The Crimson Horror

15-episode set
Region A/1
15-episode set
Region B/2
Standard DVD
8-episode volume

See below for purchasing options
(Doctor Who Story No. 242, starring Matt Smith)
  • written by Mark Gatiss
  • directed by Saul Metzstein
  • produced by Marcus Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 47 minutes
Story: The famed Silurian detective Madame Vastra is asked to investigate the proliferation of bright red corpses in Yorkshire in 1893, asking her assistant Jenny Flint to go undercover as a recruit in Mrs. Gillyflower's town of perfect people named Sweetville. Have the Doctor and Clara already run into foul play here? Who is Gillyflower's silent partner, the reclusive Mr. Sweet? What kind of secret monster does Gillyflower's blind daughter Ada have locked up in a cell? And can the Doctor explain what Clara is to his trio of friends?

DVD Extras for this story on the 15-episode box sets include:

  • Audio commentary by Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny), and Dan Starkey (Strax).
  • Behind the Scenes featurette (4 min.), with McIntosh, Stewart, Matt Smith (The Doctor), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara Oswald),
    writer Mark Gatiss, director Saul Metzstein, production designer Michael Pickwoad, and visual effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.

Here we have another fairly decent offering from writer Mark Gatiss. Although the main subject matter isn't particularly inspiring, the episode is full of good characters which Gatiss is able to run with, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable fun romp of an adventure.

The opening shot and unfolding sequence were not particularly inspiring, indicating a period piece in England, and proceeding through the routine establishment of the episode's main danger via some of its hapless victims. I was beginning to fear that the show was starting to wallow on Earth and lean on the less-than-brilliant parts of its own formula yet again.

But the episode quickly gathers itself around that intrepid trio of the Silurian investigator Madame Vastra, her loyal sidekick Jenny Flint, and ex-nurse Sontaran Commander Strax. As my reviews of the one at Demon's Run (story no. 223) and "The Snowmen" (story no. 236) have already indicated, I love this trio! Getting another episode with them makes it worthwhile to come to England in 1893. Oh yes! This adventure takes place several months after their last one ("The Snowmen"), keeping their chronology easy to follow.

As the story unfolds, it appears that this pseudo-superhero trio is here to take over the center-stage from the Doctor, indicating that this may indeed be the annual double-banked story filmed while Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are off shooting a completely different episode. But the Doctor turns up about 1/3 of the way through, and proceeds to be every bit as strong a participant. Bonus! I don't know how Matt Smith manages to pull this off every year. Clara is here too, but seems to have a bit of a reduced role, as though Coleman really is on a double-banked schedule.

As the Human of the trio, Jenny Flint is probably its most easily overlooked member. Thus I thought it was really good that she takes on the most high profile task of the narrative, investigating undercover, and she ends up commanding early parts of the story very successfully. Best of all, she gets to demonstrate her special abilities during an action sequence that she tackles all by herself. Excellent!

Vastra and Strax also keep themselves quite busy as well, and deliver their usual charm on cue. Each member of the trio has critical things to do during this adventure right up through its climax, and so the story makes good use of them both separately and as a team.

Apart from the characters he inherited, Gatiss comes up with many of his own. Mrs. Gillyflower, her daughter Ada, and the all-too-enthusiastic coroner really pop off the screen with that unique trademark flavour that says they are Gatiss characters - a bit bizarre but with a twinkle and a bit of humour (sometimes quite dark) which keeps them easy to watch. The woman that befriends Jenny in the Sweetville line-up also makes a positive impression without much screentime in which to do it. The humour in this story works fairly well and is plentiful. Dame Diana Rigg in particular seems to be really enjoying her lines, giving the impression of a lively villain who relishes the nastiness she is able to inflict on the world.

The plot never really did grab my interest for what it was, but thankfully it does hold up far better than many other plots that we've endured this season, and the viewer is not required to struggle to follow it. We can instead relax a bit and enjoy the character interaction. In fact, the characters even find time to satirize the episode title that encapsulates the plot, and make the horror aspect of the story sound a bit pretentious. I don't mind that so much. I'll go for satire over horror any day.

It's also really nice to check in with the Vastra/Strax/Jenny trio regarding the larger season-long mystery of Clara. They were there when it all began, and they're still as baffled as the Doctor was at the end of "The Snowmen". The Doctor still doesn't seem too sure of anything he's learned since though. This story has the scenes to make sure that point comes across, and with charm.

Both the Doctor and Clara have good things to do at the end of this one to resolve the conflicts, ensuring that they are as well-served as the interplanetary trio. It is a much more satisfying ending here than we've seen in many of Gatiss's earlier Doctor Who scripts.

Tacked on to the end we have a scene of Clara arriving back at her present-day home, only to be blackmailed about her traveling by the two kids she looks after. In many ways this is much more about setting up the next story than tying off anything in this one. But it is strange that she now seems to be going back to the initial pattern of "dating" the Doctor, instead of appearing as though she has moved into the TARDIS with him like most other companions did in the past. The kids also insist on referring to the Doctor as Clara's boyfriend, a title she does not argue with. As intriguing as all this is, it does seem to indicate that their relationship is flipping back and forth over its very nature as the season continues.

At any rate, Gatiss seems to have another winner here in this adventure, and I think his two best Doctor Who stories so far are both here in Season 33, with "Victory of the Daleks" now resting in third place. He does seem to be getting better as a writer, and honing those strengths he has that have the greatest audience appeal. All to the good!

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Der feuerrote Schrecken"

Magyar: "Bíbor Horror"

Français: "Le Cauchemar écarlate"

Русский: "Багровый ужас"

Italiano: "L'orrore cremisi"

Interesting here is how the colour "crimson" turns to other shades in other languages. The Germans went for "fire-red", the Hungarians "purple", the French went all the way to "The Scarlet Nightmare". The Russians and Italians did the best job of sticking with good old crimson.

This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Season 33 Box Set
15 episodes

NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.

NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
Sept. 24, 2013.

This 5-disc DVD box set includes
13 regular episodes, 2 Christmas specials,
4 audio commentaries, documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and additional scenes.

The Blu-ray version has identical content in high definition spanning 4 discs.

This Region A/1 version (U.S. & Canada) is new for September 24, 2013.

Season 33 Box Set
15 episodes

NEW for
Oct. 28, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
Oct. 28, 2013.
The Region 2 box set has identical content to its North American counterpart, except that it also has one additional extra feature called:
  • As Good as Gold

This Region B/2 version (for the U.K.) is new for October 28, 2013.

The music CD is new for September 9, 2013.

Check out this companion 2-disc Audio CD as well:

Doctor Who: Original Music from Season 33
(aka "Series 7", 2012-2013) by Murray Gold

More info & buying options (2-disc album)

This story is also available in an 8-episode volume with minimal extra features.
The U.K. version also includes the episode "The Snowmen"; North American versions do not.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Standard DVD:
NTSC Region 1 - U.S.
NTSC Region 1 - Canada
PAL Region 2 - U.K.
Region A/1 - U.S.
Region A/1 - Canada
Region B/2 - U.K.
Bonus features vary from region to region.
You may get "The Companions" documentary (45 min.)
You will get some of the prequel scenes, but not all.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Nightmare in Silver"

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