Knowing this episode was written by Mark Gatiss and was set in Victorian Britain, I was fully expecting his brand of gothic horror to be stamped all over it. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so disturbing, but it was an episode that stood up for itself very well, despite very little alien or sci-fi meddling.
The highlights of the episode were, of course, provided by Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Jenny had her fair share of screen time, but topped it all with a great fight scene – disarming serveral henchman all by herself. Madame Vastra barely got a chance to get into the mystery but did manage to make a guy faint, at least twice. And Strax, he had some of the best lines, with the horse and preparing for the North, but he was criminally underused. At least he got to save the day.
It took the Doctor ten minutes or so to make an appearance on our screen, and when he did, he was a starched “monster” version of himself. When we eventually did get our Doctor back, he raced through the back story of how he ended up where he did, and set about solving the mystery and, once again, finding Clara. This made me wonder again about the lack of two-part episodes of late. So much story, so little time.
At its heart, this was a very simple tale, leaving little room for gaping plot-holes or disappointing endings. Mrs Gillywinter, who was played by Dame Diana Rigg with brilliantly controlled mania, is under the influence of Mr Sweet, who has a warm and comfy spot on her chest. For such a small, weak, and mostly defenseless creature, we get a dastardly plot that involves preserving humans, setting up fake towns and factories, and a Victorian-style rocket.
It was the human element that really pulled the story together. The heartbreaking story of the daughter, made blind by her own mother, searching for some comfort even from a “monster”, finally managing to take a stand at the end. The earnest young faces lining up to their doom, because they want a better life for themselves and their families. The young man who keeps stumbling upon surprising scenes and fainting… well, not so much that one.
This was a great episode. It didn’t sparkle off the screen and capture my feelings like so many of them do, but it had a gritty realism that has more of a slow-burn effect. I’m still thinking about those people being dipped six at a time, and the mannequins preserved behind the glass. It was well done, intriguing, terrifying, uncomfortable, brilliant. It just needed a little more Strax.
Next week, some kind of incredible not-so-much fun and games in a futuristic theme park with the return of the Cybermen!