Monday, 28 October 2013

The Vampires of Venice

I was caught off-guard here because the boys were convinced, once we had finished, that this was the best Doctor Who story of all time. It turns out that they say this quite often, but I think it is always sincerely spoken. It leads me to the conclusion that there are two kinds of Doctor Who story, as far as they are concerned: good ones, which might not actually elicit much response, and really good ones, which blow their tiny minds. So I was a little surprised to find this episode included in the second category but, having had a think about it, I've decided they are right.

For a start, it's Venice. Okay, it isn't, it's somewhere in Croatia - but it looks a hell of a lot more like Venice than Cardiff looked like New York in Daleks in Manhattan. The episode can't quite reproduce the astonishing and joyous complexity of Venice, the idea that time and space might even be folded in upon themselves as smokeblue canals and dark alleyways thread this way and that. But what it does evoke is the liminal sense of Venice existing between land and water. The lagoon is a pervasive presence.
The water infiltrates the city in the same way that the Saturnyns have crept into Venetian society, and the episode is full of reflections, shots from beneath the surface and the slow glide of boats. Add in some very nice effect shots like this one (right) and the reproduction of Venice must be considered a terrific success.

With such a wonderful setting it almost doesn't matter what the story is - but the one we get is certainly decent enough. The real strength of this episode is Helen McCrory's fantastic Rosanna, so noble and upright in her splendid Venetian gown, a nurturing mother to her many sons, an embittered refugee and a marvellous flirt. That scene, in which she and the Doctor get the measure of each other, is the highlight of the episode for me. McCrory is a joy, but Smith, with great economy, is extraordinary once more. It's scenes like this, again paired with a charismatic older woman, that should make this new Doctor look like a boy, but they only serve to demonstrate Smith's incredible ability to persuade us of the Doctor's age and natural authority. He doesn't rant or shout, he just eases through the exchanges, perfectly at ease, even mellifluous.

If Smith's Doctor is already the finished article, Rory still has some way to go. His presence here appears to mess up the tried and tested 'single-female-companion' template and I'm sure some members of the audience wondered why the TARDIS needed a wet third wheel. This is, of course, the point of Rory, and Moffat will play with ideas around his redundancy and inadequacy throughout the next two years, often using the Doctor's obvious superiority as a blunt instrument with which to smash in Rory's self-esteem. Here for example, Rory pulls out a pocket torch only for the Doctor to whip out an impossibly large UV lamp. "Yours is bigger than mine," Rory notes. "Let's not go there," mutters the Doctor. The relationship between these two men is absolutely crucial, I think (and more important than that between the Doctor and Amy), and the manner in which Rory slowly escapes from the Time Lord's shadow is one of the joys of this run of stories.


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