09 May 2010

Undeath in Venice

Doctor Who recap: episode 506 "Vampires in Venice"

This is a one off since I think I have one about only one Tweep who might be interested in this. I just felt like trying my hand at this wondrous art form spawned by the internet age: the TV recap.

The episode begins in 16th century Venice with the wonderful actress Helen McCrory sitting in a regal chair, regal dress and throughout the scene, all I want to look at is the ruff on her dress. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think it is called a ruff although not your typical one. It's cut out at the front and taking a flat and fan-like shape behind the head. Elizabeth I sports one in the "The Ditchley Portrait", the one where she's stepping on a map of the British Isles. McCrory's ruff has gigantic pearls wrought in a sumptuous, intricate peacock tail motif seemingly made of gold thread and/or mesh.

Wow. Except her exceptional dress is a con (in olden days, peeps had to dress according to their rank) she's turns to be some kind of headmistress who runs a school. People refer to her simply as Signora. Huh. The headmistress' outer appearance turns out to be deceiving in another way, but I'm getting a head of myself here.

Seeking admittance into her school is the daughter (Isabella) of a boat-builder who makes the case for his seventeen year-old. A school that admits girls at seventeenth in 1580 Venice? I smell a fish already. Both characters are played by black actors. I'm all for blind casting but that seems a bit contrived having both the father and daughter be of the same race. Semi-blind casting? No biggie. Just saying.

The school, says the boat builder, offers a chance for betterment and "escape". Escape? What a peculiar choice of word. The only school I know that offers escape is Hogwarts which is all well and good but the escapism comes from wizardry and we don't think that's what the boat builder wants for his daughter. Of course we Whovians know that nothing is what is seems and this is most probably an escape from poverty right into the jowls of hell.

The daughter, however, is not an avid watcher of the Doctor Who series and full to the brim with girlish glee at the Signora's decision after a very shoddy application process. Basically, she just said ok. The father is a bit taken aback by this but doesn't resist too much when he's whisked away. The mother promptly offers Isabella to her son and although we know already these are the baddies, I really wish casting had opted for a more attractive ravisher. Good or bad, young male vampires these days are hot and sexy. Our Nosferatu days are long gone. We're used to shaggable vamps and we're not going back. We certainly want nothing to do with spotty and scrawny biters. Oh, did I forget to say they're vampires? They're vampires. Or are they?

When Isabella sees the son's fangs, she screams, a scream that fades into Rory's scream in the next scene. He's leaving a phone message for Rory. We met Rory in Amy's first appearance. He's Amy's fiancee.

"I haven't told you I love you in seven hours" Rory screams to Amy's answer machine.

(Aside on answer machines: Am I the only one who's noticed that answer machines have anachronistically persisted on screen whilst they have long disappeared here? Or maybe they still have them in the UK? I understand it's a convenient tool for writers to pass on info to the audience but this is getting to be a bit of a cheap trick).

Good info compression, we're back on Earth, in the present and Rory doesn't even know Amy's gone and still thinks they're getting married. The epi's just humming along. Rory's scream melded with Isabella's scream might prove to foreshadow what's in store for Rory. I mean, he's being set up for one hell of an awakening, isn't he? Poor Rory with his red shirt, a photo of Rory and his bride-to-be inside a heart, Amy making another one of her adorable goofy faces at the front of it.

(Aside on Amy Pond's face on the tee: It's an incredibly goofy face. She has a range of goofy faces and although one cannot say for sure, it is far too early, there's something about about Amy's goofiness that tells me we won't grow weary of it.)

This is Rory's stag do and it's a bit of a sad. There a mix of young men wearing the red t-shirt with picture in the front and the words Rory's stag on the back, and older men with the stag t-shirt, all crammed in a pub. It seems like a rather tame affair. No Vegas-style suite with hoards of strippers and prostitutes, no beer funnelling. No one appears dangerously or embarrassingly intoxicated. Different side of the pond, different customs I guess. Still, not much of a send off.

