[As always this is mirrored from my original post over at tvgeekarmy.com (located here).]
In recent times vampires have become something of a joke in the media. As this is about Doctor Who I shall not go into the subject here, but suffice to say I could write thousands of derogatory words about the current state of the modern vampire and not even breach the tip of that particular iceberg.
Fortunately "The Vampires of Venice" is not about vampires, except in the vaguest of terms; instead the villains of the piece are something quite different, if rather forgettable.
Let’s get the important bit out of the way first: was The Vampires of Venice any good? Well, that’s not actually an easy question to answer, because on one level it was a fantastic piece filled with enjoyable moments and fun banter. But on other levels it was a weakly plotted story, containing sub-par enemies, uneven character development and a conclusion that I can only hope was a deliberate parody of the Rusty years (more on that later on).
Last week ended with a rather saucy scene that had the pulses of a whole generation of Doctor/Amy writers racing so fast that they probably fell over in the rush to get to their keyboards. This week’s episode? It follows on from that scene with the Doctor popping out of Rory’s stag-do stripper cake and telling the lad he’s been snogged by his fiancé Amy.
What’s the Doctor’s solution to this dilemma? Take the happy (if lacking in chemistry) couple to be to Venice, 'cause everyone knows Venice is dead romantic - second most romantic city in the world is Venice, don’t you know. They’re going to enjoy a romantic get-away together at the Doctor’s expense, and we all know that means we’re going to see the pair engage in long walks, midnight supper in an alleyway (spaghetti al la nose!) and gondola rides with the Doctor punting whilst singing in Italian. That’s exactly what’s going to happen!
Of course it isn’t, you’d think after spending even thirty minutes with the Doctor that both Amy and Rory would be prepared for a situation that doesn’t even involve the least bit of romance. You’d think that instead they’d be prepared for running around, being attacked and nasty monsters. Because that’s all that happens when the Doctor is about; he’s like a walking lightning-rod for trouble he is, and sure enough they’re soon embroiled in the local events, helping a father try and rescue his daughter from a school of vampires who aren’t really vampires and are in fact fish people from the stars (how very Lovecraftian!).
So what about Rory? Is he any good as a companion? Well yes and no. The bad news is that he has very little chemistry with Amy at all. This might be the intention, as after all Amy has effectively ‘run’ away from her marriage to him. But you do want to believe that the two are at least attracted enough to each other to be engaged, and I’m not sold on that.
On the other hand Rory’s personality was a great fit for the series, able to be both serious and amusing he reminded me of Mickey - the one character from the Rose companion arc that I really came to change my opinion of (originally I disliked Mickey, but he became a favourite after his ‘I’m the tin dog’ observation, it’s where the character grew a pair). So I honestly hope Rory is around for a while to come as his presence has added a lot to the show, returning the feeling of a team to the Doctor’s adventures, providing light relief and allowing us to experience Amy’s personality separate from the Doctor’s presence.
Unfortunately, for every bit of success on the character front the episode failed on the plotting. The story was about fish from space pretending to be vampires with the plan of flooding Venice and providing brides for the sons of the ‘mother-fish’ in order to save their race from extinction. They’d come to Earth in order to flee ‘the silence in the cracks’ another nice piece of natural meta-plotting, but unfortunately that’s about it. The rest of the episode isn’t exactly bad, but it’s not memorable at all - a genuine filler episode with a few nice ideas, but ultimately forgettable.
Onto the bit I’m not sure about, the space-fish’s weather device. The first device was pretty decent, a chair filled with glowing lights that was pulled to pieces by Amy and Rory. But the main device had me feeling a little, let down. It turned out to be a globe on top of steeple filled with cogs, balls and whirly bits - and an on/off switch.
An on/off switch...
Either that’s some remarkably lazy “crikey we need something to end this episode and we’re running out of time” writing, or it’s a direct dig at one of the major complaints about Russell T. Davies’ writing. To whit, old Rusty was very reliant on the magic button / deus ex machina solution to problems. Dropping a simple, forced solution into the story in order to wrap things up - and on one occasion (Doomsday) actually having a button that undid everything (I still recall throwing the remote at the screen when that happened). As a consequence I’m not sure if this was lazy writing or it was a machine, on top of a steeple with an on/off switch as an inside joke about Rusty’s science fiction writing methods. Even if it was, it wasn’t a very good joke - so either way I wasn’t that impressed with the resolution of the episode.
"The Vampires of Venice" was pretty much the definition of a filler episode; a fun, romp of an episode with dialog that sparkled that was ultimately let down by a weak main plot and forgettable villains.
The first forgettable episode of Eleven’s tour, but thank goodness they weren’t vampires that sparkled in the sunlight.