Friday, May 14, 2010

Doctor Who: Vampires of Venice – review

Directed by: Jonny Campbell

First aired: 2010

Contains spoilers

Let me let you into a little secret (okay its not much of a secret, but…) I really have got bored of new Doctor Who. It was all getting a little too repetitive… oh; we must involve the daleks/the cybermen/the master again. Oh, we should be derivative, too light hearted at times and certainly a little dumbed down. If you disagree with my thoughts on this then I apologise, but it was how I felt.

As such I haven’t watched any of this series until this episode, but reports of the Doctor (Matt Smith) hitting daleks over the dome (as it were) with a giant spanner certainly did not make me feel any better about the idea. But, of course, I had to watch the vampire episode. The fact that it was written by Toby Whithouse, the creative force behind Being Human, made me feel better about the prospect.

Helen McCory as Rosanna
The opening scene is in the House Calvieri, in Venice, and the shipwright Guido (Lucian Msamati) takes his daughter to see the matriarch of the house, Rosanna (Helen McCrory), to ask if he might place his daughter Isabella (Alisha Bailey) in her school. He tells Rosanna that she is his world and she suggests that she will take his world (no, that wasn’t ominous!) He has to go and leave her there and, after Guido is bundled out, Rosana asks her son, Francesco (Alex Price, Being Human), if he likes her. He says very much and Isabella screams as he reveals fangs.

Matt Smith as the Doctor
So, the Doctor and his companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) have, from what I can gather, had a near miss sexually and so the Doctor decides to give her a cold shower by appearing at her fiancé’s stag night, emerging from a stripper’s cake, and telling Rory (Arthur Darvill) that she kissed him. Luckily he must (off camera) have calmed things down for he gets Rory in the Tardis and offers to take the two anywhere for a date. He chooses Venice for them and they arrive in 1580.

the Calvieri Girls
They are going into the city when they are asked for papers. The inspector (Michael Percival) suggests that they are keeping plague out, as the Mistress Calvieri has told them of it being widespread, and the Doctor seems perplexed as the plague should be gone…. Historical sense check a moment. Whilst the plague was gone in Venice at that time (which is true) there was a pandemic outbreak across Europe from 1573-1588 and so this shouldn’t have rung any alarm bells. Not to worry, the Doctor sees Guido trying to talk to his daughter, who is with veiled Calveiri women, and is rebuffed. One of the women bares fangs… The game is afoot and… well I don’t want to spoil the story but I do want to talk vampires…

blood on the fangs
Some have said… but they are not vampires, they are aliens… this is true (and not a great spoiler) as far as it goes but the fact that they are alien and use technology doesn’t stop them being vampires. Let us look at the evidence. They gain their form by bending minds with technology (the fangs appear in view due to the victim’s survival drives) thus they are shapeshifting (albeit technologically) and taking on a pleasing form. The same technology causes them to not appear in mirrors.

Amy bitten
They create others of their own kind through draining the blood out of humans and replacing it with their own that slowly mutates the human into their race. Check another one off for standard vampire operating. The blood is drained by the good old fashioned bite and suck method, and whilst the replacement blood is given in a more clinical way than perhaps the genre standard it is still fairly much vampire.

to Cushing a cross, first take two candlesticks...
Sunlight burns them, due to their alien physiology and we actually see one blow up and dust in a reflected beam of light. Actually that seemed a little silly but never the less it is rather genre standard. Indeed the entire idea that they are alien and yet also seem to correspond to genre standard is okay in my book. I was amused when there was a failed attempt to Cushing a cross together that failed utterly.

Git yer fangs oot for the lads
However that marked one of two problems with the episode. The humour… it had too much humour in it and it wasn’t that funny. Witty comments about ofsted when facing certain doom didn’t seem appropriate to the character and certainly wasn’t that funny anyway. A sword fighting scene with a buffoon wielding a broom was more a moment for cringing than laughing, especially as they had tried to give the same character a more serious edge earlier, rather than making him the standard Who buffoon. There was absolutely no attempt to add a horror element in, despite the fact the Whithouse can create such TV scripts.

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond
The other problem was that it was crammed into an episode and seemed awfully rushed. The pathos of the questions the Doctor is asked had no time to sink in and actually didn’t seem to penetrate the outer character shell, pinging off to be submerged below the Venetian canals. There might have been a good story here (be they undead vampires or aliens posing) if they had taken time to stretch it to size. On a plus, I did appreciate that the Doctor’s library card had a picture of William Hartnell on it.

All in all, I found it average. 5 out of 10.

The episode's imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

Different strokes for different folks. I do enjoy the new WHO, and quite liked "Vampires of Venice."

(Oh, and Amy is supposed to get married to Rory the morning after she went traveling in the Tardis--she insisted she HAD to be back by MORNING--and then tried to sow a last wild oat with the Doctor. Hence the setup.)

They certainly made for some nicely buxom vampires these aliens, didn't they? And I did enjoy the little joke of having the girl named Isabella.

Christine said...

Vampires in 16th century Venice? Good, very good. Otherwise... hm. I must check it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi both.

Zahir, fair comment... it is different strokes after all. My main problem with this was the length... this could easily have been a two-parter and had much more of an impact (forgetting any wider arc as I'm not watching the series)

The vampires were indeed buxom and I liked the explanation of vampire myth elements within an alien framework. Who, of course, has done vampires before and, I have to say, if I were to be anal...

the great enemy of the time lords were actually giant space vampires who could create humanoid minion vampires (State of Decay)... one would have thought that the Doctor would have reacted a tad more concerned at the vampire aspect because of this (especially as it was the Doctor who brought them to earth - Blood Harvest)... but that is too anoraky!! ;)

Christine – worth checking as it looks rather sumptuous in places and you may get more from it than I did.

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to come back and read this review after I've seen the episode!!