Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror
by Mark Gatiss
Published by: BBC Books
Based on the BBC Television adventure “The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
“I am all too conscious, as I assemble this rambling narrative, that it may prove altogether too fantastical for the reader to believe.”
BBC Books’ revival of the Target Books ranges dips back into the Matt Smith Era with the fun and flighty The Crimson Horror, penned by the same hand that gave us the Series 7 Eleventh Doctor and Clara adventure, Mark Gatiss.
There is something sour about the newly built “Sweetville.” A seemingly utopian worker’s commune has cropped up in Victorian Era Yorkshire, England. Though seemingly happy workers stream in and out of its high gates, and its streets telegraph Christian prosperity, consulting Silurian detective Madame Vastra and her compatriots sense something fishy behind it and its prophesizing leader Mrs. Winnifred Gillyflower.
However, as they get closer to closing the case, another shocking clue throws them for a loop! The last image on a dead man’s eye…of Matt Smith’s The Eleventh Doctor! Seemingly the culprit of the deadly deed!
Though that is where the TV version of The Crimson Horror starts viewers, the book version is far stranger and far, far more charming. To a point, that is told largely through the point of view of Jenny Flint, The Paternoster Gang’s Gal Friday (and occasional heavy), Gatiss’ prose version of this story is much woolier. Having added an entire opening mini-adventure, set years before the events of the episode proper, and all other adornments. All usually focused around the chapter’s narrator, as Jenny hands off the “account” to various other POVs throughout the novelization.
These shifts are something of a double-edged sword for the novel. On the one hand, the embellishments add to the overall “Target Books Experience” of The Crimson Horror. Coupled with the stellar production values, like the thin cardstock cover, easily digestible chapters, and aesthetically pleasing newsprint typeface, it nails the look/feel of a classic Target. They are beautifully replicating the re-experiencing of an episode on the spinner rack instead of from behind the sofa.
Better still, all the ambition Gatiss displays in the adaptation also makes it read like one, providing readers a bolstered and far more expansive experience in the translation from screen to page.
Consequently, the constant shifts thread a tonal clash throughout the book in parts, and much of this can be placed at the squared feet of Sontaran companion Strax and some of the other co-stars. All of whom are caught in the web of Mrs. Gillyflower and Sweetville, which is a shame, as the shifts obfuscate some very good prose from Gatiss – all for the sake of not-that-great comedy.
Nobody loves 80s Doctor Who more than Mark Gatiss and it’s nice to see that translated into this new novel. While I appreciate this story’s new scale and scope, I feel it might have been better served a bit more streamlined. No amount of good prose can make that “TomTom” joke from the episode funny. That said, though, Gatiss does make up for it with a lengthily sweet diatribe about the Fifth Doctor and Tegan Jovanka, which delighted me, despite myself.,
Ultimately, The Crimson Horror is a wonderful weekend read for any Whovian. Or any discerning reader curious about the Target Books Experience. Though it would never be accused of being a “classic Target,” this new effort from the revived novel line would be a welcome addition to any dork’s shelf. While also serves as a slickly produced example of how good these new Target Books can look, feel, and read.