Doctor Who The Vampires of Venice review (spoilers) – you have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves!

The Vampires of Venice

The Vampires of Venice

I’VE discovered a new facial expression I didn’t know I had – to happy, sad, surprised, Blue Steel, Magnum and some others I don’t want to mention here I can now add my Doctor look.

It involves sort of dopily staring into space, half smiling and occasionally mouthing words like ‘awesome’ and ‘oh that’s clever’ as the latest episode of Doctor Who unfolds in front of me.

When I sat down to watch The Vampires of Venice I wasn’t sure if the Doctor look would be deployed, coming as it did after a stupendous two-part tour de force from Steven Moffat.

I needn’t have worried. It was a solid standalone episode from Toby Whithouse that managed to be funny (did you get the Casanova reference? Or Don’t Look Now?) and great to look at for the most part while layering on heaps of character development – even if some sections didn’t stand up.

I wonder why he wanted to avoid Casanova?

I wonder why he wanted to avoid Casanova?

As so often this series, perception was everything and nothing was as it seemed as the Doctor took Amy and Rory to Venice in the 1500s (beautifully realised btw) as a pre-wedding gift, only to find a city in the sway of a mysterious school and its Vampiric owners and Hammer Horror-like pupils, complete with heaving breasts. For my 10-year-old son who loves vampires, the excitement factor was already set at def-con 1.

Once the Doctor started taking an interest however, it turned out the girls weren’t extras from Over The Rainbow gegging in again, but had been transformed into alien fish people (also well realised with great special effects) who were changing the women of Venice into brides for the rest of their species swimming in the canals, before planning to sink Venice itself.

They were led by Helen McCrory‘s Rosanna Calvierri as the big fish – ho ho -who had real depth herself in being driven not by being a mad scientist or evil genius, but by altruism as she saw it – the desire to save her race from extinction at the hands of the mysterious cracks in the universe and the silence they bring.

I was fascinated by her line about whether the Doctor could stand the death of another race on his conscience because it made me realise with all the fuss about who or what Amy is, I’d sort of ignored him this series.

That is a shameful admission as Matt Smith inhabits the character to an astonishing degree with his incredible ability to look about nine as Amy said, and yet 900 at the same time. Here, Smith was note perfect whether he was bumbling through a story about kissing Amy after bursting from a cake or sternly admonishing Rosanna for not knowing the name of the girl she sacrificed or even sending Amy back to the TARDIS to keep her safe, against his wishes.

Smith’s performance constantly reminds the viewer that the Doctor is a hero who stands in harm’s way willingly and for the greater good, but despite being written by Mr Everybody Lives himself, he is also soaked in blood and surrounded by bodies with all the lives, worlds and universes he has saved coming at a terrible cost.

The line about his conscience seemed to really hit home, just like Rory’s about his hazardous effect on other people who don’t want to let him down and just like Father Octavian saying he would tell his clerics’ families of their deaths after the Doctor had flown away in his little blue box.

What does that do to a man who has seen so much for so long, who has shed his skin but not his memories or experiences? Must he always move forward to the next challenge, the next adventure, for fear of stopping and turning around?

For David Tennant‘s Doctor,that weight of history and responsibility nearly drove him over the edge as the Time Lord Victorious. Smith’s Doctor is still finding his feet but he already seems more unstable than 10, driven by a mercurial and manic energy. He also did not save the fish people, instead telling them to suck it up basically and get on with it, with Rosanna throwing herself in the canal as a result.

I wonder if that is really what this series is about with its references to the Pandorica and silence falling – a reckoning for the Doctor after all this time.

Thinking about stuff like this brings on my Doctor face too, as well as making me grateful to be able to watch something so good every week.

Smith and the Doctor weren’t the only good things this week. Toby Whithouse’s script was fantastic, filled with zingy one liners that were laugh out loud funny as well as clever references and geek-powered moments like the William Hartnell library card. Even knowing it was coming, I still nearly jumped off my hair when Matt Smith held it up.

I was very taken with Arthur Darvill’s performance as Rory too. Who companions’ boyfriends can easily become a third wheel but Rory was helped here by Whithouse’s easy familiarity with writing for three main characters, as in the awesome Being Human. (Come to think of it, clever brave girl, awkward chap and man older than he looks have adventures together? Where have I seen that before?)

He was funny when he needed to be, but beyond that he showed greater perception as he called the Doctor on the effect he has on other people, making them put themselves in danger to impress him. That was puzzling as he has only seen the Doctor once before, and then briefly. How does he have such strong and well established views?

From all the childhood games Amy made him play, dressing up as the Doctor, or something else? One to keep an eye on anyway.

In an episode that worked so well, it was a shame that its flaws were so apparent. If I were nit-picking, I’d point out that  the Jaws moment in the canal broke the show, don’t tell rule of TV where seeing sea monsters attack someone is always better than hearing someone say ‘they’re biting me!’.

