Friday, February 4, 2011

"The Vampires of Venice"

I would have to say that this is probably the weakest of this series. It's not a problem with the performances, which as usual are top notch, or the themes, but the plot is incredibly tired and not especially engaging. I've remarked before on how there's this constant 'aliens disguised as horror creatures living in the past and trying to take over the world to restore their race'. We had ghosts, we had werewolves, we had witches, we had giant molten rock men (okay I guess they're not that common) and now it's vampires. It's also the case in which, for obvious budgetary reasons, only a handful of the aliens are actually present and the rest are 'absent but waiting' so that they pose a threat for the future but can't actually interfere in present events. In this case it's Rosanna and Francesco Calvieri, who pose as humans on the surface while the rest of the Saturnynians hide in the water, only ever being involved to eat a couple of people. In addition, the plot gets basically no explanation. I mean yes, we're provided with reasonably effective explanations about how they can be mistaken for vampires, but how on earth does replacing people's fluids with their own turn them into their own kind? Wouldn't that just make these girls very sick and probably die? How are they vulnerable to sunlight? Amy makes some remark about how it's explained by them being fish but I don't see how. And even if it was true, how would it cause Francesco to spontaneously combust and burn to cinders within seconds when Amy shines some reflected light from her makeup mirror at him? It would have been nice to have had the makeup mirror seeded in the plot earlier, possibly with her unable to see the Vampires in it, and it's a wonder that she manages to hit a sunbeam with the weather becoming so overcast when Rosanna activates her flood machine. That's another thing - how does this flood machine thing work? And why is there a rope which conveniently allows the Doctor to climb to the roof? It's all very convenient and hand-wavey and unfortunately it doesn't exactly work in the episode's favour.
There is a very important aspect of this episode, though: Rory's now a companion! Now as I stated in my review for "The Eleventh Hour" I'm liable to go on about Rory a bit because I like him and I think he forms a more complete team with the Doctor and Amy. It's good to have a male companion actually invited to join the TARDIS crew; last time we had Mickey joining but Rose being all jealous, and Captain Jack having to be rescued. I think the New Series has a bit of a thing about how the Doctor's companion was 'always' a young woman back in the day but if you think about it that's really only true of a few Doctors. The First and Second Doctors always had both male and female companions with them, the Fitfth Doctor almost always did and while the Third Doctor's conventional companions where women he certainly was accompanied by the Brigadier and Benton a lot of the time and by Yates occasionally and personally I consider the Brigadier at the very least to definitely be a companion. Even the Fourth Doctor travelled with Harry and later Adric, so really it's only the Sixth and Seventh Doctors who travelled exclusively with female companions, and even that's a bit murky if you consider Sabalom Glitz. I think two companions is more or less the ideal size for the Doctor's team, to be honest.
Anyway, Rory's appearance harkens back to the days of yore and it's good that the Doctor's trying to sort Amy and Rory's relationship out rather than stealing the girl away from her boyfriend right in front of him like the Ninth Doctor did. It shows a more compassionate side to the Doctor and he's clearly not interested in interfering in people's relationships or belittling them; he just wants friends. That's why I'm glad that he was perfectly happy to keep Rory along at the conclusion. It reinforces his unique situation and regard for these people; he understands that you need to stay grounded even while adventuring. The scene where he bursts out of the cake at Rory's stag night is extremely funny and reinforces the awkwardness and lack of social graces of this Doctor, highlighting his alien nature, and at the same time Rory's befuddlement at the Doctor and his obvious submissiveness to Amy is complemented well by his immediately correct guess as to how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. Rory has his own kind of awkwardness, and is less facetious than the other two, so to an extent he fills out a 'Power Trio' with Amy as the Id, the Doctor as the Ego and Rory as the Superego in reasonably broad terms. I know that's a fairly pretentious thing to suggest but it's true and it works. All three of them have a good dynamic. The rappor between Arthur Darvill and Matt Smith is equally good as the Amy/Doctor onscreen chemistry while being completely different at the same time. Rory's claims about the Doctor making people want to impress him our powerfully acted and Rory works as being the more serious side of this team, while his incredulity, such as when he says of the fact that it's good news that the vampires are aliens "That's good news? What is wrong with you people?" present a different kind of attitude to this adventurous lifestyle. His fight with Francesca is well played and his reconciliation with Amy very effective; there is a depth to their interaction which contrasts the rather excitable dynamic Amy and the Doctor have. It's all linked, you see?
As for the Vampires, Francesco is hammy and kind of dull but Rosanna is rather menacing and the scenes between her and the Doctor show that in spite of his youthful appearance the Eleventh Doctor has a presence and an authority which other Doctors have lacked in his calm and the almost chilling manner in which he confronts her speaks far more about his convictions than shouting. His reasoning that he will bring down Rosanna for not knowing Isabella's name is equally evocative of this. There's some back-and-forth about survival and genocide, and the Doctor makes a good point about the need to mourn, live and move on, not to make others suffer for the sake of your own happiness, but while there were a couple of good scenes about this I believe it could have been played up a bit more.
Ultimately this episode's great for the Doctor/Amy/Rory dynamic and as far as character interaction goes it's quite funny and enjoyable to watch, but the themes are underdeveloped and the storyline is largely meaningless. I feel like the show needs to avoid doing the same thing for these horror episodes over and over again; there needs to be a different plot. Perhaps there could be a return occasionally to the pure historicals of the First Doctor's era? Otherwise it needs to do something a bit different with the aliens/science-in-the-past thing and come up with some original narratives, although we may find that such an episode is not too far away.

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