Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Vampires Of Venice: A Lust For Several Lesbian Vampire Romps

'I'm a Time Lord, you're a big fish. Think of the children!'

It's 1580, Croatia-doubling-for-Venice, and the Doctor, Amy and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce-substitute Rory are having a right old 'mare of a time down on the Med. Early on, Amy uses the word 'preposterous' to describe some minor element of the laws of time travel or other. And, that one word becomes - as the episode progresses - a quite brilliant summation of Toby Whithouse's The Vampires of Venice. It's exactly what you'd expect from the creator of Being Human let loose in the giant toybox of Sixteenth Century Europe; a strangely addictive mixture of obvious genre cliches and less expected left-field notions. All stirred together into something that is, ultimately far more interesting than the sum of its parts might suggest. It's easily the funniest episode of the series so far. If only for the Rory/Doctor exchange on the subject of sources of illumination: 'Yours is bigger than mine,' 'Let's not go there.'

For someone like yer Keith Telly Topping who grew up spending his formative Top Telly viewing years drooling over late Friday night repeats of The Twins of Evil, Vampire Circus and Taste the Blood of Dracula on ITV's Appointment With Fear, the production's recreation of Hammer's early seventies mittel Europa-erotica works far beyond its initial playing with vernacular recognition. ('Pale creepy girls who don't like sunlight. Am I thinking what I think I'm thinking?' asks the Doctor, rhetorically.) It's thirty years, almost exactly, since Doctor Who last did a similarly informed very traditional vampire story (Terrance Dicks' aesthetically very pleasing but rather gauche State of Decay; 1988's The Curse of Fenric had very different influences). Toby clearly wanted to celebrate the nasty bloodsuckers' reappearance in the Doctor Who universe in this post-Buffy, post-Twilight, post-True Blood world. The Doctor and Amy's excited reaction to having discovered what these creatures at least appear to be is evidence of that. Vampires are, you might have noticed, way-cool again. Even if that brooding magnificence can get, rather, on ones tit-end if (like the Twilight movies), the form isn't given a healthy dose of self-deprecating irony every now and again. That's what made Buffy such a great show. It didn't take itself anywhere near as seriously as many of its grim pre-millennial contemporaries. The Vampires of Venice, fortunately, has plenty of that stuff. 'Makes you wonder what could be so bad it doesn't mind us thinking they're vampires,' noted the Doctor, briefly threatening to get all Giles/Van Helsing on us. Then, he gets to sonorously intone 'Tell me the whole plan,' before brilliantly sending the whole thing up, turning to camera, breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience 'one day, that'll work!'

It's Amy's best script since the opening episode of the series; she's no mere line-feed or convenient plot-moving device here. She gets properly characterised, properly funny lines. 'Tell Uncle ... Doctor I'll see you soon!' for one. 'Your daughter? You look about nine' for another. But the big bonus of the episode is Rory's inclusion. We worried, slightly, that this might be a case of Mickey-lite, the token boyfriend on a token trip. But Arthur Darvill puts in a terrifically balanced performance as a chap rather out of his depth in the world he's been - somewhat unwillingly - thrown into but prepared to, at least, engage with it. He's smarter than the Doctor (and Amy for that matter) give him credit for. He's a bit of a natural coward but has surprising moments of pissed-off anger about him. 'I'm being reviewed now, am I?' he asks Amy after she's criticised his rather lame swordfighting rescue attempt. I like him. And, they gave him some dead funny lines too. 'According to this, I'm your eunuch,' for example. I hope he hangs around for a bit.

This brings us back to Whithouse's tight script. It's a screenplay which does something that I've always admired. It mixes pithy, underplayed humour ('fish from space have never looked so ... buxom') with lovely little moments of more broad comic strokes. It's not custard-pie-in-the-face exactly but it's something that even a five year old can appreciate the inherent humour in. I loved the little Casanova gag at one extreme, for instance. And who, but a professional misanthrope could fail to raise a bit a chuckle at Rory's reaction to the Doctor's revelation that Amy kissed him at the other? 'So, you kissed her back?' he asked, horrified. The Doctor is straight in with a hot, mortified denial. 'No,' he says, seemingly disgusted by the very thought. 'I kissed her mouth.'

The best scene of the episode, by a country mile, was the one in which the Doctor confronts alien-fish-vampire-thing gestalt Rosanna Calvierri (a great performance by Helen McCrory) and the pair charm each other amid threats and menaces. It's great - proper old fashioned Doctor Who at its witty and dangerous best. It could have come straight from The City of Death or Kinda. Yet, even the episode's conceptual polar opposite sequence - the Doctor gatecrashing Rory's stag night with a piece of pure Troughtonesque slapstick ('thought I'd burst out of the wrong cake. Again!') - provides a nice juxtaposition. Maybe that's both the best and worst thing that one can say about The Vampires of Venice. It feels like Doctor Who because it contains so many diverse elements. In any other series it would seem weird. Here, it's a textbook example of the format. Which means that it's not the most original of conceits but that in its unoriginality, it feels right. Something of a contradiction, then. Which, to be fair, is exactly what you'd expect for a piece of Saturday night family entertainment about vampires in medieval Italy. It does what it says on the tin. Entertains.


Carl said...

Nooooo, the last vampire story was Curse of Fenric! ;op

Keith Telly Topping said...

Oh, knickers, I forgot about that one.

Ah, mind, they weren't *real8 vampires either!