And thus, Mark Gatiss has gifted us with a merrily sanguine and appropriately horrific Victorian adventure—in which the gentlemen do all the fainting.
Now, then. Strange goings-on in Yorkshire, people disappearing into a factory, and a monster hidden in the dark, burnt onto the eyeballs of the dead. Magnificent!
This story has all the makings of a proper Victorian Gothic shocker: a secluded factory that only pretends to be one, the mysterious deaths and penny dreadful stories, and then the labyrinthine layout of the factory itself making Jenny’s infiltration a journey into the shadows. The monster up in the attic, that’s the Doctor. (Ada continuing to call the Doctor, ‘Monster,’ albeit affectionately, is one of the more weirdly endearing ways of dealing with his terrible past…) When in doubt, look for the Doctor in the most perilous spot conceivable, then take a left.
Add to all of that a Jurassic leech parasite going by the name of Mr Sweet along with sinister global destruction and selective preservation of humanity according to a perversion of Victorian values, and you’ve got a lovely bedtime story. And it all just gets even better when there’s a parasite if not popping out of, living on a woman’s chest. Hello, Alien.
Speaking of storytelling: the sequence at the beginning, in which the Doctor retells to Jenny what he and Clara have been up to, is wonderful Victorian retro. Oh, and there’s a reference to Classic Who that’s impossible to miss: “Brave heart,” is what the Fifth Doctor often said to Tegan.
Strax: “Horse! You have failed in your mission! We are lost!”
Thank goodness the Victorian version of the TomTom GPS navigation system, Thomas Thomas, turned up just in time.
It’s been a while since we last met Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, and they just never get old. (I think lobbying for a mini series spin-off really is called for at this point. Strax, what is wrong with the North?!) It’s a pity Jenny didn’t get a bigger fight sequence, she was certainly geared up for it. Our friends are also suitably astonished at meeting Clara again—she was dead, and then she wasn’t, and now that Clara has seen a photo of herself as a governess in Victorian London, the trouble has only just begun. Doctor, you can’t just take someone else’s kids with you, that’s not… oh, fine, do what you want. We’ll hear all about it next week.
And then there are the brilliant Dame Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachel Stirling, who play mother and daughter caught in a maze of resentment, neglect, and rejection. Both of these women go against the convention that Victorian society has set for them: to be docile, to be virtually non-existent, to feel the vapours when convenient to the gentlemen. Mrs Gillyflower does it by preparing to remould the world in her image, rejecting anything but scientific ratio and what she calls ‘morals’—the traditionally male narrative if there ever was one. And then there’s Ada, a genuinely kind spirit dampened by her mother’s cruelty, who steps out of her mother’s shadow and refuses to deny herself her own experiences any longer when she finds out that her mother has been experimenting on her. She hates her mother and relentlessly does not forgive her, she rages and spews at her because it’s her damn right to! She will make her way in society, and she will be splendid.
Between the mystery, the threat to humanity, and the human drama (see, that is how a subplot does not become superfluous), the pace of the script never lets up, and it takes us on a fun ride that twists and turns and manages to keep the suspense and tension up until the very end.
Until: ouch. And crunch. The Doctor could take Mr Sweet back to the Jurassic age—but on the other hand…
And again, the Doctor is very cavalier about the death of a villain—this time, he didn’t offer a way out, did you notice? He only announced that he’d stop Mrs Gillyflower, he didn’t even ask her to stop.
Next: Nightmare in Silver.