“Prepare for a Victorian Horror Show”, said the BBC continuity announcer before the initial broadcast of The Crimson Horror.
She couldn’t have been more correct.
On first viewing, The Crimson Horror was – without question – the worst received Doctor Who story by me in the entire history of the show.
When I was four years old, Time & The Rani probably didn’t seem as bad as it does now, and as a child and a teenager, I’m sure I approached every classic story I watched – even the shit ones – with some degree of enthusiasm the first time around on UK Gold or BBC Video.
I didn’t think The Doctor’s Daughter was good when I saw it for the first time either. In fact, I declared it a “load of absolute shite” after it was first broadcast?
But The Crimson Horror?
This was a story that I declared utter contempt for while watching it.
I thought it was diabolical.
I thought it made The Doctor’s Daughter seem good.
Will a second viewing be kind to it? Did I make a mistake? Was I just in a bad mood that day and judged it unfairly?
Doctor Who – The Crimson Horror Review: What’s This One About?
A Yorkshire Woman in Victorian Times under the influence of a prehistoric leech wants to destroy humanity.
Thoughts – Any Better The Second Time?
So did I enjoy it more the second time around?
I still thought it was crap.
Why though? What’s wrong with it?
Well there’s a number of things.
First and foremost, there’s just too much going on.
Time and time again I’ve criticised Doctor Who stories for having style over substance, but this is probably the worst example of the lot.
I can just imagine Mark Gatiss sitting there was that goofy grin on his face saying “Let’s do a story set in Victorian Times. And we’ll have it in Yorkshire. And we’ll have Strax, Vastra and Jenny in it. And we’ll have a pre-historic leech in it that will look silly. And we’ll have a blind girl who has been experimented on by her mother. And we’ll have The Doctor only appear 15 minutes in. And we’ll have the blind girl adore him as a monster because he’ll be bright red. And we’ll have a flashback in the style of a silent film. And we’ll have a rocket. And let’s get Diana Rigg to play the villain. And we’ll have humour”
It’s all just “there” and not one single part of it links, with a plot that barely makes sense.
Why is the Yorkshire woman insane?
Where did Mr. Sweet come from?
Why has he attached himself to her?
Why has she been experimenting on her daughter?
What’s the point of Sweetville?
Where did they get the technology for the rocket?
It just seemed so poorly explained and hollow. Events happened because they were written that way, not because they made sense.
No Good For The Casual Viewer
I’m a keen follower of Doctor Who – you all must have realised that by now – but even I struggled to identify Jenny at one point.
Sure, put alongside Vastra & Strax and put in an incongruous situation, she’s easily recognised. But if you place her in a crowd with other Victorian people, away from her alien friends, she’s not that identifiable.
When I watched it the first time, I think I must have blinked and missed the scene where it was explained that she was going into Sweetville because I had no idea who she was. But then when I watched it again, I still had to take a moment to think “Who’s that?”
Maybe it’s because she’s got an unremarkable face (which isn’t me being nasty, but rather me making the point that she doesn’t stand out from the crowd) or maybe it’s that she hasn’t been featured enough for her to be known automatically, but either way, I didn’t find her instantly recognisable.
So what must the casual viewer have thought?
And indeed, for the first part of the story, casual viewers were probably wondering what show they were watching. Was this Doctor Who or was it the Amazing Adventures of Madame Vastra?
Diana Rigg – The Worst Guest Artist In Modern Doctor Who?
All the way back in my review of The Moonbase, I passionately praised the work of guest star, Patrick Barr.
For me, he epitomised exactly what a guest star should do; he took it absolutely seriously and put his all into the part.
As a result, his enthusiasm became infectious and it raised the standard of the story as a whole.
Sometimes the guest stars don’t take it seriously, and this became more of an issue and the show became less popular and credible in the 1980s.
But most of the time in Modern Who, this has not been a big problem.
It is with Diana Rigg though.
Whether it’s just that she’s a lousy actress (just because she’s a well-known actress from a cult TV show, it doesn’t mean she’s any good) or whether she just isn’t taking it seriously, I thought she was beyond terrible.
A more over the top, playing it for laughs performance you will never see.
She took the piss from her first scene to her last and she did what thankfully so few of her counterparts over the years have done; she made the story embarrassing to watch.
