TV REVIEW: Doctor Who 5.06 - A classic historical romp... with bite [WARNING: SPOILERS]
THE ONE WHERE
To bring Amy and fiancé Rory closer together, the Doctor takes them on a trip to Venice in 1580. When they encounter what appear to be vampires in the exclusive Calvierri girls' school, they discover it's really a cover for aliens seeking to recruit women into their underwater breeding programme.
Better structured, funnier and more absorbing than the last single-parter, "Victory Of The Daleks", this episode has a different feel to it than the others so far in the series. It's more traditional in format, yet at the same it's crammed with zinging one-liners and demonstrates writer Toby Whithouse's gift for banter - there's even the occasional indignant rant which wouldn't feel out of place spoken by one of his Being Human characters.
You're wrong footed from the start where Isabella's scream, instead of turning into the sting for the credits, segues straight over to another scene featuring the Doctor - it's his stag night embarrassment that leads us into the vortex opener. Apparently it was a last-minute editing decision, but I like the down-beat nature of it; it lends the opening a quirky self-awareness that resonates through the episode.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory head to Venice, the excuse being that the Doctor wants to bring the affianced couple closer together after last week's bedroom farce; and it's the sometimes tactless, sometimes sarky repartee between them which provides a lot of this episode's comedy. It's a script with understated yet constant romantic tension. Just what is the nature of their relationship? We're getting Rose-and-Mickey vibes here. People assume the Doctor is Amy's fiancée, for instance, and when Rory asks Amy if she misses him, she punches him on the arm like a friend.
Another great performance in this episode is Alex Price, who you may remember as Gilbert in Being Human or William in Merlin . Even when he's only in a show for one episode he brings a great intensity to it which makes his character memorable. Here, there's a weird Oedipal thing going on with Francesco and his mother Rosanna Calvierri - about ten minutes in there's a moment where he's slumped in her lap, and later on Rory only manages to distract him by insulting his mother.
Their home looks astonishing, with Croatia now on my list of must-visit locations (it's the sumptuous double for renaissance Venice). With its palaces and exterior courtyard scenes, this has a genuinely lavish feel to it. But the expensive-looking locations are let down by shonky special effects. When Isabella is dropped into the water she thrashes around and rather weakly cries, "They're all around me!" It's hardly Jaws . The Doctor climbing, '60s Batman -style, to the top of the dome to deactivate Calvierri's device is just silly - in its look and feel, and in its "switch off the transmitter" resolution which reminds us of "The Idiot's Lantern".
But it's a wonderfully acted character piece with genuine moments of fear and a story that (sort of) makes sense, so although this has a lot in common with 2007's "The Shakespeare Code", I actually enjoyed it much more than that. At the very least, the perception filter device is the best explanation I can think of why an alien vampire could be invisible in a mirror...
So many great lines of dialogue in this episode, it's hard to single any out. But the Doctor's reaction to Rory's casual understanding that the TARDIS interior is in a different dimension sets the dry tone perfectly: "I like the bit when somebody says 'It's bigger on the inside!' I look forward to that."
The city official calls the Doctor "your holiness" after seeing his psychic paper, which is a title reserved for the Pope. In 1580, that would mean the man thought he was Gregory XIII. (Appropriately for a Time Lord, it was Gregory XIII who reformed the calendar and gave us the dating system we use today.)
Lovely moment when the Doctor flashes his library card by mistake and it's got the First Doctor's photo on it. William Hartnell in new Who – who'd have thought?
The Doctor hopes he doesn't run into Casanova while in Venice. Casanova was played by a certain Mr David Tennant in a BBC Three production written by one Mr Russell T Davies, before they worked together on Doctor Who . Do you see?
I KNOW WHO
It's odd that Rory seems to suddenly have an angle on the Doctor's behaviour ("you make it so that people want to impress you!") - when did he become an expert? As far as he knows, Amy is the only companion he's ever had! This kind of sudden wisdom about the Doctor's nature interjected by supporting characters, especially when they're commenting on how dangerous he really is, has become a hallmark of new Who .
It's hilarious that Amy says of the Doctor, "You look about nine!"
NOT THE SONIC SCREWDRIVER
Fantastic gag: the Doctor reaches into his pocket… and pulls out a massive "portable sunlight" fluorescent torch.
Rosanna Calvierri strips her clothes off at the end to jump into the water - why does her perception filter still work with her belt device gone?
WHO'S IN CHARGE
Amy leads the way with her line of, "I've got my boys!" Could our cover on SFX 196 have been any more relevant?
Doctor: "She kissed me."
Rory: "And you kissed her back!"
Doctor: "No, I kissed her mouth."
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