Oh wait, there's a stripper cake. Of course, the Doctor who springs out of it. Hello Rory, he says. He mentions a girl outside in a bikini and could someone let her in and get her a jumper, Lucy, lovely girl, diabetic. The "diabetic" works on many levels. It alludes to a lurid off-screen convo between the girl and the Doctor. One can imagine and giggle. It also informs on the tweed. This Doctor's tweed is not just a fashion statement, it's who he is. A bit of an old fogey. It also confirms his Assburger tendencies. A human being more likely to introduce himself by saying, "Hi, my name is Tom, I'm a builder" whereas few would say, "Hi, my name is Tom, I did laundry yesterday". All things being equal, the Doctor would tell you about how he separates his whites. Not criticising, just describing how I see him.

The Doctor wastes no time in demonstrating further Assburger Syndrome tendencies. Previous doctors (granted, I only know 9, 10 and 11) would choose to disregard social graces but this one seems oblivious to some details of human niceties and propriety. Or is it more that this Doctor tries things out, senses when his pronouncements provoke awkwardness and then edits and adjusts? We all remember his triumphant "Who the man?" which bombed catastrophically and which he swiftly followed up with something like, "I will never say that again." This time, the Doctor tests a Amy-kissed-me-and-she's-a-great-kisser-you're-a-lucky-lad line in front of the groom and his friend. He backtracks: "Funny how you can say something in your head and it sound fine...". Uh, no Doctor, with that one, I can't imagine how it would ever sound fine...

(Aside on Asperger Syndrome: no offence meant to Asperger sufferers and the people who love them. I understand that Asperger exists and it is serious. Assburger refers to geek mannerisms meant to imitate Asperger's as a means of excusing asocial, awkward behaviour.)

Opening credits: "Vampires of Venice" written by Toby Whitehouse

Ah, Toby. We love you.

Speaking of testing, this experimentation into recaping is going no where fast, let me pick up the pace..

The Doctor troublesome reaction to Amy's advances (not because he's not into Amy but because he seems thoroughly terrified by the idea of any intimacy whatsoever — what's the point of travelling the universe for over nine hundred if you're not going to get a little something-something once in a while?) translates here into over-abundant enthusiasm for the coming nuptials.

Rory is cranky even as he explores the TARDIS. He's being reading up and figures there's a different dimension inside the police box. The Doctor feels robbed: "I like it better when people say it's bigger on the inside. I always look forward to that." It's the small things in life that makes it all worth while for the Doctor.

As a wedding gift, the Doctor offers the couple a romantic getaway: 16th century Venice.

Not much rapid-fire rambling this week, just the Doctor bragging about past Venetian experiences: we learn the Doctor owes Casanova a chicken. Cute.

So, here we are in Venice and Rory is being a complete sour puss about it. Because, of course, we all want our funny uncle to accompany us on our pre-nuptial honeymoon. I'm with Rory. I mean, according to the psychic ID, poor Rory is Amy's eunuch for heaven's sakes.

The trio must show their papers before entering the city which has been closed to all who aren't bona fide. The Signora has spread rumours of a great plague outside Venice and the city must remain insulated says the guard. The Doctor shows his psychic ID. For no reason I can explain, I'm always excited when the psychic ID turns up. I'm totally envious and I want pyschic ID. Even more than a TARDIS. Until Sarah Palin becomes leader of the free world that is.

The Doctor is suspicious at these cautionary measures. They are confirmed seconds later as the boat builder is banging at the gates of the Signora's house, yelling "Isabella" and thrusting his body against armed guards. We've seen characters do this on screen a million times. It never works and they never learn. And what exactly gives rise to his suspicions? Oh yeah, boat builder manages to see fangs protruding out of one of the school girl's mouth and Isabella doesn't recognise him.

The Doctor runs off to interrogate the boat builder.

Aside about the unprotective Doctor: in four seasons, I don't remember Eccleston or Tennant taking off on their companions as often as Smith has done in five episodes. Ok. I'm exaggerating, but not by much.

Within minutes, our three friends are each on their on, following vampires, vampires bumping into them. Just before they split up, Amy suggest she and Rory should pretend this is a date. Amy wants the Doctor, Amy wants Rory. Floosy. Don't believe me? Keep reading.

As they reunite, the Doctor and Amy jump up and down with glee. Is there anybody left in this world who isn't head over heels over vampires except for werewolves and born-again Christians? Rory and me, apparently.

