We open in Yorkshire, 1893. A man named Edmund kisses a blonde lady farewell. “We must get to the bottom of this dark business,” he explains, “No matter what the cost!” He walks into a room lit bright-red. Too bright. Neon bright. Futuristic bright. A kindly old lady appears. She looks serious. (She is Diana Rigg, British screen legend and — mark your Doctor Who Bingo Board! — a recent guest-star on Game of Thrones.) Her name is Mrs. Gillyflower. She tells to the blonde lady that she’s sorry about the recent death of her husband. There’s a loud scream from the door…and we see the man named Edmund, on a slab, his skin dyed entirely red.
A man with a mustache looks down on the corpse, horrified. The humorous corpsemonger tells him it’s not the first — the people have been calling it “The Crimson Horror.” (The Dramatic Rules of Corpsemongers: In the British tradition, they’re idiot savants — see Hamlet. In the American tradition, they’re scary wise men — see Final Destination.) The mustache man is the dead man’s brother. He pays a visit to the greatest detectives in Victoriana: Madame Vastra and her sidekick/bodyguard/maid/wife Jenny. Turns out the dead man was a newspaperman, and the blonde lady was his pretend-wife in an undercover operation. (How’s that for an immediate download of plot?)
Mr. Mustache took an optogram of his brother’s corpse — printing out a photograph of the last image the dead man saw. Vastra and Jenny develop the photo — and see an image of their old friend The Doctor. From there, we’re off on a very special episode that feels like a Doctor Who spinoff, with Vastra, Jenny, and trusty chauffeur Strax solving mysteries around England. (Possible title: The Silurian Detective. Or The Reptile, The Maid, and The Potato. Or The Adventures of Nurse Strax the Butler in the 19th Century. These are all terrible.) Vastra wanted Jenny to infiltrate Ms. Gillyflower’s community, which is reserved only for perfect physical specimens. Strax cautioned his mistresses: They were going to The North, which, based on the Red Riding trilogy, is sort of the American version of “going to New Jersey.”
Jenny watched Mrs. Gillyflower give a speech about the depravity of the modern world. She demonstrated her daughter as a sad example: A lovely young woman, blinded by her father in a drunken rage. (Fun fact: Ada Gillyflower is played by Rachael Stirling, the actual daughter of Diana Rigg.) Mrs. Gillyflower offered a better life in her utopian community: Sweetville. It was eerily similar to the plot of BioShock Infinite, right down to the line about “the shining city on the hill.” Retro-futuristic sci-fi explorations of the turn-of-the-century Worlds’ Fair utopian instinct: So hot right now!
Strax insisted on a frontal assault: “Casualties could be kept to as little as 80%.” But inside, Jenny opted for the espionage option. She found her way into the match factory, which didn’t seem to be in use: A series of gigantic gramophones were playing loud “Factory” sounds, as a ruse. Meanwhile, Vastra investigated the corpses. She had seen the symptoms before. Long ago — 65 million years ago, specifically. (ASIDE: I like how, despite the veil, Vastra doesn’t seem to mind showing her clearly-not-human face off to random people. Clearly, she knows she can always win people over with her sparkling personality. END OF ASIDE.)
NEXT: Monster Who?