Post Game TV Recap: DOCTOR WHO S5E6 - The Vampires of Venice

After the romantic questionability of last week's episode, The Doctor figures he'd best keep an eye on Amy and Rory, and what better way to do that than to give them a little pre-wedding present?  It doesn't go terribly smoothly.  It's spoilering out, so grab a raincoat and join me in the next gondola.

THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE

by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Johnny Campbell

The story starts in Venice in 1580 - Guido, a common boatmaker, is presenting his daughter Isabella to Rosanna Calvierri, head of a school for young girls.  His hope is to have her admitted to the school, to allow her to gain a proper education and as such a better life than he can provide for her.  Rosanna mentions the importance of doing what one can for one's future, and after he refers to his daughter as his entire world, she accepts her, saying "Then we will take your world". He must then say good bye to her...immediately.  As the door closes behind her father, Rosanna and her son Francesco circle her like sharks.  Francesco opens a mouth filled with fangs, and Isabella screams in horror.

Jumping to the present, Rory Williams is screaming too, but to make himself heard on his mobile phone over the din of his bachelor party.  He's leaving a message for Amy, which she is not home to hear, for reasons that should be fairly obvious.  His mates roll in a giant cake, out of which pops...the Doctor.  He explains to Rory that they need to talk about his fiancée Amy, and the attempted snog, causing an uncomfortable silence that leads right into the opening credits.

The Doctor gets Rory and Amy back together in the TARDIS, realizing that the thrill of traveling in time can make a person forget the things that are truly important.  For Amy to return to Earth and try to live a life with Rory, who cannot grasp what she's experienced, it could ruin their relationship.  So The Doctor takes Rory along and brings them to the most romantic place on earth...Venice, in 1580.

As soon as they arrive, the three are stopped by an inspector who demands to see their papers (Apparently, many Venetians eventually moved to Arizona).  A quick wave of the psychic paper ends the issue (identifying The Doctor and Amy as nobles, and Rory as her eunuch) and he explains that it's his job to keep out "aliens" who might be carrying The Plague.  The Doctor thought The Plague had ended years ago, but the official explains that their protector, Signora Rosanna Calvierri, had the city sealed and quarantined, assuring its safety.

Admiring the sights of the city, they notice a confrontation across a canal.  Guido the Boatmaker races up to the students of Calvierri's school looking for his daughter. He finds her under one of their heavy veils, but she barely recognizes him. Racing off without Amy and Rory, The Doctor catches up to him to find out more.  Guido claims the girls are changed somehow, into something Evil.  The Doctor decides he needs to learn more.  Back in the school, Francesco alerts his mother to the event in the square, but she tells him to remain calm as they follow their plan.  They are collecting the girls to introduce them to Francesco's "brothers", though the meaning of this statement is not made clear.

Amy and Rory are exploring the city alone, and Rory is keen to know what she's been doing with The Doctor, and all that that implies.  She begs him to relax and enjoy the adventure, which he does.  As they walk off, Francesco is watching them from a hidden landing.  He walks down and approaches a young flower-seller.  Amy and Rory hear a scream;  Amy runs toward the sound immediately, finding Francesco over the girl, fangs bared . Rory looks her over as Amy races after Francesco, losing him at a door that empties out onto a canal.

Guido storms up to the doors of the Calvierri school, demanding his daughter, and providing a distraction for The Doctor to sneak in.  Making his way into the building, he comes across the students...who don't show up in the mirror he's looking at.  He's fascinated by the effect, almost enjoying the idea of being surrounded by vampire girls, but makes his escape.  Back in the city, he and Amy meet up again and hastily trade notes-feratu.  Rory comes up a moment later, clearly not having as much fun with the idea as they are.  The Doctor and Amy are already hatching a scheme to get back in the school, and Rory is still trying to catch up, physically and emotionally.  Back at Guido's house they hatch a plan - Rory will present Amy as an applicant to the school, and open a trap door in the basement allowing them to gain entry. Both Rory and The Doctor (more Rory) are hesitant of the plan, but they quickly realize it's the best one.

