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Fish from Space. ‘Nuff said.

May 9, 2010

Vampires they may not have been, but the alien fish in Vampires in Venice were an intriguing concept nonetheless. It’s always interesting to see how Doctor Who explores the idea of traditional gothic monsters – like the werewolf in Tooth and Claw and the ghosts in The Unquiet Dead – and the way the concept of ‘vampires’ was executed here was engaging without running the risk of becoming a pale (sorry) imitation of all the prominent vampire dramatizations that are around at the moment. Having said that I did find this episode somewhat underwhelming. This could be because of the high standards achieved by last week’s episode – Moffat can be an extremely tough act to follow – or it could have been down to the 45 minute format of the new Doctor Who. This has been criticized by some for leading to increasingly rushed and underwhelming individual episodes, particularly when compared with double-bills or Christmas specials. Whatever the reason in this case, I still maintain that this series is consistently one of the best we’ve seen since the show’s revival in 2005.

Turning to the vampires themselves, they are actually giant alien fish refugees from the doomed planet Saturnyne. They doubled very well for vampires, particularly with their aversion to direct sunlight, so the vampire theme fitted them well without feeling like it had been shoehorned in to try and tick a box. The thought of numerous alien fish swimming around in the Venetian canals also added a certain creepiness to the set-up, particularly when we witnessed Isabella’s death. This was somewhat morbid and won’t have done any favours for anyone with a shark or piranha phobia, but it set the scene well for Rosanna’s suicide scene later on. That scene was quite powerful – the thought of her being consumed by her own children was particularly chilling – but we were again treated to a hefty dose of the ‘last of the species’ theme that we’ve become so used to in the new Doctor Who. This theme has popped up at least once in every new series, understandably so of course as it’s such a huge part of the Doctor’s past, but after the climax of the Time War in The End of Time I was expecting them to lay off a bit, if for no other reason then simply because repetition lessens impact, and if they over-egg it too much then the audience may simply stop caring.

Another thing that struck me about this plot was that the Doctor didn’t offer to take the aliens somewhere else, like to an uninhabited world where they could rebuild their species without harming anyone else. After all, he offered help to Davros after the Dalek’s crucible plan had been foiled, and I’m sure he’s offered similar help to another invading species, though I forget who (Pyrovile maybe?). It seems strange then that these vampires, a race who genuinely were just trying to survive, were never offered the Doctor’s help.

This episode also contained a few continuity errors, the most obvious being to do with Francisco’s death. The fact that sunlight made him explode when this hadn’t happened to any of the other aliens could probably be explained away by the fact that he was in alien rather than human form at the time, and thus more susceptible to combustion. However, the fact that this happens after the tower has started spouting rain-clouds – i.e. while it’s cloudy – is frankly rubbish. And while we’re on the subject, whatever became of that earthquake and the promised tidal-wave? Was that just a throwaway line in the end, because I didn’t notice a tidal-wave hit Venice despite all the water that was already there? I also didn’t like how easy it was for doctor to fix Amy after she’d been bitten. Evidently on top of all the other stuff it can do his screwdriver can now repair flesh-wounds. I don’t want to sound like a prude here but I do think that less is more when it comes to sonic-screwdrivers, as with the ‘last of the speicies’ theme and anything to do with Overt Morality.

An interesting new element in this episode was the increased presence of Rory. Having a new mid-series companion like Rory generally provides a sort of interlude to things and helps to refresh the show’s format a bit, normally with a fresh dose of “it’s bigger on the inside”. However, like the Doctor I too was slightly disappointed by how comfortable Rory seemed with everything. I know he said he’d read up on this sort of thing after the Prisoner Zero episode, but I had expected him to be at least a bit flustered and to have asked some more questions. I also thought the Doctor’s reason for taking him wasn’t particularly great (probably because it was in about 2 lines and I managed to miss them), and although the bit when the Doctor came out of the cake was funny it was more cringeworthy than was strictly necessary. Having said that, having Rory on board was one of my favourite things about Vampires in Venice. I’m a fan of the Doctor having more than 1 companion at a time (this happened much more in the old Doctor Who than it generally does now), particularly in episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace (one of my personal favourites). This was the only full episode with just the Doctor, Rose and Mickey together for its entirety and the dynamic there worked very well, as I thought it did here with Rory and Amy. It was also nice to see Amy show Rory some proper affection, which we saw little of between Rose and Mickey. I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of Rory’s time in the TARDIS so I hope he’s more of a permanent fixture than Mickey was. He seems to be pivotal for next week’s episode at any rate, at least judging by what we can see in the preview.

And to conclude, here are my favourite bits of the episode:

  • The hands-over-the-mouths bit, especially when Rory does it to Guido.
  • The whole question and answer conversation between the Doctor and Rosanna when they first meet. Very well scripted I thought.
  • The Doctor’s reply to Rory after he’d said “we’re not leaving you”. A powerful line, clearly intended to remind us of what Davros said to the Doctor in Journey’s end.
  • Rory trying to stab Francisco with a broom. Classic.
  • The father wearing the ‘Rory’s Stag’ shirt.
  • When the Doctor says he’s doing it because Rosanna didn’t even know Isabella’s name.
  • Fish from space have never been so… buxom.
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