All three head to visit the boat builder who today would be arrested under whatever anti-terrorism legislation they have in Italy now. Whilst building war ships the man has amassed dozens of barrels of gun powder. Think about it. Unless you were some kind of sicko, wouldn't nick you the barrels of grog rations instead? Weirdo alert! And the Doctor agrees, "most people steal stationary from where their work."

Again, the Doctor is going to put Amy in the line of fire. He's doesn't like gun powder. Uh-huh. Nice try Toby. What, you think we haven't read our Chekov? If barrels of gun powder show up in the first act.... right... in the mean time, the Doctor is going to seek admission for Amy into the school, pretending Amy is his daughter ."Your daughter... you look about nine!" She wants the Doctor to say he's her fiancee (which makes no sense really, why would he send her to the school then?) but since the Doctor has already been seen by the vampires (he encountered them when they split up), it is decided Rory should go. Rory wants to say he's Amy's fiancee but Amy tells him he'll be her brother and she rubs his hair like he's a dog or something. And Rory is emasculated again.

The whole episode is well-written but this bit made me laugh out loud. As with everything written for the screen, it's all in the execution and Arthur Darvill (Rory) is spot on here. So Rory (with Amy, both in 1580 Venetian gear) to the Signora:

"So basically both of our parents are dead from getting the plague." The "so basically" resounds with contemporariness. Very funny under the circs.

"I'm a gondolier... driver..." Perfect pacing.

"So money's a bit tight. So having my sister going to your school for special people..." Does he means special needs school? LOL!

"...would be brilliant." Tee hee.

The Singora isn't stupid, she tells her servant: "Explain yourself. Why have you brought me this imbecile?" The servant explains they came with a reference letter from the Queen of Sweden. The Signora is suddenly delighted. Considering her plans and the fact that she took in a boat builder's daughter which does she now care about rank?

Oh dear... are you still reading this? I'm only one quarter of the way in. Better wrap this up. 

The vampires are insect-like aliens facing instinction. The further visual con is that the Signora and her son hide their true form by wearing a gizmo that manipulates brain waves. The Signora has ten thousand alien sons waiting under the waters of Venice. The schoolgirls are food/mates (?)

The aliens are afraid of the Doctor's Jedi sword. I didn't even know he had one.

The Doctor and the Signora have a supposedly touching convo about extinction and the Doctor seems compassionate but he gets very stroppy the minute he realises the Signora doesn't remember the name of the boat builder's daughter, Isabella. Yup, that's the real cause for outrage.

I mean, is he just the most fickle man sometimes?

The boat builder and Isabella don't make it. He's kills himself and a bunch of vamp-like schoolgirls by deliberately setting off the gun powder.

The Doctor and Rory have their chat about the kiss. "I'd like to now," says Rory "I'm getting married in four hundred and thirty years." The Doctor says "She kissed me because I was there" which I don't understand how that could be construed as reassuring. 

After what happened to Rose and Donna, it is an understatement to say that the Tenth Doctor was tormented by guilt in his relationships with his companions and Rory is laying out the ground work for the Eleventh. He accuses the Doctor of making people want to impress him: "You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you're around". That one hurt.

Rory has his moment, diverts the Signora's son away from Amy by insulting his mother. "Did you say something about mummy?" You gotta hand it to him, doesn't take long for Rory to suss things up and go for the weak spot. Amy finally kills the son who explodes into a pile of ash just the like the vampires we've seen on tv and film in the last few years.

In the end, the aliens are defeated (duh), they need water to survive, that's what they take from humans, not blood, water. The Signora has a weather tampering device which bring is to shower rain over Venice but the Doctor switches it off. 

Our trio toddles off to the TARDIS for more adventures. Amy is the happy queen bee of that threesome, "Look at this. Got my space ship. Got my boys. My work here is done." She owns them.

Very good episode. It ends on a familiar note of foreboding about the end... end of all things. Always with the foreboding. Why must a dark cloud follow the Doctor and his audience wherever they go? This is our new Doctor. Can we just have a bit of pure, unadulterated fun for a while please?

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