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May 12, 2010

Doctor Who - Vampires of Venice

So far, Matt Smith has had a very good season as the Eleventh Doctor in the 47-year history of the Doctor Who program. Of course, four of the five episodes had been written by Stephen Moffat and the one that wasn't was very sub-par, so there hasn't been a good track record for non-Moffat Who.

That was until "Vampires of Venice," written by Toby Whithouse. Whithouse also wrote the excellent "School Reunion" episode for David Tennant's Doctor, the episode that brought back Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. Whithouse provides some great stuff in this episode, good dialogue and an interesting story showing us that it is possible to write for Smith without your last name being "Moffat."

After the finale of "Flesh and Stone," the Doctor decides he needs to take Amy and Rory on a "date," and decides on 1580 Venice. While it's supposed to be a romantic getaway, it never is with the Doctor. Venice is being "protected" by the House of Calvierri, headed by a matriarch that seems to have more than protecting the city as her agenda. What sinister secret is hidden in the canals of Venice? What is causing the bodies on the street that are turning up totally sucked dry of all fluids. And why can't the Calvierri girls be seen in mirrors? My, what wicked teeth you have!

Yes, vampires are kind of cliche nowadays, but Whithouse provides "vampires" with a great pseudo-scientific explanation, including explanations for all of the lore (not that he's making the case that *all* vampires are like this, but it gives him an excuse to use the "vampire" characteristics in this story). The explanation for who they really are is actually pretty good, in a "Doctor Who Science" kind of way (I won't spoil it for you).

Whithouse provides a sparkling script too. Some of the best lines I can't tell you because it spoils the secret of the vampires, but stuff like this was just great:

"Anywhere you want, any time you want. One condition it has to be amazing. The Moulin Rouge in 1890, the first Olympic Games. Think of it as a wedding present because, frankly, it's either this or tokens."

The acting was quite good too, though Rory (Arthur Darvill) has the potential to get *really* annoying *really* quickly. So far, so good, though. And he has a wonderful speech (that Darvill hits out of the park) about how being around the Doctor is dangerous for his companions because it makes them want to impress him. They put themselves into potentially deadly situations because they're with him and he inspires them to do so. It's quite well done, and a nice summation of why these seemingly normal humans who are the Doctor's companions become a lot braver than you would think they were.

Smith and Gillan are once again great as the Doctor and Amy. Helen McCrory as Rosanna, the matriarch of the Calvierri House, is simply wonderful. Majestic, witty, and yet she makes you feel for her a little bit when she explains what they are doing. She has a wonderful scene with Smith where they meet as equals (a scene where Smith shines, indicating that despite his youthful looks, he has the gravitas to play the Doctor) and discuss things. It's all beautifully done.

The scenery and production is also quite good. Shot in Croatia, they do a good job of making it seem like 1580 Venice. The CGI for the monsters doesn't look dodgy, for a change. The set pieces are good (I loved Francesco, a native Venetian, wearing Rory's "Stag Party" t-shirt because Rory needed his clothes for their plan to work).

The only thing that mars the episode slightly is the build-up that it was given in "Flesh and Stone" and how it doesn't deliver on that. The ending indicated that the Doctor had to get Amy "sorted" and made it seem like she was the most important thing in the universe. Perhaps what the Doctor meant was that Rory and Amy getting married was the most important thing, and that's why he has to get Rory and Amy back together? I don't know. Whatever the deal is, the episode seemed quite sedate for what "Flesh and Stone" promised.

But that's not Whithouse's fault. He gives us a great story, kind of low-key (if you can call sinking Venice "low-key") that gives the actors a chance to shine and to say wonderful stuff.

"Vampires of Venice" is another great story in Smith's tenure, and I'm really looking forward to what Moffat has in mind for the rest of the season.


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