David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.
We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun! Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.
“The Vampires of Venice”
Season five, episode six
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
For me, this is one of the weaker episodes of the season. The writing touch is really obvious when you’ve just watched a bunch of Steven Moffat penned stories. I’m not usually one to look at the writing/directing combinations, but this season was interesting – the first five episodes were written mostly by Moffat, and directed by one of two directors. This is the first story not to have one of those three hands involved, and I think it shows. That said, director Jonny Campbell then goes on to do one of my favourite episodes ever, in “Vincent”! So, do I blame the writer? But Toby Whithouse also penned “School Reunion”! Maybe that’s part of the problem – a little too same-ish? Mostly I think it falls down for me in the dialogue and the strange juxtaposition between attempted humour that falls flat, and a very dark (at times) Doctor, which while definitely warranted in terms of the plot, rubs wrongly in the way it’s put together.
Heh I really like this one. It feels like more of a guilty pleasure than say, the Angels two-parter or some of the later episodes. Very high quality this season generally! But the combination of the gorgeous scenery and the banter makes it one that I will happily rewatch, over and over.
Oh there’s stuff I like, but yeah, more I don’t, I think.
I actually thought the aliens were almost incidental to this episode. The real story is the interactions between the Doctor, Rory and Amy and they were the bits that I enjoyed the most!
Saying that, it is a lovely looking episode, and the historical backdrop was very well done. And, there are some great performances, most notably Lucian Msamati and Helen McCrory, who are both superb.
Croatia is very pretty. I find it amusing that they had to go there to find something that looked like Venice, because Venice itself is too damned modern these days. They managed to capture the feel of Renaissance Venice, though, and I appreciated the dig at Casanova, and the Doctor not wanting to meet him again – Casanova will ALWAYS be David Tennant, for me.
Anyone noticed by now how many monsters in this season have some kind of scary teeth? This is indeed the scary pointy teeth season. I do in fact recall fan speculation that ‘scary pointy teeth’ was the Bad Wolf of this season. Fandom cracks me up.
I did like the lush costuming (although the girls’ nightgowns were a bit of a cheap cheat!) and the lighting in this was lovely! Helen McCrory as Signora Calvierri was a highlight of the episode as well.
Her scenes with Matt Smith were electric.
There seemed to be quite a few loose threads and hand wavey bits – if the perception filter operated as the Doctor described, then how did Signora Calvierri know when it wasn’t working? And it doesn’t make sense that the filter still worked when not attached to her, or that her “children” wouldn’t recognise her when she went into the water, despite the justifying line from Francesco earlier. What happened to the fire in the sky when Rory was fighting the fish boy? And WHY did sunlight explode him?! And what happened to the tidal wave? And boy howdy, doesn’t the Doctor get over the death of the species quickly? Another point where the balance of the episode is off.
I haven’t been keeping count, but the Doctor has wiped out a few species since we started this series, hasn’t he? Interesting to compare that to “Genesis of the Daleks” where Four refused to wipe out the Daleks…
Tehani, if you keep poking holes like that, the ship’s going to sink! To me the filter was quite clearly some kind of mechanical device in this one (the static when hers glitched suggested that) but it’s a brand new kind of handwavium that we’re going to see a lot of in this era, so mostly I just roll with it.
You’re very good with the handwavium!
It is my superpower.
I definitely agree that the Doctor gets over the death of the species too quickly – though I was more put off by the deaths of the two human characters, the father and daughter, who are the innocents caught up in it. The fact that they both die horribly in what is otherwise painted as a romp is a bit odd, especially as it continues to be a romp after they’re gone.
Yes, I think this clash of tone is part of why it leaves me a bit cold. Lots of death, lots of playing for laughs…
Well, the father did have a traditional Doctor Who heroic death!
Can’t say too much, and of course this passed me by entirely first time around, but I think this is the first mention of the Silence, Tansy?
Silence will fall! Or … is it Silents will fall?
I actually think that the lady from Broadchurch let that one drop back in “The Eleventh Hour” when she was being Prisoner Zero. But yes, this is the time where it becomes quite clear that it’s a THING we should be paying attention to.
*snort* Oh, the way you reference actors…
There seems to be an effort in this episode to force flirtation on the Doctor. I don’t think it works, because it kind of comes out of nowhere, a bit like Amy jumping him at the end of “Flesh and Stone” is a bit weird, given how well she and River have bonded. Not sure what the writer hoped to achieve with it.
