Diana Rigg (who played Mrs. Tracey Bond in Her Majesty’s Secret Service) totally stole the show this week as the delightfully twisted preacher/cult leader Mrs. Gillyflower. It was a return to a type of villain we haven’t seen for a while on Who: someone who isn’t misunderstood, someone who is exactly who they seem, and someone who definitely deserves what’s coming to them. It was a delight to watch her wring her hands and cackle evilly as she built up her unforgivable sins. The crowning glory of which was the fact that her poor blind daughter, whom she refused to bring into the new world order of Sweetville, didn’t meet the requirements of the hallowed community — because Mrs. Gillyflower experimented on her and used the results to “save” everyone but her. She wasn’t a good person and didn’t pretend to be; the only thing she cared about was wiping out all of humanity that didn’t meet her standards of Victorian perfection (which she claimed was beauty and brains, but really was just beauty — “attack of the supermodels,” as the Doctor put it). The fun bantering, the silly eccentric mannerisms, and the sudden but inevitable devious betrayal was all part of Mrs. Gillyflower’s psychotic charm, and it undoubtedly stole the episode.
4. …which led to the most satisfying scene of comeuppance this entire season.
Mrs. Gillyflower begged her daughter to save her after her leech and benefactor Mr. Sweet abandons her. But after scarring her daughter physically and emotionally, telling her she wasn’t worthy of saving and then emotionally manipulating her into a hostage situation, Ada had had enough. In the best scene of the episode, Ada (played by Diana Rigg’s real-life daughter, Rachael Stirling) proclaimed that she’d never forgive her mother; her mother, proving once and for all her complete and total evilness, exclaims, “That’s my girl” — as if she’s particularly proud that she’s beaten all the mercy and kindheartedness out of her daughter, who clearly showed compassion throughout the episode, especially toward the Doctor, her monster. Ada let her mother die and then smashed Mr. Sweet into a million pieces as the Doctor dithered about what to do with an ancient evil prehistoric leech. Surprisingly, he really had no objections, which was a running theme in this episode. While the Doctor was busy formulating complicated plans, the women in this episode took control quickly and efficiently: Jenny with her leather catsuit and ass-kicking, Clara with that particularly useful chair, and Ada with the smashing. It was refreshingly wonderful to watch.
5. But there was no development on the Clara front — both in the mystery of who she is, and in terms of any sort of character development.
Perhaps it was the nature of the episode: We didn’t really see the Doctor until 20 minutes in, and we didn’t see Clara for another 10 minutes after that, but it once again felt like she was completely underused in this episode. She had a minute or two of being the quick fix by pointing out the chimney with no smoke, and there was the admittedly awesome chair smashing. But both those moments felt mostly like an excuse to move the plot forward, not really a well-thought-out solution that seemed to come from a perspective that was uniquely Clara’s.
But more frustratingly, when Jenny, Vastra, and Strax (who had some great moments this week and added a lot to the episode) asked about the girl they had seen die a few months ago who’s clearly not dead anymore, the Doctor only replied with a flippant “I haven’t,” and vanishes off in the TARDIS. He was clearly attempting to bring our Clara to Victorian London to see if the two Claras existing in the same time and space would create a paradox — which would at least confirm that they are the same person, not copies or duplicates or any number of other possibilities. But the real kicker of the episode is that somehow the kids Clara looks after find pictures of her on her adventures, including one of her previous incarnation from Victorian London. That moment brought Clara face-to-face with a major part of the many secrets the Doctor is hiding from her. Let’s hope it isn’t swept under the rug next week and brings out some real meat in this mystery.