In the UK: Saturday 8th May 2010, 6.25pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 22nd May 2010, 9/8c, BBC America
So you want a Doctor Who story that's funny, about relationships and involves vampires? Well, the obvious choice is that bloke who wrote School Reunion way back when, isn't it? I mean that had flying thingies and monsters and a bit of banter between the Doctor, companions, blokes, women et al, didn't it?
Not seeing it yet?
Then let me put it to you another way: so you want a Doctor Who story that's funny, about relationships and involves vampires? Well, the obvious choice is Toby Whithouse, creator of 20something vampire/werewolf/ghost flatshare comedy-drama Being Human, isn't it?
You're seeing it now, aren't you?
Spoiler and more after the jump.
The Doctor takes Amy and Rory away for a romantic break but terror awaits in 16th century Venice. What secrets are held by the House of Calvierri and who is the mysterious Rosanna?
Is it any good?
Mostly. There you go. Can't say better than that.
First though, since I don't see Rusty comparisons disappearing until the end of the season at least, let us praise one of Rusty's oft-overlooked skills: script editing. One of the reasons a lot of his seasons seemed a bit rushed is because he was busy editing other people's stuff instead of writing his own scripts. It's easy to knock him for that, but it's only now we have Stevie in Rusty's job that we see the importance of the script editor quite so clearly.
Watch any given David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston episode and one thing you'll invariably notice - or rather not notice: character inconsistencies. Although facts might slip down the back of the sofa, pretty much all the dialogue, no matter which episode you watched, was consistent with other episodes.
Here, casa Stevie, the differences between writers are far more obvious. After Stevie's own Flesh and Stone, where we had Amy unequivocally hurl herself at the Doctor because she wanted him and the Doctor not really having a clue about it all, we're (seemingly) suddenly just a few moments after that and the Doctor is gatecrashing Amy's fiancé's stag do to tell him that she's a good kisser and that she only did it because he was there.
The Doctor has, it seems, got a clue all of a sudden.
Clue in hand, he decides for no really good reason it seems to take them both to Venice for a romantic date where it turns out there are vampires - except they aren't vampires. The not-vampires have been abducting buxom young women after being forced to leave their planet by another one of those pesky cracks in time that have permeated the season so far. All a bit Unquiet Dead if you ask me, but not in any story-disfiguring way.
So the Doctor, Amy, Amy's fiancé Rory and that bloke off No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency go off to investigate the naughty not-vampires, save the buxom women and stop Venice from being submerged - good luck with that. Despite having a working TARDIS, Amy and Rory have to infiltrate the vampires' nest manually, which turns out to be a daft idea. The vampires turn out to be fish people (interesting wrinkle), the buxom women turn out to have been turned into fish people, and Venice is saved by the ending of Evolution of the Daleks being stapled onto it - the Doctor arguing that the vampires need to be wiped out because they're not very good with names. As reasons for genocide go, that's pretty flimsy in my box.. The end.
Oh yes, and Rory gets to be a companion. Nice, if a bit Adam/Dalek.
It's not the best story ever on Doctor Who, but it's by no means the worst. But this isn't a plot-driven Doctor Who episode anyway. This one's about character.
Against this action backdrop, we have some attempts to inject characters dynamics into the proceedings. Looking back over the season again, it's interesting to see just how much Victory of the Daleks killed stone-dead the emerging Amy-Doctor dynamic. The last two episodes have been trying to fan the embers of that relationship, but The Vampires of Venice almost takes it for a given, with the Doctor and Amy jumping up and down having fun together while Rory looks on jealously.
Where did all that come from? Did it get left over from a David Tennant script by accident?
Equally, I don't really buy Rory and Amy as a couple, although Rory's stag T-shirt is just brilliant enough that I could believe in it on the grounds of that photo alone. The script has lots of little things like that that make you laugh, such as the Doctor emerging from the cake, which while obvious, had some nice touches, such as his concern for the diabetic girl who was in the cake.
Lastly: Rory's suggestion that the Doctor's dangerous because he gets other people to impress him is an interesting take on things but you'd only get it in a British TV show, bunch of weeds that we are.
Although not as beautiful to look at in terms of direction as the Weeping Angels two-parter, the Crotian backdrop was beautiful in and of itself, even if it was a bit grey and overcast by the looks of it (deliberately, given the story, I suspect, but it still made everything a bit washed out). Make-up and costume were wonderful, and it was nice to see make-up going for the Nosferatu-look for the vampires.
Deadly Murray Gold, in an odd bit of schizophrenia, spent the first half trying to be Deadly Dudley Simpson, before reverting to his Rusty days and drowning everything out again with melodramatic schmaltz that spelt out every emotion. Curse you, Murray. Just when it was almost looking acceptable to like you.
Matt Smith was back on form, now very reassured as the Doctor, and this time at least, getting to express some happiness and enthusiasm, which endeared him to me a lot. Karen Gillan is clearly, as Matt Smith suggests, as mad as a box of frogs so watching her is a little like watching someone reacting to a conversation you can't hear on a mobile phone, but she's fun while she'd doing it.
New arrival Rory is really a little too drippy, too early days Mickey to be enjoyable, but let's see if he grows a pair over the next few weeks.
And although I've joked about Steven Moffat's heterosexual agenda, is it just me or is Doctor Who and perhaps even the Doctor getting a little sexist again? We have the Doc joking about women's chest sizes, Amy's a kissogram, there's a stripper at Rory's stag do, the companion's getting tied up and captured again. It's all feeling a little less balanced than it used to, somehow. A female/gay man's voice is needed somewhere, I think.
Not exactly a filler episode, but not an ep that's going to be remembered much after the end of the season, The Vampires of Venice was at least fun, occasionally clever and innovative, and gave us an 11th Doctor we could potentially grow to like again.
* If you look back at all the episodes so far, there's been a marked tendency for this Doctor to do a whole load of things for no really good reason, but which suggest in totality he's being a bit sneaky and not telling anyone the full story. What was the Doctor looking at on the scanner at the end of The Eleventh Hour? Did the TARDIS actually go back for Amy as a young girl as briefly hinted? What was he doing while Amy was missing for 20 minutes in The Beast Below? How did he get his jacket back and why did his entire demeanour change during Flesh and Stone when reassuring Amy - had he travelled back from another point in time? Is he really doing what he says for the reason he says, or is he investigating/quarantining Amy at this point? We'll know in just a few weeks' time, I guess.
- June 28, 2010: Review: Doctor Who 5x12 - The Big Bang
A review of the Doctor Who story The Big Bang, starring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan