Although the classic series run of Doctor Who has been fully novelised, the post-2005 era has not. Selection for which TV stories deserve the literary treatment is difficult. However few would disagree that ‘The Crimson Horror‘ is a prime candidate.

An oft overlooked modern classic, ‘The Crimson Horror‘ continued the development of the Paternoster trio of Madam Vastra, Strax and Jenny. For those who recall the televised episode you might remember the brisk pace. From the opening pre-titles revelation, the action and excitement maintains that momentum throughout. However, when presented with an opportunity to expand the story that pace could be under threat.

Mark Gatiss is a wonderfully skilled author who of course wrote Doctor Who novels for the Virgin New Adventures during the 1990’s. Now he takes on his own work which has already been televised. The opening stanza feels wonderfully of the period and then we are treated to a Gatiss-penned new prequel.

The Crimson Horror

The new beginning, written in the style of Jenny telling the story, adds further intrigue and context to the original story. These first few chapters present a macabre combination of The Talons of Weng-Chiang‘s music hall setting and a Britain’s Got Talent judging trio, complete with a purported Mr Horrible. Typically the winner of Britain’s Got Talent is included on the lineup of the Royal Variety Performance. This scenario has a similar prize. And of course The Doctor knows the Prince of Wales! The story of how the two crossed paths at the Folies Bergere definitely warrants revisiting in future!

Gatiss has quite a way with words as the true constitution of the villainous Castrati is a testament to. Accompanying the new additions are the funny lines you remember from the broadcast episode. For example, I’d forgotten the hilarious ‘Thomas Thomas’ gag! Additionally, the story is told from a variety of perspectives. Sections are presented via diary entries (or similar) offering unique perspectives on events. This includes the rather sad tale of Ada Gillyflower, for instance, but also delves deeper into the minds of some of our favourite characters.

By Mark Gatiss

We all enjoyed Strax gleefully declaring that casualties from a frontal assault on the factory can be kept to as little as eighty percent. Now however there are also new favourites such as the Sontaran’s descriptions of Queen Victoria and his fondness for sweet treats. Jenny’s sections are written in her style of speech, making it a little clumsy to read but completely consistent with her character. Both these characters are able to reveal more of themselves through prose. For example, Strax offers an insight into the early experience of a hatchling. Similarly, Jenny reveals her insecurity and anxiety about Madam Vastra’s wandering eye.

Vastra herself remains aloof throughout, concealed beneath a literary veil. As for the Doctor’s companion Clara, she doesn’t show up until Chapter Seven. Out of nine! This highlights that this novel is more centred around those who might otherwise be considered to be supporting characters. Even the Doctor is relatively subsidiary. As a result, The Crimson Horror feels wonderfully unique and makes for a wonderful read without one character dominating.

Overall

This new addition to the Target book range is well worthy of your attention. Its delightful retelling of The Crimson Horror is a lot of fun, full of wit and packed with references to gobby Australians, the Black Guardian having a stuffed bird on his head and the daisiest daisy. There’s even a funny Brexit reference to bring things right up to date! The accompanying prologue, not really a prologue, it’s several chapters, is also a welcome inclusion. However, it is the decision to include characters sharing their recollections of events which is the biggest success. Expanding the world of Jenny and Strax proved a real joy to read. I felt far more familiar with them as characters, understanding them at a much deeper level following this book.

Astonishingly it will shortly be EIGHT years since ‘The Crimson Horror‘ was broadcast. That fact alone, plus the new material included, should be all the motivation you need to revisit this wonderful story.

BBC Books – The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss – Target Novelisation (Cover)

Synopsis

‘We must get to the bottom of this dark and queer business, no matter what the cost!

Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror?

Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community.

Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor?

Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet?

And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (Target Collection) is available now from Amazon and other retailers.

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