Dear Steven Moffat: The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror

Dear Steven,

The Doctor Who commune, of which I’m a proud member, has turned on itself. As I write this I resemble one of the petrification rejects from tonight’s piece of Gatiss penned Victoriana. I’m caked in blood, my muscles are stiff and I’ve been forced to disrobe down to a soiled t-shirt and pair of torn boxers. If you asked me how an argument over a can of Coke lead to Matt Morbius taking a rubber cock to the Sisters of Plenitude, with the ensuing fracas becoming an ugly free for all in which senseless, costumed violence swept the compound, Weng-Chiang’s talons ripping though flesh while Vervoid Dave watched and laughed, I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that I didn’t get that can of Coke.

With the prospect of homelessness once again all too real, my only comfort was the extent to which I enjoyed this week’s episode. If, prior to viewing, you’d told me that I’d rate an instalment in which Mark Gatiss recast The Doctor as Sloth Fratelli from The Goonies while cribbing the ‘young maidens get dipped into a plasticising vat’ sub-plot from Carry On Screaming (you could almost hear Kenneth Williams’ call of “frying tonight!”) then I’d have said I couldn’t wait to see it, while doubting its success as a Who adventure in its own right. I would have been wrong. Gatiss drew on a well-sourced love of Victorian schlock, incorporating Gothic horror and steampunk, to produce an episode that was penny dreadful in all the right ways.

Thanks to director Saul Metzstein, it looked the part. The stand out sequence was a wonderful sepia flashback incorporating jump cuts, scratches and a part closed iris. Inventive touches such as these added much to the period atmosphere. If Metzstein had enjoyed more time he might have gone further, turning it up to eleven like Coppola did in Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but in place of old technique he had other assets like the ghoulish visage of Diana Rigg.

In addition to being rather wonderful as the harridan mistress of the mill who’d entered into a genocidal pact with a prehistoric worm that had affixed itself to her breasts (only on Doctor Who), she looked about 138 years old. Say what you like but a lined face with a sinister glint in two sunken eyes, plus old school discomforts like a blind woman with red raw scars across her puss, really works. This was an episode that managed to pull together these reliable old tropes and reinvigorate them with genre splicing and good humour. If you didn’t laugh when Rigg tried to dispatch The Doctor and Clara with a cry of “Die, you freaks!” while that alien grub clung to her chest for dear life, there’s no hope for you. If TV isn’t about alien-human abominations, big rockets and poisons that make people look like anger personified, then not only do I not know what it’s for, I don’t care to know.

As I share Mr Gatiss’ love of Victoriana you might think I would be predisposed to like this episode and may be giving it an easy ride; after all who doesn’t enjoy harking back to a period when eugenics was still an abstraction and so attractive to everyone from deranged Mill owners to mass hating intellectuals to alien invaders, and who isn’t a fan of period fancies such as the optigram (another, bio-ether, an invisible field in which the essence of the dead was thought to be trapped, features in my now dusty Gore Whores screenplay, the greatest movie never made)? But as your Christmas episode proved, Steven, late Victorian England is not enough. Tone and style matter a great deal and The Crimson Horror was great because both were spot on. Sure, the ending was a little rushed and there wasn’t a great deal of time to enjoy the characters, after all Rigg’s Mrs Gillyflower would have bestrode a four part serial like a crinolined colossus, but no matter, this bastard had it where it counted. It was inventive, there were surprises and what I’m told is self-deprecating Northern humour, though as a Londoner I have to take my sources at their word – I had assumed our Sontaran friend Strax was just parroting common sense.

As Gatiss is clearly more comfortable with this kind of 19th century sensationalism than you are, perhaps you could take the next step and hire him to write a sequel to Robert Holmes’ peerless, though surely not racist, The Talons of Weng-Chiang? This classic Tom Baker serial, set but a handful of years before tonight’s instalment, was concluded on the Saturday prior to my birth. In fact, it was listening to my Mother read the reviews aloud that spurred me on to be born the following Friday, just so I could catch the repeat.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I noticed The Doctor being once again referred to as a monster. When you ruin the series and tell us who he is, will his monstrousness be a part of it? I was also upset that a couple of annoying kids blackmailed their way into next week’s story but as Neil Gaiman’s writing it, I’m hopeful that Clara’s charges will be killed.

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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