I think I’ve just found my favorite Doctor Who episode of 2013. It was fun, adventurous, witty, and didn’t rely on any kind of time reset gimmick to make things all better. This one was a fairly straight up “fight the bad guy menace” romp with familiar faces, lots of steampunk gadgetry, and plenty of smileworthy moments. I found myself grinning most of the time because I was just plain-old having fun watching this episode.
The story takes place in Yorkshire in the year 1893. The Doctor wanted to take Clara to London during that same year, for reasons that become evident at the end of the episode, but the TARDIS pulls her usual stunt of not always quite landing where she was guided, yet always landing where help is needed most.
As the episode opens, Edmund, a young journalist tries to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the “Crimson Horror” of the mysterious town of Sweetville when he ends up a victim of it. His brother, Mr. Thursday, takes an “optogram” of his eyes which captures the last thing he saw before he died. He takes this evidence to Madame Vastra and they see the image is that of the Doctor.
Mrs. Gillyflower’s Sweetville, named after her silent partner, Mr. Sweet, only allows in the best and brightest who pass their tests. Jenny goes undercover to investigate the town where people move in and never seem to leave. She finds the factory to be a huge, mostly empty room save for giant speakers making the sounds of heavy machinery.
Meanwhile, Vastra visits the morgue worker, Amos, who shows her a sample of the red fluid found in the canals where red, waxy bodies seem to wash up. She recognizes it from about sixty five million years earlier.
Jenny comes across a door behind which Mrs. Gillyflower’s blind daughter, Ada, keeps something she refers to as her monster. Jenny tells the monster she’ll open the door if it stays back, which it agrees to by clanging on the walls. When she enters, she discovers the monster is actually the Doctor. His skin is red and waxy, his body stiff, and he can’t speak.
As they’re heading down the hallway they witness people suspended on racks being immersed in a strange, red liquid. The Doctor stiffly points to a door that’s some sort of chamber. With the help of his sonic screwdriver and some odd sounds, the Doctor emerges his old self.
We’re treated to a flashback sequence explaining how the Doctor and Clara ended up in 1893 Yorkshire. It’s playfully shown like an old film, complete with sepia tones, grainy imagery, and a scratchy soundtrack. They meet Edmund, the man who died in the beginning of the episode, who tells them that no one who ever goes into Sweetville ever seems to come out.
The duo apply for residency in Sweetville as “Doctor and Mrs. Smith” where the Doctor soon finds himself being dipped in the red good and Clara is stiffly preserved. Ada is tasked with tossing the rejects into the canal when she feels a red hand gripping hers. It’s the Doctor and she hides him away in a room as her “special monster.” Finally we see Edmund, red from the poison, stumble into the Doctor’s room where he dies with the Time Lord being the very last thing he sees.
Back to the present and Strax is trying to find Sweetville when he gets help from an unlikely source. A street urchin named Thomas Thomas (TomTom…get it?) gives him some very GPS-like direction to the town.
In Sweetville the Doctor and Jenny find Clara preserved in a giant bell jar, break her out, and revive her in the factory chamber the Doctor used earlier to save himself. When they’re descended upon by a gang of Mrs. Gillyflowers lackies, Jenny kicks some serious Victorian ass, but she’s way outnumbered. To the rescue come Vastra with her sword and Strax on a sugar rush firing his blaster as he laughs.
Vastra fills the Doctor in on her suspicion that the poison comes from a parasite from her time sixty five million years ago. The Doctor tries to figure out how Mrs. Gillyflower is going to “rain judgement” Clara clues him in on the chimney that doesn’t blow smoke. It’s a Victorian missile silo, of course! The evil plan is to fill their steampunk rocket with the red poison and kill everyone save for the select few preserved in Sweetville.
Clara and the Doctor find Ada, who’s been told by her mother that she’s not going to be saved, and they confront Mrs. Gillyflower. She reveals that Mr. Sweet is, in fact, a rather large, leech-like creature who’s attached to her chest in a symbiotic relationship. He’s actually kind of cute in an ugly, prehistoric, leechy way. The Doctor reveals that he knows Ada’s blindness comes from Mrs. Gillyflower experimenting on her with the poison, but the old hag just says that sometimes sacrifices must be made. That’s when Ada steps into the room and rightfully goes off on her mother.
Mrs. Gillyflower activates the rocket launch mechanism, but Clara smashes it with a chair. The old woman takes her daughter hostage at gunpoint and escapes up the stairs to the rocket silo where she has a secondary firing mechanism that launches the riveted rocket into the air. But all is not lost as Vastra and Jenny show up to reveal they’ve taken the poison before it could be loaded on board.
Mrs. Gillyflower tries to shoot everyone with her pistol, but Strax blasts it out of her hand with his rifle. She falls over the stair railing and slowly dies on the hard floor. Mr. Sweet crawls away from Mrs. Gillyflower’s lifeless body and is smashed to bits by Ada who uses her cane to very thoroughly do away with the little leech.
The Doctor returns Clara to the home where she’s been living as the governess of the children of a family friend. She notices a laptop with images displayed from different time periods, all with her in them. The children enter and tell her they found them while searching on the web. There’s one extra picture of Clara in Victorian London which explains why the Doctor wanted to take her there rather than Yorkshire; he didn’t want her to learn of her other selves.