Amy is accepted to the school, almost too easily. She finds Isabella, who describes a nightly procedure that she's been experiencing, something which is slowly transforming her. Amy is waylaid on the way back from opening the trap door -  Francesco recognized her from earlier, and Rosanna realized the psychic paper "credentials" the pair had were fake.   She is taken to the mysterious room Isabella described and questioned.  Rosanna bares her fangs and plunges them into Amy's neck.

Under the school, The Doctor, Rory and Guido are making their way to the trap door.  Rory grills The Doctor about what he and Amy have been doing, and The Doctor assures Rory that the reason he's brought them back together is to make sure she stays with Rory.  They enter the trap door, but  when she's not there, they set off looking for her.  Rory's brought a pocket flashlight, The Doctor's brought a pocket UV floodlight, and asks Rory not to make comparisons.  Chased by the vampire girls, they start to explore the school, looking for Amy. 

Amy is having the Signora's plan explained to her - to drain her, replacing her blood with their own, converting her into...whatever they are.  She resists, kicking at Rosanna, damaging a device which is concealing her true form.  Rosanna and her party retreat, meeting The Doctor and Rory in the hall.  Behind them, Isabella has snuck into the room, freeing Amy.  They all make their way out of the school as the sun rises, but Isabella is already too far gone.  The sun's rays are painful to her, and she hesitates at the doorway, long enough for her schoolmates to grab her and pull her back inside.  The Doctor and the rest escape, Guido grieving at the loss of his daughter.  Later, back in the school, Isabella is thrown into a pool containing the last of Rosanna's race - 10,000 male children, all desperate and hungry.  The Doctor confronts Rosanna in her receiving hall - he realizes she and her children are from the planet Saturnyne.  She explains that her family ran from "The Silence".  Cracks in space and time started appearing on her world, destroying it.  They fled to Earth, which they plan to transform into their new world.  She asks for The Doctor's help, which he refuses, promising to stop them. 

The Doctor and the rest regroup at Guido's home.  He realizes the plan is to mate the surviving male children with the girls she's transformed, and then sink Venice to turn it into a habitat they can thrive in.  The aforementioned students attack the home, surrounding them.  Guido holds them off as The Doctor as his companions escape.  Having been part of the team building warships for the military, he has a store of gunpowder in his home, which he detonates, killing the transformed brides, and himself.  Unaware back at the school, Rosanna begins her plan, and activates the device that will sink the city.  The Doctor sends Rory and Amy back to the TARDIS and he makes his way back to the school. Rosanna assures him the device is unstoppable, and he tells her that it's all for naught, as her sons' brides are all dead.  She storms off and leaves him with the job of saving the city.

Francesco confronts Amy and Rory as the make their way through the city. Rory tries to protect Amy with a pair of candlesticks in the the shape of a cross, but it gets smacked aside.  He taunts the alien, finally catching his attention when the insults target his Mother.  Rory grabs a broom, Francesco pulls out a saber, and they have a brief ridiculous swashbuckle that end with Rory about to be gutted like a...in an ironic fashion.  Amy steps in with a pocket mirror, bathing the alien in bright sunlight, destroying it.  She grabs Rory and kisses him passionately, and then leads him off to help The Doctor. He has them try to break the control panel of the device, concealed in her throne.  He makes his way to the bell tower, which contains the device's generator.  With the main control panel out commission, he's able to shut down the generator and cancel the destruction wave. 

Rosanna strips down to a loose frock similar to the one her girls wore and prepares to throw herself into the canal.  The Doctor tries to stop her, but she tells him that since he would not help them, give them "one city to save a whole species", that their passing is on his head.  She throws herself in, and her children, unable to recognize with her Filter still operating, devour her. 

The Doctor promises to take his two friends back to the registry office for their wedding, but Amy is hesitant.  Rory concedes, saying he'll come up with a story, but she explains - she wants him to come with them for a bit longer.  The Doctor's happy to let him, and he agrees.  She pops into the ship, and as Rory and The Doctor follow, the city grows strangely...silent.  They enter the TARDIS, and the camera trucks in to reveal another Crack...within the keyhole of the TARDIS door.

