Doctor Who series 5 episode 6: Vampires Of Venice review

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Review Simon Brew 8 May 2010 - 17:55

Matt Smith takes Doctor Who to Venice, where all isn't quite what it seems. Here's our spoiler-filled review of Vampires Of Venice...

PLEASE NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. OUR SPOILER-FREE REVIEW IS HERE.

Given that the back end of Flesh And Stone had a bit of an end of series feel about it, it’s fair to say that Vampires Of Venice had a bit of a job on its hands.

A standalone episode following such an enthralling two-parter? We’re not sure that writer Toby Whithouse fully knew the score when he took the job on. But as it turns out, it mattered not, for Vampires Of Venice delivered two things. Firstly, it was a really enjoyable standalone episode. And secondly, it built on and developed some of the strands that continue to underpin the series.

The first of these was the relationship between Amy Pond and Rory. Much has been made of Amy Pond appearing to be another assistant fancying the Doctor since the end of last week’s episode, but we still suspect that there’s more to the character than that. Here, we’re quickly back in her house at the point where Flesh And Stone left off, as Rory – Amy’s husband to be – gets to step into the limelight for the first time since episode one.

And let’s say this from the off: there’s something about Rory. He’s far more intelligent than the usual assistant hangers-on characters that we’ve been used to over the past couple of years (the mighty Cribbins aside, of course). He wraps his head around things more quickly than most. And while he’s a bit of a coward, we wonder if there’s a bit more going on with his character too.

We actually meet him at his stag night here, which gives the Doctor the chance to make a terrific entrance, before the comedy dissipates and a bit of tension comes into the scene. That’s because the Doctor – whose social skills continue to need evolving, clearly – confesses to kissing Amy, and soon hatches a plan to get the two of them back together spending time.

Thus, his wedding gift to them proves to be a trip to 1580 Venice. In hindsight, they should have just taken IKEA vouchers instead.

Because Venice in 1580, as you might have guessed, is not a safe place to be. The core reason for that is the school of Rosanna Calvierri, a place where young girls go (and their parents are delighted to send them), and seemingly get turned into vampires (was it just us who thought they looked a little Curse Of Fenric-ish?). Naturally enough, the path of the episode doesn’t take long to lead the Doctor, Rory and Amy in that direction, and trouble soon begins.

The main story developed perfectly well here, and is well contained within the 45 minute running time. We’ve been well schooled in looking beneath the surface in recent Doctor Who, and as it turns out, that’s precisely where the problem facing the Doctor lies here. Said problem is basically in the unseen shape of 10,000 men living in the waters of Venice, looking to have women fed to them.

There’s also the true identity of Calvierri to contend with, which turns out to be a nice piece of special effects work, too, when she turns into arguably the most convincing new monster of this series. It’s good to see that she’s not a roaring villain, either, rather a logical, rounded person who wants to save her race. Granted, we’ve seen people like that before in Doctor Who, but we’d far rather have someone with a bit of genuine motivation, as opposed to another nonsensical foe.

Not everything about the main story gelled perfectly. We felt that the character of Calvierri’s son felt a little undercooked, and the resolution was arguably a little low key. But it was a really good, solid individual story anyway.

What lifted it above just that though was the details. Because Toby Whithouse’s script had lots of neat touches to it. We loved the nods to old Doctor Who, for instance. Take Amy’s throwaway line that “I’ve had it now with running down corridors”, or the geekbump-inducing picture of William Hartnell on the Doctor's library card. Even a little touch such as the Doctor declaring “I knew you were going to say that” when noises were heard from upstairs, and it turned out there weren’t any neighbours, was fun. They’re all welcome winks at the audience, and much appreciated too.

On top of that, there was broader story work here. Rory, for instance, makes the point to the Doctor that “you make people want to impress you”, and you almost see the weight added to Matt Smith’s shoulders straight away.

Furthermore, at the end of the episode, Calvierri basically puts the end of another race on his conscience. Where’s all this going, we wonder? Matt Smith’s Doctor is erratic at the best of times, but putting him under such long-term mental pressure surely has to have a consequence? Should we read much into Calvierri knowing of Gallifrey and psychic paper too?

And then there’s the broader series arc. We’ve gone beyond a crack in the wall now, as Calvierri is talking of the many that she’s seen herself. The growing theme continues to be the invasion of silence, which the Doctor gets to (not) hear for himself come the last scene of the episode (very effectively, we should add). Throw in too that we had another seemingly irrelevant chat about time being rewritten, and you can’t help but start dreaming up theories. Even standalone episodes in the middle of the series seem to be going somewhere this time round.

We should note too before we hit the final paragraphs that this was a really well shot and directed episode too, with quite a cinematic feel to it at times. The production values were terrific, too.

The episode ended, as quite a few have this series, by blending into the next, and the technique continues to work a treat. Even without it though, we enjoyed Vampires Of Venice a lot. It’s not the best episode of the series, but it was snappily written (with some terrific, crackling dialogue), really entertaining, and – even in the shadows of the weeping angels – it managed to keep the standard of the series going. It's been a really strong run thus far, and Vampires keeps that going (even if, ultimately, those expecting a full-on vampire festival didn't get their wish).

Next week’s episode looks really, really intriguing too, as Simon Nye makes his Doctor Who writing debut with Amy’s Choice. We’ll be back here this time next week, as usual, with our thoughts on that…

Our review of last week's episode, Flesh And Stone, is here...

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