Monday, May 31, 2010

Vampires and Bumps

You can never say that Doctor Who doesn't present a diverse selection of treats for a Saturday night. Over the last few weeks we've seen alien vampire creatures in Venice, Amy Pond getting pregnant and old lady killers, and underground monsters intent on destroying mankind! Never a dull moment. THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE I loved the title and concept of this from the start. Being a massive horror fan, I have always advocated that Doctor Who works well when it's being scary, which is why most of Steven Moffat's previous stories were so well received: spooky gasmasked kids, tick tock clockwork robots, blinky angel statues, walking skeletons and something nasty hiding in the darkness ... all tap into buried fears. So to see vampires back on Who was a treat indeed. Such a shame then that they turned out not to be vampires at all, but alien fish creatures ... who would have thought. The lead up to the revelation of them being space-lobsters was great - the creepy white girls were beautiful and stunning in their pale vampire-ness and the teeth were really well done. The setting was magnificent - never has Venice been so well captured for a show. And the fact that it wasn't Venice at all makes it all the more impressive. The characters were great, from the incredible vampire queen played by Helen McCrory - one of the best supporting characters of the season I feel, to Karen Gilan and Arthur Darvill (Amy and Rory) turning in superb characterisations, the whole ensemble did the production proud. Except that they were space-shrimp and not vampires ... I wonder why they felt the need to go that extra step. Why can't proper vampires be part of the Doctor Who universe - we saw them in 'State of Decay' of course, and they were creepy and well done there as well ... but to have some modern variants would have been so cool. Instead we get a lot of guff about their planet and wormholes, and the whole thing ends with a Deux ex Machina that Russell T Davies would have been proud of, as the Doctor resolves the problem by climbing up a tower (shades of 'Daleks in Manhattan') and turning off a switch to stop the storm. It was all very like 'The Shakespeare Code' as well with an alien-induced storm at the end bringing monsters through a portal to attack the earth ... or 'Planet of the Dead' which used a similar idea ... All a shame really, as the ideas underpinning it were brilliant. I loved Amy getting bitten, and would liked to have seen more of that aspect - dealing with turning into a vampire. Indeed, the Doctor having a vampire companion would have been very neat, giving the whole series a bit of a twist and a kick. But we had space-lobsters. Never mind. AMY'S CHOICE An intriguing episode, and in retrospect, probably exactly what we should have expected from a writer new to Who and probably unfamiliar with all the backstory and history, and what could really be done with the concept. It played with the idea that the Doctor has an 'evil' twin - which could well have been the original pitch when Simon Nye was asked for ideas for the show - except that the 'twin' looks nothing like the Doctor, and styles himself as the Dream Lord for the TARDIS travellers, presenting them with two dilemmas to resolve, one of which is apparently real. The dilemmas were hardly breathtaking, though the village full of alien-infected old people was nice and original. Certainly preferable to the 'Inside the Spaceship' plot of the TARDIS falling into a sun (albeit an ice sun here, leading to some very nice frozen effects on the TARDIS interior and on the actors). The village set-up was effective, and the idea of Amy being pregnant plausable, if played for laughs. (I was disconcerted to see Doctor Who Adventures pointing out to young readers all the insults thrown at Amy for being in the family way - nice way to encourage casual cruelty around the weight gain that accompanies pregnancy. 'Chubs' indeed!) So the Dream Lord taunts the TARDIS crew, and tries to force Amy to choose ... and she chooses the reality in which Rory (poor Rory) doesn't die. But then we discover that both realities are a dream, and all caused by some psycic pollen (!) ... a shame as it was a nice idea. Are we supposed to think that this diminuitive Dream Lord, played magnificently by Toby Jones, is some alter-ego incarnation of the Doctor? Is it the Valeyard? I suspect that will keep the theorists busy for years! Overall it was an OK story, a little simplistic and stand-alone, and especially after all the stuff about the Crack in earlier episodes, a little incongruous. I'm really liking Amy though. Karen Gilan is really coming into her own, and acting her little socks off. Wonderful stuff. Rory is OK, but improving episode on episode. And the Doctor ... well Matt Smith has nailed the part completely ... now who was that guy before him?

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