Timestamp #246: The Crimson Horror

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Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror
(1 episode, s07e11, 2013)

Timestamp 246 The Crimson Horror

Pulpy sci-fi disease horror fun.

Yorkshire, 1893, is the source of a mysterious condition that leaves victims preserved like statues with red skin. The incidents – the Crimson Horror – are occurring with a startling degree of foretelling by Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower, and one of the mysterious deaths leads to an investigation by the Paternoster Gang.

Madame Strax is particularly interested in the case upon learning that the Doctor’s image is visible in the victim’s eye, presumably as the last thing he saw before death.

The investigation leads the Paternosters to Sweetville, the idyllic community run by Mrs. Gillyflower and her silent partner Mr. Sweet. Gillyflower lectures on the decay of modern society and treats the community as a home for the chosen few who will survive the coming apocalypse.

Jenny goes undercover as a convert in this puritanical cult and gains access to Sweetville, which is where she finds the Doctor chained in a cell but only partially afflicted by the Crimson Horror since he’s not human. The Time Lord was saved as a reject by Gillyflower’s blind daughter Ada who treats him as her pet monster.

Meanwhile, Madame Vastra continues her investigation from the outside and realizes that she’s seen symptoms similar to the Crimson Horror in the past. Sixty-three million years in the past.

Jenny is able to rescue the Doctor and take him to a strange rinsing cabinet. He activates the device with his sonic screwdriver and emerges in manic joy, thanking Jenny profusely for her help. He also tells her that they need to find Clara Oswald, which confuses Jenny since she saw Clara die months earlier.

The Doctor and Clara arrived sometime earlier. They had intended to visit London but landed in Yorkshire instead just in time to investigate the Crimson Horror (with a slight jab at Tegan along the way). The Doctor and Clara posed as a married couple in order to infiltrate Sweetville, but Mrs. Gillyflower eventually found them out. The process worked on Clara but not on the Doctor. The victim who saw the Doctor before death broke into his cell and died at his feet.

The Doctor and Jenny locate Clara and reverse the process, during which the Paternoster Gang infiltrates the community. Clara is introduced to Jenny and Vastra, after which Vastra tells everyone about a red leech that the Silurians considered a threat in their era. The Crimson Horror is a derivative of that leech’s poison, which Mrs. Gillyflower plans to spread over England with a rocket. The source is Mr. Sweet, a red leech attached to Mrs. Gillyflower’s chest.

The Doctor locates Ada and consoles her after Mrs. Gillyflower rejects her. We also learn that Gillyflower used Ada as a guinea pig to perfect the recipe. Ada and the Doctor confront her mother while Clara disables the rocket launch controls. Gillyflower takes her daughter hostage at gunpoint and activates secondary launch controls, but is defeated since Vastra and Jenny have removed the poisonous payload.

Gillyflower tries to shoot the Doctor, but Strax shoots at her and forces her to fall to her death. The leech abandons its dying host and Ada brutally kills it with her cane. The Doctor, of course, had wanted to return the creature to the Jurassic era. Ada decides to make the best of her life while the Paternoster Gang locks the venom away in their vault.

The Doctor returns Clara to the 21st century where she discovers that the children she cares for, Angie and Artie Maitland, have been doing a little research. They have found photos of her and the Doctor throughout history, including one of her in Victorian London, and threaten to tell their father that their nanny is a time traveler.

That is, of course, unless she takes them for a ride in her time machine.

Despite the simple plot, I love this story for its pulpy sci-fi nature. This is pure creature-feature disease horror and you can tell that the production team had a ball playing with all of those tropes, especially the pseudo-scientific trope of optography, which we last saw on Doctor Who when the Fourth Doctor mentioned it in The Ark in Space.

I love seeing the Paternoster Gang in action – I’m still holding out hope for a future spin-off series for them – and adored seeing Jenny take the wheel for this investigation. I’m also happy to see some continued evolution of Silurian history.

I will say that the Thomas Thomas (Tom Tom) GPS gag hasn’t aged well. Tom Tom still exists, but Apple and Google certainly have that market cornered for everyday utility. While watching this episode for the first time since it aired nearly a decade ago, it took me a minute to put those pieces together.

Among the nods to Doctor Who mythology, this story was brimming with classic era callbacks including Tegan’s quest to get to Heathrow, “Brave heart”, and the John Smith alias. I’m also quite engaged with the prospect of Clara’s charges finding her throughout history, courtesy of the internet of course, which calls back to the whole “whoisdoctorwho” found in Eccleston’s run.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the guest stars. Real-life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling were magnificent in their roles. I’m not as familiar with Rachael Stirling’s work, though a glance at her IMDb entry tells me that I have seen her around. Dame Diana Rigg’s work is more familiar – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Avengers, Victoria, and Game of Thrones, just to scratch the surface – and it was painful to lose her in September of 2020.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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