Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Crimson Horror - "Would it be impolite to ask why you and Mr. Sweet are petrifying your workforce with diluted prehistoric leech venom?"

The Crimson Horror | Wikipedia

Series 7, Story 11 (Overall Series Story #237) | Previous - Next | Index

The 50th Anniversary special is looming now. It's still several months away, but only two episodes after this remain in Series 7 to hold us over until The Event. I'm not sure there's quite as much excitement out on the web for this one, the 100th since the series returned in 2005, as there has been for the previous episodes this season, although I feel, for a number of reasons, there should be.

First and foremost, the legendary Dame Diana Rigg stars, and that's something I think we look at and wonder why it's only just happening now?! It's 2013, for crying out loud; The Avengers brought her to fame in 1965! However, in terms of excitement among the younger sector of the fanbase, it seems she's not exactly buzzworthy. Fair enough. They just don't know how lucky they are.

Who, as an aside, is the modern day Diana Rigg? Who lights up the small screen the way she did as Mrs. Peel in a hip, sci-fi adventure show? Back in the Alias days, Jennifer Garner would've been an obvious candidate (though lacking the sharp wit), and Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy probably owed a little to Ms. Rigg, but nobody else is leaping to mind to fill that brainy, sexy, cool, and witty role. Jenna Louise Coleman, you might suggest? Or Karen Gillan before her? Well, sure, both have some of the qualities to one degree or another, but Doctor Who probably isn't quite the right genre/format for a Mrs. Peel -- although with the River Song character we get pretty close.

Zoe was a charming little knock-off.
The other chief reason for anticipating TCH is the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and everyone's favorite potato, Strax. There's also the fact this one was written by the multi-talented Mark Gatiss, who most recently authored "Cold War," for Who and most notably before that, "The Unquiet Dead".

Working against fan excitement, I perceive, a fair amount of Clara's Mystery Fatigue setting in. Lots of crazy theories floating around. Some of them look reasonable based on the clues unearthed, but we're spinning our wheels waiting for substantive new information with which to work. There's also Neil Gaiman's Cyberman outing lurking just over the horizon, so this episode finds itself almost an unwelcome delay before we get to one that is so eagerly awaited.

So, Yorkshire, 1893. Remember, The Snowmen was set in December, 1892, so Clara's just missing her earlier self, at least in terms of timeframe. With a Victorian England setting, the first thing I wonder is, are there other incarnations of the Doctor running around that we know about from past stories and I'm surprised to find, upon initial investigation, that -- at least in terms of the TV stories -- we haven't spent much time in the 1890s, if any. Lots of audio stories were set in the decade, but I can't speak with any knowledge about those. I thought of "Talons" first, but that was set in London, 1889. "Tooth & Claw" was set twenty years prior to that. "The Unquiet Dead" was ten years earlier than that. "The Horror of Fang Rock" is listed as being set in the 1900s.

The other thing about the time and subject matter of this episode is it should look very familiar to anyone even passing familiar with labor history. The Pullman Strike was 1894 which, while not an exact match, certainly puts Sweetville in the same economic milieu, so I think it'll be worth having at least the notion in mind to watch for commentary on capitalist paternalism in this episode.

You can probably find tons of faults with my commentaries, but you
can't fault me for not having some research material for context on hand!
Of course, as an American, I immediately thought of our most famous company town, but Doctor Who being English (or Welsh, I suppose) it's more likely we'll want to be cognizant of the Cadbury chocolatiers' Bournville as well as Port Sunlight, the company town of soap magnates the Lever brothers. (If the name Lever makes you think of giant multi-national conglomerates, it should. The Lever brothers eventually merged with some Dutch spun grease1 mongers to form what has become the ubiquitous Unilever.) Notebooks out, Marxists! We've got something to sink our teeth into here.

