Every season of every television drama must inevitability have one Achilles heel, one ‘weak link’ amongst its roster. What’s most impressive, then, about Doctor Who’s seventh season is that its weakest episode is still a great romp in itself. The Crimson Horror has its flaws, and yet it’s still traditional fun Who through and through, with Mark Gatiss still managing to follow up his earlier effort Cold War in a mostly effective manner. With that in mind, there’s still more than enough on offer here to love.
It was only natural that fans worried about the third return of the Paternoster Gang after A Good Man Goes To War and The Snowmen- would they inject a little too much comedy into the show’s interior oft-dark workings? Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be the case, with Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey all holding their own both in terms of dramatic and comic value. Indeed, there’s still plenty of potential for a spin-off show featuring Vastra, Jenny and Strax in an all manner of Victorian hijinks based on what we’ve seen here.
Elsewhere, the cast of Crimson Horror remained positive elements of the episode regardless of their regular or supporting status. Matt Smith in particular was once again on fine form as the Doctor, more than holding his own against Dame Diana Rigg’s gloriously Machiavellian villain Miss Gillyflower while equally showing a pathos-fuelled sympathy towards Rachael Stirling’s decrepit reject Ada too. Even The Bells Of Saint John’s Artie and Angie turned up along for the ride in the episode’s final moments, although their intelligent discovery of Clara’s travels in time did perhaps seem a little too convenient as a segueway into the season’s penultimate episode.
Let’s just focus on the shortcomings of Crimson for a moment or two. While Saul Metzein’s direction of the piece was inspired, the pacing was a little misconstrued in the first ten minutes or so, even if Catrin Stewart’s Jenny was fascinating to watch on her own exploits for the first quarter. On top of that, the various Victorian lords’ fainting at the sight of Vastra did become rather childish as the episode progressed, harkening back to a subtle weak element of Snowmen that became a little too apparent here.
Nevertheless, for each minor shortcoming, The Crimson Horror presented a near-equally overriding positive aspect on which to leave a satisfactory impact for the viewer. Mother and daughter Diana and Rachael worked gloriously on screen together for the first time, Mark Gatiss’ script delivered a deliciously steampunk Victorian horror with thrills and chills aplenty, and Matt and Jenna-Louise combined with their Paternoster Gang companions in a lovely ‘Avengers’-esque team-up that would be great to see reprised in future seasons. It wasn't perfect, yet Doctor Who’s sixth episode of its 50th Anniversary season was still a fun Victorian romp, providing great thrills for viewers despite being Season Seven’s weakest link.