Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Johnny Campbell
The Doctor attempts to re-ignite Amy’s romantic feelings for Rory by taking them on a date to 1580 Venice. Instead, they find an academy for women that seems to be churning out vampires.
Sometimes an episode of Doctor Who will succeed or suffer based entirely on context. And while context is not the extent of the failure of The Vampires of Venice, it certainly contributes to it. First, Whithouse has written a story that seems more suited for the Russell T. Davies era. The Doctor is once more the destroyer of worlds and Signora Calvierri heaps the guilt upon him. This was the kind of thing done to the Tenth Doctor, and it grew very annoying back then. Second, much of this episode rehashes Whitehouse’s previous story (from the RTD era) School Reunion. In that episode, we saw alien bats taking human shape and masquerading as teachers in a school. They gained control of the students and were attempting to discover the equation of the universe to allow them to gain control of all creation. The Doctor is even given a scene where he and the headmaster
verbally spar, each trying to convert the other to his side. In this episode, we have a group of alien fish taking human shape and masquerading as headmistress (and whatever Francesco was) of a school where girls are being converted to fish people as well, and in the mean time, Signora Calvierri has control over them. The Doctor is even given a scene where he and Calvierri verbally spar, each trying to convert the other to his or her side. The ultimate goal of the aliens in each episode is different, but the methods are rehashed. Sure, Steven Moffat repeats himself, but tends to limit it to lines or themes*, but Whithouse seems to have decided to go even farther. If it works, it works, I guess.
(*Except in the case of Jekyll when Dr. Jackman and Hyde talk to one another through a pre-recorded video, which is essentially the forerunner to Sally Sparrow and The Doctor talking via DVD Easter Egg in Blink. Apparently Moffat will reuse larger ideas, so long as they were used in different shows.)
Okay, so the context is all wrong on this story, and we are revisiting material. Apart from that, the story is perfectly decent. The humor is what shines in this episode. No, I amend that statement. The humor and Rory are what work. The Doctor jumping out of the cake at Rory’s stag party is my personal favorite scene. The constant sparring between The Doctor and Rory is great. Sure, The Doctor wants Rory along to get Amy to realign her affections, but they are still antagonistic. And why wouldn’t they be? Rory is ticked off at constantly being second fiddle to The Doctor, and he is, frankly, right to feel this way. The two characters have great dialogue together, and the best scene in the entire episode is when Rory tells The Doctor that he is dangerous, not because he risks peoples’ lives, but because he makes people want to impress him. Rory has been one of the few companions in recent season that has been able to make The Doctor face his own nature, even if the trait criticized in this episode is entirely accidental. The Doctor doesn’t intentionally make people want to impress him. But he is patronizing at times and he does exude enthusiasm when his companions figure things out. Rory is necessary to break-up the dynamic of The TARDIS, and I am thrilled at his addition to the show.
The second best thing about this episode are the sets and costumes. The BBC has always done well with period pieces, and this is where the visuals of the episode excel. Unfortunately, the CGI is a bit sub-par in this one. I realize it is ironic to accuse Doctor Who of bad special effects (given the history of the show) but the CGI in previous episodes has been quite good. Here, it noticeably stands out, from the fish aliens to the backgrounds when The Doctor is trying to deactivate the machinery that is going to sink Venice. I don’t need good CGI, but I hate that this episode looks good in every aspect except the CGI. When your computer effects stand out and are extremely noticeable, then they fail. It is like bad music mixing, something else that has happened in recent years in Doctor Who.
I hate to sound like I am tearing the episode apart. I hardly made any notes during it because I was really enjoying watching it. But the above areas are where I feel it succeeds and fails. Especially given the tight plotting of the previous story it just stands out as a weaker effort. Perhaps if it had been in another season, it would have worked better. As it stands, it works best as a re-introduction to Rory with some great scenery. A fun adventure, but rather shallow.