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Recap / Doctor Who S33 E11 "The Crimson Horror"

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"Oh, 'aven't ye 'eard, luv? There's trouble a' t'mill."

"Ooh. Good name. Hey, that's good, isn't it? The Crimson Horror! I wonder what it is..."
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor accidentally joins the Red Man Group.

Written by Mark Gatiss.

There's something very odd about Mrs. Gillyflower's Sweetville mill, with its perfectly clean streets and beautiful people. There's something even stranger about the bodies washing up in the river, all bright red and waxy, with an expression of absolute horror on their faces. Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax are contacted by a dead gentleman's brother and decide to go up to Yorkshire to investigate.

Mrs. Gillyflower is recruiting people in the local church, where she shows the crowd her beautiful blind daughter Ada. The young woman was blinded and heavily scarred by Mrs. Gillyflower's husband, and in response, Mrs. Gillyflower decided to provide a safe haven for all those who want a better way of life. Sweetville mill only takes the best and the most beautiful. Jenny decides to infiltrate into the mill, where she finds the chained "monster" that Ada has come to love as her pet over the last few weeks... the Doctor, severely paralyzed by the crimson horror. His skin is dark red, his mouth is frozen wide open. His Bizarre Alien Biology allowed him to survive the process that killed many other "discarded" gentlemen and ladies, and Ada hid him from her mother as her own private pet. With what little motion he has left in his limbs, the Doctor manages to show Jenny how to restore him back to normal, and explains that Mrs. Gillyflower is running a scheme rather more sophisticated than a simple mill. Apparently, it involves a never-seen gentleman named "Mr. Sweet". Vastra, meanwhile, recognises the crimson horror from her own time period.

The Doctor and Clara were captured when he tried to take her to Victorian London and figure out a bit more about her mystery. The TARDIS landed them in Yorkshire instead, where they decided to investigate the crimson horror and were promptly captured while attempting to infiltrate. Once Clara is freed (to Jenny's great confusion — after all, she saw Clara die last time), the Doctor finds Ada and reveals himself to her as her "monster", before confronting Mrs. Gillyflower. The old woman reveals that she's got a prehistoric red leech — Mr. Sweet — stuck to her chest, and plans to spread its infection across the planet to kill all but her "best and most beautiful"... using brainwashed labour forced to build a Steampunk rocket. Ada is mortified to be betrayed by her mother, especially once the Doctor calls Mrs. Gillyflower out on being the cause of Ada's scars. While Vastra and Jenny neutralise the rocket, Mrs. Gillyflower is defeated by Strax and spends her final moments complimenting Ada on her ruthlessness. The Doctor proposes to take the leech back to its proper time period. Ada smashes it to bits with her cane instead.

In the aftermath, Clara takes a break to head home and spend some time with her replacement family. Angie and Artie, who know a good adventure when they see one, have done some internet research and found pictures of Clara across time — including one from Victorian London, instead of Yorkshire. Clara's confusion leads her to accidentally reveal her time-travelling secret to the kids, who insist on coming along.


  • Abusive Parents: When we're introduced to Ada Gillyflower, we're told that she was blinded by her father. It's later revealed that Ada's scarring actually came from experiments done by her mother. Who knows what even happened to poor Poppy, but given who his wife is, we don't blame him for not sticking around... if Gillyflower hasn't already gotten around to that...
  • Ax-Crazy: Mrs. Gillyflower is a completely unhinged old bat who is perfectly willing to damn all of humanity for the sake of her twisted delusions. When a genuine Seen It All like the Doctor literally labels her a complete nutjob out of the gates, you know this trope is in full effect.
  • Action Girl: Jenny steps up for unarmed combat.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Adam and Eve Plot: Mrs. Gillyflower aims to repopulate the world with the couples she has preserved.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head:
    • The Doctor and Ada share many, including a very sweet kiss on the cheek.
    • Clara taps the Doctor's forehead and later he gives her a forehead kiss.
  • Alien Blood: Mr Sweet has green blood.
