(This piece was written in 2013)
After not seeing her at all for many, many years (except in Avengers re-runs on my own DVD player… no, not THAT Avengers, **THE** Avengers) it was more than a little bit alarming when Diana Rigg turned up on Doctor Who last night … looking like my grandmother!
Of course I don’t look the same as I did in 1968, either, and thank goodness for that — but I see myself every day (“My Eyes! My Eyes!!!”) and have had time to acclimate myself to the Horrible Sight. I’m certain that Dame Diana has been active over the years, but she hasn’t been active anywhere in my neck of the woods, so the opportunity to watch her age gracefully passed me by. Instead, I got it all in one lump payment, so to speak.
Yes, it is a completely unreasonable trick that the brain plays on us… that when you do not see someone in a very long time, you still expect them to look the same as when you last laid eyes on them (eww, “laid eyes on them” — what a disgusting thought). But it’s a trick the brain does like to play. I’ve already put too much emphasis on this, but it had to be noted.
All that said, the ol’ girl is Still The Same, and still well on her game!
Here’s the thing: when Diana Rigg is having fun with a part, there is no one on the somewhat worse for wear, off-green, balding Earth who is more enjoyable to watch.
And Diana, if I may be so bold as to call her by her first name after all these years, was having an absolute gas on last night’s Doctor Who.
Within about two seconds of her entrance in “The Crimson Horror” I was laughing and stomping the floor and thinking to myself, Yes! That is the same Diana Rigg of all those years ago! That is what made Mrs. Peel the woman any man would want to grow old with. And she did it with just a look, and the somewhat unpromising line: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
In many ways, the role of the demented Mrs. Gillyflower allowed her to close the circle by playing exactly the sort of Evil Genius that she used to fight alongside the dapper John Steed. Oh, if I had the right software and a lot of time on my hands, I could have scads of fun squaring Mrs. Peel off against Mrs. Gillyflower and watching the sparks fly!
Delight rolled on throughout the episode. I’m sure that Dame Diana consented to play the part because it gave her the opportunity to work with her daughter — the monumentally abusive relationship that Mrs. Gillyflower has with her daughter is obviously a part of what appealed to her black sense of humor about the role. Writer Mark Gatiss did a very clever thing here. Although as an episode of Doctor Who this was less Who than it was a pilot for Lady Vastra and her crew to get a spin-off series of their own, still Diana’s interactions were with Matt Smith’s Doctor, and if there was any doubt left over that this current iteration of Doctor Who is the Final Standard-Bearer, the Modern Prometheus representing the standards and style of television programming that we enjoyed in the ’60s, this episode shoots those doubts down in grand style.
What better place for Diana Rigg to run with a part? — And O My Brothers and Sisters, she ran. It was glorious.
You might say that her appearance on Who is late and delayed, but all these years later it’s still enough to make a fanboy roll over on his back and stick all four legs in the air, to coin a Chandlerism. It’s not so much “better late than never” as it is “couldn’t have happened at a better time.” Thank you, Gatiss and Moffat, for making this possible, and thank you, Dame Diana, for proving to us all that Nothing Changes Inside.
Now, as to the current (fiftieth annual-versity) season of Doctor Who as a whole: Moffat and Co. are all very, very much on their game, but they are playing against RAGINGLY high expectations that they have helped to create. The shows are wonderful, but when anticipation runs this deep there is, I think, an inevitable sense of letdown when the Second Coming of Christ doesn’t manifest itself, if you get my drift. I’m looking forward to the DVD set of this season, so that I can watch these episodes with a cooler head. Is it Moffat’s best season yet? Or just a reasonable, calculated season? It’s too soon to tell — we still have three weeks left. Roll on!