Thursday, 21 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Vampires of Venice

“According to this, I am your eunuch…”

Interesting how a story can seem to be “traditional” Doctor Who even though objectively there can be no real definition of what such a thing may be. But this seems to be the closest thing to that elusive concept we’ve had for quite a while. At the same time, the characters’ arcs and story arc are nicely developed here, and really rather foregrounded too.

Venice, 1580, and a sinister school headed by the mysterious Rosanna Calvierri is looking for young virgins to join its ranks for a purpose hinted at by the clear design influence of certain early ‘70s Hammer horror films. Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives at Rory’s stag so, where he has a confession to make.

The ending of the last episode is dealt with quite well here, and the consequences reverberate for all three of our regulars. The new dynamic between the three of them is fascinating, with Amy’s two girls competing for the position of alpha male. What’s great about this situation is the potential for comedy as well as humour. And Arthur Darvill's facial acting and physical mannerisms are amazing.

It’s interesting to see Rory again after all this time; he’s still a sort of Mickey-type character, he’s rather unprepossessing (rather fortunately for the Doctor, under the circumstances!) and not one for heedlessly running into adventure, but he’s resourceful (unsurprised by the TARDIS) and quietly very brave without being reckless. He actually adjusts to the situation quite well, too; it doesn’t take long for him to be taking pictures of Amy in 16th century Venice on his camera phone.

There’s more ‘70s style erotic Hammer horror as the Doctor finds himself inside a crypt, surrounded by a group of rather attractive young vampire ladies in their nighties. Personally I’d be rather happy to be in his situation but he seems to be rather alarmed. Matt Smith is great here, though, and I love the pic of Hartnell. Gosh, it’s been a long Marathon.

I love the way the inevitability of Amy’s smuggling herself into the baddies’ lair is played for wry humour, and the cheeky way we’re introduced to Guido’s stash of gunpowder, which tells us with a nod and a wink that it’ll be going bang later on. And the name “Guido” sort of underlines that…

There’s real tension between the Doctor and an appalled Rory though. And when Rory calls him on his recklessness (“You know what’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks. It’s that you make people want to impress you.”), the Doctor is saved from having to reply by the fortunate arrival of some baddies. Rory’s words resonate, though; it’s very notable that the Doctor later firmly tells Amy to stay with Rory while he goes off alone to do the dangerous work of averting the sinking of Venice, and Rory thanks him.

The Doctor finally gets some rather interesting and arc-heavy explanations from Rosanna: the people of Saturnyne “ran from the Silence”, and “There were cracks” which meant “Silence, and the end of all things.” The aliens’ plan is more or less revealed, give or take a bit of cogitation by the Doctor, and there’s an interesting contrast between Rosanna’s willingness to put the survival of her species above everything and the Doctor’s less than unswerving loyalty to his own people making him the last of his kind.

But Rosanna has put herself beyond redemption. She has callously had Isabella killed, and didn’t even know her name. That’s a nice Doctorish touch.

Rory’s swordfight with the broomstick is the highlight of the episode, and shows just how extraordinarily good Arthur Darvill is. So good I hardly even begrudge him for getting to snog the lovely Karen Gillan. Grrr.

It’s nice to see Rory’s “We’re not leaving you!” to the Doctor at the end; he may not be reckless but there’s a definite latent heroism there. And Rory’s here to stay. This is good news. There’s a great dynamic between our three regulars, with unresolved issues but also a lot of comic potential.

We end with silence. Or should that be Silence? No crack, this time…

A solid episode. 4/5.

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