Another one of those that I vaguely remembered, but without any of the details. For instance, I could have sworn this was set in a sweets factory, rather than a match factory that sounds like it should be a sweets factory. I also knew that this was a Paternoster Gang story, but not just how integral they were to it.
You don’t even see the Doctor or Clara until a third of the way through, with the gang acting as the main protagonists, especially Jenny. It’s her who infiltrates the factory and discovers what’s going on, finally stepping out of the shadows of her easier-to-define colleagues to show what she’s capable of. Thankfully, as well as her special skills of lock-picking and kung fu, she’s also got the charisma to pull off the role of Doctor surrogate, laying all the groundwork to set up the plot that he’d normally be responsible for.
All this was in aid of a shock reveal that the Doctor had been there all along, locked up by a blind woman and dyed red. In fact, he had done all the same investigations as Jenny, which were conveyed to us in a neat little montage that also contained references to Tegan – no idea why, but I liked it. The Doctor then de-reds himself by locking himself in an airing cupboard, a process that’s never fully explained, which is a little distracting.
After this exciting opening half, the story starts to stall a little thereafter, despite a strong villain in Diana Rigg. It just sort of plods along with a lot of running back and forth, broken up by the occasional bit of hiding and watching, and doesn’t really get going beyond that. It all relies on the key revelation that the mysterious Mr Sweet is a parasitic leech clamped to Diana Rigg’s tit; I can’t remember how I reacted to it at the time, but the earlier foreshadowing where she sprinkles salt down her cleavage reminded me of the twist, so I didn’t feel the impact this time.
Still, it’s all perfectly pleasant, if a little pedestrian, and any episode with Strax in it has to have something going for it, especially when he’s rebuking his horse for getting lost. His role as the Doctor’s mercenary is a little problematic, though – it’s OK for him to be gleeful as he’s lasering henchmen to death, but it’s a little weird that the Doctor’s happy to have such carnage take place in his name.
We saw very little indeed of Clara in this episode, which doesn’t really do much to flesh out her still nascent character. She spends the majority of the time preserved in a jar, but she does get a little coda at home, where the kids she babysits have discovered she’s a time traveller and demand to go with her. This is why companions shouldn’t go home between adventures – it makes life complicated for them, and now we’ve got to sit through a story with those two brats in tow.