Sunday, 9 May 2010


Written by Toby Whithouse, directed by Jonny Campbell, 2010

Well, that kind of pissed me off. I like vampires. That is, their fictive potential - even though, a), I’m not a goth, and, b), I’m not really sure where that started, as I was never formatively into anything vampirey.

Given the current excess of all things vampiric in popular culture, then, I’ve been wishing Doctor Who would go there. It’s a no-brainer, surely? (Especially given the flatness of State of Decay.) In fact, I was all ready to relate this story to the icily beautiful Let the Right One In, Park Chan-wook’s sumptuous, morally-conflicted Thirst, or even the swampy Southern Gothic eroticism of HBO’s True Blood (though please note: not Twilight). Notice how I’ve cleverly managed to still do that, even though it’s now frankly irrelevant, as The Vampires of Venice itself actually invalidates the comparison.

The Vampires of Venice’ – except, that’s a big fat lie, isn’t it, because it’s actually The Space-Fish of Venice. What annoys me most about this ‘twist’ is that to all intents and purposes, this is a vampire story – but with an, ‘Oh, wait, fooled you!’ element tagged on. Given the massive convolutions the script has to go through to make the space-fish able to masquerade as vampires, that begs the question – why not just make them vampires? (Especially since there’s a perfectly good ‘ancient enemies of the Time Lords’ backstory already established.) Or have them as space-fish from the beginning, and scrap the pretence.

It’s like having a race of pepperpot-shaped robotic creatures who say ‘Exterminate’ a lot, and then saying they’re not Daleks. (Though, thinking about it, in relation to the new Mighty Morphin Daleks, one can only hope.) I mean, does the production team really think Men in Black-style, poorly CG’d fish-aliens are going to prove more memorable than vampires? There’s a reason such a simple concept has endured.

Before I spontaneously combust with exasperation, good things: the story undoubtedly benefits from locations that never could’ve been filmed in the UK. The period setting is pleasingly atypical for Doctor Who, too. And any appearance by William Hartnell, even on a library card, is welcome. It is also genuinely very funny (“Lovely girl. Diabetic”; “According to this, I am your eunuch”; the Doctor’s Mary Poppins moment, pulling the massive light from inside his jacket)... but then, overall, its flippancy just adds to the lack of substance.

Far too much here feels very tired, too (yeah, I’m already out of good stuff): Rory’s Mickey shtick (although it is surprising how likeable and familiar he is in only his second appearance - but though I much prefer him to Mickey, he is unavoidably playing that same role). Ditto the monsters-on-the-run-from-a-plot-device (the Gelth, the Pyrovile). Ditto the sympathetic-character’s-arbitrary-but-convenient-self-sacrifice. Ditto the climactic-climbing-up-a-tower-to-stop-the-dastardly-and-slightly-overcomplicated-scheme (The Idiot’s Lantern, Evolution of the Daleks).

I absolutely love Being Human, a program that is far better than it has any right to be, which, though not without its faults, balances genuine humour with pathos, as well as surprisingly uninhibited violence. Another of its strengths is in its eschewing of big, hokey setpieces like what we get here. Oh, Toby Whithouse, you disappoint me. Though, frankly, thinking back to School Reunion, maybe my faith was misplaced.

Dear Toby – some queries:
• Surely the contrivance with the teeth doesn’t work because they would be physically there all the time - so why would people only perceive them at certain moments?
• In The End of Time, the Doctor could apparently see through, or at least recognise the Vinvocci’s disguises… Why not here?
• Sunlight reflected from a hand-mirror blows up Gilbert-from-Being Human… Why, when all the ‘vampires’ have been wandering around in daylight with ineffectual parsols for the whole episode?
• Why have Rosanna’s clothes suddenly become real at the end?
• And most glaringly, why the hell did the space-fish even need to flood Venice? Hmm? Could they not just have lived… in the sea?!

Normally nothing ticks me off more than fans griping about little details – suspension of disbelief and all that – but then, some writers (ie, Steven Moffat) seem to be able to deflect attention from such niggles, so they genuinely don’t seem important. This script doesn’t do that.

So, while I’ve got the story on the floor, let’s give it a final kick. Flicking a switch to stop the storm. Right. There’s a fine line between ironically undercutting audience expectations and just… copping out. And what happened to the tidal wave, ehhh?? Horrible bit of stock footage of the clouds parting too. I thought those days were past.

You might have realised by now that I’m slightly sore about the vampire cheat, and, in fact, for me this story has been the biggest disappointment of the series so far. Victory of the Daleks was crap, but then, it’s a Dalek story, for god’s sake! But what’s particularly galling about this story is that it’s perfectly entertaining… yet amounts to a forgettable waste of a location shoot. It’s just fluff.

Still – a chink of light through the shoddily CG’d clouds: Amy’s Choice looks… promising.


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