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‘Doctor Who’: The Vampires Of Venice review

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Shh. Stop whatever you’re doing right now, and listen. Can you hear it? In those moments in between your own breaths. There. The lull before the oncoming storm. Something is about to happen. But before it does, we get the now annual ‘Doctor on Holiday’ story. And it’s a cheerful, scary romp. Yes, we said romp. We might even say it again before the end of the review.

‘The Vampires Of Venice’ is the first of Series 5’s stories with titles that do exactly what they say on the tin: there’s vampires, and they’re in Venice (although, in all honesty, we’re still hoping that the upcoming ‘Vincent And The Doctor’ is just a working title.) It’s all very beautifully shot, every bit of location filming up there on screen, while the TARDIS crew (this week numbering three) continue to have genuine chemistry together.

There’s a couple of lovely continuity twisting moments to keep the fanboys happy, not least The Doctor flipping his library card to show us a face we’ve not seen in a while, and perhaps more obliquely, musing that it wouldn’t be a great idea for him to be in the same place at the same time as Casanova.

This may well be the halfway point for this series. Not only is it Episode 6, but it genuinely feels like there’s a thematic shift here. Even more than the two-parter of ‘The Time Of Angels’ and ‘Flesh And Stone’, this feels like unashamedly old-fashioned Doctor Who – tall, dark corridors, flickering flames, and monsters that not only bare their teeth and snarl, but also have a somewhat upsetting slurping sound to accompany them.

Oh, and it’s fun. Opinion has been widely divided over this series so far (which tends to suggest that they’re getting it exactly right), but ‘The Vampires Of Venice’ is simply fun: a true romp, with a (blood) bank of scary bits to upset the kids’ sleeping patterns and a mostly break-neck pace that barely stops to dust itself down and check for story points. In some of the earlier stories, that’s been a bit of a problem, but we’re settled in now, and can cope with the run, jump and yelling ‘Doctor!’ that make up a lot of this episode, mostly because that’s what this story is designed for.

Mostly. Obviously, there’s a Big Bad hanging around the corners, although you might not have heard it yet. It’s a pleasure to note that teasing references are expanded to become actual dialogue between The Doctor and this week’s villain, providing the latter with an actual motive for her actions.

As Rosanna, Helen McCrory (you might well recognise her as Narcissa Malfoy from a couple of Harry Potter films) shares a lot in common with the legendary Baroness Bathory, the female blood drinker who kept a bevy of buxom vamps at her side. Rosanna is one of those beautiful things in Who: a villain who you’re fully aware you may never see on screen again and so you mourn the end of the episode. Her scenes with Matt Smith crackle with energy – two great and powerful travellers circling each other with delicious respect. More importantly, like all the best villains, her motives (to her, at least) seem entirely sound, and it seems that The Doctor actually quite likes his enemy, which is still a fairly rare concept in the series.

Before Amy reaches a bump in her personal storyline, this is an episode reminding us of what she’s left behind. And while Rory is set up to be a bit of an idiot and Zeppo at the start of the episode (spending, as he does, most of time in Venice dressed in a t-shirt emblazoned with a photograph of himself and Amy in a love-heart), Being Human writer Toby Whithouse – and, presumably, Steven Moffat – allow Arthur Darvill’s character to be a lot more than merely sexless boyfriend, a non-companion who suffers from simply not being The Doctor. Of course, that’s there too, but Rory is allowed more of a character arc in this one episode than some of Rose Tyler’s squeezes were given in their entire appearances. In the end, starting from a subtle moment when The Doctor’s hand rests briefly on his shoulder, through a speech where he rounds on the Time Lord – ‘You know what’s dangerous about you?’ – to, finally, his genuine support and admiration, you get the distinct impression that Rory could be a better companion for The Doc than Amy.

This, almost inevitably, suffers from airing directly after what will likely be considered one of the best episodes of the series. It doesn’t matter: this is great, unaffected, old-style Who. No state of decay, but full of bite. In other words: a romp.

Airs at 6pm on Saturday 8th May 2010 on BBC One.