Madame Vastra and Jenny are visited by Mr. Thursday, a man whose brother, Edmund, was killed in mysterious circumstances in the equally-mysterious Sweetville. Edmund is the latest victim of the infamous Crimson Horror – his face contorted in fear and his skin a waxy, bright red.
“He was a newspaper man,” Thursday explains. “He and a young woman were working undercover. Tell me, madam, do you know what an optogram is?”
“It is a silly superstition, sir,” Vastra replies, as he hands her a photo of his brother’s eye. “The belief that the eye can retain an image of the last thing it sees.” It’s impossible, but there, in the man’s dead pupil is… The Doctor!
Vastra, Jenny and Strax head North to the ever-growing community, Sweetville, founded by Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower, accepting only the best people: the fittest and the most beautiful. Jenny is deployed to infiltrate, despite Strax’s oppositions. Her mission is simple: find the Doctor. To do this, all she has to do is ignore all keep-out signs, go through every locked door, and run towards any form of danger that presents itself. Business as usual.
The problem is, no one who enters Sweetville ever leaves.
Mrs. Gillyflower’s daughter, Ada – “blinded in a drunken rage by my late husband. Her once beautiful eyes, pale and white as mistletoe berries” – visits her ‘Monster,’ something imprisoned in a locked room. “Did you think I’d forgotten you, dear Monster, hmm?” She leaves food for the Monster and walks away.
Jenny infiltrates Sweetville, signing up and lock-picking her way into forbidden areas. She discovers the factory noises are caused by large gramophones – mere recordings – and she hides when she sees some of the ‘perfect’ people, under orders from Mrs. Gillyflower, carrying huge bottles filled with sickly red liquid…
Vastra, meanwhile, visits the Morgue and is presented with a vial of the red gunge, found in the canal with the bodies. “It hardly seems possible,” she exclaims. “I think I’ve seen these symptoms before… A long time ago.”
“Oh aye?” Amos, the undertaker, asks. “How long?”
“About sixty five million years.”
Jenny finds her way to the locked room: within, a ‘Monster’ bangs and yells for help. Jenny lock-picks the door to find – - the Doctor!
His mouth is gaping, only able to utter cries of relief at the sight of Jenny; his skin cold and red; his clothes folded up to one side; and his arms outstretched, begging for help.
During tea with her mother, Ada asks if Mr. Sweet will turn up too. “Mr. Sweet is rather tired tonight, I fear,” she says and secretly grabs some salt, seemingly hiding it in her dress. Ada takes off, heading for the locked room to see her beloved Monster.
Jenny drags the Doctor out of the room and down the corridor, just before Ada arrives. They watch through a window as unconscious men are dipped in a huge vat of the red liquid.
The Doctor grabs his clothes and his sonic screwdriver and heads to a closet-like box, venting steam. When he reappears, he’s reversed the process: his skin is normal again and he sports his usual attire – complete, of course, with bow tie. “Just when you think your favourite lock-picking Victorian chambermaid will never turn up!” he exclaims. “Right. Mrs Gillyflower. We’ve got to stop her. And then there’s Clara. Poor Clara. Where’s Clara?”
“Clara?” Jenny replies, confused. “What happened to you? How long have you been like that?” So the Doctor regales his story…
The TARDIS materialises in Victorian London – no, wait: Yorkshire. “You’re making a habit of this, getting us lost,” Clara notes. “It’s much better than it used to be,” the Doctor says. “Ooh, I once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport.” But the two are interrupted by a scream coming from the riverside – -
- – “Another victim! Why won’t any one of you listen to me?!” Edmund tells the police, a red body floating in the river. “We’ll listen.” Edmund turns around to see the Doctor and Clara – -
- -Edmund takes the pair to the gates of Sweetville. “Mrs Winifred Gillyflower,” he explains. “An astonishing woman. Prize winning chemist and mechanical engineer.” The Doctor replies, rhetorically: “Why has she decided to open up a match factory in her old home town?” – -
- – At the Morgue, the Doctor studies one of the bodies. “Do you know the old Romany superstition, Clara? That the eye of a dead person retains an image of the last thing it sees?” the Doctor asks, identifying the red coating as a sort of venom. “Nonsense, of course, unless the chemical composition of the body has been massively corrupted…” In the eye of the corpse: an image of Mrs. Gillyflower – -
- – The Doctor and Clara sign up at Sweetville, both adopting dodgy Northern accents. Gillyflower takes them on a tour of the place, explaining that it’s named after her ‘silent’ partner. Opening one of the front doors, they find some ‘perfect people,’ preserved in a massive glass bottle, oxygen being pumped in as they sit there; like statues, their faces frozen in grins. The Doctor and Clara are dragged away; one to be preserved, and the other, a reject – -
- – But as the Doctor is dipped in the gloop, he wakes up, his scream stifled by the liquid venom. Ada realises that he’s still alive, the sole survivor of the batch, and hides him away. “Sometimes the preservation process goes wrong,” she tells him. “Only Mister Sweet knows why, and only Mama is allowed to talk to Mr. Sweet. But if you’re very good, you can stay here. You’ll be my secret: my special Monster. Shush” - -
- – Edmund rushes into the Doctor’s cell, covered in the liquid. The Doctor reaches out to him, but he falls to the floor, dead – -
- – “Poor Edmund must have come looking for us and then fallen into a vat of the pure venom. Or was pushed. Didn’t stand a chance,” the Doctor says. “[It’s] deadly poison. And Mrs Gillyflower’s been dipping her pilgrims in a diluted form to protect them. Preserve them. Process didn’t work on me; maybe because I’m not human. I ended up on the reject pile.”
