Blimey. Week Six of Doctor Who already. Doesn’t time fly? Or maybe… it doesn’t, if the theme for the season really is that time can be tinkered with.
Anyway, Vampires of Venice (BBC1, Sat) was a rollocking, rip-snorting adventure which reminded me of nothing so much as Imperial-phase Tom Baker. Matt Smith strode through “Venice” as if he owned the city, clowning where necessary to hide a very real inner strength. Just the way Tom used to do.
From the splendid jump-cut in the teaser – flashing forward from Venice to present-day Rory at his stag do, and encountering a very nasty surprise in his wedding cake – this roared with confidence, swagger and panache. The sight of Eleven emerging from that cake (facing the wrong way, of course), suggesting that the girl who should have been in there needed a jumper, and then confessing to having been snogged senseless by the bride to be… well, even if I wasn’t a thoroughly tonto fan, I’d have been stuck to that sofa for the duration.
That said, pacing felt slightly off this week. It seemed to be more a series of set-pieces stuck together with some expository dialogue – but my goodness, those set-pieces were splendid.
The stuff with the psychic paper was a great way to get the story rattling along (although with that comment concerning Rory the Eunuch, Amy sailed perilously close to Rose Tyler territory, and not for the last time this episode). First-time traveller Rory acquitted himself marvellously – there were times this week when Arthur Darvill walked off with the episode in his pocket.
He’s so much more than a Mickey clone, which is what I first thought he was going to be. I’m so glad he seems to be sticking around. Quite apart from anything else, this is the week that rings the serious changes from the RTD years. For the first time since the series came back (with the exception of three short weeks in 2005 when Jack was knocking around, and again at the end of season 3), we have a Tardis crew that consists of more than two. A new dynamic to play with, and three leading cast members who are more than capable of firing zingers at each other and yet have all the dramatic weight you could hope for.
I found myself slightly unnerved by Eleven this week – Matt has a lovely line in moments where he seems to be dangerously close to violence at precisely the point where he shouldn’t be behaving like that at all. Just look at his reaction when Rory refuses to say “It’s bigger on the inside”. We’ve not seen a Doctor behave like that before, ever.
I’ll freely admit that I had my doubts when Matt Smith’s casting was announced, but Steven’s instincts were right on the money. If Matt’s this good after six weeks, how’s he going to be by the end of the season? Already it feels like he’s been here forever. I hope he’ll be here for a long time to come. He’s a constant surprise – whether indulging in a pissing contest with Rory over the size of their respective torches, lounging on Tim’s Goodies throne, or making everyone shut up while he works out the plot, Matt Smith now owns this series. And that’s before we get to his sudden appearance in confidential this week as the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention. Good work, fella.
The scene in the catacombs with Eleven meeting the Vampire Girls is already intimately familiar to me thanks to it being trailed on Jonathan Ross’s show a few weeks ago, but it still felt fresh and new, with some beautiful echoes of times long ago. Using The First Doctor’s library card by way of a bluff because he’s left the psychic paper with Rory was a beautiful nod to old-money Who. William Hartnell on prime-time BBC1 in 2010. Never thought that would happen. As a reference it was totally unobtrusive. If you know the series history it makes your heart sing. If you don’t, it’s just a nice joke before we move into the next bit. Now, that’s how to do it.
It wasn’t the only gorgeous nod to the past though. That reference to Casanova – I hope David Tennant was watching because I can’t have been the only person to spit coffee in a massive arc across my living room at that moment. Of course, if they had met there’d be more than a debt of a chicken to pay off. The whole time-differential shorting out thing might be a bit of a bind as well…
Meanwhile, Rory earns his spurs by insulting a monster’s mother, then ends up stabbing it with the wrong end of a broom. The manner in which Amy saves him struck a bit of a wrong note, in that the fish monsters and their attitude to sunlight seemed somewhat inconsistent – but it was stylishly and effectively done, and it led to that wonderful reconciliation where Amy realises just where her allegiances lie. Fairly in keeping with her slightly damaged m.o in that it takes a near death situation to make her really look at her husband-to-be in a positive light, but there you go.
On the whole then, a cheeky little 50 or so minutes of fun and hi-jinks (that episode definitely ran for longer than usual). Some really stylish direction (straight through the Tardis keyhole into the Next Time sequence – nice), beautiful scenery, great performances, a bunch of pale creepy girls who don’t like sunlight, and the welcome addition of a rock solid performer to the regular crew. And a swing in the Tardis. Lovely. I’ll take the odd bit of dodgy pacing with a checklist like that to work through.
Next week’s episode looks intriguing too. Dream Lords, pregnant companions, and Arthur Darvill sporting a truly awesome pony tail. I’ll be there. Provided the silence doesn’t get me, of course.