Written by Jeff Snyder
As you can tell from my title this week, my initial feelings about this episode (at least the first 20 minutes of the show) was that this wasn’t exactly an episode of Doctor Who. I’ll explain more in the Spoiler Zone of Doom. Spoiler-free, how did I feel about this episode? The beginning of the show, very weak. It felt as though the episode was written to announce that Strax, Vastra and Jenny were getting a spin-off, like Torchwood. They mention the Doctor occasionally, but until his introduction, they are firmly running the show. After the Doctor shows up, it becomes more like a Doctor Who episode, but then we’re only left with 20-25 minutes. I will say, however, that the half of the episode that was actually an episode of Doctor Who was quite good and made up for the opening half.
Spoiler Zone of DOOM: Go ye no further, for here there be spoilers!
As I stated above, the first half of the show was not a Doctor Who episode. He is shown as the last thing a man sees before he dies and then he gets mentioned several times, saying he’ll eventually show up. This goes on for about 15-20 minutes. While this idea could be great for some sort of environment building exercise for the episode, the plot of the show doesn’t really begin until the Doctor is found, revealed to be the “monster” that the blind daughter of the head of Sweetville has been keeping. Once they finally find the Doctor, everything falls into place and the Doctor finds and saves Clara and then the world from a poison secreted by the parasite known as Mr. Sweet. That all fits into the remaining 30 or so minutes of the show. Beyond this, Strax, Vastra and Jenny add little to the story other than being back up to the Doctor (although Jenny does save the Doctor by releasing him from his cell). They don’t really reveal much to the viewer in ways of the plot points. So my question to the writer is, did these characters really need 20+ minutes of exposition before becoming sidekicks again? I’m not certain, because then we have a lot of plot to fit into the remaining time.
That being said, it was good to see that crew again. As I said in my review of the Christmas episode, I like them, especially Strax (who has a violent and unthinking childlike manner that I find complements the Doctor well). They have a good group chemistry and feel that they would be effective in a short series of spin-offs. I say short because the premise would run thin after about 6 or 7 episodes unless it were cleverly enough written. The problem that having this trio in the episode delivered, however, was that it spread everything too thin and couldn’t decide whether it was their show or Doctor Who. They didn’t blend the two groups well enough, at least not as well as they did in the Christmas episode.
One thing I loved was how every time the Doctor tried to use his sonic screwdriver, somebody stepped in and used a low tech method of solving the problem (my favorite being Clara’s chair). It was great because they stopped the Doctor from doing what he often craves to do, show off. Definitely a well written, self aware moment.
There was one moment in particular that stuck with me, however. Near the end of the episode, as the Doctor and Clara are about to go Victorian London when Clara decides she has had enough of Victorian England, to which the Doctor replies “you’re the boss”. He catches himself, but Clara notices and repeats this to herself several times before the end of episode (when her charges in modern times discover her secret). This is the first notable time that I can recall the Doctor referring to somebody else as the boss in a non-sarcastic way. The romancers are definitely going into overdrive here. Well, I guess every monster needs a companion.
6/10 – Would be even lower but the second half was very good. If this was the Strax, Vastra, and Jenny show, it would have also been higher.
PS: This has nothing to do with the episode, really, but the child in the episode that helps Strax and Vastra find Sweetville is named Thomas Thomas. It might seem like a dumb name but that is legitimately my great times x amount grandfather’s name, one of the last generations before moving to the States so those names do exist. Not to mention I was genuinely excited when I heard the name. I actually thought “holy crap, my ancestor met the Doctor” before remembering that this is a work of fiction and shaking my head at my own stupidity.