Clara survived the process, though – and they have to find her! Jenny doesn’t understand though; Clara died. The Ice Lady killed her. “It’s complicated,” the Doctor says.
Finding that her Monster has vanished, Ada falls to the floor and starts weeping, thinking that her sole friend has abandoned her. Mrs. Gillyflower walks in on her and demands she explain herself. “I have formed a sentimental attachment,” Ada confesses. “A young man. Unlike the others, he survived rejection. He must be strong, worthy of salvation.” Mrs. Gillyflower’s not happy though: her plans must be accelerated. “Promise me you will not abandon me, Mama,” Ada begs. “Promise me that.”
“There can be no place for people such as you. That only perfection is good enough for myself and Mr. Sweet. The bright day is done, child, and you are for the dark.” And with that, Mrs. Gillyflower leaves.
The Doctor and Jenny find Clara in one of the houses in Sweetville, preserved under a bell jar, forever smiling. They take her back to the cubicle vents to purge her of the venom and, with the help of Strax and Vastra, fight off some of Gillyflower’s perfect people. “I know who you think she is, but she isn’t. She can’t be,” the Doctor says to Vastra and Jenny and Clara. “I was right, then,” Vastra says. “You and Clara have unfinished business.”
He pulls a now-conscious Clara out of the cubicle. “What’s happening?” she asks, dazed. The Doctor dons his best Yorkshire accent: “Oh, ‘aven’t you ‘eard, love? There’s trouble at ‘mill.” Then, of Vastra: “She’s a lizard.”
Vastra explains that, when the Silurians ruled the Earth, their foe was the repulsive red leech, a tiny parasite that infected the drinking water and secreted a fatal poison. Somehow, it’s survived.
They realise that one of the chimneys in Sweetville doesn’t ever smoke, and head towards it. It’s not a chimney; it’s a rocket and Mrs. Gillyflower intends to poison the air with the leech’s venom, while her perfect citizens are preserved in their new homes. A new Eden – only for the best.
On their way to the command hub in Gillyflower’s drawing room, they discover Ada, still weeping having been rejected by her own mother. “It’s you – my Monster!” she exclaims, reading the Doctor’s face. “You’ve come back. But you’re – ”
“Warm. And alive, thanks to you, Ada,” he says. “You saved me from your mother’s human rubbish tip. Now then, what’s wrong…?”
“She does not want me, Monster. I am not to be chosen. Perhaps it was my own sin; the blackness in my heart that my father saw in me.”
“That’s nonsense,” he replies, reading her own face, etched with scars. “Stupid, backward nonsense, and you know it. You know it… Come with us, then. There’s something you need to know.”
The Doctor and Clara find Mrs. Gillyflower at the control hub. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you,” he sums up. He enquires about this ‘silent partner,’ Mr. Sweet, and she unbuttons the top of her dress – to reveal a red leech clinging onto her.
“A survivor. He has grown fat on the filth humanity has pumped into the rivers. That’s where I found him,” she says. “His needs are simple, and in return he gives me his nectar.” The Doctor reveals that Winifred experimented on her own daughter: “The signs are all there; the pattern of scarring. You used her as a guinea pig, didn’t you?”
“I had to find out how much of the venom would produce an anti-toxin to immunise myself. Don’t you see? It was necessary!”
And then Ada walks in.
Overtaken with rage, she hits at Mrs. Gillyflower with her white stick. Meanwhile, Clara smashes the control hub with a chair. Chairs are useful, aren’t they? But Ada has a gun put to her head by her mother and they head to a secondary command, right by the rocket.
The Doctor and Clara follow her, but Mrs. Gillyflower’s already started the sequence. No matter: Vastra and Jenny have taken the bottle of the poison out of the rocket already. It blasts off, and explodes harmlessly in the sky.
Enraged, Mrs. Gillyflower turns a gun on them all – but Strax has climbed into the chimney and fires his own gun. The banister collapses and Mrs. Gillyflower falls to her death. “Forgive me,” she begs her daughter.
“Never,” Ada replies.
“That’s my girl.” And she passes away.
Mr. Sweet crawls away from her and the Doctor vows to take the leech back to its own time. Or on the other hand… Ada kills it with her stick.
Standing outside the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara say their goodbyes. “Now, Ada, I’d love to stay and help clear up the mess, but – ”
“I know, dear Monster. You have things to do,” Ada replies. The Doctor asks what she plans to do next. “Oh, there are many things a bright young lady can do to occupy her time. It’s time I stepped out of the darkness and into the light.”
“Good luck, Ada. You know, I think you will be just” – the Doctor kisses her cheek – “splendid.”
He says his farewells to Vastra, Strax and Jenny. He still hasn’t explained to them about Clara. The TARDIS dematerialises – off to London. They’ve maybe had enough of Victorian values for a bit…
Clara strides in to the Maitland household – and is greeted by the two children she looks after, Angie and Artie… and their laptop. With pictures of Clara in a submarine in 1983. And at Caliburn House in 1974. It’s definitely her. And they want a ride in the time machine…
NEXT TIME: “WE ALL KNOW THERE ARE NO MORE LIVING CYBERMEN…”