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OK, let’s start:
It is Yorkshire, it is 1893. And in a cobbled mill town, a young couple meet in a corridor, in a place called Sweetville, to discuss investigating a terrible business. As the husband rushes into a room with a strange red glow coming from its circular window, a coterie of black-clad ladies come out of the lift and offer their condolences to his wife. Confused, she says he’s in perfect health, and then there’s a scream from behind the red-eyed door.
Next, we’re in that self-same husband’s autopsy, and his skin has turned entirely red, but no one knows why. So, in London, the red man’s brother asks Madame Vastra for her help in solving what the press is calling the Crimson Horror. He produces an octogram – a picture taken of the last thing his brother saw before he died. And in that picture is a face… it’s the DOCTOR!
So, off they go to Sweetville, where Jenny is going to infiltrate the closed community, run by the leader of the black-clad ladies from earlier, Mrs. Gillyflower. We see her giving a speech about moral turpitude, railing against the end of days, and showing off her daughter Ada, who was horrifically blinded by her drunken father.
It turns out Sweetville is a kind of morally pure workhouse, making matches, a community where only the best and freshest will get in. Jenny is accepted, and starts looking for the Doctor. Meanwhile Ada is feeding something behind a door locked door, something she calls “dear monster.”
As Jenny is queuing to get in, she strikes up a conversation with a woman called Abigail. She asks her to pretend to faint for a guinea, and uses the distraction to sneak in to a door marked no entry. She passes some gramophone-type loudspeakers making industrial noises, and eventually finds herself in an attic, in front of the door Ada pushed the food through earlier.
Meanwhile, at dinner, Mrs. Gillyflower secretly puts a pinch of salt down inside her dress, and Madame Vastra visits the autopsy doctor. She claims to recognize the red fluid he has gathered from his recent patients.
Back to Jenny, and she convinces the monster not to attack her, in exchange for opening the door to its cell. Inside, she sees a red-skinned Doctor in long-johns, who is clearly unable to speak, and stiff of limb. Jenny helps him to walk out, narrowly avoiding Ada, and they go in through the red-eyed door. Here is where Jenny sees what’s been going on in the factory. Men being dipped into huge vats of the red liquid Madame Vastra recognized.
Ada discovers that her monster is missing, and while she starts to search, the Doctor enters a cupboard area, with his clothes and the sonic screwdriver. 30 seconds later he emerges as good as new, and frisky with it. He explains to Jenny that he and Clara were trying to find Victorian London, but missed. A scream, a red corpse, an investigation, and suddenly Mrs Gillyflower’s match factory looks deeply suspicious.
On chemical investigation it appears the red fluid is an organic poison. So that’s why the Doctor and Clara infiltrated Sweetville, and discovered that Mrs. Gillyflower is in silent partnership with a Mr. Sweet, and that the people who live there only do so with the aid of the red poison to preserve them from the day of judgement, and some huge jars. Then the Doctor is put in a vat of the poison and that’s what stiffens him up. Ada rescues him from being dumped in the river, and chains him up. That’s where he is when the dead man from earlier bursts in, that’s how the Doctor is the last thing he sees before the poison overwhelms him.
Back in the nowadays, the Doctor and Jenny start looking for Clara – over Jenny’s protestations that Clara died back in London. And they find her sitting in a jar, which the Doctor smashes. Meanwhile, Ada is discovered by Mrs. Gillyflower, crying over the loss of her monster. Sympathy is not forthcoming. And in fact, it looks like Ada isn’t even welcome in her mother’s brave new world.
While the Doctor attempts to revive Clara, this happens:
And when that fails, Strax finally gets to do the fighting he loves so much, and out pops Clara, revived.
Madama Vastra tells the Doctor that, back in her people’s prehistoric past, their most notorious foe was the repulsive red leech, which secreted a red poison. This is the liquid she recognized from earlier. The red liquid that Mrs Gillyflower is about to shoot up into the atmosphere to rain down on the population of Earth. This will poison the air, and only the hand-picked people preserved in those jars will survive. It’s a new Eden!
While sorting out how best to stop her, the Doctor encounters Ada, and thanks her for looking after him. He asks her to tell him who Mr Sweet is, but she refuses, still clinging to the mother who rejected her.
So, time for a confrontation. The Doctor finds Mrs. Gillyflower and she shows him Mr Sweet, the red leech she’s been feeding on her chest. While she does her baddy monologuing, the Doctor steers the conversation onto Ada. It seems she was blinded not by a drunken husband, but as a series of experiments Mrs. Gillyflower devised to create an antivenom for Mr Sweet’s poison. However, Ada hears it all, and attacks her mother, calling her all manner of Victorian cuss-words.
Then Clara hits the rocket’s launch panel with a chair, and that’s that. No rocket, no day of judgement. Is that it?
Oh except then Mrs. Gillyflower takes Ada hostage, threatening to shoot her, and rushes off to launch the rocket herself. There’s a confrontation on the stairs, and then… the rocket takes off!
Except there’s no poison, thanks to Madame Vastra and Jenny. As Mrs. Gillyflower attempts to shoot her way out, Strax stops her, and she falls down the stairwell. Mr Sweet starts to crawl off, and while the Doctor considers dropping him back to prehistory, Ada smashes him to bits with her cane. Some things can never be forgiven.
So, that’s that. Time to go home. And this is where things go awry for Clara. Angie and Archie – the two children she’s been looking after – find pictures from her recent journeys in the past. Including one of the other Clara, the properly Victorian one. Not only does she have the same mystery to solve as the Doctor, but now she’s being blackmailed into taking them on a trip through space and time.
Yeah, that definitely won’t end badly, will it?
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