Series 7, Episode 12
The 100th of episode of Doctor Who. Well, since it was revived in 2005 anyway, and excluding any mini-episodes like the Comic Relief specials and Pond Life. And as milestones go, the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of the show this year is a bigger one. But hey, 100th episode. It stars Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, first seen together in A Good Man Goes To War in series 6 and last seen this series in The Snowmen.
The Doctor himself doesn’t appear until almost 15 minutes into the episode. I don’t have a problem with “Doctor-lite” episodes. My favourite episode of all of them is one, Blink which introduced the Weeping Angels and where the main focus was on the very popular one-off character Sally Sparrow. I also don’t hate Love & Monsters the way some fans do. But for me this episode was a little on the dull side until the Doctor showed up.
The episode is written by Mark Gatiss, and it has his usual interests such as the Victorian era and Hammer Horror films. The sequence where the Doctor explains what happened to him as a flashback resembles a crackled old silent film. Matt Smith gets to act a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, and the factory where people are dipped into a vat and turned into statues is a bit like the Hammer Horror parody Carry On Screaming. There is some good and unsettling imagery like the sight of beautiful people in Victorian dress preserved like ornaments stored under giant bell jars, and we get some The League Of Gentlemen style grossness with a giant monster leech suckling on a woman almost like a baby. Similarly, he sneaks a couple of innuendos. Madame Vastra saying “Strax, have you been sampling Miss Jenny’s sherbert fancies?” and Strax saying afterwards he is going to “play with [his] grenades”.
Mark Gatiss, who is Northern himself, originally from Sedgefield, wanted to create a “proper Northern episode” of Doctor Who. The episode is set in Yorkshire in 1893, and of course we get some obligatory North-South divide stuff, though it’s kept to a minimum here thankfully, and at least it’s nowhere near as irritating as in, say, Turn Left with Donna being a bint about having to relocate there. As I’m from Yorkshire myself it’s quite fun to hear references to it on TV, in this episode Bradford and Pontefract cakes are mentioned, as well as stereotypical Yorkshire phrases like “eeh by gum” and “trouble at t’mill”.
This episode guest stars Dame Diana Rigg, who is originally from Yorkshire and is using her native Doncaster accent for the character of Mrs. Gillyflower. Not only that but her real life daughter Rachael Stirling plays Mrs. Gillyflower’s daughter Ada. They are both excellent. Dame Diana Rigg appears to be having a lot of fun with Mrs. Gillyflower. The character is a nasty Victorian mother with a heart of stone and a deranged mind and who plans to recreate the world with only the “best” i.e physically attractive and able bodied, and the “rejects” are killed and thrown on a scrap heap. But it is a credit to Dame Diana Rigg as an actress that she makes a crazy camp villain like Mrs. Gillyflower oddly believable as a personality.
Rachael Stirling is also remarkable as Ada. Ada was blinded by her father and her mother is also abusive towards her. After the Doctor survives one of Mrs. Gillyflower’s experiments she keeps him in secret, calling him her “special monster”. After he has escaped it’s quite heartbreaking when she finds this out and has lost probably the closest thing to friendship she has ever had. The Doctor finds her again and he gives her the courage to finally stand up to her mother. She also finds time to crush the leech monster with her cane. I really liked Ada as a character, Rachael Stirling gave a very moving performance, one of the most moving of the entire revived series. I think Ada would actually make a good companion for the Doctor. I’d love it if she returned, although unfortunately I don’t think she will.
As far as the arc plot and continuity of the series is concerned, Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny have met the Victorian Clara before, and so are a little confused about this new Clara. After she has returned to the modern day, Clara discovers about her other self only when the kids she is a nanny to tell her they have found photographs of her in different periods throughout history. So it is advancing, however it is at a slowly but surely pace.
This was overall a fun episode, and helped greatly by some fantastic guest stars in Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling.