It’s been a strong run of Doctor Who so far, in this writer’s opinion. Granted, it’s not quite the show’s finest series, but with a run of four-star-or-above episodes (excluding the universally hated The Rings of Akhaten, which this writer would still give three and a half stars), it’s been a rather good half-series in Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary year. Can this week’s episode, The Crimson Horror, measure up to those who have come before?

Back in the days where humans sat in caves trying to create fire, mammoths prowled the earth and Doctor Who had a straight run of 13 episodes in the spring, each series had a Doctor-lite and/or a companion-lite episode, where production demanded that the Doctor and/or the companion gave way for an episode where a guest character or just the companion/just the Doctor (far too many slashes here). Sometimes it worked well (see Blink and Turn Left), and sometimes it was Love and Monsters. And yes, you probably know where this is going – The Crimson Horror saw a return to the Doctor-lite stories of old.

In fact, the Doctor didn’t appear for the first fifteen minutes, leaving everyone’s favourite lizard/potato/maid combo (that’s Vastra/Strax/Jenny) to occupy the role of the main characters – and it’s a pleasure to see such great characters pushed to the forefront. Vastra is slightly short-changed, with not much screen-time and a minimal role in the story’s resolution, but Dan Starkey again steals the show as Strax with his war-mongering nature (his reaction to a stalling horse being a highlight), and Jenny, a character who was peripheral at best in The Snowmen, gets her chance to in the spotlight, revealing some neat judo moves and detective skills. Catrin Stewart’s taken some time to come to the forefront, but it’s great to see her stepping into the limelight.

The Crimson Horror concerned Mrs Gillyflower, and her perfect town in Victorian Yorkshire, Sweetville – and the mysterious red, waxy bodies washing up in the river nearby: ‘The Crimson Horror’. It’s a mystery you’d expect to be picked up on by the Doctor and Clara – but for some reason, the Doctor’s found his way into the eye of a dead woman, leaving the Paternoster Gang to infiltrate the village. And when Jenny’s searching around, she just happens to find the Doctor… who’s been infected with the mysterious red venom, and is essentially reduced to a just-about moving waxwork.

But let’s take a quick pit-stop in my plot run-through to talk about Mrs Gillyflower. Dame Diana Rigg is another of the by-now regular big name guest stars (having starred as Emma Peel in 60s show The Avengers. No, not those Avengers), and she’s superb as the main villain of the piece. Most villains in the show nowadays have a redeeming feature – a motivation, or a glimmer of goodness, but Mrs Gillyflower’s the first villain in a little while to be completely, utterly, worryingly evil. She’s essentially a prototype for the religious crackpots that we know today, and Rigg obviously has a lot of fun playing the role and retreating to her native Yorkshire accent.

She’s joined for the first time by real life daughter, Rachael Stirling, who, fittingly, plays Mrs Gillyflower’s daughter, Ada. Ada’s not exactly the perfect daughter to a mother who makes a living by rounding up a community of ‘perfect’ people, in that she’s blind and has severe facial scarring. In the weeks before the episode, I was fairly sure that Stirling would be playing a villain – but Ada’s on the side of the angels, having kept the wax-ified Doctor in a secret room in the Sweetville mill. It’s an affecting and emotional performance from Stirling – a surprising highlight of the episode.

And once the Doctor’s un-wax-ified (yes, I know, I should work on using better words), after a quick, excellently shot (the grainy, old-fashioned shooting style isn’t hugely original for TV, but it’s the first time it’s been seen in Doctor Who)  flashback revealing how the Doctor and Clara ended up in Sweetville, the Doctor and Jenny find and ‘cure’ Clara, then fend off the attack of the supermodels (or Mrs Gillyflower’s work force, but it’s more fun to call them the supermodels) with a little help from Strax and Vastra, then head off to stop Mrs Gillyflower. It’s at this point where the episode starts to bolt towards the ending with the enthusiasm of a dog chasing after a particularly tasty stick, but it’s also at this point where the tone starts to waver all over the place.

It seems fairly clear early on that The Crimson Horror is a fun romp with child-friendly jokes and a not-hugely-threatening atmosphere, but when within the space of two minutes, Mrs Gillyflower reveals she has a bug strapped to her chest and holds a gun to her daughter’s head after confessing that she’d experimented on Ada, you know the tone dial is moving all over the place – and it doesn’t get any better when the episode goes into full-on pantomime mode come the ending. It’s a fun ride, but Mark Gatiss doesn’t seem to quite know how to get a handle on the tone of the episode, and the latter half suffers a little as a result.

Doctor Who‘s had a bit of a problem with endings in Series 7. The Power of Three fudged an excellent set-up with a resolution that was about as rewarding as rubbing cement into your face. Cold War wrapped things up with a convenient spaceship. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS resolved the plot with a reset button… but thankfully, The Crimson Horror manages to wrap its story up with a satisfying, measured resolution that didn’t rely on the magic wand sonic screwdriver and relied on all the characters to wrap things up. In a series of rushed and unsatisfying endings,  The Crimson Horror managed to defy expectations with a decent ending… for once.

And before I wrap the review up, I’m not hugely convinced by the more than slightly bolted-on final scene. Having two kids on board the TARDIS doesn’t sound great on paper, but these two kids in particular? Well, let’s just say that I’m a little bit irritated by them already, and I just have to hope that they’re not used too much in Nightmare in Silver. Neil Gaiman, I trust you. Don’t mess this one up.

In conclusion, The Crimson Horror is a fun, if not excellent adventure which features a couple of innovative plot twists, great performances, some colourful guest characters and a proper satisfying ending, but keeps losing its handle in its tone for the last half and it does all feel a little inconsequential. With that in mind, I give The Crimson Horror a score of:

Tune in next Saturday, where I’ll be reviewing the penultimate episode of the run. You’ll be having nightmares… in silver. OK, maybe I’ll be reviewing Nightmare in Silver, but nightmares in silver are entirely possible.