The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) travel back to Victorian England where calamity ensues, and we get the return of the Doctor’s ‘friends’. How did the trip back to the time of corsets and petticoats fare?
Let’s bitch it out.
Ergh. Just when I thought Doctor Who was coming out of its slump,we get this dud of an episode. I’m sure there are fans out there that were delighted to see the return of “The Doctor & Friends” but I have to say, waiting almost 20 minutes into the episode for the appearance of the Doctor didn’t sit well with me. I’m all for “Doctor-lite” episodes, but this doesn’t technically count as one. It functions more as a pitch-package for a spin-off series featuring the colourful cast of the Doctor’s allies – Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Strax (Dan Starkey) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart).
Although I tried to keep an open mind as Jenny took over the entire first act, I couldn’t help but wonder – am I even watching a Doctor Who episode? I wasn’t at all invested in this business with Mrs. Gillyflower (Dame Diana Rigg), nor did I necessarily care about Jenny’s well-being or what she was going to discover. Even though we’ve met Jenny before, it’s not like she was ever introduced as a well-developed character, so it’s mighty difficult to be invested in her as our heroine.
When we do finally see the Doctor, it doesn’t function as an “Oh, thank god – now let’s get crackin’ on what this is all about” but more like a “Oh. The Doctor. Riiight. This is Doctor Who…” Further to that, the whole Crimson Horror mystery is overly convoluted and uninteresting to boot. What exactly was Mrs. Gillyflower trying to do? Obliterate the human race but only preserving hetero-normative, white supermodels to live in the post-apocalypse? I mean I know we’re in Victorian England, but really? That’s what we’re going with?!
And of course, another trope that’s becoming increasing tiresome episode after episode is the ‘quest for Clara’. Why is it that central conflict of every episode seems to be the Doctor’s plight to find an endangered and missing Clara? I expected more from Clara than constantly being the ‘damsel in distress’. Not to mention the true nature of Clara is unfolding at an absolutely glacial pace. I’m not suggesting we need everything revealed to us, but think back to last season where we had the mystery of the Impossible Astronaut, or the true identity of Melody Pond. In those instances we were teased throughout each episode with tidbits and small clues, intriguing us to keep tuning in to see how those stories would unfold. I simply don’t have that kind of investment this season and I’m getting frustrated and disappointed. It feels as though all the A-material is being saved for either the season finale, or more likely, the 50th Anniversary Special. As we’ve only got two episodes left this season, let’s hope we’re done with the filler and can get back to the Doctor Who we know and love.
- Despite my gripes, I did love the economy and inventiveness of the flashback sequence presented in “silent-film era” format when the Doctor recounts to Jenny how he got into the Crimson predicament in the first place. I wish the show was brave enough to present the entire episode like this to us – it would have proved infinitely more interesting.
- Alasdair Wilkins over at AV TV Club notes that the delight of this episode comes from not taking it seriously and embracing the more light-hearted, campy moments. Although I agree that Dame Diana Rigg practically kills it by wholeheartedly embracing her villainous character, I don’t think campiness trumps good storytelling. And this episode is severely lacking motivation and investment.
- That being said, I laughed out loud when we get the reveal of Mr. Sweet, clearly a homage to Kuato in the original Total Recall film.
- Rachel Stirling (Rigg’s real-life daughter) delivers an excellent performance as Ada. Her moments with the Doctor are the episode’s best.
- Every time I see Madam Vastra, I can help but be absolutely mesmerized by her make-up. It really is quite impressive. Unfortunately this also means I completely check out with regard to whatever it is that she’s saying.
- Did anyone else groan when Jenny went all Buffy on the supermodel minions? Again, such a tired trope. Yawn.
What did you think viewers? Did you love this episode and think I should just stuff it? How are we feeling about the Doctor getting two additional companions next episode? Will Clara’s true nature ever be revealed to us? Will she ever remember what she discovered in the TARDIS library? Will there ever be an episode where she doesn’t go missing? Sound off in our comments section below.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 8pm EST on BBC America.