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'Doctor Who': Revisiting 'The Crimson Horror'

Looking Back at the 2013 Episode of 'Doctor Who'

For some time now, there's been some chatter among Doctor Who fans for a spin-off based on the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. Nearly five years after their last on-screen appearance in "Deep Breath," such a thing has yet to appear. If such a series were to appear chances are "The Crimson Horror," aired as part of the second half of Series Seven in 2013, would be the template for such a series.

Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Vastra (Neve McIntosh), two members of the Paternoster Gang.

Written by Mark Gatiss, it's an episode that plays with many of the writer's favorite tropes. After all, it's a combination of Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers (that would be the one with Steed and Mrs. Peel) and of course Doctor Who itself. The first of those shouldn't come as a surprise since Gatiss is the co-creator of Sherlock after all. It's fun to watch here, especially in the opening minutes as Vastra's services are engaged in the same style as many a classic Holmes story. Elsewhere, The Avengers influence comes in Jenny's effort to infiltrate Sweetville (which, as a mysterious factory, also has echoes of Nigel Kneale's seminal Quatermass II from 1955) and the leather catsuit she wears during the episode's latter half. The science fiction nature of the plot owes much to Doctor Who itself of course but the combination of all these elements made for a solid script from Gatiss. Is that because he got to play with so many tropes along the way?

It also shows how strong the casting of the three Paternoster Gang members was. For the opening fifteen minutes or so, and for a good chunk of the running time even after that, they are the lead characters. Along the way, all three actors get the chance to shine. Neve McIntosh shows off the intelligent but cheeky side to her Silurian detective, Catrin Stewart gets to play Jenny as the on the ground operative picking locks and beating up baddies, and Dan Starkey provides comic relief mixed with lasers as Strax. Separately and together, they very much carry the episode even with the presence of Matt Smith's Doctor which is the all more to their credit.

Diana Rigg as the Villainous Mrs. Gillyflower

They aren't the only highlights of the episode. The Avengers influence on "The Crimson Horror" is all the better for the presence of its longtime leading lady Diana Rigg as Mrs. Gillyflower, a role she seems to relish in as it falls in the tradition of so many of the baddies she faced as Emma Peel in that iconic series. Her daughter Rachel Stirling appears in the episode as well as playing, appropriately enough, Mrs. Gillyfower's daughter Ada. The real-life mother/daughter play off each other splendidly as the relationship between their two characters is a less than happy one which might be to their credit as performers and Gatiss as the writer. They and the Paternoster Gang also have some nice interactions with Smith's Doctor and Jenna Coleman's Clara whom, though sidelined to an extent, still make their presence felt when they do appear.

Additionally, the episode's production values are strong. Production designer Michael Pickwoad and costume designer Howard Burden are up to the challenge of creating the larger than life, steampunk world that Gatiss hands them on the page. From Jenny's leather catsuit to a steampunk rocket hidden in a mill smokestack, they bring the episode to life superbly. Murray Gold's score brings in plenty of action and suspense themes which compliment the production as a whole. Brought together under the direction of Saul Metzstein and the results are solid throughout.

The combination of all these elements made for one of the most memorable and enjoyable offerings of Series Seven. It's a fun mix of genres from a writer clearly enjoying what he's writing. That it's brought superbly to life is even better, especially given how it shows off its guest cast.

The only question is, after five years, when are we getting that Paternoster Gang spin-off?

Matthew Kresal
Matthew Kresal

Matthew Kresal was born and raised in North Alabama though he never developed a Southern accent. His essays have been featured in numerous books and his first piece of fiction was published in the anthology Blood, Sweat, And Fears in 2016.

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