Mark Gatiss’ episode was really my favorite thus far for the year. This episode didn’t rely on any tricks of time to resolve the conflict, just teamwork. The Paternoster Gang is always a blast with Strax again having some of the best lines in the episode. His “Sontaran out of water” schtick never gets old, but that’s because he’s used sparingly. Although as I’ve said several times before, I would happily watch those three in their own show.
I loved that Madame Vastra’s front door was painted TARDIS blue, it was a nice touch. The old film, sepia-tone flashback sequence was also a fun little extra in an already fun episode. Then having Thomas Thomas give Strax directions like a Victorian GPS was a great bit of random silliness. I love bits of random silliness and random bits of silliness!
Of all the times and all the places the TARDIS can go, Victorian England is turning out to be one of the best.
Funny Stuff People Said:
Amos: Hellfire! That’s put me right off me mash.
Strax: If this weak and fleshy boy is to represent us, I strongly advise the issuing of scissor grenades, limbo vapor, and triple blast brain splitters.
Vastra: What for?
Strax: Just generally. Remember, we are going…to the North!
Strax: And how will she locate the Doctor?
Vastra: To find him she needs only ignore all keep out signs, go through every locked door, and run towards any form of danger that presents itself.
Strax: Business as usual, then?
Vastra: I wonder how Jenny is getting on.
Strax: If she hasn’t made contact by nightfall, I suggest a massive frontal attack on the factory, Madam. Casualties can be kept to perhaps as little as eighty percent.
Vastra: I think there might be subtler ways of proceeding, Strax.
Strax: Suit yourself.
Doctor: Just when you think your favorite lock picking Victorian chambermaid will never turn up. Jenny! <He kisses her and she slaps him across the face> You have no idea how good that feels.
Doctor: Ooh, I once spent helluva long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport. (Referring to past companion Tegan Jovanka of the 4th & 5th Doctors’ run.)
Clara: What for?
Doctor: Search me.
Mrs. Gillyflower: Doctor and Mrs. Smith. Oh yes, you’ll do very nicely.
Doctor: Oh grand. Smashing, eh? The missus and I couldn’t be more chuffed, could we, love?
Ada: Sometimes the preservation process goes wrong. Only Mr. Sweet knows why and only mama is allowed to talk to Mr. Sweet. But if you’re very good you can stay here. You’ll be my secret. My special monster.
Strax: Horse! You have failed in your mission! We are lost with no sign of Sweetville. Do you have any final words before your summary execution? <horse chewing and snorting> The usual story! Fourth one this week…and I’m not even hungry.
Thomas: Sweetville, Sir.
Strax: Do you know it?
Thomas: Turn around when possible. Then, at the end of the road turn right.
Thomas: Bear left for a quarter of a mile and you will have reached your destination.
Doctor: Oh, great, great. Attack of the supermodels.
Vastra: Strax, you’re over excited. Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?
Strax: I’m gonna go play with my grenades.
Clara: What’s going on?
Doctor: Ooh, haven’t you heard, love? There’s trouble at mill. She’s a lizard.
Doctor: Ooh, the repulsive red leech! Now on balance I think I prefer the crimson horror.
Clara: A chimney that doesn’t blow smoke.
Doctor: Clever clogs.
Clara: Miss me?
Doctor: Yeah, lots.
Mrs. Gillyflower: Oh, ho ho ho. You do seem to keep turning up like a bad penny, young man.
Doctor: Force of habit.
Doctor: I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts, and I’m gonna stop you.
Doctor: Would it be impolite to ask why you and Mr. Sweet are petrifying your workforce with diluted prehistoric leech venom?
Doctor: You seem to have a very close relationship, you and your pal.
Mrs. Gillyflower: Oh yes, Doctor, exceedingly close. Symbiotic, you might say.
Doctor: Mrs. Gillyflower, you have no idea what you’re dealing with. In the wrong hands that venom could wipe out all life on this planet.
Mrs. Gillyflower: <presenting her hands> Do you know what these are? The wrong hands!
Ada: You hag! You perfidious hag! You virago! You harpy! All of these years I have helped you, served you, looked after you! Does it count for nothing? Nothing at all?!!
Doctor: Hang on, hang on. I’ve got a sonic screwdriver.
Clara: Yeah? I’ve got a chair!
Doctor: Yeah. That worked.
Doctor: Chairs are useful!
Ada: Shoot if you wish mama. It is of no matter, for you killed me a long time ago.
Mrs. Gillyflower: Forgive me, my child. Forgive me.
Mrs. Gillyflower: That’s my girl.
Doctor: You’re the boss.
Clara: Am I?
Doctor: No. No, get in.
Jenny: But Doctor. That girl, Clara. You haven’t explained.
Doctor: No. I haven’t.
Clara: No, that’s just someone who looks like me.
Angie: And that’s someone who looks like your boyfriend.
Artie: Is he an alien?
Angie: Why would he be an alien?
Artie: The chin!
Angie: And the time travel?
Doctor Who airs on BBC America Saturday nights at 8/7c, immediately followed by Orphan Black and The Nerdist.
Only two more episodes left before we’re time-locked out of the TARDIS until season eight.