  • And I Must Scream: Slightly downplayed when the Doctor has the Crimson Horror — he can move... barely, and he can't make any noise except for unintelligible groans. His reaction to the Bitch Slap also implies he couldn't feel touch either.
  • Anti-Villain: Ada is not malicious, just firmly under the control of her mother.
  • Anywhere but Their Lips: After snogging Jenny earns him a slap, the Doctor restrains himself to kissing Clara on the forehead and Ada on the cheek.
  • Artifact Collection Agency: In reference to the huge jar of red leech poison, Strax says, "Another one for the vault?" implying that the Paternoster Gang provide this service as well.
  • Artistic Licence History: Jerusalem is sung here in 1895, twenty-one years before it was set to music by C.H.H. Parry in 1916.
  • A-Team Firing: During Strax's Big Damn Heroes moment, he fires at a bunch of Sweetsville residents in a narrow hallway but injures nobody. Given that both the Doctor and Jenny were in the way, he probably fired away from them to scatter the group and then kept on out of, well, sheer being himself, after the bad guys had ran.
  • Backdoor Pilot: The Paternoster Gang carry the first third of the episode.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Strax the warrior and Thomas Thomas the navigator.
  • Badass in Distress: Jenny finds the Doctor chained up in a room after being paralysed by the Crimson Horror.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad:
    The Doctor: Mrs. Gillyflower, you have no idea what you are dealing with. In the wrong hands, that venom could wipe out all life on this planet.
    Mrs. Gillyflower: [holds out her hands] Do you know what these are? [laughs] The wrong hands!
  • Battle Cry: "SONTAR-HAAAA!"
  • The Beautiful Elite: Mrs. Gillyflower's muscle are all young and attractive, and she only wants the best-looking people for her "utopia". Subverted in that they are all factory workers.
  • Between My Legs: Jenny shucks off her dress to reveal the leather look from "The Snowmen".
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Mr. Sweet learns the hard way when Ada beats them to death with her cane.
  • Blackmail: Knowing about the Doctor, Clara's charges demand to come along on her next trip — or they'll tell their father what they know.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Mrs Gillyflower and Mr Sweet, at least according to her: She refers to him as her partner and constantly talks about the two of them working together in symbiosis ("I'm afraid Mister Sweet and I cannot allow that").
  • Big Damn Heroes: Strax comes in GUNS A BLAZIN' TWICE.
  • Big Damn Kiss: When the Doctor is brought back into the game, he dips Jenny and gives her a big kiss on the lips. Lesbian, married Jenny; she smacks him in return.
  • Bitch Slap: The Doctor gets one courtesy of Jenny after giving her a Smooch of Victory. He welcomes it.
  • Black Comedy: Strax advocates a full-out assault on Sweetville as the casualties would only be 80% (i.e., only one of them would survive), and prepares to disintegrate his fourth horse of the week when he gets lost (and he wasn't even hungry).
  • Body Horror:
    • The introduction to Mr. Sweet — a giant leech attached to Mrs. Gillyflower's chest.
    • The bright red corpses and half-petrified red Doctor.
    • Ada's facial injuries qualify too, especially when we learn her mother caused some if not all of them through her experiments.
  • Boring, but Practical: Clara's chair is just as effective as the Doctor's sonic screwdriver for jamming Babbage engines or breaking windows.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Eleven clearly finds cringe-inducing accents a lot funnier than Ten. Clara also tries her hand at a Yorkshire accent in the flashback and is more successful (Jenna Coleman has used the same accent in other productions).
  • British Teeth: The woman Jenny pays to provide a distraction has such teeth, and was worried this would disqualify her from joining Sweetville.
  • Broken Masquerade: Clara is a nanny, and when she returns home to her job, her charges have discovered that she's a time traveller, and that Clara was in Victorian London... thus, both Clara and the Doctor's secrets have been exposed.
  • But Now I Must Go: A newly-confident Ada accepts this from the Doctor.
  • Call-Back:
  • Cane Fu: Ada goes to town on both her mother and Mr. Sweet with hers.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mrs. Gillyflower is a completely and utterly deranged nutter, and is more than gleeful in the mayhem she intends to unleash.
