Review: Doctor Who – 5×6 – The Vampires of Venice

Not exactly what you'd expect from Being Human's creator

Vampires of Venice

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.

Character dynamics
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.

The ensemble
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.

Rating: 7/10

* 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.

  • bob

    I loved it. It ticked all the right boxes for me with the only downside being Amy. Here my issue with her was her strange manner with her fiancé (and thank you for not annoying me with fiancé misspellings as so many reviewers do). Acting like Rory was her brother was strange. Somehow I doubt that they have had sex.
    But apart from that, I adored it. Vampire-disguised fish from outer space was as whacky as they come but they looked brilliant and it was nicely dark to have Rosanna die at the teeth of her sons.
    I especially loved Rory who had done his homework on the TARDIS and managed to go through many different emotions in the episode, arcing as a character in a measly 45 minutes. Brilliant.
    I do agree though that there is a lack of character continuity. This issue was present in RTD’s day though. I am especially reminded of Rose not being consistent going from School Reunion to Girl in the Fireplace. I also thought Martha’s luvvy duvvy infatuation came out of nowhere. And just generally, I rarely got a sense of a through-line.
    I do feel that RTD was skilled in character-based dialogue though and made scripts more touching and more funny. And it is the lack of humour I have missed in this series. Though Whithouse did very well indeed in getting me to laugh.

  • For me Vampires really benefited from (as far as we can tell) not being heavily re-written. I’d rather see an episode that had the writer’s own voice shine through (and I thought it did here, with a quirky humour familiar from Being Human that’s distinctly different from Moffat’s own sense of comedy) than one that had been battered into shape to fit the lead writer’s house-style, even if it does mean that we get the odd episode-to-episode inconsistency and the occasional Victory of the Daleks.

  • It’s always good to start with low expectations and when I saw the trailer, I thought “Oh dear (or words to that effect), another episode set in the past (nearly always boring) with a horror theme (is Moffatt overdoing the horror?).
    In fact it was far better than I dared to hope. Helen McCrory was sexy, scary and vulnerable – not bad for a fish – whilst Amy gets better and better. I liked the father, particularly when he was wearing a stag night t-shirt, but the daughter needed to lose her London accent – it’s 1580, love!
    Matt Smith’s interpretation is still embryonic – at times it’s Tennants Extra; at others there are shades of Troughton. Let’s have more of the latter please. It can’t be easy for Smith when the writers seem to still be writing for Tennant. I’m sure that it will settle down in the next season.
    I’m generally very happy with the new season. My one complaint is the pacing – the stories start normally enough and slowly build up, then suddenly it’s as if someone’s realised that they’re runing out of time. Suddenly, we’re into manic, five-minute finale with Maurray Gold on full blast. Then it’s over.
    Bring back Dudley Simpson and slowness.

  • SK

    Hear hear to what Mr Clapham said. Doctor Who is good when it’s an anthology of stories from different angles and voices, not an attempt to make everything come out as if it’s one single consistent mush.
    It wasn’t perfect: the threat felt tacked-on, and the ending was a retread of about three different new series stories. But it was fundamentally a comedy episode and it made me laugh, so it was a success.
    (I remember ten years ago, at university, discussing Doctor Who with the sci-fi society and someone said that it could do any genre… except possibly, he mused, romantic comedy. Well, I think we’ve now seen that there is in fact no genre out of the TARDIS’s reach.)

  • DOPEaddict

    Rory is simply adorable, and please don’t compare him to the half-dimensional Mickey. Arthur D. brings it all to the table — physical comedy, charming cluelessness, humor. He’s wonderful.
    “Im a gondola…driver, so money’s a bit tight.”

  • MediumRob

    I don’t think consistency necessarily equals mush. You’d be hard pressed to identify an individual writer’s voice on The Wire, Lost, etc, but does that make those episodes poor. I think it’s only really writers who want to hear other writers’ voices who would say otherwise.
    Now, I don’t think there’s anything especially wrong with having different writers’ voices in a drama show, except if that leads to inconsistencies of linking character. You might as well just be making an anthology show if that happens. People watch drama – unless you’re a sci-fi fan who places plot and idea above people and characters – usually because of the characters and wanting to get to know them, or at least that’s why they stick with it. If you don’t like the characters, which is more likely when they’re inconsistently written, you end up not watching the show.
    Rory is okay, but he’s another in a long line of nu-Who/Stevie Moffat “ineffectual idiot boy-men”. I’m bored of that.

  • stu-n

    “Rory is okay, but he’s another in a long line of nu-Who/Stevie Moffat “ineffectual idiot boy-men”.”
    Ineffectual? I’m not seeing that. He’s diffident, sure, but he’s actually not at all useless. He was the one who spotted something funny going on in the coma ward; despite not expecting to be listened to, he stands his ground; he’s not overawed by the Doctor; he did that reading up after the Prisoner Zero incident; he didn’t back away from the sword-fight with vampire-prawn-boy. There’s a bit more going on there than your standard Moffatt bumble-bloke, and he’s certainly no Mickey.