This is certainly the funniest episode of the season so far.  All the promise of Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams pays off here - Rory is nervous, jealous, fiercely protective of his wife-to-be and rises to the occasion with aplomb and slapstick grace. His is really the big character arc of the story.  It's his "first adventure" story, and it works in spades.  The three are played as an emotional triangle, at least as far as Rory's concerned.  He clearly recognizes that Amy and The Doctor are connecting in a way that he and Amy don't, and moments like where Guido says he assumed The Doctor and Amy were the couple "aren't helping".  Stepping up and protecting Amy at the end draws her eyes away from the stars and back to him, a plot thread that will carry through to future episodes. 

The Doctor is more ruthless here.  In most cases, especially with a race almost extinct and looking for a home, he'd offer them a chance, try to find them a place to live.  Here, he vows to destroy them, without remorse or hesitation. Not because they plan to destroy the people of Earth, but because Rosanna is so callous she didn't even know the name of the girl who helped him, she's beneath her notice.

GUEST STAR REPORT

Helen McCrory (Rosanna Calvierri) is best known to genre fans as playing Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.  She also played Casanova's mother, not in David Tennant's version, but from Heath Ledger's, both released the same year.  She voiced Mrs. Bean in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and played Dr. Victoria Frankenstein in a gender-bending version of the classic story.

Lucian Msamati (Guido)  played auto repairman and chaser of Precious Ramotswe's affections JLB Matekoni on the HBO miniseries The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  In a classic scene, he profiles a suspect in exacting detail, merely by examining his car.

Alex Price (Francesco Calvierri) has appeared on Merlin and Being Human, but has also been narrating the BBC DW companion series  Doctor Who Confidential.

Gabriella Wilde (Vampire Girl) Played Saffy in the second new St. Trinian's film The Legend of Fritton's Gold, which also stars David Tennant, Toby Jones (who'll be in next week's episode) and Talulah Riley, who played Miss Evangelista in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead..

Toby Whithouse (Writer)  is the creator of the series Being Human, dealing with a number of supernatural creatures trying to live a normal life in modern London.  He wrote the return of Sarah Jane Smith in the Tennant episode School Reunion and the Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts.

MONSTER REPORT - The Sisters of the Water (Saturnyans) are the latest Doctor Who monster to be inspired by or compared to vampires.  Of course, the majority of Vampire legends are inspired by the Great Vampires, originally beaten by the Time Lord Rassilon and his massive Bowships, as related in the Tom Baker adventure State of Decay. Many vampire-like races exist, including the Plasmavores from Smith and Jones, the formerly human Haemovores from The Curse of Fenric and the silicon-based life forms the Ogri from The Stones of Blood.   The Pertwee story The Claws of Axos was about a race that drained planets of their energy in a vampire-like fashion. It was originally titled "The Vampires from Space" but was changed while in production, as the BBC didn't like the idea of using the word "vampire" at the time.

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details

It's not Venice, but an incredible simulation - The real Venice is so peppered with chain stores and modern contrivances they'd spend more time digitally removing all the signs than it would have cost to get there.  The episode was filmed in Trogir, a town in Croatia built at around the same time by Venetian colonists but rather untouched by time and tourism. 

OK, every time someone says "perception filter", drink! - The term has been used to death in this series, and this season in particular. It's a sort of telepathic trick that makes people ignore things the user doesn't want them to see.  The mind simply recognizes the anomaly as something it can't grasp, and edits it out of the environment. It's the main reason people don't seem to notice the TARDIS, or just seem to accept it as a normal item.  This is contrast to the Chameleon Circuit which actually changes the appearance of the TARDIS to a commonplace item for the time and place the capsule lands.  The Doctor's TARDIS has had a broken Chameleon Circuit for the entire run of the series, save for a brief  time in Attack of the Cybermen

This season alone, it's also named as how Prisoner Zero hid himself for 12 years in Amy's house, possibly how the party kept from noticing the Angels in Time of the Angels, and now as a physical device used by the Saturnyans in this story.  Though in this most recent case, the device appears to be far more akin to a holographic projector, as it does not remove the Saturnyans from people's sight but disguises them.  Also, unlike how the perception filter stops affecting the viewer once they're aware of it, this device seems to work on people who know it's there, like the creatures in the water who don't recognize their mother when she falls in while it's malfunctioning. 

