It may not have had alternate sideways universes, magical last-minute appearances of dogs or vague promises of the afterlife, but Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who may nonetheless have been the most entertaining thing on television this weekend. Who could resist aliens pretending to be vampires in ancient Venice, after all?
After the mythology-heavy last episode, “The Vampires Of Venice” came as a pleasantly light palate cleanser, while also advancing some subplots in its own quiet way. Following Amy’s somewhat surprising attempt to seduce the Doctor last week, he tries to undo any damage he may have caused to her engagement by whisking she and her fiance Rory (who, in a twist for Who, isn’t entirely annoying – In fact, I found him surprisingly engaging, and am happy he’ll be sticking around for a few more episodes) off to Venice in the year 1580, which just so happens to coincide with the emergence of a mysterious school which may or may not be run by vampires…
What made this episode work was the tone – Everything was handled with such an air of fun that you couldn’t help but be pulled along by it, even when the villain was revealed to be the last of an alien race that blamed the Doctor for their extinction… Although that, in part, may be because said extinction was actually the result of the crack in space/time that was at the center of last week’s episode, which also strongly suggested that it may end up never happening, thanks to the unwriting of time. With accidental genocide already on the way to being undone, what remained was a romp that let slip the ridiculous derring-do whenever possible: Swordfights! Climbing towers to fix the weather! Chases through underground caverns!
And at the heart of it all, Matt Smith’s Doctor – A character who’s warm and charming, but off-kilter and always gently reminding us that he doesn’t quite understand everything. It’s a great performance, but from equally great writing – the idea that the Doctor can somehow be smart enough to think his way out of countless deathtraps from countless aliens across all of time, and yet still be naive enough to think that he can fix Amy and Rory’s relationship by giving them a date, is a wonderful way of reminding us (especially after David Tennant’s emo Doctor from the last few years) that the Doctor is an alien, no matter what he looks like. He might have the best of intentions, but he’s still not like us, not really.
We’re six episodes into the season, a couple of weeks’ away from the midway point (The show takes a week off next weekend for Memorial Day), and there’s only been one weak episode so far – Unless we’re in for a run of particularly crappy episodes in the home stretch, this really may end up being the best the show has been since its’ mid-1970s heyday.
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