Always on the lookout for humanist themes, I can't help but note Mrs. Gillyflower's use of the phrase "the city upon a hill," which we most vividly remember via Reagan and Kennedy, who of course got it from the Winthrop sermon to the Pilgrims in 1630 as he called back to the language of Matthew 5:14. It's a nifty little subversion to have Gillyflower preaching to a bunch of gullible maroons that they can be elites by joining her, effectively folding the original sermon on the virtues of suffering into her plan to inflict suffering upon others to serve her ends.

Of course, it's asking a lot of show that has a bunch of people standing around a launching rocket ship in an enclosed space not getting so much as an eyelash singed to deliver a really effective critique of the use of religion by cynical plutocrats to control and subjugate the working class. So we might be better served figuring out how this story serves the season's Clara mystery, if at all.

Significantly, the Doctor mutters that the parasite probably had some help (Great Intelligence) surviving   into the modern world from the days the Silurians ruled the Earth. Why the GI would want the Crimson Horror to succeed ... ? Is this just one of a scatter-shot myriad of plans it's hoping it just needs one to succeed to destroy humanity? This kind of byzantine, overly complex plotting calls to mind the Doctor's other overly complicated plot-hatching nemesis, the Master.

Perhaps because my pet theory of the season is that Clara is the Doctor's great-granddaughter via a Chameleon-arched Susan I'm just looking for evidence to back it up, but notice the difference in how the Doctor smooches the ladies in this story. Three times he plants a kiss on someone: first Jenny, and it's a bend her over backward lay a big one her smooch that ends with him getting slapped and liking it (Oi, verging into Fifty Shades of Please Not In Doctor Who territory); later, he kisses Clara in a moment of happy pride, but he kisses her chastely on the forehead -- like a grandfather, eh?  The third kiss does nothing to support my theory (not mine originally, just one of many I've read, which I'm thinking I'll mash up with the Rose/Bad Wolf theorizing and posit Rose is behind him meeting up with great-granddaughter), when he kisses Ada on the cheek, so nothing to see here let's move on ...

In the closing scene -- is it too late to mention this is full of spoilers and you shouldn't have even started it if you haven't seen it yet? Yeah, more spoilers coming up -- we learn that the children for whom Clara is nannying have managed to find pictures of Clara aboard the 1980s Soviet submarine, in the 1970s with the paranormal investigators, and a portrait of Clara in Victorian London from when she was a nanny in previous incarnation, a stunning find for her. But, more annoyingly, an absolutely mind-blowing find by these precocious youngsters who've managed to track these photos down since what was for them, what, yesterday? (Not sure we know how long it's been since present day Clara popped out in the TARDIS, but the kids clearly haven't aged much, so it's not like they've spent a lifetime gathering this evidence of  her time travels.)


There's a lot to like about this episode, but much of what I'm seeing it given credit for I would've chalked up to the production crew having fun pinching a bit of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films -- from the incidental music to they style of the flashback exposition sequence. Ah well, as they say, everything's a remix.

I'll certainly watch this again and enjoy it. Diana Rigg really gets into the role and is delight to watch. One imagines it must have been tremendous fun for her to camp it up and have her daughter there with her to play off of. Matt Smith's Frankenberry act as a red venom reject is grade A mugging and stomping, bet you never thought you'd see the Doctor quite like that? I didn't. Which reminds me, did the Doctor actually do anything here besides get himself and Clara captured so they had to be rescued by the Madame Vastra squad? Would Vastra, Jenny, and Strax have handled this all on their own?

And what was the Doctor planning to do with Clara in London immediately after that era's Clara's death?

Looks like we'll have to tune in next week to find out more ...

1. "Spun grease" is how my family referred to margarine when I was growing up. My grandfather was partial to cheap, disgusting alternatives for things that tasted good -- he'd buy maple syrup, but cut it with corn syrup to make it last longer, store brand margarine instead of Land o' Lakes butter, that sort of thing -- so my grandmother used to needle him by correcting us if we ever asked for the butter to be passed at the dinner table by pointing out she could only pass the spun grease, there was no butter to be had. 

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