Ecky-Thump! There’s t’rouble at Mill! It’s 1882 in Yorkshire – home of black pudding and ferrets. The Doctor’s covered in wax looking like a tailor’s dummy with a bad case of sunburn. Clara’s stuck inside a big bell jar like an exhibit of Homo Victoriana at the British Museum. In addition, there’s a cackling mad ex-Avenger on a moral crusade and not a bowler hat in sight and The Paternosta Gang are on the case!
Mark Gattis’ second contribution to the series was a fine Penny Dreadful. A glorious cracking slice of Victorian gothic horror with more than several nods to classic films like House of Wax and other Hammer House productions interlaced with a pitch of strict Victorian morals values and sprinkled with a generous amount of dark laughs on par with that other British institution – the Carry On films, notably Carry on Screaming. And even before I reach the end typing this review – this is by far my favourite episode so far.
Gattis’ first episode for Who, "The Unquiet Dead" (2005), has always been regarded as his finest script, pretty much displaying his love of all things macabre and his love for the Victorian era, later used to great effect in the League of Gentlemen. "The Crimson Horror" very much reaches that niche – and for once we have an episode that has a great near perfect structure. A good opening where for once the Doctor and Clara are part of the unfolding mystery as bodies coated in a strange wax-like resin are found in the local canal, and a dead sibling with a penchant for fainting (three times) calls upon Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax to solve the mystery of Mrs. Gillyflower’s perfect society of Sweetville.
I love the Paternosta Gang immensely, and if ever anyone deserves a Who spin-off show - with no sign of Torchwood ever coming back - it’s them. It’s Jenny who gets the lion share of the running time – one minute acting like a waif needing new purpose in her life with the End of Days nigh and the next having found the Doctor and got him out of his predicament becoming a kick-ass ninjarette against Diana Rigg’s supermodels. Ex Sontaran Nurse/ begrudged Butler Strax, too, gets some high jinks – moody like a kid whose raided an armoury without permission when he isn’t allowed to storm front Sweetville or cursing a horse whose got sense of direction. I bet it was Susan’s cousin from "A Town Called Mercy." Madame Vastra herself didn’t get a lot to do – just like Sherlock in "Hound of the Baskervilles," she’s relegated to calling the shots in the background letting her “wife” do all the talking and kicking butt.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Dame Diana Rigg. Emma Peel maybe an old aged pensioner now and yes she’s wearing a Muppet (maybe homage to the Maggots of the Green Death) on her cleavage but doesn’t she make a grand villainess. Wide eyed mad and absolutely nuts –wanting to rid the world of unscrupulous immoral depravity and cast us all into the Gates of Jerusalem with a steampunk inspired Exocet missile carrying aloft the parasites’ venom. Of course her performance is enhanced by acting opposite real-life Daughter Rachael Stirling playing the disfigured Ada who keeps her pet Monster in the attic. It’s a great rapport throughout the proceedings – ending with her not forgiving her mad mum and squishing that Muppet with her cane.
Of course the whole thing is held together by the brilliance of returning Director Saul Matzstein whose use of grainy old film sepia tones and picture stills tells the Doctor and Clara’s own back story very nicely. We even get a Brave Heart reference – that’s to do with Tegan Jovanka from the Fifth Doctor’s era in case you want to know. I liked also how the Sonic got out smarted by a chair! That’s all you need to do to save the Universe. Throw a chair and everything will be grand!
The episode ends with a new revelation; Clara’ adopted charges (she a child minder remember?) have found photos and news clippings of her in the past and figured out she’s a time traveller. Now, why can Eleven year olds do that, and the Doctor can’t figure out what Clara’s enigma is?
So guess what happens next time. Yep. They’re off to the fun fair to get scared to death by new look Cybermen and Warrick Davis! Serves them bloody right.
If you want to see more glove puppets then check out The Green Death at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Green_Death
If you want to revisit the ghostly Gelth then look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unquiet_Dead
And if you want to be scared a lot and see the horror that is Carry on Screaming then visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Screaming!