WARNING: spoilers if you have not watched this episode
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Starring Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Helen McCrory (Rosanna Calvierri), Alex Price (Francesco Calvierri), Lucian Msarnati (Guido), Alisha Bailey (Isabella) and Simon Gregor (Steward)
Following “the kiss”*, the Doctor reunites Amy with her fiancé Rory and takes them in the TARDIS to Venice in 1580 for a romantic weekend to get their relationship back on track. Once there, the Doctor immediately realises that something is wrong and when he investigates a mysterious school for girls run by the city’s patron Rosanna Calvierri it seems that he has uncovered a nest of vampires.
(*See the episode ‘Flesh and Stone’.)
Toby Whithouse, who wrote ‘The Vampires of Venice’, is the creator and main writer of the BBC3 series ‘Being Human’, an inspired mix of comedy, drama, thriller and horror that tells the story of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who share a house. He previously wrote the season two Doctor Who episode ‘School Reunion’, which saw the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and was responsible for my favourite ‘Torchwood’ episode ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’.
Before I realised that ‘The Vampires of Venice’ was written by Toby Whithouse I had been slightly wary of it. Vampires have started to become rather tired and clichéd recently due to over-exposure, what with the ‘Twilight’ film franchise and the television series ‘True Blood’, amongst others. In the event, it proved to be a very enjoyable episode, with plenty of humour typical of Whithouse, although not without its faults.
Bringing back Rory, who we first encountered in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (the first episode of this latest season), worked very well. In a clever twist, he was not overwhelmed that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than outside, immediately guessing that the inside exists within a different dimension. His anger at the Doctor when he tells him “you have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves” was powerful and palpable, although we might wonder how he has been able to form such an incisive impression of the Doctor so quickly. Perhaps there is more to Rory than meets the eye and we are in for some surprises later on. The prospect is intriguing.
The vampire storyline works well for the first twenty minutes or so, with its echoes of the 1989 story ‘The Curse of Fenric’, but it seems as if one minute they are not affected by light and the next minute they are, something that occurs time and time again. Having watched the episode twice and taken care the second time to look for clues to explain this, it still seems like an inconsistency in the story, unless I am missing a subtle explanation for it. Once we discover that the vampires are, in fact, no such thing the episode does begin to unravel a little bit, but this is always going to be a problem when trying to tell a story in 45 minutes. Everything starts to become rather rushed and frenetic as the action builds up towards its climax.
Signora Calvierri (played by Helen McCrory, who I recently saw in the now cancelled American crime-drama series ‘Life’) clearly knows exactly who the Doctor is once she has discovered that he comes from Gallifrey, although this is not particularly well explained to us. She knows of the fate of the Time Lords and of the part the Doctor played in the Time War, suggesting to him that he is now responsible for the extinction of two races, hers as well as his own. This new season is clearly harking back to the first season of the revived series, both in theme and content.
It does seem a little odd that knowing the creatures are still in the water beneath Venice, the Doctor just leaves them there to die, but I suppose there is nothing he can do to save them. Once again, though, it does seem like an inconsistency in the story. After all, they will presumably continue to devour anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the water. Equally, it seems inconceivable that earlier in the story Signori Calvierri would just allow the Doctor to walk away once she has discovered who he is and that he intends to stop her plans. Surely she would have had him killed immediately or at least hold him captive.
I don’t think this is ultimately destined to be remembered as a classic Doctor Who episode, but it is a very good one and there seems to be a lot here that will become much more relevant as we see future episodes in this season.
‘The Vampires of Venice’ was filmed in Trogir, Croatia, on the Adriatic coast, and at St Donat’s Castle in Glamorgan. It looks fantastic, a very realistic depiction of Venice.
Review posted 9 May 2010