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15 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 834: The Crimson Horror

Dear diary,

This is probably the closest to producing a ‘back door pilot’ episode for another series that Doctor Who has come since Mission to the Unknown right back in 1965. For the first third of this episode, the Doctor only appears as a still image reflected in the eye of a dead man, and then even when he does show up, he spends another few minutes being not quite his usual self before he’s back to normal and able to really join the story properly, catching us up with the story you might have expected to see via a series of brief flashbacks.

Up to then, this is very much The Paternoster Gang’s story, with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax undoubtably the main stars for a good while. Indeed, it’s almost a shame once the Doctor and Clara have been revived that they return to the centre stage, leaving the Paternosters somewhat sidelined. Oh, they still have a part to play, of course, but it feels like they were only ever here to keep us busy until the Doctor showed up.

Oh, but isn't that first third proof that they would work in their own programme? I perhaps can’t imagine full 13-episode seasons like Doctor Who gets, but maybe occasional specials at Christmas, or the odd mini series from time to time, in which people present ‘The Great Detective’ with cases, and they head out across the empire to investigate. You could even have the Doctor pop in from time to time, if you really wanted. I simply can’t help but love them here, and once again it’s Strax who takes the spotlight, and keeps me laughing throughout. Watching all these episodes in close succession, you really do notice how much this is a whole different character from the one we were introduced to in A Good Man Goes to War, but it’s hard to care because he’s just so brilliant. If there’s one let down, it’s that he doesn’t get to spend any real time with the Doctor - and their scenes together in The Snowmen showed just how well the pair gel.

On the whole, I think The Crimson Horror serves as a rather good example of what any potential Paternoster spin off might be like. I’m reminded of the old anecdote about exiling the Doctor to Earth leaving Doctor Who with only ‘alien invasion’ or ‘mad scientist’ as story options, and then how Doctor Who and the Silurians comes along to prove that there are other stories to be told. This one does a similar job, picking up on threads of the Silurian mythos once more to tell a very different kind of story (albeit with traces of mad scientist involved).

Indeed, I don’t think I appreciated first time around just how ‘mad’ bits of this story are in general. It’s not often that the reveal of a story’s monster comes in the form of someone opening their top to reveal that the creature is connected to them in such a way! Diana Rigg plays the part of Mrs Gillyflower with a real relish, and it’s one of those fine performances which teeters on the brink of going too over the top, but always manages to fall on just the right side of the line, which makes it all the more fun to watch. Similarly, her daughter (both in the real world and within the episode), Rachel Stirling, turns in a fantastic performance, which helps to nicely ground some of the more ‘out there’ moments in the narrative.

Now, really, though, when will the Paternosters be getting their own show?

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