I’d started to worry that the Moffat era wasn’t going to work unless Moffat himself wrote the scripts, but “Vampires of Venice” helped me breathe a little easier.
The history’s just for color, of course. There’s no reason this story couldn’t have happened in Victorian England, or at the height of the Roman Empire, or the far future of the Earth. Well, the canals might almost be necessary (though they raise other awkward questions), but the time period isn’t, except maybe to throw us off the scent for a while. I can’t really speak to its accuracy; a few moments made me go “huh?” but nothing I could criticize with any authority, and besides, the Cracks in Time could cause all sorts of problems with history at this point.
I quite liked the villains, though they didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. As you might predict, we do find that they’re not traditional vampires (more “The Curse of Fenric” (Seventh Doctor) than “State of Decay” (Fourth Doctor)) and yet the way they assimilate their victims into their ranks doesn’t make much sense otherwise. It’s on par with “Daleks in Manhattan” for plausibility. Also, I can see where a summer day might be uncomfortable for them, but the way they react to concentrated sunlight is pure Anne Rice (via Neil Jordan, with a hint of Lifeforce if you like). Granted, they don’t have much choice in the matter, but you’d think this might not be the best planet for them to colonize, what with all the sunlight around. Maybe it’s all the water that attracted them (a nice nod to “Fenric”‘s Haemovores). No matter: this is science fantasy, not science fiction. The vampires’ true form, by the way, is fantastic, one of the better effects so far this season in my opinion and all the more so for being used sparingly. Kind of a strange mashup of species, but they are aliens, after all, in case you hadn’t guessed.
Rory comes along this time, and as the end of last week’s episode indicated, this Doctor seems far more determined to keep the human couple together than his previous incarnations were regarding Mickey and Rose. This leads to a few clunky lines (there was no need to spell out the flashlight gag, for instance), and unfortunately Rory’s a damned nuisance, slapsticking around embarrassingly. It would have been far more interesting and watchable had he displayed a little competence in some area. Of course he’s terrified, and who wouldn’t be? But to make him so useless in relation to the Doctor just seems mean, and more importantly boring, and not really funny as it seems it was meant to be. Still, and this is probably the point, he does get in a few of the reproachful lines that serve to give the Doctor dimension these days, about blithely putting human lives in danger and such. Also I really liked the way Matt Smith delivered the line about how he likes it better when people just say “it’s bigger on the inside than the outside” — there’s enough threat in it that you can’t help wondering where it’s coming from. To me that’s a far more interesting dimension than the old “people all around you die” complaint.
The dialogue’s pretty crisp and fun, giving me even more confidence that “Victory of the Daleks” was atypical in its lameness. There’s another moral dilemma at the end, a real “well, wait a minute, she’s got a point” remark about saving a city versus saving a species. It’s not quite as tough to resolve as the one in “The Beast Below,” but it’s not trivial, either, and I hope these culminate in something larger during Moffat’s reign, instead of being throwaway angst.
Overall, it’s not terrible, but it’s not going to make anyone’s best-of-season list. It’s just a fun little outing with something of an old-school feel to it. The teaser for next week, on the other hand, couldn’t have less of an old-school feel, and I’m pretty excited for it. This one met my modest expectations, but next week will have a lot to live up to.