Review by Mark Bousquet
“THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE” – Series 5, Episode 6, Story 207 – Written by Toby Whithouse; Directed by Johnny Campbell – The Eleventh Doctor is worried that Amy mistook him for Captain Jack last episode, so he pops into Rory’s stag party to bring him along on an adventure for the good of the couple. He takes them to Venice because Venice is romantic, but since it wouldn’t be much of a DOCTOR WHO story if we just watched Rory and Amy walk around talking about her unfaithfulness for 45 minutes, there’s a vampire mystery to solve. The episode is written by Toby Whithouse, who wrote SCHOOL REUNION, which was really just an ode to Buffy and Scooby-Doo. That’s kinda what’s going on here, too. Because the Space Fish Totally Woulda Got Away With It If It Wasn’t For The Doctor And His Meddling Kids.
If I was going to give someone who’s never seen an episode of DOCTOR WHO an episode to watch, I might very well give them THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE. Toby Whithouse, who formerly wrote the highly enjoyable SCHOOL REUNION during David Tennant’s first season, delivers a script that is in no way earth shatteringly brilliant, but does manage to hit almost every conceivable note you could want from sitting down to watch 45 minutes of WHO: it’s clever and engaging, full of humor, horror, and mystery, set in a great locale, has a top-notch villain, and contains lots of great character interaction between the leads. In my head, Whithouse wrote a 4-hour story and then just kept condensing each scene down to its most pure essence.
There’s nothing wasted in VENICE; everything has a point and everything satisfies. Every once in a while when I’m doing these reviews I’ll write something like, “This is what an ordinary episode of DOCTOR WHO should be.” Not every episode is going to swing for the fences like the just-completed THE TIME OF ANGELS and FLESH AND STONE. That would be silly. You need “regular” episodes to flesh out a season and let plots simmer and you need regular episodes to be as good as possible to raise the overall quality of a season. Perhaps no season in DOCTOR WHO history had as many fantastic regular episodes as Series 3, the Tennant and Agyeman year, which just seemed to deliver high quality regular episodes week after week.
VENICE is a regular episode that delivers through and through; regular episodes are the reason people tune in every week. They’re the episodes that get people to love a show so the big episodes make an impact. If I tuned into DOCTOR WHO for the first time and got VENICE, I’d fall in love and make a date to return next week.
VENICE marks the return of Rory to the program as he makes his first trip in the TARDIS. We check in on Rory and find that on the night before his wedding he’s having a stag party. Because he’s Rory and is obviously mad in love with Amy, he’s taking a minute out of his night to call her and tell her how crazy he is about her and how he would ask her to marry him even if they’re weren’t already getting married tomorrow (which is basically an infodump line). He ends the call when the big, fake cake is rolled out and everyone is ready for some naughty hotty to come bursting through the top.
Well, they don’t get a hottie. They get the Doctor.
It’s completely ridiculous, of course, that the Doctor would pop out of a cake in order to engage Rory in conversation about his fiance’s actions, but it’s a fun bit. “Rory!” the Doctor greets warmly. He inquires of the disappointed crowd if someone wouldn’t mind going outside to help a lovely lady in a bikini and then turns to the man of the night. “Your fiance kissed me,” he says to an increasingly horrified Rory, and then tries to make things better by telling him, “You’re a lucky man. She’s a great kisser.”
Now the whole room is aghast at this strange man and his downbeat declarations and the Doctor, realizing he’s made a faux pas, remarks how “that sounded better in my head.”
It’s a great scene, and the best line of the whole bit is when he’s talking about bikini girl and adds, under his breath, that she’s “diabetic,” because it gives you just enough info to imagine the Doctor trying to convince the stripper to let him take her place in the cake.
That’s an extra scene I’d love to see.
Rory supplies the comedy throughout the episode but he’s not the cartoon that Micky was during his first appearance. A typically nervous, skitterish sort who must feel like the luckiest dude alive (whether he is or not, I’m guessing that’s how he feels), Rory is more than willing to stand up for himself. It’s clear that he sees the Doctor as a rival and how can he not. As we learned back in THE ELEVENTH HOUR, Amy made Rory dress up and play the Doctor when they were kids. It’s creepy enough, I suppose, if the girl you love wants you to pretend to be her imaginary friend, but knowing the Doctor is real must have been a nightmare for Rory.
