Doctor Who - The Vampires Of Venice (S05E06) - Episode review

After a disappointing four-episode slump, regular readers of my Doctor Who reviews will be glad to hear that Toby Whithouse's Vampires Of Venice completely turned things around.

This was the crucial storyline that we should have had three episodes ago - the one the brings together The Doctor and Amy and her fiancée Rory. Just like the presence of Mickey Smith as Rose Tyler's boyfriend helped us establish her character, that funny rivalry between Doctor and boyfriend helps us learn so much more about the companion.

We got to see Rory's relationship with [[Amy Pond|Amy]], and we got to see how that dynamic was affected by shoehorning The Doctor in. Nice to see that Rory hadn't been idle since the Prisoner Zero incident - he's been reading up on scientific theory, so he's at least aiming to be on an intellectual par with [[The Doctor (Doctor Who)|The Doctor]].

Space fish

The much-anticipated "vampires" of the episode title turned out to be nothing more than yer usual "displaced alien race looking for new planet". Which was a bit of a shame, but no way was Doctor Who going to leave us with a supernatural threat when a scientific explanation would have done.

It was still an interesting turn though - from Helen McCrory's matriarch vampire to Alex Price's simpering mummy's boy (the scene where Rory calls the vampire's mother ugly is priceless). And yes, there were similarities between Vampires Of Venice and the Series 3 story [[The Shakespeare Code (Doctor Who episode)|The Shakespeare Code]]: a perceived supernatural threat in a historical period turns out to be alien-based. Basically, just swap witches for vampires.

But that's okay, and we can't criticize, because Doctor Who from time to time recycles old stories. Which is why we have so many of the "base under siege" tales. What matters sometimes is the execution, and Vampires Of Venice succeeds because it's a straightforward storyline, told in a humourous fashion. It finally gives the lead characters a chance to breathe - from The Doctor and Amy's glee at discovering vampires to the wrap-up at the end where Amy invites Rory to join them.

FX Hell

The biggest criticism I can fire at tonight's episode was the CGI at the end was terrible. Just awful. Not a good time to have cheap effects in the week that people are complaining about the cost of flying [[Matt Smith]] to Venice for an episode of Doctor Who Confidential.

Slapstick

The high point for me were some fantastic comedy moments: from a 900 year old Gallifreyan popping out of a wedding cake to a Venetian man wearing Rory's stag night t-shirt, there were laughs a-plenty.

Add to that Rory's broomstick fight with Francesco and Amy's rescue, blowing him up by reflecting sunlight on him. Like vinegar on a Slitheen. And of course, The Doctor's hilarious discovery of the vampire girls in the basement while simultaneously retreating was pure comedy gold.

Summing up

How apt that the creator of [[Being Human (TV Series)|Being Human]], Toby Whithouse got to write a vampire episode? It was an episode that wasn't terribly hung up on the series arc,, instead giving us a look at our [[TARDIS (Doctor Who)|TARDIS]]-dwelling heroes just hanging out and having fun investigating some weirdness in Venice.

I certainly feel a lot more comfortable with The Doctor and Amy now though. Glad to finally see it! And those previews for [[Amy's Choice (Doctor Who episode)|Amy's Choice]], they look like a lot of fun too! Faith in Doctor Who restored, hoorah!

Quotes from this episode

  • Rory's on his stag night. The Doctor pops out of a wedding cake: "Rory! That's a relief! Thought I'd burst out of the wrong cake...again."
  • The Doctor bumbles his way through telling him about Amy: Tell you what though...she's a great kisser. Funny how you can say something in your head and it sounds fine...
  • The Doctor: Think of it as a wedding present, because frankly it's either this or tokens.
  • Rory discovers the downsides of psychic paper: "According to this, I'm your eunuch."
  • The Doctor tries the direct route with the villains: "Tell me the whole plan!"
  • "Makes you wonder what could be so bad that it doesn't mind you thinking it's a vampire."
  • Rory wants to know what happened between The Doctor and Amy: "I'd like to know. I'm getting married in 430 years."
  • Rory: "And you kissed her back." The Doctor: "No, I kissed her mouth."
  • Rory complains about The Doctor's effect on his companions: "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."
  • Rosanna: "We ran from the silence. From the cracks. Some were tiny, some were as big as the sky." Remember when the aftermath of the Time War was displaced alien species?
  • Rosanna: "I will bend the heavens to save my race, while you...philosophize."
  • Rosanna: "One city to save an entire species, was that too much to ask?"
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Gerard McGarry's picture

Comments

The Roberts Clan's picture

Big thumbs up from our house.

