The conclusion of last week's "Flesh and Stone" episode saw companion Amy Pond getting rather amorous with the universe's most popular time traveler, which may have been a dream come true for most hot-blooded heterosexual males (and some ladies), but this is the Doctor we're talking about. He does practically everything EXCEPT romance, and it isn't long before he plays cupid for his most recent companion and her fiancé, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). After hilariously busting up - and through - Rory's bachelor party, he suggests the two take a romantic vacation in quite possibly the most romantic spot in history - Venice, Italy.
Only one problem, as this particular version of the city of love is infested with a problem, of the blood-sucking variety. Beautiful women with big bosoms - and even bigger fangs - in 16th century Venice? Sounds like fun, although be careful, as there be spoilers ahead for the uninitiated. Keep reading to see the rest of "The Vampires of Venice" micro-review!
Under the completely plausible guise of helping protect the city from an approaching re-emergence of the plague, the head mistress Rosanna (Helen McCrory) has convinced the city's parents to give their most promising daughters to her emerging House of Calvierri school, which seems to have been taking on an unusual number of female students lately. But like the famous Chocolate Factory, those who step inside this less-than-scholarly program never seen to come out, and some parents have been getting more than a little curious. Also strange is the appearance of dead bodies that appear to have been drained to the last drop, not just of their blood but every fluid in their entire body. Could the House of Calvierri and their pasty-white group of femme fatales with unusually larger overbites have anything to do with this?
Let's see, these blood-suckers have giant fangs, an aversion to sunlight, and can't be seen in mirrors. Sure sounds like your classic vampire to me, but that answer would be too simple for a Doctor Who episode. Much like the second series episode "Tooth and Claw", it turns out that our fanged-friends are of extra-terrestrial origin, and are indeed giant fish that have become refuges after the destruction of their homeworld of Saturnyne, caused by the enlarging crack we've seen in past episodes. It seems only the males of their species survived the journey to earth, and Rosanna has been busy creating suitable replacements.
This shouldn't come as any surprise for the observant fan, as even the name House of Calvierri itself is a play off caviar, and the Doctor seems to have great fun playing off the idea of giant alien fish. When the idea of a union between the last Time Lord and Saturnyne, he quips "I'm a Time Lord, you're a giant fish...think of the children." Funny stuff, and the whole episode is packed with others like it. Matt Smith continues to be great, and the return of Arthur Darvill as Amy's befuddled fiancé is a nice addition to the cast. He's more or less the Mickey of this series, so take that for what it is.
While the episode may feature lots of the Doctor and Rory, this is all Amy Pond's show, and I loved how Karen Gillam makes the very most of it. She's been an ace companion from the very start, and it's always a joy to see how active she becomes in the Doctor's adventures. The scene where she and the Doctor breathlessly exclaim how they just ran into vampires is exactly what makes this show so much fun, as they seem to relish the very idea of the adventure itself, knowing full well that stranger and even more outrageous things are waiting for them around the corner. Most people would run after witnessing a vampire taking a little nibble on a peasant girl's neck, but not our Amy Pond; she gives chase and won't let anything - or anyone - get in her way. I love her.
This wouldn't be a proper Who episode without laying on the melodrama, and "The Vampires of Venice" lays it on like warm butter on an English muffin. While most series would play the fanged Saturnyne as indiscriminate monsters, their plight is somewhat sympathetic to the Doctor, and his somewhat intimate interactions with Rosanna are understandable. Their race is dying, and a submerged city of Venice could help save an entire species that have lost their homeworld through no fault of their own. Surely the last surviving Gallifreyan could understand that?
16th century Venice looks great when recreated for the Who Universe on the small screen, and I always enjoy these historical ‘budget' episodes, as the focus is less on creating spectacular effects and more on the adventure itself. That's a good thing, too, as the few special-effects on display here are pretty bad, and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. Actually seeing the space fish in the flesh, er, gills does nothing to make them scarier or more menacing, as the moment they lose their human form they just become second-rate CG. The weather effects are also particularly lazy, and the effects team probably could have gotten away with a few sprinklers and it would have looked even better.
If there's any real complaint I have about this episode (apart from the shoddy effects) it's that I couldn't help but feel I've seen this exact same plot before. Like most lazy reporters I headed to the trusty Wiki site and found out why; it was written by scribe Toby Whithouse, who also wrote the series two episode "School Reunion", which practically mirrored the plot here. Both featured a race of vampire-like aliens who, while cloaked under ‘perception filters' established a home-base where they assimilate children to use in their Master Plan. I'm well aware of this series tendency to use (and reuse) similar plot devices and other incidentals to help button things up, but having the same writer draft practically the same exact story smacks of laziness, or a lack of creativity in general.
"The Vampires of Venice" is a return to a more traditional Who-style of storytelling, and one that the series has always done exceptionally well. Historical episodes are almost always a welcome breather from the straight canonical ones that can require multiple viewings to catch everything. I do wish they would have played more with the idea of the existence of vampires themselves, or perhaps alluded the Saturnyne were in fact the original inspiration for the legend.
All in all, "The Vampires of Venice" was a nice return to the relative normality of a standard Doctor Who episode, especially as we're still fresh from the anticipated "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" two-parter. The official BBC website is a little light on the extras this week, with another addition to their fun (and excruciatingly difficult, at least to me) jigsaw puzzles featuring a still-shot from the episode. Next week's "Amy's Choice" looks to be a real thinker, as playing with the idea of subconscious realities is always a great deal of fun. Check out this and more at the official website right HERE!
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