From DWM #422, a small helping of meat-and-potatoes reviewing. But, as this appeared in the same issue as my epic nonsense for The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, that seemed okay.
Poor Rory. He’s been yanked away from his stag night and dumped in 16th century Venice where he’s been gunked by the innards of a pointy-toothed exploding fish boy from outer space. What happens next? His fiancée calls him a “numpty”. “Right, I’m being reviewed now!” he hisses, his sense of humour failing.
‘Fraid so. Didn’t anyone tell you? It’s part of the gig, now you’re a Doctor Who companion.
Arthur Darvill has an onerous job playing Rory, because as the prospective Mr Pond, his goal is to separate Amy from the Doctor, wrenching her from a thrill ride through all of amazing-ness, back to the village hall in Leadworth where there’s a salsa band on standby. But, despite the fact the hospital nurse is here to ruin the show, you don’t feel any malice towards him. In part, that’s because Darvill is so likeable in the role. With his slackened mouth and scurrying eyes, his portrayal is of a man whose energies are exhausted by just assimilating what the hell’s going on.
Similarly, Toby Whithouse’s script pours indignity (Rory as Amy’s brother) after indignity (Rory as Amy’s eunuch) on the newbie, neutering (not like that!) any threat he might represent. Oddly, it doesn’t diminish him. Because Rory gets the big Pond snog at the end, doesn’t he?
So rather than upsetting the status quo, Rory Williams affords us a new way of observing it. From his standpoint the time travellers are insane, excitedly comparing notes about vampires, running headlong into jeopardy. “You’ve no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves,” he tells the Doctor. But by the episode’s end Rory’s gone native. “We’re not leaving you”, he says to the Time Lord at the moment of greatest peril. It’s taken him longer than his missus-to-be, but this would-be doctor finally gets it.
Meanwhile, the upper-case ‘D’ Doctor is taking a while to twig. He lives a life measured by ice ages and infinity. When it comes to something more provincial, like personal relationships, he’s rubbish. The brilliant pre-titles scene, where he bursts out of that cake and tells a pub of Rory’s mates what a good kisser Amy is reveals, just that.
Throughout the tale, the Time Lord continues to trample over the new boy’s sensibilities, with a foot on Rory’s head when they penetrate the House of Calvierri, then more figuratively by whipping out his massive tool – or torch – as they arrive. But as the Doctor says, “Let’s not go there”.
Even Amy gets in on the act. She pays off the eunuch gag by telling her betrothed, “I’ll explain later.” Suddenly it’s as though she’s the Time Lord and he’s her sidekick.
While all this tricky interpersonal stuff is playing out, there’s an old school story at work. And we do mean school. Whithouse has drawn a lot from his series two tale, School Reunion, with a gang of alien refugees setting up a bogus educational establishment on Earth. The scene where the Doctor and Rosanna Calvierri barter over the future of Venice calls back to Doctor Ten’s poolside confrontation with Mr Finch. Except this one is altogether more sensuous. Helen McCrory is both supine and saturnine as Rosanna, stepping in oh so close, the Doctor’s eyes roving all over her. Not that he’s interested. He’s a Time Lord, she’s a big fish. Think of the offspring they’d spawn. Literally.
The story also has shades of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. The Fourth Doctor – the literary romantic – would have gloried in this baroque age and taken similar delight at finding vampires in the Venetian vestibule. The bit where Eleven muffles his friends so he can think is just so Baker. “I knew you were going to say that,” machine guns Matt Smith when Guido reveals no-one lives upstairs, “did anyone else know he was going to say that?” Baker to the max!
If The Vampires of Venice does have a failing, it’s that following Steven Moffat’s intricate two-parter with a plot that’s resolved by an off switch is bound to feel slight. But in the wider context of the series, and the conceptual craziness just around the corner (Amy’s Choice sounds nuts), a romantic mini-break is welcome.
Plus, there are jokes. Not just Amy speaking the unspeakable yet again (“You look about nine!” she says when the Doctor suggests posing as her dad), but the Time Lord’s metatextual mithering about running into Casanova (last played on BBC TV, of course, by David Tennant).
As for Rory, well, we’re at the end of the review, so we owe you some smart-arse one-line summation. Junior Doctor? A Venetian bind? Nope: Like the Time Lord, you’re one of Amy’s boys.