And the Bat-Doctor climbing the roof to defuse the alien’s sinking machine showed the story’s ambition clattering awkwardly against its effects budget. You could also ask why a race of fish people didn’t put their key machinery underwater, where they could access it easily, instead of on the roof? Or why the vampires weren’t just vampires?

But I’d feel churlish doing so as I enjoyed The Vampires of Venice so much and it kept this series’ standards high.

One final point. When RTD was calling the shots, the Moff was always seen as the man in waiting because of the quality of his work. I wonder, now that Moff is in the hotseat, could Toby Whithouse be the next in line to the throne?

While not up to the Moff’s standards (very little is), TVoV was a cracking episode and so was School Reunion in series two, while Whithouse also has the sublime Being Human on his CV.

Of course the Moff has only just got his feet under the table and will be around for a good while yet, but when the time comes when he decides to move on? Just remember you heard it here first.

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11 thoughts on “Doctor Who The Vampires of Venice review (spoilers) – you have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves!

  • So I was not thrilled with this episode, especially coming after the genius of the two part episode : The Time Angels and The Flesh and Stone. Now I don’t know anyone which did not love the Doctor popping out of Rory’s bachelor cake, and I thought it was a great way to continue the story then to bring Amy and Rory along on a romantic date. However the (space fish) just did not cut it for me. I did like the alien’s understanding of the physic papers, and the bridge with the time crack, but When the queen’s son burst in to flames after being exposed to sunlight was a bit to convenient. I did feel for the doctor to let another race parish under his watch. Overall I hope Mr. Moffat gets back on track with his next episode Amy’s Choice. As I was stumbling around the next last night I came across this guy Tim http://www.itsasickness.com/lounge/tim-sheridan-obsessed-doctor-who and though all you Who fans would appreciate his love for Who as much as I do.

    Cross your fingers for another great Who next week,

    Sam

  • Gary

    on

    If we’re spotting references surely there was an Othello one (The Moor of Venice) or were we not supposed to notice the suicidal dad was black?

    I liked the Doctor’s slightly menacing dad act to Rory. “I like it when they say it’s bigger on the inside. I always look forward to that.” Very amusing.

    As far as your hit and run poster Fred goes it’s very easy to say something is shit. A bit harder to express why.

  • ‘Back off Davros, you don’t want to me have to get a little bit naughty, you fackin mug.’

    I think I should be the new companion thinking about it. Permanently grumpy, sarcastic and tired should be the template for male companions.

    And I’d fix Amy and no mistake. And I mean that sexually, just in case there’s any doubt.

  • Hmm, I thought it decent, but wholly unremarkable – like Whithouse’s earlier episode.

    It’s almost as if every series of Who has to have a couple of episodes that seem deliberately throwaway. Maybe it’s assumed that fans need a week off between the heavier stuff.

    Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that, but if every episode of Doctor Who were like Vampires of Venice I wouldn’t be tuning in every week.

    PS. Rory – what is it with emasculated, idiotic male companions? Get Danny Dyer in – I hear he’s looking for work at the moment.
    .-= Robin Brown´s last blog ..Graham Norton exterminated for Time of Angels gaffe =-.

    • I think you’re right Robin. They do look to include a couple of romps along the way, light and shade and all that, although I felt Whithouse’s writing had developed since School Reunion.

      I would pay good money to see Danny Dyer in Doctor Who

      Doctor ‘We have to stop the Sontarans’

      Assistant Danny ‘Fuckin slaags! Cut em up!’

  • Nice thoughts on an excellent episode.

    Not too sure how deliberate the Casanova thing was, possibly though, would be cool if it was.

    Matt Smith is certainly a funny doctor.

  • This is the first Dr Who episode I’ve watched in about a year (I couldn’t bear David Tennant – I know this puts me in the minority).
    This episode didn’t rock my world but I thought the dialogue was excellent, there was humour and the plot worked fine. It didn’t hold a candle to Blink for me, but if I was a child the monsters would have given me very satisfactory horrors.
    So I’ll have to take your word that Toby Whitehouse is a coming force Neil.

    And, Fred, if you’re going to call someone illiterate, make sure you get your own phrasing spot on eh? You mean WHIT, not WIT.
    Whit = A tiny, barely detectable amount
    Wit = A message whose ingenuity or verbal skill or incongruity has the power to evoke laughter
    I think, Fred, anyone reading your comment can draw their own conclusion as to which definition is most applicable to you.

  • Fred

    on

    Whithouse the heir to Moffat?

    This was one of the weakest stories since the programme came back in 2005.

    This story didn’t even have a proper plot. Loads happened, but where was the sense of conflict?

    Whithouse can’t writ a wit, and you seem media illiterate.

    I could explain what I mean, but why bother dangling pearls before swine?

    This reviewer knows what’s what:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7692610/Doctor-Who-review-Vampires-of-Venice.html

    You, on the other hand, are an arse.

    • Jesus, don’t hold back will you Fred.

      I’m happy to accept you disagree with my point of view, but Toby Whithouse is a writer of proven quality and this was a very good episode of Doctor Who.

      As for the personal abuse, I suppose opinions are like arseholes aren’t they Fred, everyone has one.

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