A proper Victorian adventure — that’s what awaits Doctor Who fans in “The Crimson Horror,” which marks Dame Diana Rigg’s first appearance on the sci-fi program, as well as her first time on screen together with daughter Rachael Stirling.
Rigg, long overdue for a guest spot on the iconic British series, makes an outstanding villainess. Stirling provides a counterpoint as the megalomaniac’s blind and disfigured child, Ada. Mark Gatiss has turned in another winning script, his second this season after masterminding the Ice Warriors’ return to the series in “Cold War.” Where that story excelled, this one soars.
Rigg may not radiate the sex and action-star power that she did in her Avengers days, but the acting chops and screen presence are not diminished, and she gets to let loose in her native Northern accent (which the Doctor plays at deliciously, recalling the Christopher Eccleston era).
In addition to Rigg and her talented progeny (who can be seen in another British import, the postwar serial killer mystery The Bletchley Circle), we are treated once again to the sleuthing skills of Madam Vastra, her partner Jenny and Sontaran butler/groom Strax. “The Crimson Horror” boasts an adventure as solid as another Victorian Who outing, “The Talons of Weng Chiang,” with some interesting narrative devices and new characters. (I hope the Vastra household keep their new TomTom, but I can definitely do without the ghoulish guy who kept saying “The Crimson ‘Orror!”)
What of the mystery of Clara? It only deepens, along with her friendship with the Doctor. But before the closing credits roll, she is at least finally brought up to speed with what he knows (again). Befitting, perhaps, for a visit to the era in which the Doctor met — and lost — her doppelgänger.
What we’re left with is the beginnings of a curious twist on their recent adventures, which will play out next week in Neil Gaiman’s Cyberman episode, “Nightmare in Steel.”