  • I take your point, but he’s not exactly a take-charge kind of guy and he’s mainly there for laughs. Had it not been for the rules of comedy sword fights, he would have been diced to death in three seconds flat. He’s mainly there to be jealous of Amy and the Doctor’s relationship. So far, anyway.

  • bob

    Why do we need a take charge guy? Surely the best thing in a drama is to have someone relatable that speaks to the audience. Rory speaks to me.

  • “Why do we need a take charge guy?”
    Because we’ve had plenty of not-take-charge guys before. Because it’s an action show for kids. Because everyone would rightly be hacked off if the female companion weren’t a take-charge kind of girl. Because the longer a non-take-charge guy hangs around, the more likely he would be to get killed and so the longer he isn’t, the less plausible it becomes (obviously, this being Doctor Who, plausibility is a somewhat flexible concept, but I think there’s a general agreement that even if everything else is whacky, right down to the science, people have to behave more or less the way people behave in real life).
    “Surely the best thing in a drama is to have someone relatable that speaks to the audience.”
    Are you saying the Doctor Who audience is entirely composed of not-take-charge guys? Do not-take-charge guys who watch escapist fantasy shows really want to empathise and Betty Sue themselves into fictional not-take-charge guys as well?
    I cringe every time Rory comes on-screen. The idea that I am in any way supposed to emphasise or see myself in him is horrific. I get that the Doctor’s in charge and that if we had a Captain Jack around, there wouldn’t be as much need for the Doctor (although they can play well together). But is it really too much to ask for a regular guy who isn’t there for comedy purposes – someone who isn’t wet, but not a superman either?

  • Highly enjoyable I thought. Enough laughs to bring the fun along to the series and I’m probably less down on Rory than you Mr Rob. However, the music variation was noticable and that did irk me. As did a degree of roll-the-eyes sexism. And I do agree that Rusty’s main talent was script editing. There was tonally (I think) far less variation in the RTD era than there appears here, though we have FAR less to go on and we may just all be being a bit pre-emptive.

  • What do we historically have to choose from?
    Chesterton – clever (by 1960s earth standards) and prepared to be daring, but mockable from the Docs perspective
    Steven – more daring do, but just a bit too wooden
    Jaimie – curious, sometimes confused, gallant
    Harry – heroic, baffled, more gallantry (but also mocked)
    Adric – ‘super’-clever but ultimately weedy
    Turlough – grumpy and manipulative (too clever by half)
    I’ve probably missed someone but I’m not sure who or what combo would match this current Doctor…
    DW gave Mickey some fire just as they wanted to get rid of him (the Ricky-combo gave him an edge but then he’s parallel world dumped, till he wasn’t). I just don’t quite know what would work with Eleven or in this day and age…

  • MediumRob

    Don’t forget easily forgotten cockney sailor Ben, who worked quite well, I thought, even if he didn’t exactly get a solid rounding out (par for the course). The UNIT lads are probably not truly companions so we’ll skip them, too.
    It is a problem that you have with any companion. If the Doctor is essentially an all-in-one action hero, smart, able to run around a lot, etc – to the extent you can have whole episodes/specials without a companion – what is the use of the companion, other than as a mouthpiece for the audience’s concerns?
    Rusty’s solution was to have companion as “humaniser” for the Doctor, the one who makes him remember the little people, who helps him empathise, who can potentially come up with a solution, who stops him being lonely and going cuckoo, or who can help out when he can’t do everything at once. Jack was the one who could use guns, have fights, etc, because the Doctor can’t.
    At this stage, it’s hard to see what would complement the 11th Doctor, since he’s a somewhat nebulous character. Is he old duffer? Young man? Scientist? Runner? What?
    But the question could easily be who would complement Amy? What character could bring out aspects of her personality that the Doctor can’t? A brother, maybe (except she’s an only child, of course)? A halfway decent boyfriend – a kind of human Doctor who’s smart, wants to take her round the world, etc, but who’s still only human? Someone else they meet and she likes the look of?
    But I think there’s a reason that most shows, including Doctor Who, default down to a male-female pair as the leads, with other characters only ancillary – there’s too little time and you do struggle to find things for everyone to do until you reach a certain critical size of cast and it becomes an ensemble show.

