DOCTOR WHO: THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE
Night falls... I fall... And where were you? And where were you?
Warm skin... wolf grin... and where were you?
High tide... inside the air is dew... and where were you?
While I... I died and where were you?
I crawled out of the world And you said I shouldn't stay.
I fell into the moon. Can I make it right? Can I spend the night?
Vampires! In Venice! Don't expect much more than that, ladies and gents.
I'm not saying that this story is creatively barren or anything like that. It's thoroughly enjoyable, perhaps even comforting in a way - and the British seemingly need all the comfort they can get when Sparacus' latest Ben Chatham election special seemingly destroyed parliamentry democracy forever. This is comfort food Doctor Who, full of stuff that evokes nostalgia even though it's not a straightforward remake, and it's being done by someone who likes the cast to have slightly more personality than the toy action figures Gatiss instinctively goes for.
I mean, seriously. Doctor Who fights vampires in Venice. It boggles the mind they haven't done that one already - bar the obligatory canal scenes, how the hell has Doctor Who managed thirty-one seasons on television and NOT had the TARDIS arrive in a historical city full of operatic nutters, mad cults and wobbly sets? True, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors hung around the city, but they were on books and audio! People would be inclined to consider RTD's Casanova as a Doctor Who spin off without the Cockney lethario time traveller central character, if only for the setting with lots of backstreets, corridors, palatial ballrooms... hell, you could make Venice the new UNIT-era-style base camp for all the potential stories to be told!
And VAMPIRES! The Doctor should be fighting vampires all the time! Not analogies like Cybermen, or just thing-what-happen-to-drink-blood like Plasamavores, but proper vampires! Fear-the-sun-no-garlic-please-bite-your-throat bastards of the undead! It's taken over forty years - FORTY LONG YEARS - for a scene where the Doctor notices his emo enemies have no reflections, for a plot point of a vamp lusting after the companion, for neck injuries and puncture wounds! Proper vampires! I mean, Curse of Fenric and State of Decay came close but their vampires were toxic-plague-zombies and extra-dimensional giant bat mutants respectively!
The gut instinct when watching The Vampires of Venice is to compare it to this non-existent story it's ripping off... Um... Masque of Mandragora? Nope, like Rememberance of the Daleks, it gives you a story you've not had before yet giving the feeling you've watched it a hundred times previously (surely everyone remembers UNIT fighting warring Daleks in swinging 60s London? Hang on...)
So we've got an exclusive school where the teachers are monsters and the students turn evil, a father desperate to save his daughter and driven to near suicide, self-sacrifice, explosions, a dying race rebuilding itself using Earth's population, psychic paper, story arcs... It's distilled from every source. Sure, I concede people might want more hardcore originality rather than a story that makes me think "hmm, one day, there's going to be The Eleventh Doctor Handbook and they're going to need a very typical story to do in the ScriptoScreen section, this could be it!" like The Long Game or 42. This is definitely the first story of the season without a "Tennant's gone, get used to it" vibe (ironic as his Casanova gets namechecked, and they'd probably have brought him back if DT wasn't too busy), this is a story that has left the world of RTD behind - give or take psychic paper.
Even Sparacus declares it "average NuWho fare"... before giving it 5/5. Talk about dumbing down!
The story gets off to a surreal start as the Doctor raises the moral standards of the show by preventing us seeing Lucie Miller in a bikini jumping out of a wedding cake, and then sternly reminds the audience that Amy's raw lust is not suitable for viewers of a repressed nature. Before sending the plot to Venice where the monsters are all teenage girls in dresses cut so low even the Doctor is compelled to comment on how buxom the undead are as they try to scratch his face off. Before getting Amy into a similar outfit and letting the other vampire girls suck her neck.
You'd never suspect a straight bloke was in charge now, eh?
Like his previous works School Reunion and Greeks Bearing Gifts, Toby Whithouse is more interested in the relationships of characters rather than the mechanics of monsters (though have no fear that the Vampires are wasted like the Krillitanes were, since Moff's "TRAUMATIZE ALL CHILDREN!" agenda ensures they get a good slice of screen time). So, the Doctor is determined to fix Rory's and Amy's relationship - with much entertaining discussion on what caused Amy to try to jump the Time Lord's bones. Was it a simple "I'm not dead let's have sex" moment? Does she find the Eleventh Doctor more attractive than Rory? Is Amy just a loony? The Doctor is of the opinion that Amy has been slightly desensitized by seeing the universe, and thus decides to widen Rory's horizons so he and his beloved are on the same playing field. Oh, and Rory's VERY upset Amy kissed the Doctor, rather odd for a girl who used to do that as a job description. So, definitely "kissogram" is a euphemism to keep Annette Crosbie happy.
And so Rory becomes the new companion, the Ben to Amy's Polly and accompanying an insane anarchist in a bow-tie. Like Ben, he's the Only Sane Man as his hot and very tall girl is more on wavelength with a madman who likes winding him up. But there's some Mickey Smith in there too - not only does the Doctor initially consider him unworthy of Amy's hand in marriage, Rory's been reading up on events since he last met the Doctor. He's also rubbish at a fight, not quite as brave as cliches demand, and somehow everyone assumes his lady is banging the Doctor. Nevertheless, Rory works as he's clearly capable in dealing with time travel and monsters, and able to put the Doctor in his place. It's an interesting dynamic with both the Doctor and Rory trying to steer Amy's wanton affections onto the man she's marrying in 530 years time... not that the Doctor's told anyone the universe ends on their wedding day... he's getting as secretive as Amy...
Anyway, the Doctor takes Amy and Rory on a date to the Venetian renaissance so they can come to terms with how TARDIS travel "blots out everything ordinary", and soon becomes interested in the fact the city is quarantined from a non-existent plague and vampires are prowling the alleys and preying on flower-sellers (but not chickens obviously). The vampires have access to perception filters, so that's presumably why none of the natives notice the police box filling up half the street when it materializes right in front of them... or maybe the TARDIS's own perception filter is cranked up to eleven... or maybe Venetians are just stoned.
Despite his initial belief the Doctor needed companions, this new bloke is relearning the lesson they might be more trouble than they're worth - and as Rory points out, he inspires people to such a degree that they will take suicidal risks so as not to let him down. "This is how it happens," the Doctor scowls when Amy comes up with a predictable plan to infiltrate the teenage lesbian vampire alliance. "This is how they go!" By the end, the Doctor's sending the love birds back to the TARDIS and solving problems on his own.
One could complain that the alien's scheme is some kind of unintentional anti-asylum seeker parable, with the titular vampires fleeing the cracks in time and needing fertile young Italian schoolgirls to propogate their species. Mind you, both sides get their chance to argue and while the Doctor instinctively grimaces ("think of the children!"), he only opposes it when the vampires decide to save their species at the needless cost of humanity, and has even has the villains admit they were wrong. And considering how anti-vampire the Doctor is on sheer principle, this is very much a story of compromise and tolerance.
And vampires. IN VENICE!
Hah! I love this show.
Next Time: Amy's Choice
"If you die in the dream, you wake up in reality. Ask me what happens if you die in reality."
"...you die, stupid. It's why it's called 'reality'!"
The Doctor and companions are left baffled as to what's real and what's not as the freezing TARDIS is threatened with destruction. Which happy ending are they going to choose? ...hang on. Didn't I write this one with the Tenth Doctor and Donna?