This could easily have been the kind of throwaway filler that usually follows one of the walloping centrepieces in a series, and, admittedly, this was filler, but it’s easily some of the best filler I’ve ever watched. Vampires in 16th Century Venice. Sounds eye-rollingly dumb, but this episode was a quality work of writing and production. The vampire plot was actually intriguing and rather mysterious, bolstered by the magnetic presence of Helen McCrory as Rosanna Calvierri, the imperious matriarch of the vampires. The story reeked of plot and intrigue from the outset, and the episode was suitably set in Venice, the city of secrets and conspiracy, for which a sumptuous Croatian village was shot as a double. Add a moral dilemma concerning the fate of a displaced alien species, and hilarious triangular romantic comedy between the three leads, and we have an episode that achieves more than your average filler.
I can’t resist hot vampires, and these fanged femmes were well fit. There was a pretty blonde one who particularly caught my eye. My taste in the female undead aside, the vampire plot, although self-consciously camp, was written and conceived well such that it genuinely held my interest and almost made me forget about how ostensibly silly the idea was. Aliens disguised as humans is becoming a bit of a tedious idea on Doctor Who, but it wasn’t necessarily that offensive here, although it could have worked better if the vampires were actually vampires, and vampires are aliens… the Time Lords were supposed to have gone to war against a race called the “Great Vampires”, maybe they could have been related to them? In general this premise worked well, it wasn’t trying to be ambitious, so I can hardly mark it down for not being completely inspired, and it achieved successfully what it set out to achieve, which was to offer a bit of fun but quality storytelling to follow the previous high-charged two-parter. There was also a very compelling moral dilemma which set this episode apart from other filler episodes, like The Idiot’s Lantern, involving the fate of the fish species. Signora Calvierri’s confrontation with the Doctor was an electric couple of minutes of dialogue, and her death scene, representing the death of her species, was an uncharacteristically dark note in this otherwise lighthearted romp. Her words, about the Doctor having the weight of another dead race on his conscience, rang a bit uncomfortably true.
Rory makes a delightful addition to the TARDIS team in this episode. I can’t believe how much I didn’t appreciate Rory when I first watched these episodes—blame youth. He’s adorably goofy and insecure and bewildered as his fiancée and an alien sporting a bow tie run, cackling madly, into the clutches of vampires and aliens. “What is wrong with you people?!” Arthur Darvill has great comical instincts and he’s a hilarious addition to the Doctor’s posse. His fight scene with Francesco was absolutely rofl-worthy. We also got a follow-up on the last episode’s saucy “cliffhanger” in the form of some awkward romantic comedy between the Doctor, Rory and Amy, i.e. the stuff about Rory posing as Amy’s brother and “Yours is bigger than mine.” Rory’s insecurities are so sweet, but it’s good that Moffat is emphatically resolving this question before it becomes too big an issue. Moffat rightly didn’t want another Doctor-Rose-Mickey triangle where Mickey became an unfortunate liability for the writers who didn’t know what to do with him given Rose’s callous dumping him for the Doctor. The Doctor, in this case, finds himself haplessly coming between his best friend and her betrothed, and sets out to patch things up before it gets out of hand. Mercifully, he seems successful, as, by the end, everything seems good again between them.
My verdict: a surprisingly quality effort for a piece of camp filler. Well done.