I don’t know about forced – it is the first time we see the Eleventh Doctor flirt, and it’s pretty clear by now that however the Doctor feels, Matt Smith enjoys the flirting. I liked seeing the chemistry in his scenes with Helen McCrory – they bounce beautifully off each other, and it feels like a coming together of equals. It reminds me a bit of great Master stories, where the fact that the Master is the villain doesn’t matter quite so much as the fact that he and the Doctor have more in common than anyone else.
It’s interesting how you say “Matt Smith enjoys the flirting” because during this rewatch, I’m seeing more and more of the actor overriding the role – a little Tom Baker-ish? As in, it’s not fundamentally bad, because he’s so adorable and we love him, but it’s not necessarily how the Doctor would behave?
Ah but the Doctor is so informed by whomever is playing him, it’s hard to draw that line!
I do like that when the Doctor gets into flirting (and this is very much the incarnation where he experiments in that regard) he mostly does so quite inappropriately. Because, you know, he’s been busy for the last 900 years and this is a New Thing for him. So he hasn’t figured out not to do it with the monsters…
Funnily enough, I got almost the opposite impression. I thought that Signora Calvierri thought that her and the Doctor were equals, and that the loss of their species put them on common ground, without really understanding that the Doctor was on a whole different level. The scene on the roof in “The Eleventh Hour” was a great reminder that the Doctor is not someone to be trifled with and the Universe is littered with those who had misunderstood who he was and underestimated him. That was her mistake, and led to her downfall.
This is the first time we’ve seen Rory for a while, and I think the whole storyline between him and Amy is one of the reasons I like this one so much. The fact that the Doctor responds to Amy kissing him by trying to fix things with Rory is quite interesting, as is the fact that he has finally figured out one important thing about humans: the one who travels with him will lose connections to her family and loved ones back home, coming to depend on him too much. It’s quite nice to see him trying something new as a way of admitting how much he stuffed up in the past, not just with Rose but with Martha and Donna too. He doesn’t want a companion who never wants to leave him because that always ends badly – so he’s setting Amy up with an escape route.
This is also the first story that really gives Rory something to get his teeth into, and Arthur Darvill puts a lot into it. The difference between he and Amy is shown at every point, and there are hints here of the way Mickey was tested/treated as a second class companion (this is the same writer who had Mickey point out he was the Tin Dog) but the humour is more gentle, and it doesn’t tip over into cruelty. Rory also stands up for himself more, and his sense of humour and self-deprecating wit helps to make the character feel very likeable already.
I went in first time around prepared not to like Rory very much (cos REASONS) but he is wonderful. Combination of getting good scripts I think and the way Darvill plays the role.
This is another example of how much the Doctor has grown since the start of New Who. You have no idea how much happier I am with a Doctor who makes the right moral choice in this situation. I think that there is a lot to be taken from contrasting the Eleven-Amy-Rory situation with Nine-Rose-Mickey.
With Nine, we had a Doctor so insecure and in need of validation that he very much set himself up in competition with Mickey, who really had no way of competing at all. Almost everything Nine did, whether showing Rose the wonders of the Universe or putting Mickey down at every opportunity, seemed designed to ensure that Rose fell for him.
In this story, it seems to me that the Doctor is going out of his way to try and include Rory as if to ensure that Amy doesn’t forget who she has left behind. It’s rather cute that the Doctor is obviously a bit baffled by human interactions, and it is a lot of fun watching him trying to provide what he sees as the essentials for romance! The scene at the bachelor party was hilarious.
We are being shown that the Doctor is just as much at sea when it comes to making friends as he is with any kind of romantic negotiation. People are confusing!
I do agree that he is trying to ensure that Amy has something to fall back on when the inevitable parting of ways occurs, but I also think that he is aware of the damage he has done, first by abandoning Amy for so many years (because even though no real time passed for him, it was an abandonment that has shaped who she is) and then by sweeping in and sweeping her away. This is the Doctor doing his best to repair that damage.
I often cite this episode as an example of the unconventional gender dynamics between Rory and Amy – that he’s the nurturing healer and she’s the bold, adventurous one. When they hear a scream, his first instinct is to run away and hers is to run towards the trouble.
Oh, that is so true! Shows their characters perfectly!
But they both get to be brave ultimately, and we do see them working together as a team which is one of those important ways to get a believable romance across on film.
The decision to make the Doctor rather than Rory the third wheel was a clever one, and ensures that everyone complaining Rory was just Mickey Mark II could STFU. It makes the Doctor so much more likeable that he comes to appreciate Rory as a person distinct from Amy.
Have I mentioned how much I love Amy and Rory as companions? Rory is already one of my favourite companions of all time, and Amy is not far behind. Self deprecating was a great term to apply to Rory, Tansy, and there is something so intrinsically likeable about him. I have said in the past that my favourite dynamic is the Doctor and a female and male companion, and for some reason this one reminds me of my favourite combination ever – Four, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan.
