By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 25, 2010 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 25, 2010 |
“Blimey. Fish from space have never been so…buxom.”
Recently I spotted a large billboard advertising Doctor Who on a major thoroughfare. It was a striking sight; when I watched the show as a kid, I never would have guessed that Doctor Who would one day achieve a level of mainstream recognition in the U.S. such that it would have a billboard like this. This morning I drove past the spot again to take a photo of it; it was already gone. It seems fitting that I had this sighting when the next episode to watch was “The Vampires Of Venice,” given the current populist craze for vampires.
Back in 1977 there was another populist craze on television that would last ten years and 249 episodes. That’s not as venerable as our good Time Lord, but The Love Boat was at least reliable enough to find echoes of its recurring plot in “The Vampires Of Venice.” Even though I watched at least a few episodes of The Love Boat back in the day for whatever reason, I will let you know up front that this episode of Doctor Who was the weakest for me thus far in this new season.
It’s Venice in 1580, and a boat-builder named Guido with limited prospects brings his daughter Isabella to noblewoman Rosanna Calvierri and her son Francesco in the hopes that they will accept her into their school. Rosanna agrees under the condition that they take her under their auspices immediately. The boat-builder is taken aback that he must say farewell immediately, but he wishes his daughter well and leaves the court. Isabella screams when Francesco, after expressing how much he likes Isabella, reveals vampiric fangs.
In London in the present day, Rory is in the midst of his bachelor party, as he leaves a message for Amy letting her know how much he loves her. Rory hangs up and is surprised when the Doctor pops out of the giant bachelor cake that should contain the stripper. The Doctor addresses Rory before his fellow partiers, letting him know that his fiancée had tried to kiss him and that he’s lucky that she’s a good kisser. There’s an awkward silence as the Doctor realizes his lacking social tact.
Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor explains to Amy and Rory that the fantastic journeys on the TARDIS often result in one’s losing perspective when the experience is compared to normal life. He offers to take Rory and Amy anywhere and anytime as a wedding present. Amy is rendered uncomfortable by this odd situation, while Rory hides whatever feelings of amazement about the TARDIS that he might have. He’s been reading up on the latest scientific theories since the appearance of Prisoner Zero.
In response to Rory’s blasé attitude, the Doctor feeds the burgeoning rivalry with Rory when he deadpans: “I like the bit when someone says it’s ‘bigger on the inside.’ I always look forward to that.”
They settle on Venice, and the Doctor briefs them on the wonders of the city and its history as they stroll through the streets. His stream of consciousness reminds the Doctor that he should avoid Casanova, who is still a few decades away, as the Doctor owes him a chicken from an old wager.
A customs inspector who is maintaining quarantine for fear of the plague stops the group, but the Doctor fools him with psychic paper and quizzes him on this phantom threat of the plague from which Rosanna Calvierri keeps the people safe.
A group of shrouded women with parasols pass through the streets, and Guido accosts them. He finds his daughter Isabella among them, but another of the women reveals her vampiric fangs. Guido falls back, the women are ushered away, and Francesco tells Guido that his daughter is gone. The Doctor, Rory, and Amy observe this from afar.
The Doctor catches up with Guido and interrogates him about the nature of the Calvierri school. Guido tells him that something evil and magical happens inside the school; his own daughter no longer recognizes him.
In Rosanna’s keep where she is “hydrating,” Francesco warns her of Guido’s interference. He tells her that they have converted enough women and that it is time to introduce them to his brothers. Rosanna wants to wait longer for their plan to develop.
Rory asks Amy what she and the Doctor have been doing and realizes that she has not thought of him during her adventures. She asks him not to fight with her and to enjoy the setting. Nearby Francesco attacks a woman, biting her on the neck. Rory and Amy rush to the scene in time to see Francesco remove his fangs and leave the premises. Rory inspects the victim, while Amy rushes after Francesco, who seems to have disappeared into the waters of the canal.
Guido creates a diversion while the Doctor sneaks into Rosanna’s keep. In the lower levels, the Doctor finds a mirror and straightens his bowtie. He is surprised by five of Rosanna’s mysterious nightgown-clad students, who do not appear in the mirror. “Who are you?” they ask in creepy unison. The Doctor offers a picture of his first incarnation as identification and comments on the size of his own (William Hartnell’s) nose. The women bare their fangs and slowly advance; the Doctor rapidly retreats the building.
The Doctor and Amy share excitement over their discovery of vampires, and Rory runs up to them a bit late with the same excitement but uncomfortably on the outside of the rapport that the Doctor and Amy have built. Back at Guido’s home, they hatch a plan for Amy to infiltrate the keep by posing as an applicant for the school. The Doctor is reluctant at first, and Rory is completely resistant. They reject a plan for the Doctor to pose as her fiancé, because the students already saw him. Amy proposes that Rory escort her as her brother, which of course raises Rory’s hackles. His annoyance is not assuaged by Guido’s statement that he thought the Doctor was in fact her fiancé.
In Rosanna’s court, Rory makes the case for Amy’s acceptance into the school. He claims he is a poor gondola driver and that they were orphaned. He is supported by the use of psychic paper references from the king of Sweden. Francesco likes Amy, and Rosanna accepts her into the fold. As Rory is escorted out of the room, he sees Francesco bare his fangs.
Amy enters the quarters of the fellow students and attempts to speak to Isabella, who seems more aware and receptive to conversation than the other students. Isabella tells her that “they” come at night, gather round her bed, and take her to a chamber below the keep where she is strapped down. When she returns from this process, she finds her skin more vulnerable to sunlight.
