Doctor Who: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony gives the Lone Cyberman what he wants. WD-40!

Cards on table time: I wasn’t expecting much of The Haunting Of Villa Diodati. Yes, there was the potential for spooky stuff among a bunch of Romantic poets and writers. Yes, of course, there was the reason the team were going there in the first place – Frankenstein, and the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley on screen, to go along with, and possibly entirely overwrite, the Big Finish stories where she meets the Eighth Doctor, goes travelling, and over the course of three stories experiences the things that later go into the Frankenstein mythos. And yes, naturally, as we knew there were new Cybermen coming, there was the fluttering potential of the Frankenstein-Cyberman connection rearing its creaky old steel-plated head.

But that’s the thing – we knew just enough about what might possibly be in this story for it to be a bit shrugworthy.

If I’m honest, things didn’t start off too well – poetical spooky quotations read out aloud, like ghost stories round a campfire, tend instinctively towards the tedious, rather than the genuinely scary, and the Team Tardis/Team Romantic joint scream into the title sequence added little but a sense of inevitability to the occasion.

So five minutes in, The Haunting Of Villa Diodati was shaping up to be the potential let-down I expected it to be.


Then the creepy elements started getting shovelled onto the screen – and I do mean shovelled. There was barely a jump-scare trick left undeployed – flashes of ghost-people, shadows to which no body attaches, the free-range skeletal hand of some poor beggar, it all started coming together as Team Tardis and Team Romantic began awkwardly to mingle. The gossip was practically painful, the dancing not much better, but the Doctor in a silly hat? We’ll take that any day of the week. The skeletal hand grabbing Ryan by the throat and squeezing was a sense memory going right back to Rose, and the Ninth Doctor being strangled by the Auton-Arm of Grippy Death, as well as bringing in lots of horror schtick – skeletal hands are classic avatars of the unquiet dead, and of course the idea of supposedly dead flesh being animate is a key to the Frankenstein legend.

The plot, to be fair to it, struggles to keep up with the necessity of the creepy visuals – moving from room to room and not getting anywhere? Hell yes. People walking through walls when asleep? More of that, please. Wait, hang on, why is this happening, again? Something to do with the perennially missing Percy Bysshe Shelley? Something to do with perception filters? Something to do with hiding Shelley from detection by a coming avenger?

It’s all a bit fluttery and uncertain – though to some extent that uncertainty adds to the creepiness of the Rubik house and the ghostly elements and the free-range scuttling bones.

But then – well, then the avenger turns up, and The Haunting Of Villa Diodati becomes so much more than it promised to be. Because when the Cyberman you almost expect turns up, it’s so unlike the standard Cyberman you expect. Rusted? Sure. But better than that, it has the dismantled, demolished faceplate, allowing the human face to show through. But to match the shattered, desperate aesthetic, The Haunting Of Villa Diodati brings a whole new kind of Cyberman to the party, and it’s so appallingly well played by Patrick O’Kane, keying fully into the Frankenstein theme in terms of the man-becoming-automaton angle, but doing it in so fully Doctor Who a way as to take the breath of its audience away. The raging Cyberman, determined, agile, furious and demanding is not, by the very nature of what Cybermen are, a thing that can be seen or delivered too often, but here, it absolutely works, giving us the nature of humanity corrupted in itself, and then set on a Cyber-adapted destiny. The blood-curdling dedication of this particular Cyberman, matched to its snarling superiority, channels Frankenstein straight into the Doctor Who setting, and provides another of those highlights that have been studded through Series 12, alongside the Master reveal and the Doctor reveal. The Cyberman also pushes this Doctor into a level of seriousness that stands her right next to all her more recent incarnations, while also snapping back at Team Tardis’ recent criticism of her for being aloof and self-revolving – the team structure speech is a burning indictment of the convenience of these friends she picked up by the expedient of literally falling into their lives. They seem to have thought they were all equals, or if not equals, then not far from it, with the proviso that the Doctor had special knowledge that helps deal with the space-time stuff. The team structure speech shows exactly how she sees it – for all they’re friends, there are times, there are moments of crisis in which all that falls away, and the decision of who to save, who to kill, whose screams will echo through her soul is hers and hers alone. And the decision she makes here is indicative of a style of problem-solving that’s been 100% Thirteenth Doctor since the very beginning – the makeshift, make-it-up-on-the-spur-of-the-moment planning, the one-shot wonder with no back-up. She decides to defer the problem of the ‘inevitable’ Cybermen for another day, to save the here and now of the 19th century from one raging Cyberman, and move on down the line, having done the thing against which she was specifically warned, to deal with the consequences of her actions, whatever they might be. Solve today’s problem, answer today’s conundrum, and then go on to deal with the consequences of the thing you did today.

The Haunting Of Villa Diodati is a rich stew, but it’s absolutely a story of two halves – there’s enough creepy horror-movie technique in the first half to make for a reasonable standalone ‘ghosts and creepiness in the villa of the Romantics’ story (Oh and while we have your attention, he might have been a duel-addicted git, but you should absolutely read John Polidori’s The Vampyre as well as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), but it shoots up several notches on the scales of pace, whoa, what-the-hell and memorable Doctor Who once Ashad the Lone Cybermen turns up and starts stomping round the place, snapping necks, smashing crockery and demanding the Cyberium be given to him. What you’d have without Ashad is a solid, creepy, middling, mid-season episode of Doctor Who with an awkward pre-credits sequence. What you have with him in it is a story which is driven by creepy moments which then goes totally mad halfway through, and becomes a kind of angry nineteenth century Terminator movie, but with the heft of a New Who morality play on decisions, consequences, friendship and responsibility. The punch and power and relentless action – but also the questions, the determination, and the snarling rage behind this particular, hurting Cyberman turns The Haunting Of Villa Diodati from a creepy celebrity historical with a messed-up house and some fun with hats into a tour de force that stands along with other Series 12 highlights like Spyfall and Fugitive of the Judoon, head, shoulders and plumed helmet above the more standard episodes of the series. It repays rewatch after rewatch and for all the actual plot is somewhat confused, none of it matters that much once the Lone Cyberman turns up and blows the doors absolutely off both the villa, the story and the brains of the viewer.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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