In fact, there is something Harry-esque about Rory. I don’t know whether it is that self deprecating wit, their easy going nature or simply the sense of innate decency they both exude, but they do seem to have a lot in common.
A lot of fans get tied into knots about Amy’s willingness to cheat on Rory, which is I guess understandable, but I think it’s important to note that for Rory himself it’s not kissing the Doctor that is as much of a problem (after all he has to be used to that from her kissogram days) it’s the fact that she LEFT him and what that says about their relationship. He was looking forward to marrying her and she was trying to postpone it by running away the night before – that shows a major problem in their relationship and this is the beginning of the two of them working that out. The Doctor is giving them an opportunity to deal with a few therapy issues before going back to real life, and that turns out to be a very good thing for all of them – despite what is to come.
Ahem, and yes, Rory doesn’t actually know about the part where Amy propositioned the Doctor but either way, her behaviour was a symptom of something that is actually (hooray) going to be addressed.
Season five, episode seven
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
Now wasn’t THIS interesting to rewatch, from a more “educated” Doctor Who fan perspective! The thing I took away most from the episode was how self-critical it was – some of the Dream Lord’s dialogue could have come straight from the mouths of those critiquing the series. For example:
Dream Lord: “Friends”. Is that the right word for the people you acquire? Friends are people you stay in touch with. Your friends never see you again one they’ve grown up. The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?
Harsh! And given it’s actually the Doctor’s own subconscious…
Hahaha yes, this one is totally different on rewatching. I think the Doctor’s line “there’s only one person who hates me as much as you” is pretty telling.
Toby Jones gives a fantastic performance – this is the closest thing we get to a Master for the Eleventh Doctor, and it’s very, very effective. I appreciate the layered storyline, and the final whammy that both realities are fake.
But there’s also some rather deep psychological stuff in here, such as the fantasy village which is not the life Rory wants (the idea that he would want to become a doctor is beyond insulting, actually, given that being a nurse is NOT a second best career, it’s a distinctly different profession) but the life that the Doctor THINKS Rory and ultimately Amy will want once they leave him.
Which means the ponytail is the Doctor’s fault.
Well, his fashion sense IS rather questionable…
My first thought on that line was that it was the Master, but only for a second. I actually was more convinced that it was the Valeyard (which, of course, it kind of was if you want to get technical haha). Toby Jones was excellent in this, just the right mix of awkward and oily and dangerous.
The Dream Lord shows us that the Doctor is actually very self aware, whether he allows those thoughts to surface or not. The past few seasons have been a voyage of self discovery for him, and we’ve seen that he is actually learning, whether it is here or when he is trying to repair Amy and Rory’s relationship. Of course, these fantasies show that he doesn’t always completely *get* humans!
Something I found particularly interesting was Amy’s pregnancy – this is the only time ever in the entire history of Doctor Who that we’ve ever been shown even the possibility of a companion being knocked up despite the number of weddings that punctuate the RTD era – Donna’s pretendy children in the Library (MOFFAT AGAIN) is the only other case, and of course we found out eventually in The Sarah Jane Adventures that Jo Grant and Clifford Jones had a whole brood, but … it did feel odd to me.
Ha, I just watched that episode with the kids!
But that is fairly typical of most fiction, surely? The wedding or the culmination of all the URST* is seen as the finale of romantic subplot, rather than the beginning of a new chapter. You don’t always see what the “happily ever after” actually entails. That’s why I love stories that are about “what happens next”.
There’s a whole genre of stories growing around the “after the happy ever” these days – as a culture we’re no longer satisfied with marriage being the end, it seems!
The Happy Ever After Is The End thing is absolutely true for a lot of romantic fiction and for movies, but not generally in the case of television drama – ‘family’ viewing in particularly usually means stories about families, including babies and kids. The surprise of Amy’s pregnancy (and pregnancy as a recurring motif in this era) only serves to point out how odd has been the lack of actual children (as opposed to adult women playing teenage girls who miraculously became adult the second a man showed interest in them) in the show for the first 46 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a pregnant heroine (though I could have done without all the boat jokes) but the character was so young at this point – 21? 22? it did feel like a weird narrative assumption, that this was what lay in her immediate future (though again, the Doctor’s dream, not hers). It was fascinating to see how Amy dealt with it, though, and I liked how much she stayed in character despite imminent motherhood.
Isn’t it supposedly five years later? So Amy would be 24-ish…
Well, for the Doctor there probably wouldn’t appear to be much difference between a 21-22yold and a 31-32yold, or even a 41-42yold! Thinking about that, it explains a few things….