People mock Beryl Reid’s doddery performance in Earthshock, but I’d far sooner have that than an old crow like Rigg going into business for herself like she does here.
It’s time she retired.
What Do We Know About Clara?
Something that struck me whilst watching the Crimson Horror is just how little we actually know about Clara.
As much as I criticised Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, at least we knew who she was, what her character was like as a person and what her back story was.
But Clara? Nothing.
Sure, some of her back story has been left purposefully vague as part of the Impossible Girl story-arc, but the result of that is she’s left with no identifiable character traits whatsoever.
I quite like Coleman as an actress – infuriating accent aside – but at this stage she’s an incredibly bland character.
But going back to the story, the humour was also a major problem for me.
It just wasn’t funny, even though it tried so hard to be.
Doctor Who is Doctor Who; it’s a science fiction show, not a comedy. There have been great examples of it having comedic elements in it, but they only work in certain environments.
This wasn’t one of them.
Of course, humour is up to the individual; some people might have found Matt Smith doing a Yorkshire accent funny, or Strax going way over the top a delight, but I didn’t.
I also didn’t find Mr Sweet to be the “hilarious” character I was supposed to. The thing just looked pitiful, and the puerile way it got killed off was unbecoming of the show.
Worst of the lot though was the Thomas Thomas joke. Apart from it having no relevance to the script, it was just so out of left field that it made me despair. Why even come up with that?
Just when you thought it was over though, there was more.
The last scene, where Clara comes back to find the kids she nannies have found pictures of her from earlier stories is just breathtakingly stupid.
At what point did they have time to take pictures in these episodes? In the one from Hide, who actually took the photo? In the one from Cold War, why is she looking away from the camera when everyone else is posing?
And more to the point, why would they be available to download.
This idea that everything is available on the internet if you look hard enough is utter bullshit, especially for children.
Sure, it was written in to allow the two kids to take part in the next episode, but it’s still bullshit.
- Today’s Cheap Pop moment, a Tegan reference. Oh, wonderful…
- Maybe the Doctor always stops for group photos during every one of his adventures? There’s probably one with him and The Gravis somewhere.
- When The Doctor has been afflicted with the Crimson Horror, his jaw is permanently open, and yet as he walks around he seems to forget that. No consistency.
- Then, for no good reason other than to move the story along, he manages to be fine after going into a cupboard for a minute.
- And not just that, he comes out with his proper clothes. What’s the story here? Are we supposed to just accept the plot is cack-handed and doesn’t make sense?
- I heard that some Doctor Who fans claimed they felt The Doctor sexually assaulted Jenny when he emerged from that cupboard. These people need to give themselves a shake and then get a life.
- What about all the women who have done exactly the same thing to him over the past few years?
- What was the point of the people living in jars?
- Mind you, what was the point of the whole bloody story?
- Mr Sweet looked like something out of The Young Ones
- Strax’s mask looks incredibly obvious here.
- Why does Diana Rigg ask her daughter to forgive her, only to approve when she doesn’t?
- One well-known Super Fan declared this episode a classic after it was first shown. I can only think he did that to suck up to the production team in the hope they might release missing episodes quicker.
- But then this story seems to get good reviews from critics, with The Daily Telegraph and – unsurprisingly – Mr Positive at The Guardian loving it. I just don’t get it.
- DWM Miighty 200 Ranking: N/A
Doctor Who – The Crimson Horror Review: Final Thoughts
Having gone through every story in Doctor Who’s history to re-view and review them, there are a very small handful that I just don’t think I’ll ever bother with again.
I have no desire to watch Terminus again, for example, and I just don’t see me wanting to give something like The Arc of Infinity or episodes 2-4 of Underworld another watch.
But I then if I’m honest, I probably will.
I’m making a promise to myself though that I will never watch The Crimson Horror again.
A genuine contender for Worst Doctor Who Story of All Time, I think it fails on pretty much every conceivable level. Ok, it looks good, but the performances, the attempts at humour, the “Throw Everything At The Wall And See What Sticks” style plotting and just the general rot surrounding it makes me think “Why would I waste 45 minutes of my life on this shit ever again”.
It’s that bad.
I hate it.
I absolutely hate it.
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat should be ashamed of themselves.