    The Doctor: Mrs. Gillyflower, you have no idea what you are dealing with. In the wrong hands, that venom could wipe out all life on this planet.
    (Gillyflower holds out her palms)
    Mrs. Gillyflower: Know what these are? (Beat) Haha! The wrong hands!
  • Changed My Jumper: Averted; the Doctor and Clara dress appropriately for the period.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • To "Time-Flight":
      The Doctor: Sorry, it's much better than it used to be. Ooo, I once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow airport!
    • While passing himself and Clara off as a married couple interested in Sweetville, Eleven speaks in a heavy Northern accent reminiscent of Nine.
    • Eleven borrows Five's "Brave heart" catchphrase (and not for the first time). This could be a Shout-Out to The Avengers (1960s) considering Diana Rigg.
    • Clara asks the Doctor if he's had enough of "Victorian values" before she boards the TARDIS at the end of the episode. It's implied the Doctor was (originally) taking her to Victorian London because he wanted to see if there was a connection to the Clara killed in that episode.
    • The superstition of an eye retaining the last image it sees was previously referenced by the Fourth Doctor, who then used a similar process to read the last images recorded in the brain of a deceased Wirrn.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Apparently, all you need to do if you're within two feet of a rocket motor running at full power is turn your back, and you'll be fine.
  • The Coroner: The mortuary attendant who shows off the red corpses.
  • Cutting the Knot: A chair can be better than a sonic screwdriver at times.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Vastra, Jenny and Strax get the focus this time. The Doctor doesn't show up until Act II.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Subverted when a dying Mrs. Gillyflower asks Ada to forgive her; Ada can only say "never".
  • Depopulation Bomb: Mrs. Gillyflower plans to use Mr. Sweet's poison to wipe out all life on Earth so she can restart it.
  • Disney Villain Death: Mrs. Gillyflower dies by falling from a long flight of stairs to avoid being shot by Strax.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The Doctor, momentarily, after Jenny reveals her catsuit.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Sweetville ostensibly being a match factory is likely a reference to the incident in 1888 where London matchgirls went on strike due to (among other grievances) the No OSHA Compliance of their working conditions.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Ada, after learning her mother's true colours, smacks her with her stick. She later uses the same cane to beat Mr. Sweet to death.
  • Dressed in Layers: Jenny wears her leather catsuit under her dress.
  • Engineered Public Confession: The Doctor tricks Mrs. Gillyflower into admitting that she experimented on her own daughter, causing her blindness, when her victim is just outside the door.
  • Enhance Button: Invoked. The Doctor's comment that the human retina can retain an image upon death leads to the coroner taking a photo of the deceased's eyes, and Vastra enhances it the old-fashioned way in the darkroom.
  • Evil Cripple: Subverted. Ada is blind and was initially helping her mother's Evil Plan, but saves the Doctor and is shown to actually be a very decent person once away from her mother's influence.
  • Evil Matriarch: Mrs. Gillyflower is The Leader of Sweetville and Ada's mother, and in both cases she is nasty.
  • Evil Old Folks: Mrs. Gillyflower is at least in her late sixties, and she experimented on and blinded her own daughter, and plans to wipe out everyone on Earth except her preserved pilgrims.
  • Eye Remember: Zigzaggged; both Vastra and the Doctor point out this is a myth with no scientific basis, but the weird effects of the Crimson Horror venom make it a reality for its victims.
  • Eye Scream: Mrs Gillyflower claims Ada's father did something to her in a drunken rage which destroyed her sight. The truth is much worse.
  • Fake Faint: Jenny pays a woman to cause a distraction. She obliges by pretending to faint.
  • Faint in Shock: There's a running gag where Vastra's client, Mr. Thursday, faints whenever he encounters one of the unusual aspects of the case, starting with his first sight of her unveiled face.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Jenny manages to pick a locked door while blissfully unaware she is surrounded by a large crowd. One of the extras is clearly looking right at her.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mrs Gillyflower is always charming, especially when the Doctor confronts her. She even offers him a glass of Amontillado!
