(2021) Mark Gatiss, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 178pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94504-5
Cue some creepy organ music, a swirl of fog, maybe the sound of some approaching footsteps, for something nasty is afoot in Victorian…no, wait a minute, not London, but Yorkshire, in an adventure that features the Eleventh Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald which appeared way back in 2013. Although Clara barely gets a look in, and in the actual episode the Doctor doesn’t appear until about half way through as the action is mainly told through the exploits of the Paternoster Gang with Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax on the case. A case which involves ye olde urban legend that the eye retains an image of the last thing the person saw before they were dead. Not true, but the dead eyes of Edmund Thursday have recorded an image of the Doctor. How can this be, and what has happened to the Doctor? He certainly looks as if he is in need of medical attention, and what has happened to Edmund as his skin has turned bright red, similar to several other corpses which have been found in the local canal.
But I am jumping the starting pistol here as Gatiss’ novel version of his script starts with 62 pages of another Doctor adventure entirely which has tenuous links to The Crimson Horror which is great fun as the action and dialogue fairly rattles along and there is a humorous evocation of the music hall era of the time, with an added talent contest, and a satirical nod to similar contests of the present day. This mini-adventure features the Doctor meeting the Paternoster Gang, minus Strax, and hint that the Doctor and Madame Vastra have a bit of history together and leaves a little teaser leading into the events of The Crimson Horror. With a doff of a hat to the works of Conan Doyle, and Dracula, the tale is partly told through diary extracts, journal extracts, Data Core extracts made by Strax, even photographic recordings. When writing this novel, Gatiss said he looked at earlier versions of the script, some of which didn’t make it to the screen, and his notes, and he even had the idea of featuring Conan Doyle in the story given the importance of the last image idea and the fact that Conan Doyle was an eye surgeon, but it wasn’t to be.
Before the narrative begins, the novel is dedicated “For Diana” as the late Dame Diana Rigg played Mrs Winifred Gillyflower who runs “Sweetville” a benevolent workers’ community, named after her partner the mysterious Mr. Sweet. Rachael Stirling, Rigg’s real life daughter also appeared in this episode playing the blind Ada Gillyflower. Apart from the dedication to Diana Rigg, there is surely a nod to Emma Peel in the scene where the Doctor and Jenny are cornered by some goons and Jenny tells the Doctor she’ll handle this before she peels off her clothes to reveal a leather suit underneath, perfect for kicking Victorian bad guy ass.
All in all, The Crimson Horror was a great ripping yarn when broadcast, and is equally as entertaining in book form, which the added addition of a mini-adventure at the start which all Whovians will enjoy.
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