Rory and the Doctor sneak into the keep through the sewer to attempt to rescue Amy, and they bicker over the Doctor’s kiss with her. Meanwhile, Amy is taken into the green-lit dungeon, where the other students wait and Rosanna reveals that the psychic paper did not fool her. Francesco straps her into the chair that Isabella mentioned, and Rosanna bites her neck, after interrogation about the source of the psychic paper fails.
Above, the Doctor and Rory find the remains of a corpse that has been drained of all moisture. Rory is angry with the Doctor; he claims that the Doctor inspires people to take dangerous risks on his behalf for the sake of impressing him. The students ambush Rory and the Doctor, and the Doctor uses a portable ultraviolet sunlight lantern to keep them at bay.
Rosanna tells Amy that the process consists of drinking her until she is dry and replacing her fluids with their blood. If Amy survives the process she will lose her humanity and mate with the males of their species waiting in the canal. Amy kicks Rosanna, whose cloaking device on her waist is damaged briefly revealing her true nature. She is not a vampire; she is a sort of multi-limbed walking fish. Amy flees and meets the Doctor and Rory. They manage to escape, and the students are held at bay by the sunlight outside.
Rosanna punishes Isabella for betraying them in helping the Doctor, Amy, and Rory escape by feeding her to the males in the canal. Rosanna leans over the water and reassures the males of her species that it will not be long before their mating impulses are satiated. Francesco warns her to be careful of her human disguise, lest the males think that they are being fed twice.
Rosanna returns to her throne room to find the Doctor waiting for her. They size each other up, trading an answer for an answer in a respectful verbal duel. The Doctor learns that the subconscious brain alerts potential victims of the danger of her species’ teeth and partially overrides the perception filter that they use as disguises accordingly. The Doctor tells her that he is from Gallifrey. She tells him that they are on Earth because they had to escape the silence and the cracks in the universe. They saw other worlds and the end of all things. Her planet Saturnyne was destroyed. She wants to form an alliance with the Doctor, but he refuses because she could not even remember Isabella’s name, whom she admitted to having executed.
The Doctor leaves, and Rosanna sends the students after him and his companions. Back at Guido’s house, the Doctor ascertains Rosanna’s plan to transform women into her species and to sink Venice. Only the males survived the journey, and they need the converted women to repopulate. The fish-women break through the window, and the Doctor once again holds them at bay with the ultraviolet light, while revealing their true forms with the sonic screwdriver. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory escape the building, and Guido detonates himself and the transformed women with a stash of gunpowder.
Rosanna activates a weather machine device that begins the process of sinking Venice. The Doctor sternly yells at Amy and Rory to return to the TARDIS to keep them safe, and Rory thanks the Doctor for the consideration. In the throne room again, Rosanna confronts the Doctor as he attempts to break her machine. The Doctor tells her that the new female additions to her race have been killed. Distraught, Rosanna leaves and bitterly tells the Doctor to try to save the city.
Outside, Francesco attacks Rory and Amy. Rory insults the beauty of Francesco’s mother to goad him into a duel. In his fish form Francesco is on the verge of killing Rory, but Amy destroys Francesco using reflected sunlight from the mirror in her compact. She kisses Rory after the excitement of the confrontation, and they run to help the Doctor. The Doctor scolds them for ignoring his order and then asks them to help destroy the machine in Rosanna’s throne. While they attempt to break it, he climbs the keep’s tower, where the source of the machine’s power is situated to manipulate the clouds above as a storm rages and earthquakes tremble. The Doctor halts its gears with the push of a button, and sunlight returns.
Back at the edge of the canal, Rosanna accepts defeat and is on the brink of throwing herself into the water - still in her human disguise - to be eaten by her brethren. The Doctor tries to convince her not to do it, but Rosanna challenges his conscience for destroying her race and throws herself into the water.
As the Doctor, Rory, and Amy return to the TARDIS, Rory begrudgingly tells Amy to continue her adventures with the Doctor without him. Amy instead invites him to accompany them for a bit, and the Doctor agrees. Amy tells “her boys” that she’ll put the kettle on in the TARDIS, and as the Doctor and Rory enter behind her, they notice a foreboding silence that has suddenly descended upon Venice, echoing Rosanna’s earlier warning about the contents of some of the cracks in time and space that have been pursuing the Doctor and Amy.
My primary initial issue with this episode was the immediate tense dynamic between Rory, the Doctor, and Amy. While it’s a believable situation, the development felt somewhat rushed in the midst of this adventure. Did anyone else feel similarly?
On a second viewing, I was more familiar with the story, and it did not bother me as much. Nevertheless, the conflict with the Saturnynes and the narrative beats felt a stock by Doctor Who standards.
Outside of the mention of the cracks and the accompanying silence, the mythology of this season was not advanced to a great degree, particularly when juxtaposed with the events of the Weeping Angels two-parter. The Doctor’s relationship with Amy was advanced, though, as Amy now has a proper outlet for any snogging impulses inspired by the dangers they encounter. Her relationship with Rory seems superficial and unexamined at this point, but perhaps further adventures will reveal more about them.
C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He’s not the most hardcore Whovian, but he’s a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker’s “The Creature From The Pit.” At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.
He might fake a row with his girlfriend if it meant the opportunity for a reconciliatory trip on the TARDIS.