  • Faux Horrific: Strax suggests Jenny arm herself with all manner of improbable weapons. Why? Because she's going to "The North!"
  • Follow the Chaos: It's a reliable way to locate the Doctor:
    Vastra: To find him, she needs only ignore all "Keep Out" signs, go through every locked door and run towards any form of danger that presents itself.
    Strax: Business as usual then?
    Vastra: Business as usual.
  • G-Rated Drug: Strax appears to be his usual Blood Knight self, but it turns out he's been on the sherbet. However, this is still at heart a children's show, and Strax is technically very young and childlike so it's simply a reference to Strax getting a sugar rush from ice cream.
  • Guinea Pig Family: Mrs. Gillyflower experimented on her daughter to devise an immunity to the Crimson Horror for herself.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend:
  • Hellbent For Leather: Jenny, under her Gorgeous Period Dress, wears her spy catsuit.
  • Human Popsicle: The paralysed "Adams and Eves" are preserved under glass.
  • Incoming Ham: Having been effectively immobilised for half the episode, the Doctor starts hamming it up the moment he's returned to normal.
    The Doctor: [bursting out of conversion chamber] AH-HA! Miss me?!
    Jenny: Doctor!
    The Doctor: Jenny! Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, Jenny! [races off down corridor] Just when you think your [leaps into air] favourite lock-picking Victorian chambermaid will never turn up... [runs back, grabs Jenny and gives her a Big Damn Kiss]
  • Improvised Weapon: A chair can be used to destroy a control panel just as well as a sonic screwdriver.
  • In Medias Res: The episode begins with Vastra and Jenny getting involved, after the Doctor and Clara are already on the scene. The part of the story that would normally be the beginning gets told in flashback once the Doctor and Jenny meet up.
  • In the Style of: The episode is like a Victorian-era penny dreadful dropped into the Whoniverse.
  • It's a Long Story: Averted at first (cue How We Got Here flashback), then played straight because the Doctor doesn't have an explanation for Not Quite Dead Clara.
    The Doctor: It's complicated...
  • Jabba Table Manners: A milder example. The seemingly refined Mrs. Gillyflower makes a horrible slurping sound when she eats her soup.
  • Kick the Dog: When revealed how Ada got her scars for real; not her dad's fault.
  • Kiss-Kiss-Slap: The Doctor is relieved at being restored and kisses his rescuer, the Victorian lesbian Action Girl Jenny Flint, who slaps him once he lets go.
  • Jerkass: The coroner, who charges a fee so people can look at the bodies of those killed by the Crimson Horror. He looks rather disappointed when the Doctor reacts with enthusiasm.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: The Doctor's chin is taken as definite proof that he's an alien.
  • Large Ham:
    • Strax is high energy enough that Vastra thinks he's been eating things he shouldn't.
      Strax: Sontar-Ha-hahahahaaaa!
    • Mrs. Gillyflower's "Die! Die! Die!" near the end also qualifies.
  • Leitmotif: Clara's theme, last heard in a major way in "The Snowmen", is prominently heard as the modern-day Clara is introduced to Vastra and Jenny.
  • Mad Scientist: Mrs. Gillyflower is a renowned engineer and chemist, and even the Doctor regards her as a loony.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Ada, although her beauty is of the disfigured variety; she fulfils the "fall for The Hero and betray the evil parent" aspect.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Ada is keeping a pet "monster" locked up in a side room. It's the Doctor, reduced to near-zombie status by "rejection".
  • Magical Nanny: Angie and Artie discover their babysitter is one, and blackmail Clara into taking them on her next adventure.
  • Meaningful Look: The Doctor and Clara keep exchanging these in their Retraux Flashback to aid their cover as a married couple and also about the case.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Ada can't bring herself to betray her mother, even after she finds out about her schemes — but when she finds out that Gillyflower caused her blindness, she dashes toward her, practically frothing with rage.
  • Monster of the Week: The monster is a red parasite from the Silurian age. Even then it's more complex than that, as Mr. Sweet does nothing really evil; it's all Mrs. Gillyflower.
