Andrew East gets bitten.
The Vampires of Venice underwhelmed me a little on original transmission and this is the first time I have watched it since broadcast. Second time round I found a lot to enjoy – principally, Arthur Darvill as Rory.
Although I don’t go into the Amy-hate or Amy-love that bounces around the internet, I haven’t ever felt I’ve particularly connected with her as a character. Rory, on the other hand, is instantly brilliant on his first trip in the TARDIS. He is funny, honest and angry and Arthur Darvill plays everything superbly. The first scene between him and the Doctor at his stag do (who ever thought we’d see a stag do in Doctor Who!) is hilarious (and part of that credit is due to Matt Smith’s performance). But it is when Rory is lying to Rosanna to get Amy into her mysterious school that I completely fell in love (in a very manly bromance way, you understand) with him. Rory is us – or at least who we hope we are – the loveable geek going on adventures with the Doctor. He’s what Adric could have been! What is clever, though, is that the funny is balanced with his anger at the Doctor for putting Amy at risk. His confronting the Doctor about putting people at risk throws him into sharp contrast with Amy who is shrugging off the dangers surrounding her or, even worse, revelling in them. This aspect of his character was clear in the characterisation given to Rory in the comic strip, The Chains of Olympus and it is good to see that, as a character, Rory is being consistently written across the mediums.
Matt Smith gets to be great as the Doctor in what is a fairly traditional tale. His confrontation with Rosanna is the sort of quality Doctor/Villain stand off we don’t see all that often in the new series. The most obvious example is the Tenth Doctor/Mr Finch stand off in School Reunion (written by the same writer, Toby Whithouse) but that, for some reason, never had any dramatic impact for me (I think the problem is Anthony Head’s performance in that story, but that’s a comment for another review). Here, Smith and Helen McCrory are great. In fact, McCrory is good throughout, as is Alex Price as Francesco. Their vaguely incestuous relationship gives a nice unsavoury edge to their villainy.
Doctor Who has, of course, done Vampires before. State of Decay gave us a fairly traditional gothic approach (albeit with science fiction origins) and The Curse of Fenric gave us a less traditional version (albeit with a few Hammer Horror trappings – Phyllis and Jean’s transformation, for example). Big Finish gave us a very modern take on vampires in Project: Twilight. The less said about The Chase’s robot Dracula, the better. The Vampires of Venice, whilst not actually being about vampires (I love the Doctor’s line about how terrible must the ‘monsters’ be if they are happy for people to think they ARE vampires) a few ‘vampire’ tropes are played with.
The most obvious is similar to Phyllis and Jean in Fenric in that there are a group of pretty, virginal girls in flowing white dresses with fangs and a lust for blood. I have to admit to finding them a little unconvincing. The blonde one, in particular, just doesn’t seem ‘right’ somehow. I can’t really put my finger on it. They just seem a bit ‘modern’ I suppose. I do love the way they are directed though in the scene with the Doctor (which was one of the first scenes ever shown of Matt Smith in the role) where he presents the First Doctor’s library card, and the later scenes where they each emerge from a different archway to confront the Doctor and Rory, and where they crash through the second floor window.
Vampire lore tells us they are vulnerable to a variety of things including garlic, crosses, running water and sunlight. Different writers pick and choose different aspects depending on the needs of the story (witness the different versions of vampires in shows such as Being Human (also by Toby Whithouse), True Blood and films such as Twilight and the classic vampire flick, The Lost Boys). The Vampires of Venice goes for sunlight (although it only seems to affect the girls and not Rosanna or Francesco) and that’s about it. Rory’s futile attempt to ward Francesco off with a cross puts paid to that cliché and running water clearly isn’t a problem judging by the fact that the Saturnyne males are living in the canals of Venice.
Historically, The Vampires of Venice is more about the trappings of the period than any historical accuracy. The Doctor gives a brief history lesson at the beginning about Venice’s origins but that is about it. There are no famous historical figures or events. The main reason for using Venice as opposed to any other famous city seems to be the presence of lots of water being as the monsters are basically fish (a style of monster shied away from generally but carried off quite well here by the CGI) and because it makes the title alliterative! Trogir in Croatia makes a very convincing Venice (not that I’ve ever been there) and the costumes and set dressing is impressive. Less impressive are the extras – or should that be ‘supporting artists’. In the first scenes in particular when the TARDIS crew arrive in Venice, there are various ‘supporting artists’ walking across shot dressed in period costumes who well, look like ‘supporting artists’ walking across shot dressed in period costumes! There is no feeling that they are real people going about their daily business. They feel like set dressing and fail to convince.
Revisiting this episode now, after knowing the latter events of Series 6, all the references to the Silence (Silents?) take on an extra resonance, but I’m not sure the way they/it are/is referred to makes much sense in light of what is revealed about them in The Impossible Astronaut and its follow ups. But then I wasn’t thoroughly convinced by that whole arc anyway but, again, that’s maybe a thought for a different review.
The Vampires of Venice is a traditionally entertaining slice of Doctor Who. I know fans had issues with the literal ‘flicking the switch’ conclusion but I always find things like that in Doctor Who to be right tonally. Doctor Who is a show where, right back in Inside the Spaceship (yes, that’s what I call it, so tough) a faulty switch was the reason for the entire adventure. Without Rory this story would be nowhere near as fun, but he is in it, so it should be cherished.
A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the
worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed
with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon
is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of
the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the