I really enjoyed this episode and have to agree the comedy in this one was really good. It kind of reminded me that when I was the first epsiode I had enjoyed it and didn't think the loss of David Tennant had ruined Dr Who forever!!

Hopefully this is more of a sign of things to come, I've always thought that Matt is a great replacement for the Dr but just hadn't had the same quality of scriptwriting as the previous series had.

My favorurite bit had to be the calling Rory calling the vampires mum ugly and his reaction was genius, but so was the Dr popping out the cake. Lets be honest lots of us have said things that sound quite different to how they sounded in our heads!

Looking forward to next week now.

 

Rosie-Lee's picture

Dr Who - Vampires Of Venice

This was a much better episode, and hugely enjoyable.  I laughed out loud at Rory's duel with Francesco, especially when he called him Spongebob.   I hope Rory stays on as part of the team, because he fits in very well.  Matt Smith is getting better and better as The Doctor, and I loved the touch where he pulled out a supposed I.D. when it turned out to be his library card with an old photo on it - William Hartnell's!

Gerard McGarry's picture

Should've mentioned the

Should've mentioned the Hartnell-era library card - that was such a nice little in-joke for classic series fans. I think because I've seen it so much in the trailers, I was kind of expecting it.

redblu's picture

Are you just taking the mickey?

I've been absolutely loving this season for the most part but this was a massive let down.

Admittedly the character interaction was superb and hilarious, and no complaints abut the direction. As for the CGI much of it was in fact very good, far better than I'd come to expect from the show, these fish were certainly an improvement on the cheap masks we saw in say the Doctors Daughter, even if that whilst climbing the clock tower was disappointing...

...but that's where it ends. The story its self was incredibly shallow, and both the monsters and the clock tower climbing climax felt like an unwelcome reminder of everything that had been wrong about the RTD era.

Gerard McGarry's picture

No, I'm not taking the

No, I'm not taking the Mickey! Maybe where it failed for you, it worked for me. Past episodes were a tad overambitious for my tastes, and even slightly overhyped (All Hail Moff, Saviour Of The Doctor!).

Vampires Of Venice didn't have lofty expectations: it was a simple, straightforward story. Yes, a bit predictable - and as I mentioned above, there are plenty of similar RTD-era stories. Reminds me of when the Time War resulted in dozens of displaced species all looking to set up camp on Earth. Slitheen, Gelth, Nestene Consciousness, etc.

Christ, I thought you'd be pleased I liked an episode!

redblu's picture

It didn't so much fail...

...as succeed in being entirely average. If one were to compare it to an old school episode it would be the visitation. I thoroughly enjoyed it but it's entirely forgettable. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't yelling at the TV, the Doctor didn't get chanted into godhood, and my expectations have been lowered such that I consider that a win, but it just seems an odd choice to suddenly start receiving praise. Do you have a long standing issue with Moffats writing?

To my mind it was an episode that could have slotted into any one of a dozen generic sci-fi shows following a two parter which excelled in reviving Doctor Who's long standing traditions of stimulating the imagination and getting kids behind the sofa.

Also, whereas I can't agree Flesh and Stone failed to live up to the writers pedigree this failed to match the poignancy of School Reunion, which admittedly might be a tad unfair, given it was one of the new series' very best. Still, throughout I was thinking of how many elements were borrowed from his own previous story; from the aliens in human disguise, to the school setting, even the scene with Isabellas father sacrificing himself to take out the girls was reminiscent of K9 and the krillitain(sp?) oil.

Gerard McGarry's picture

Do you have a long standing

Do you have a long standing issue with Moffats writing?

I can see why you would ask that, but no. I stand with most people who loved The Doctor Dances and Blink and all those other episodes. They were brilliant. What I think has gone wrong is that his vision as a showrunner has compromised his quality of writing.