  • Mood Whiplash: Ada's story is truly horrific, and her mother probably ranks among the most cruel mothers in the history of science fiction. Hearing what Mrs. Gillyflower put Ada through and revealing that she was responsible for the scars causes the rather lighthearted, if horrific storyline seen thus far, to take a turn to the dark, only for the whip to lash in the opposite direction again as Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet meet a blackly comedic end.
  • More Dakka: As always, rapid and suppressive fire is Strax's plan de campagne. It works too, twice.
  • Mr. Smith: The Doctor and Clara have a Smithical Marriage while going undercover in Sweetville.
  • Non-Answer:
    Jenny: But, Doctor, you've never explained about the girl!
    The Doctor: No. No I haven't.
  • Non-Malicious Monster:
    • The Doctor in the attic doesn't harm anybody.
    • In the end, Mr Sweet seems to be only going on survival, seeing as Gillyflower is the real villain. The Doctor was about to send it home before it was squished.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: The Doctor is even more touchy-feely than usual. Getting back to normal after weeks as a barely ambulatory zombie will do that to you.
  • Not Again: Thursday visits Vastra and gives Jenny a picture; Jenny frowns and, at the sight of it, Vastra says "Good grief" and raises her veil. At the sight of her, Thursday gasps "Oh, god" and faints. Vastra merely rolls her eyes and shakes her head at this, implying it is a regular occurrence.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: When the Doctor is trying to figure out what Mrs. Gillyflower is up to, and Clara is trying to tell him that she's already figured it out.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: It's strongly implied that Strax scales the tower from the outside, but we do not see this.
  • Oh, Crap!: Clara gets a minor one at the end when she realizes she's accidentally confirmed to Angie and Artie that she's a time traveller.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The Steampunk computer controling the rocket is hidden behind a large church organ.
  • Oop North: This episode is set in Yorkshire. There is indeed, as the Doctor takes great pleasure in announcing, trouble at t'mill. Strax recommends being heavily armed when you visit here.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: No one notices that the woman wearing the nearly transparent black veil has green scales and fins on her head unless she takes the veil off.
  • People Jars: Two-person people jars, designed to preserve them as "Adam and Eve" pairs through Mrs Gillyflower's apocalypse.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner:
    The Doctor: Time for a plan...
    Jenny: Naah, Doctor, this one's on me.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: Gillyflower giving her sympathies to the wife of the Intrepid Reporter who gets killed in The Teaser. She says he's not dead. Cue Sound-Only Death.
  • Repetitive Name: Thomas Thomas. It's a GPS joke.
  • Retraux Flashback: The flashback scene presented as an old sepia-tinted kinetoscope movie.
  • Rule of Three: Vastra's client passes out at the sight of Vastra's true face, Strax, and the disappearing TARDIS.
  • Running Gag:
    • The fainting client, for a Rule of Threes.
    • People ignoring the Doctor's plans throughout the episode in favour of good old-fashioned violence.
    • Strax is still incapable of telling genders apart (calling Jenny a boy). It's subverted at the end when he calls Mrs. Gillyflower "Human female!"
    • Once again, calling out Matt Smith's Lantern Jaw of Justice.
    • What will become a Running Gag of Clara being referred to as a bossy Control Freak. She quite enjoys the Doctor's "You're the boss" comment, though he tries to take it back.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: The Doctor when Gillyflower gives her New Era Speech. He knows she's full of it and a loon.
  • Saying Too Much: Clara insists that the photos her charges have found are a complete coincidence — until she spots one from "The Snowmen" that she doesn't recognize.
    Angie: You were in Victorian London.
    Clara: No I wasn't, I was in Victorian Yorkshire— [whoops]
  • Sense Loss Sadness: The Doctor spends a few weeks struck by the Crimson Horror, completely numbed. That's why he enjoys Jenny's slap.
  • Ship Tease: Aside from the affection shown between the Doctor and Clara, a more direct ship tease moment occurs when Angie refers to the Doctor as Clara's boyfriend, which Clara doesn't deny.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smithical Marriage: "Dr. and Mrs. Smith. Oh, yes, you'll do very nicely."
