of the camera angle, but it looks like she’s smacking too high with her stick. It’s as if she’s hitting resistance well before the stick should have reached floor level.
Okay, let’s move on from those admittedly ridiculous complaints and talk about some of the more thematic issues I had trouble with.
In the last few episodes, I’ve found myself jotting down lines that I really really like, even when I don’t much dig the story itself. This story had me doing the opposite. Things came out of characters’ mouths that felt so forced and cardboard that I worried they’d get paper cuts (or cardboard cuts, which are much worse). The bit about ignoring all keep out signs, running through every locked door… What is this? A commercial for the show?
“Do you know what these are? The wrong hands!” Despite the perfectly loony delivery of that line, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Now that I think about it, my other least-favorite line was also fitting for Mrs. Gillyflower’s character: “Now Mr. Sweet, now the whole world will taste your lethal kiss.” Ick. Over-the-top hackneyed flowery language. Do not want.
Okay, so I did like a couple of lines, though I’m not sure if it was the writing or Matt Smith’s delivery of them. (Probably the latter.) “Attack of the supermodels” made me snigger, and when he revives Clara and says (in a northern accent) “Haven’t you heard, love? There’s trouble at the mill…..She’s a lizard,” I near guffawed.
Are We Missing Something?
Was this episode cut down from something longer? When Clara (FINALLY) appears, she tries to get in a word about a chimney that doesn’t blow smoke. The way she delivered the line sounded like she was referring back to something she and the Doctor noticed before. I realize we didn’t see their entire adventure, but her delivery there made me feel like I was missing part of the story. Until that moment, I was fine with the sepia-toned recap. After it, I was cross that I didn’t see the chimney bit when she first noticed it. If I’m way off track here and that was the first time she said anything about it, then it’s my first complaint about JLC (or another complaint about the direction) because it was misleading.
I also wondered why the line about the end of days and judgement raining down upon us all stuck out so much to the Doctor. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill fire-and-brimstone claptrap. Why did he perk his ears at it? This, too, had me wondering if there was an earlier scene that was cut.
Oh My Ears!
Even the music and sound effects got to me in this one. From the wacky tune underlining Strax’s silliness to the goofy sound effect of the “monster” hand reaching out to grab Jenny’s throat, it grated on my nerves. I admit these elements fit well with the slapstickishness of the episode, but that’s precicelsy what I didn’t like about it. If I want The Three Stooges, I’ll….scratch that. I’ll never want The Three Stooges.
Disney Does Gruesome Horror
I found the mood of the climax scene very disturbing. While incredibly dark and full of death, it was still shot and acted as if they were all in the middle of a madcap romp. Strax appears over the lip of the chimney, and everyone laughs like they’re on a cheesy 80s sitcom. And their faces as they watch Mrs. Gillyflower tumble to her demise? The word “wacky” springs instantly to mind. Maybe I’m a prude, but I found that distasteful. I’ll say it again: I felt like I was watching a bad Disneyland ride.
Out of Left Field
As I mentioned, I quite disliked that last tacked-on scene. It played like the worst kind of afterthought. In the classic series, I used to love it when one story’s end led into the start of the next. This did not have that feeling at all. It was like, “Whoops! There are kids in the next episode! We forgot! Quick, somebody do something!”
And that’s not even my biggest complaint. What I really don’t like is that Clara suddenly becomes stupid. They’ve spent so much time emphasizing how clever she is (she IS!), and suddenly she’s tricked into admitting she’s a time-traveller by a 12-year-old using a gag that’s about as old as Moses’ toes and twice as corny?
I did not get enough. End of.
The Bright Side
I really really hate being this negative, so I’m taking pains to end on a positive note. Here are some of the things I liked about this episode.
- Diana Rigg was great. I didn’t like the character, but she played it very well indeed.
- Same goes for Rachael Stirling. Her performance was lovely. And I did like Ada a bit better than Mrs. Gillyflower (especially early in the episode).
- I think the idea of an optogram is really nifty, and I love that it’s “a silly superstition” unless the body has been altered chemically. Great clue!
- I liked that Madame Vastra recognized the red liquid as something from her past. I don’t mind delving a bit into her personal history (or that of Silurians in general). I hope we get to do more of that someday. (I honestly would like it if they had a spin-off. I want an origin-story episode for them! But not in Doctor Who.)
- I loved the giant Victrolas (or whatever they were) that played the loud sounds of a mill in that giant, empty room. A clever touch!
I guess I should close by saying that while there are a few legitimate complaints sandwiched in here, most of my problem with “The Crimson Horror” derives from the fact that this is simply not a story for me. It does what it sets out to do, and for the most part, it does it well. Bravo for that!
For the umpteenth time, I’ll say how awesome it is that Doctor Who is the kind of show that changes so much and so often. I wasn’t happy this week, but there’s a chance I will be next week or the week after that. And as always, I’m very glad this story made so many people happy. Even if those people don’t include me.