10 and 1 Items About The Vampires of Venice

(Containing spoilers for Doctor Who 5x06 The Vampires of Venice)Item 1! What works in this episode is the comedy. Some have compared it to The Shakespeare Code, but I think it's a little more overt than that, somewhere between Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp. The script sparkles with great lines and inside jokes (the Doctor doesn't want to run into Casanova, which was Tennant's biggest role before Doctor Who, for example; it's also a wink at guest-star Helen McCrory who played Casanova's mother in the Heath Ledger version). Lots of little touches playfully make fun of the Doctor Who formula, like the customs officer looking aliens, the Doctor asking for the villains' plan, and Rory not commenting on the TARDIS interiror). There's some fun sitcom business with Amy and Rory as well (she makes him pose as her brother). Matt Smith also proves he has innate comic timing with some great deliveries that play on the awkwardness of his moments. He makes things funnier.

Item 2! What DOESN'T work is the action beats. After a great little comedy, the story has to be resolved, the vampires defeated, and the world saved. So it all falls apart in the last act with the required running through plot holes and flipping magic switches. How does Amy's little make-up mirror shine enough sunlight on an overcast day to blow up a vampire, when some of them have been outside on the same day? What's worse, is that the effects sort of fall down in that section, with the Doctor climbing up a tower in front of obvious bluescreen. In my experience, this is the kind of episode that's better on the second viewing because the viewer already knows the plot and just dives back into the dialog and performances.

Item 3! Fandom seems to be divided on the special effects in the episode/series, so it may be a matter of what kind of screen you were watching on. Perhaps there was too much to accomplish with the time and budget allowed. After all, the fishy vampires are pretty cool and 16th-century Venice is well realized (in large part thanks to the gorgeous Croatian locations). It's the final action scene that's bollocks, especially the roiling clouds (just awful) and the bluescreen work.
Effects have been kind of iffy all season, and I'm trying to explain why. It's still The Mill, so presumably the same people. Now either the show's crew has changed enough that they're not coordinating things well with The Mill (or producers aren't making the right choices when it comes to accommodating effects work), or The Mill is being asked to do them differently. When the RTD era started, I wasn't keen on the effects either because they were so damn cartoony (think of the rubbish bin eating Mickey or the Slitheen spaceship). I then thought to myself "it's Doctor Who, the effects have always been traditionally cheesy, why am I grumbling?". I think they want a more photorealistic look to the effects this time. Sometimes the tonal shift works, sometimes it doesn't.

Item 4! And speaking of shifts, a key line in the episode is Amy saying "I've got my spaceship. I've got my boys." And even the Doctor acknowledging that he and Rory ARE her boys. She is definitely in control of the social dynamic, makes the Doctor agree to send her into danger, adds Rory to the crew, etc. To Amy, Rory and the Doctor are cut from the same cloth. She's obviously attracted to awkward boys (bless her!), and though Rory is a more overt social outcast, the Doctor is too. Both are goofy and unlikely romantic prospects.

Item 5! Rory is not Mickey. He's a better character than that and consequently gets better treated. Part of that is probably that Arthur Darvill is a better actor than Noel Clark with better comic timing. I think we can avoid the tin dog syndrome here, and Amy does seem to love him, or at least WANT to love him.

Item 6! Despite a merchant trying to sell the Doctor a garlic necklace in the opening scenes, the vampires aren't vampires. Ah well. There was some question as to whether Moffat - as a fan of Classic Who - would bring back the vampires of the mythos. (According to State of Decay, the Great Vampires, survivors of the previous universe, waged a great war against the Time Lords and lost. Still, their children still haunt myriad worlds.) It's something extra-canonical Who delved into perhaps a bit too much, but it was never fully explored on the show. Perhaps better to leave it seeing as the world is already suffering from vampiremania (not that Twilight vampires are anything like actual vampires except in name). Thanks for not getting on that creaky bandwagon.

Item 7! Despite the laughs, this continues to be a darker Doctor. There's that edgy moment when he almost threatens Rory for not saying the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, before letting out a smile as if to say "only kidding" except it's not sincere, but I don't mean just that. He has flaws. He DOES let Amy talk him into throwing her to the vampires, he knows it's not cool, but he can't help himself - he's impressed with her and has to give her what she wants. He fails to save the Saturnynes at the end and lets an entire race die. Not by malice as some have said, but it still underscores his weaknesses. So when I say he's "dark", I mean he's "dangerous". To his enemies, but also to himself and his friends.

Item 8! Big props to Helen McCrory, who has an amazing presence as Rosanna in this. She's creepier than her CGI monster self! And yet, sympathetic too. And what a great costume. Lovely detail.

Item 9! Anyone else think the TARDIS' keyhole has a shape similar to the Crack?
Item 10! The Doctor pulls out his old library card!
76 Totter's Lane is on there, yeah, and the pseudonym J. Smith (earliest chronological use of the name, then, because I don't think Hartnell ever used it on screen). Fits in well with Doc11's fashion sense that he might have picked up a jacket that maybe Doc2 tried on after his regeneration, and some of Doc1's stuff stayed in the pocket.

Item 11! Were the Saturnynes designed to be Pescatons from that old '70s audio starring Tom Baker (and later novelized)? Probably not, though I wouldn't be that surprised considering that the Pescatons are one of those "unofficial" monsters fans tend to remember (at least in name) despite never appearing in a television story.

Bring on Amy's Choice!


James Ashelford said...

No, I don't think Hartnell used the Smith alias. I'm reasonably sure it started off in Wheel In Space (or one of the Troughton Cybermen stories, in any case).

Also, cheers, I hadn't noticed the lock and crack were similar shapes.

LiamKav said...

Regarding the special effects, I wonder if the move to HD has caused some issues. I know the final specials were HD as well, but I assume they'd have had a bigger budget than the TV series.

There's also been a few continuity issues this series (as in, shots not matching up from scene to scene). One of my friends went to the sets to interview them about the upcoming video games, and apparently a few of them are caused by Matt Smith's inability to do a scene the same way twice. He is a flailing mass of limbs!

snell said...

Re: special effects. I've read that the BBC has imposed budget cuts across the board, even on cash cow Doctor Who. Doubtless this turns up first in the special effects...


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