  • SK

    I’m reminded of The Harry Problem: Harry Sullivan was created because they didn’t know who was going to be the next Doctor, and couldn’t rule out it being an older actor who wasn’t able to carry the action bits. Ergo, Harry the square-jawed capable military surgeon.
    Except the next Doctor was the youngest-Doctor-yet Tom Baker, who was perfectly willing to throw the punches that were supposed to be Harry’s job. So in the quest to find a role for Harry he ended up as comic relief… and it’s probably lucky that they got back to Earth as soon as they did and he could jump the ship on which he was now so obviously supernumerary.
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway, the point I really wanted to address was this idea of ‘someone relatable who speaks to the audience’. For a start, Rob, I think you rather jumped to the conclusion that that means someone you ‘see [yourself] in’, some kind of audience identification figure. Someone relatable means to me someone the audience can understand, a character they can get a grip on — not necessarily someone like themselves.
    And I think it’s in this sense that Rory’s there: not as an audience identification figure (I think the need for audience identification figures is hugely overstated: the companion’s main role, still as always and as indispensable as ever, is to say ‘what’s going on Doctor?’ in order that exposition can be delivered to the audience and the audience can understand what is going on (this is unfortunately why Liz Shaw had to go… well, either that, or you make the series for an audience of Cambridge physicists who already know all the things that Dr Shaw would take for granted). That is the only way in which the companion ‘stands in’ for the audience. In all other respects they can be their own character, with their own story, that the audience can observe from outside without necessarily putting themselves in the companion’s place.
    Amy and Rory definitely have their own stories. They’re not blank slates for the audience to read themselves onto, a la Philip Marlowe or that narrator from Twilight. Does that story require Rory to be the comic relief? I don’t know, but knowing the end; but one thought that does occur — to take us back to the Harry Problem — is, what, in The Vampires of Venice, can he bring to the story that isn’t already brought by Amy or the Doctor? We have a Doctor who is physically able and willing to do action, a companion likewise. We have a companion also whose first instinct is always to run towards trouble rather than away from it (another good story-complication-generating trait in a companion). Between them they have been designed to be a pretty effectual team, presumably for those stories where Rory isn’t present.
    So what you have is a two-person team that has been designed not to have any spaces in which a third person can fit. And then your series-long story requires that a third person be added… well, if there’s no story role they can fill that isn’t filled by the others, what can you give them? The comedy.
    And it’s Harry Sullivan all over again. Bet he trips over next episode.

  • “For a start, Rob, I think you rather jumped to the conclusion that that means someone you ‘see [yourself] in’, some kind of audience identification figure. ”
    I’m not sure what else Bob might have meant by “Rory speaks to me”.
    “the companion’s main role, still as always and as indispensable as ever, is to say ‘what’s going on Doctor?’ in order that exposition can be delivered to the audience and the audience can understand what is going on (this is unfortunately why Liz Shaw had to go… well, either that, or you make the series for an audience of Cambridge physicists who already know all the things that Dr Shaw would take for granted)”
    There are ways round that. The Avengers managed to have a perfectly decent male-female pairing in which they would each tell each other what was happening when the other didn’t know. That was the good thing about Liz Shaw – she was off doing things and could give information to the Doctor that he didn’t know, while he was off doing things. Indeed, “the Doctor and companion get split up and reunite” is one of the most well-used Who plots around. Liz Shaw didn’t have to go!
    “Bet he trips over next episode.”
    Bet he’s not around for too much longer 😉

  • stu-n

    “Bet he’s not around for too much longer ;-)”
    He’s listed in the cast of the Chibnall two-parter, though not in the one after that. Fair bet he’ll be in the finale episodes.

  • SK

    Fair enough, ‘Rory speaks to me’ does suggest that. That’s what I get for skimming.
    ‘The Avengers’ got around it by having two characters who were very good at avenging, but not experts in other fields — or at least, not both experts in the same field. So if there was any specialist knowledge that had to be explained, it had to be explained to both of them. See, the problem isn’t when one of them knows something and the other doesn’t — that’s easy — it’s when they both know something and the audience doesn’t (or can’t be assumed to — unless they adopt the plan to enforce a minimum intelligence test on viewers).
    The Doctor and Liz, see, both shared a rather high-level understanding of physics, at least, so if there was a scientific concept (real or made-up but not alien-level-made-up) that had to be got over to the audience that they would both understand, either Liz would have to act terribly out of character and the Doctor explain to her something that she really should already know, or you had to have Liz explain it to the Brig (that happened, didn’t it?) — which is fine if you have a third character hanging around all the time but not really otherwise.
    These days it wouldn’t be such a problem, ’cause ‘science’ rarely enters into it and mainly when the companion asks ‘what’s going on Doctor?’ it’s to get him to explain about some made-up alien species, so you could put a physicist in the TARDIS these days (hm, there’s an idea…)
    Anyway. Rory. Comic relief, gone soon.

  • alinome

    I agree with Steerforth…. MS’s Doctor is very patchily drawn. His portrayal (which I find irritating) obviously nods towards Patrick Troughton, with the almost flat delivery of many lines.
    However, in ‘The Vampires…’ he at last showed a little more convincing emotion in his portrayal (other than ‘angry’.)
    Is this a step in the right direction? I think so, as in many of his past guises The Doctor has had a very mercurial character, with highs and lows of emotion.

  • [I bow to your (much greater) wisdom, Rob] just a question, vampire diaries tv is came from an origina book?

  • It’s based on a series of books. But none of them involved Doctor Who

  • Mark Carroll

    “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” — hmmm, interesting thought. I hadn’t dared hope that this might actually be all better-thought-out than I tend to fear.

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