  • Something Else Also Rises: Watch the screwdriver when Jenny switches outfits. The Doctor notices it, too, looking and remembering to point it back to horizontal after a spring pops.
  • So Much for Stealth: The Doctor knocking over a spanner as our heroes rise to save the day. Everyone quickly ducks back behind cover again.
  • Sound-Only Death:
  • Stealth Pun:
    • The name of the Street Urchin who gives Strax directions is Thomas Thomas. As in the GPS/Satnav Tomtom. He even talks like one.
    • What do you do with a sweet? Suck. What does Mr. Sweet do? Suck.
    • When Mrs. Gillyflower learns that she has been discovered, she decides to accelerate her plans and launch her rocket, and we see her doing so by means of a church organ; pulling out all the stops.
  • Steampunk: The devices used to simulate the sounds of a busy factory, a Babbage Engine launch system and the Retro Rocket. Unlike most Doctor Who episodes, there is no Anachronism Stew with alien technologies.
  • Taking You with Me: "If I can't take the world with me, then you will have to do. Die, you freaks!"
  • That Came Out Wrong: The Doctor says to Clara, "You're the boss" and does a Verbal Backspace when his Control Freak companion gleefully runs with it.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Strax when saving the Doctor and Jenny; he fires incredibly rapidly and goes on longer than he needs to.
  • Title Drop: Exaggerated and Justified; it's done frequently because it's what the people are calling the case.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Sweetville. The secret being a prehistoric leech's venom is being used to paralyse select people or kill the odd whatever the Big Bad deems "unworthy", like 99% of humanity.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Brendan Patricks acts for two as brothers Edmund and Thursday.
  • Undercover as Lovers: The Doctor and Clara pose as a married couple to infiltrate Sweetville.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Mrs. Gillyflower's justification for the paralysis and the depopulation is starting afresh; a golden dawn for humanity!
  • Violence Really Is the Answer:
    • When Jenny and the Doctor are found by Mrs. Gillyflower's pretty mooks.
      The Doctor: Great, great, attack of the supermodels. Time for a plan.
      [Jenny hits people]
      The Doctor: ... That is a plan.
    • The question comes out again right afterwards — posed by the sheer number of people, right after Jenny provides her answer. This time, Strax bursts in, providing the same answer only louder and with More Dakka.
    • The Doctor also plans to take the Red Leech back to its own time period. Ada just hits it with her cane. Repeatedly.
    • The Doctor tries to configure his sonic screwdriver to make the control panel stop the missile launch. Clara just throws a chair at it.
    • Strax tries advising this trope at times, but gets ignored by his fellow team members. Then he finally gets a chance for "SONTAR-HA!"
  • Wax Museum Morgue: A model town is filled with preserved bodies, kept in stasis for what the Big Bad of the Week believes is the coming apocalypse. The Doctor must rescue his companion Clara, who has been subjected to the process but thankfully she gets better.
  • We Need a Distraction: Jenny pays a woman to fake a fainting spell so she can break into the secret section of Sweetville.
  • Wham Line: Works another way — the present Clara now knows about the Victorian Clara.
    Angie: You were in Victorian London.
    Clara: No, I was in Victorian Yorkshire!
  • You Have Failed Me:
    • Strax threatens to vapourize his horse, for failing in his mission again.
    • When Mrs Gillyflower discovers Ada has hidden the Doctor, she brutally tells her daughter that she won't be joining them in New Jerusalem. Though it's clear that was going to happen anyway.
  • Yandere: Downplayed. Ada is a mild example for the Doctor, which is why he's in the attic and not dead. It's played for sympathy, as we get the feeling that she's so broken that her creepiness is the only way she can express affection and sympathy. The Doctor also doesn't seem to mind either, once he's back to normal, even thanking her for saving him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • When she's fatally wounded, Mr. Sweet abandons Mrs. Gillyflower because she's no longer useful as a host.
    • Strax threatening to shoot and eat his horse when they get lost.
  • You're Insane!: "I'm the Doctor, you're nuts, and I'm going to stop you."