This is the man who felt it was appropriate to abandon various 16 year old girls across various times and places as soon as they got themselves a love interest so … yes, we can’t assume he knows anything about anything!
Ooh look, Rory died! That could be interesting later on…
Shhh there’s no way that could be foreshadowing anything.
Before we wind up I think perhaps worth calling attention to the title – only the second time that a companion’s name has appeared in one. A lot of people (including let’s face it, the Doctor) misread “Amy’s Choice” being about Amy choosing between Rory and the Doctor, but it’s not that at all. It’s about her choosing whether or not she really wants to be married to Rory.
And she does. She doesn’t necessarily want this marriage, this bizarrely boring future that the Doctor has so cack-handedly summoned out of his subconscious, but this is the point at which she decides completely that despite wanting adventures and everything the Doctor has to offer, and despite her severe abandonment issues and lack of trust of people, she really loves Rory and doesn’t want to lose him.
Once again, this is hugely different to the Rose/Mickey dynamic, where it’s pretty clear that seeing the universe has opened Rose’s eyes to the fact that their relationship wasn’t doing much for her, and that even if the Doctor and the TARDIS were not an option, she would not go back to her previous life choices as a default.
Amy, on the other hand, is greedy. She wants it all. Her TARDIS, her boys, love and the universe. She chooses Rory, but that doesn’t mean giving everything else up because Rory is actually too awesome to pressure her into going home before she’s ready.
Speaking of titles, there is a hint of irony in the fact that we had an episode called “The Runaway Bride”, which wasn’t actually about a bride trying to run away from her wedding!
I never saw Amy running away from the wedding as her running away from Rory, I always took it as her running away from what she thought marriage would mean. It seemed to me that she thought it meant the end of her independence, and being trapped in a life without adventure. One of the realisations she arrives at in this story is that she can have both – adventures AND marriage, and that, as Tansy alludes to, Rory doesn’t want to trap her. He seems quite content with the fact that Amy is a free spirit, in fact it is a big part of what he loves about her, and therefore has no desire to see that taken away from her.
Just one more reason to love Rory…
I think that’s very true, and it’s clear that she takes Rory’s acceptance for granted, too. Amy is a bit thoughtless here in her early 20s and he clearly enables that – their relationship has revolved around Amy leading the way and Rory tagging along agreeing with her, and it mostly works for them though it was bound to lead to problems sooner or later.
It wouldn’t shock me at all if (and this is a detail never revealed to us) it was Amy who proposed and set the whole wedding thing in train in the first place, and only later began to freak out as the whole thing became a bit too real.
I don’t think her epiphany comes solely from the events of this episode, though. In the previous story she meets another married woman who certainly hasn’t let marriage cramp her style – River Song! I don’t think you can discount the impression River made on Amy.
It would be interesting for people with a better grasp of the topic than I do to examine Amy’s storyline in light of the debate about whether modern women can have it all (whatever society’s idea of what “it all” is), and how the changing nature and desires of the companions reflects a changing society.
There has certainly been a lot feminist debate about Amy Pond and her character arc – I think there are elements of her story which are incredibly positive and others which are a bit more wince-inducing (and not everyone agrees which elements are which). But at this point, it’s a very powerful story about a woman who starts to take control of her life despite being whisked away in the TARDIS – and that’s not something we’ve really seen before, even in New Who. In the RTD years, life in the TARDIS was so romanticised that the prior lives of the companions were seen as complete drudgery in comparison … and most of the positive changes that they bring to their lives after the TARDIS happen off screen.
I think it’s interesting to see how different things are now in the Moffat era – that Amy and the Doctor (and now Rory) are constantly negotiating this odd relationship of theirs, pushing and pulling against each other to create a kind of “TARDIS-life balance”. Despite Amy being a child when she first met the Doctor, and the potential uncomfortable power imbalance from that, the whole thing feels to me like a more equal relationship than any we’ve seen in Doctor Who for a while.
*URST – if, like me, you’re apparently completely sheltered, you might like to know that URST stands for UnResolved Sexual Tension. Did you know that? I didn’t!
We’ve already reviewed:
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/E03
“Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, S03E08/E09
“Blink”, SO3E10 (with special guest reviewer Joanne Anderton)
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords” S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01 (with special guest reviewer Lynne M Thomas)
“The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky”, S04E05/06
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, S04E09/10
“Turn Left”, S04E12
“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”, S04E13/14
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Specials: “The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars“
The Specials: “The End of Time”
“The Eleventh Hour”, S05E01
“The Beast Below / Victory of the Daleks”, S05E02/03
“The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone”, S05E04/05