In Life the Universe and Everything, the third Hitch-Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy book, the SEP Field ("Somebody Else's Problem") is how the Krikkit ship remains out of site in the middle of a crowded stadium.  People perceive the item, but presume it doesn't affect or threaten them, and ignore it.

"The life out there, it dazzles..." - Many of The Doctor's companions have continued to have exciting lives after leaving his company.  Liz Shaw began to work for P.R.O.B.E., an organization connected to UNIT in a series of adventures by BBV productions.  Sarah Jane Smith continued her career as a journalist and eventually world saver, as we learned in Whithouse's School Reunion and eventually her own spinoff series.  Mickey and Martha Smith-Jones have become adventurers for hire against alien threats, and even Donna Noble had a lifestyle change after only one trip with The Doctor, hoping she'd catch up with him again.  Amy had a peek at what The Doctor had to offer, and spent a total of fourteen years waiting for it to come round again. 

"You make people want to impress you" - This is rather the dark side of the effect The Doctor has on his companions, a return to the concept brought up by Dalek Caan in Journey's End.  He claims that he turns all of his companions into weapons, thus removing from him the need to carry one himself.  It's a cruel description of the relationship, and one that Rory realizes is incorrect by the episode's end, but the words said in anger are sometimes the most incisive. Guido sacrifices himself, partially out of revenge for his daughter, but mainly  to allow The Doctor and his friends to escape and finish their plan.

"Casanova...don't want to run into him..." - Previous Doctor David Tennant's breakout role was that of Casanova in 2005, written by one Russell T. Davies.

"I'll explain later" - More of a trope in general then an actual line used in the show (like "Reverse the polarity of the Neutron flow" or Star Trek's "Beam me up Scotty"). Those three words are the cliched response to a question of complicated science, or any plot point that seems like should be explained, but doesn't because it doesn't really further the plot by knowing, or more likely because the writer never bothered to come up with a good explanation.  It's been used in this wry in-jokey way a few times.  The Doctor uses it several times in Steven Moffat's Comic Relief parody The Curse of Fatal Death, each time completely satisfying the curiosity of the person asking a question.  The Doctor himself (in the form of David Tennant) uses it in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.  Distractedly saying he'd "explain later" what was happening to Sarah by her young compatriots, they curtly stop him shortly after and say, "You know what? It's 'later'."

"Hard to believe this is the same man that let an entire race turn to cinders and ash" - Rosanna seems to know who the Time Lords are, and what The Doctor did to them in the Time War.  There seems to be no time The Doctor's visited (in the new series at least) where the Time Lords are not known as a dead race.  This suggests that the events of the war may have happened a great deal of time in the past, and that most of what the universe knows of them are almost legend.  Conversely, time being the odd and confusing thing it is, it might be that the act of trapping them in the Time lock sort of shifted their effects on the universe, making all of them perceived to be in the past. 

BIG BAD UPDATE - Now that we're halfway into the season, the references to the arc-narrative are flying thick and heavy.  The Saturnyans escaped from their world via "a crack in space and time", exactly as Prisoner Zero did on Eleventh Hour  Venice going silent is the first on-camera reference we've seen to "The Silence" as mentioned in the first episode of the series as well, also mentioned by Rosanna as the reason they left their world in the first place. 

The Doctor says "You can't go back and change time" to Rosanna as she prepares to kill herself, but that's directly in opposition to what he works out in the previous adventure.  One wonders if he's concealing information on purpose, or simply saying that not everything can be changed, something he's talked about before.  There are, as he has said, certain "fixed points" in time, that cannot be affected.  Whether or not the destruction of Saturnyne is one of them we may not learn.

Another potentially interesting thing - while the Doctor offers to take Amy and Rory anyplace they like, he eventually makes the decision for them, taking them to a lovely place, but a point in crisis.  While it's unlikely he did so on purpose, it does suggest that the connection to The Doctor and the Cracks is more than coincidence.

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO - Neil Gaiman's episode won't be coming till next season. but a fellow calling himself The Dream Lord  shows up and places the time-traveling trio in a puzzling predicament, and leaves Amy to choose between two possible lives and futures.

 

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