Yes, it was a derivative episode - and perhaps deserves criticism for Toby Whithouse shamelessly plagiarizing his School Reunion episode - but it was an entertaining one. It didn't try to hard to redefine Doctor Who or give us the Moff Masterplan version. It took the idea and executed it rather well.

One thing I will say though - and I've worried about this since the announcement that Moffat was taking over - I think Moffat hated a lot of RTD's additions to the series. He seemed very certain that we'd never see Rose again, or Jack Harkness. They were gone for good. Fast forward to the start of series 5, and everything has changed. No stone unturned, from the TARDIS itself to the opening theme. To me, even the regeneration of the "Original Dalek DNA 100% Proof" felt like a petty and unnecessary erasing of the RTD-era design. Why?

redblu's picture

Well....

Certain elements simply had to be changed from a narrative point of view, it would be impossible for whomever took over to keep raising the stakes, it had already gotten quite silly. Additionally with everyone on earth aware of aliens it meant there were earth defence laser cannons and the audience would increasingly disassociate this fictional world from their own, which would make the scares just that much more difficult.

The TARDIS interior was an inevitable change as most show runners have done the same, and Tennant himself commented on that set getting worn out. That said never have I been so pleased with any of the sets. There are numerous nods to various eras, from the original ceiling lights, to the McGann pull down monitors and the 80's wall display, but of all these I would have said it still far more closely resembles the previous console room than any other. The design is very much in keeping with the new madman with a box Doctor, and the transparent floor has already been used very effectively for some very impressive cinematography.

As for the Daleks and sonic screwdriver, I can well believe that they really were a result of a deal with BBC Worldwide to secure additional funding, following the BBC budget cuts, the two together make up the most popular toys of the franchise. Not sure I approve, but it definitely didn't strike me as a dig at RTD, I was under the impression they were good friends. The Daleks feelings on racial purity is certainly not a new one, indeed I was somewhat hoping for a restoration of the two factions of old. That's just opinion however, I know Moffat liked visual elements of movies which means it's hard to rule out the alternative.

Saying no to returning characters, given how ludicrous the returns of Rose eventually became is only a good thing. More than anything this policy merely seems in keeping with his opinions on the 80s series; that it included too much self referencing when Doctor Who should always belong to the new generation, rather than leaving them feeling left out.

do me a melon's picture

Hoo-hah!

That'll do nicely, thank you Mr Moffat!

After the debacle that was the retun of the Weeping Angels, a cracking return to form for the Doctor and company.  As has been mentioned already, the storyline itself was a fairly simple affair - although it did seem value for money.  When the Doctor and the gang had rescured Amy, only for the Venetian girl to be recaptured, I found myself thinking, 'Wow, that was a great episode', only to discover we were only 29 minutes in! 

I had lots of 'quick rewind and watch again' moments last night, from the ID card to the Doctor's suggestion that the vampires might not be all they seemed; the Doctor's facial gestures at the table as they were planning what to do next to the Venetian chap wearing the stag-do t-shirt; Rory's contribution to the Doctor/Amy dynamic (can't help feeling that Amy will end up with him, but very much as a second-best choice - and I think he knows that already, poor guy).

I found the reveal moment when Amy kicked out and hit the gizmo to be genuinely creepy - much better alien than the god-awful Slitheen, for example.  The connection the Doctor seemed to have - briefly - with the mother alien was unsettling.  Good Stuff.

My absolute favourite aspect of this episode, though, was the glimpses we had of the Doctor's dark side.  On the surface, Smith's Doctor appears gangly, awkward, geeky and a bit abrupt.  But you don't have to dig very deep to reveal a quite sinister, foreboding, 'don't fuck with me' kind of Doctor, who is very much removed, I think, from Tennant's version.

The 'lonely god' has been replaced with a fascinating sinister geek.  I'm in.

Gerard McGarry's picture

Great mini-review, Melon.

Great mini-review, Melon. Apparently the School Reunion episode was also written by Toby Whithouse, and it also featured a scene between Anthony Head's character and The Doctor which was similar to The Doctor and Rosanna in this one. Alien tries to get The Doctor to join/sympathise with their cause...makes lofty promises.

Slightly cheated by the amount of rehashing going on in this episode, but it was more refined than some of its predecessors.