The Doctor wants to give Rory and Amy an adventure of their own, which neither Rory nor Amy seem all that thrilled with early on. And why should they? He’s just learned that his fiance snogged her Not Imaginary Friend and she’s just snogged her Not Imaginary Friend and wanted more. “I’ve seen it destroy lives and relationships,” the Doctor says of the effect being in the TARDIS can have on a Companion. This is a much more self-aware Doctor when it comes to his Companions post-TARDIS lives and we can thank Whithouse for raising this issue through Sarah Jane in SCHOOL REUNION and Russell T Davies for making the Companions an ongoing sub-set of characters who stayed involved with the Doctor long after their time in the TARDIS was over.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the treatment of Companions (both how they were treated by writers during their time with the Doctor and then how they were employed as a story resource after they left) is the single best element Davies brought to the program while at the helm of DOCTOR WHO. Davies made it okay for Companions to drop back in for reasons other than a MULTIPLE DOCTORS special and Whithouse gave the Companions a voice about what happens to them when they stop traveling through time. Here, the Doctor has taken Sarah Jane’s words to heart and he’s now actively looking out for the Companions’ post-TARDIS lives while they’re still around.
This isn’t to say the Doctor doesn’t enjoy sticking the occasional pin in Rory’s side, but Rory proves more than capable of sticking up for himself. “You’re probably wondering about the insides,” the Doctor says of the TARDIS’ interior. “It’s-”
“Another dimension,” Rory declares, then tells the Doctor he’s been reading up on all this high end science stuff.
The Doctor is a little crushed. “I like the part when people say it’s bigger on the inside,” he says. “I look forward to it.”
Rory’s backbone is what makes him such an endearing character. When he and Amy are beset by a vampire later, Rory taunts the vamp to come after him. It’s humorous to watch him counter the vamp’s sword with a broom, but it also shows how much he cares for Amy and what he’s willing to do. “You’re mad!” he yells at the Doctor and Amy at one point as they’re enjoying the danger, but he doesn’t back down from it.
I think the funniest line in the episode comes from Rory after the fight with the vampire. The vamp reverts to his space fish form and he’s got Rory pinned to the ground. Amy saves him by exploding the fish with a trick of sunlight and as Rory heads up some stairs to reconnect with his fiance, Amy says, “You went after him with a broom, you numpty!” To which Rory replies in this hurt/angry/frightened but mostly disbelieving voice, “Oh, I’m being reviewed now?”
Amy kisses him passionately and suddenly Rory gets what the Doctor meant when he said earlier that Amy only kissed him because they’d both been scared and somehow made it through. “She would’ve kissed you,” the Doctor tells Rory, then adds, “It should have been you.”
The actual story in VENICE involves Rosanna Calvierri, a rich lady who runs an exclusive school for girls … who she turns into vampires that are actually fish women so her “boys,” can have mates. Her boys are still in fish form and living in the canals around the city. Rosanna and her fish kin escaped through a crack in the universe in order to escape “the silence.” The Doctor offers to help but also promises to stop her. The banter between the Doctor and Rosanna is good stuff, too, serious but with an almost playful undertone. Rosanna is given one of those Alice Krige as Borg Queen attitudes and it works really well when set against the Doctor.
“What planet are you from?” Rosanna asks.
“You should be in a museum,” she says, eyes popping with surprise. “Or a mausoleum.”
Whithouse’s ability to tell this story and also fold it into the season’s longer arc is impressive in how nothing feels forced. VENICE isn’t one of those comic books that gets shoehorned into some big crossover event and you end up with a nonsensical issue where Spider-Man is suddenly hanging out with Aelfyre Whitemane just because Marvel wants to sell a few more issues of Amazing Spider-Man for their Power Pack Destroys The Universe crossover. It’s a story that uses the event to tell a good, solid, stand-alone story.
Originally Published April 15, 2011