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Reverse The Polarity: The Vampires of Venice & Amy's Choice Review

Posted By: Darren Blackburn, U.K. Correspondent
On: May 24, 2010 Updated: 3 years 26 weeks ago
REVERSE THE POLARITY WITH DARREN BLACKBURN The Vampires of Venice by Toby Whitehouse Amy's Choice by Simon Nye   Spoilers!   After the superb upswing of the Angels two-parter -- and wasn't it a cracker? -- could the next two episodes maintain altitude level? Well, in two words; yes and no.  Vampires of Venice had the pedigree of being a classic pseudo-historical: history with a dose of sci-fi mixed in, or in this case horror with a long welcome return to the Doctor encountering Vampires! Oh yes, he's met bloodsuckers before: Count Dracula in the 1966 story The Chase (although it turned out the Count was a robot!) and the genuine article in the 1980 story, State of Decay, which introduced the idea that the Time Lords were once involved in a war with the Vamps way before they got embroiled in the Time War. Sadly no mention of that in this story, but really, Vampires! I expected this tale to be a good old-fashioned gothic horror for a Saturday teatime and, well, let’s start with a recap. At the end of Flesh and Stone, the Doctor decides that getting Amy and her boyfriend Rory to tie the knot on their wedding day is essential; all of Creation is at stake! (At stake; get it?). Gate-crashing Rory's stag night down at the local Leadworth pub by popping out of a cake (hilarious scene!) the Doctor takes Rory (who disappoints the Doctor, when upon entering the Tardis, doesn’t say that most famous remark about its physical dimensions) and Amy to the most romantic city in the world.  Except instead of Starbucks and china mask shops Amy and Rory get 15th Century Venice -- a city recovering from plague, isolated by decree of the all-powerful Calvierri family. Investigating the mysterious school of Rosanna Calvierri where several buxom young beauties with big fangs (what do you think I was referring too?) get an eyeful from Rory, a slap in the face from Amy and a delighted grin from the Doctor when he realizes they cast no reflection in mirrors. This sets things up for a good old Vampire tale that has many traits to those woefully dreadful Hammer Horror films, the ones with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing: wobbly sets, dreadful acting, oodles of tomato ketchup. VOV ended up being more like that than I actually wanted it to be! Now before I register why this story was a let-down, I will say production-wise the choice of filming this episode in Croatia in the world heritage town of Trojir was an excellent stand-in for Venice: the winding alleyways, castle and waterfronts blended in good CGI and the BBC’s love of period costume dramas was a genuine plus point for this story. Same goes to Matt, Karen and Arthur Darvill as Rory who incidentally becomes a companion for four episodes, a down-to-earth bloke that accepts everything around him, even if he’s traveled back a few centuries making him a welcome addition to the Tardis crew. And, plus point two and a bit: he just like Amy doesn’t necessarily take for granted what the Doctor says or does. Boy, gone are the days when companions just stood around and screamed their lungs out. Back to the story in progress: After deciding to help a local Venetian to save his daughter from the clutches of Rosanna’s school, The Doctor gets a tête-à-tête with the Matriarch and learns that they’re not Vampires, they’re aliens! Saturnynes, and -- wait for it -- they’re … no, I won’t spoil it but let’s just say that the revelation of exactly what the Saturnynes were was a major let-down for me and my folks. More so disappointment in writer Toby Whitehouse, he behind the excellent Being Human -- which is very Torchwood, very adult and well-recommended and has true Vampires aplenty -- while here we end up with … nah, it’s too disappointing! Anyway, concluding, Venice faces a sudden sinking into the lagoon, the peasants are revolting (and smell a lot; after all, they throw everything into the canals, no wonder there was a plague) and before you can say The Doctor does a new take on bell ringing to save the day, and Rory gets a chance to use a mop in an unusual way, everything’s wrapped up in less than three minutes! However, again a plus point, before leaving for Leadworth, another aspect of the ongoing arc rears its head when we experience exactly what the Silence is.  Rosanna gives a vivid recall of how the Silence affected the fortunes of her race before the Doctor casually reminds her that she’s a .. no, wait and see and yes another race gets wiped out. Good going, Doctor! Moving onto to Amy’s Choice: Now, I am not sure how many of you lot are familiar with Simon Nye’s work. He’s mainly known for writing many of our comedy sitcoms over here, Men Behaving Badly being his most well-known. (Google it and you’ll find out why a lot of us were worried about what kind of story this one would be, worse considering Nye’s never-written science fiction before.) However, fear not, because Amy’s Choice was a perfect gem, tailoring to Nye’s main talent of writing drama and set character pieces rather than big flashy set-scenes with vampires that are really … Amy’s Choiceresolves around the concept of dreams; what is real, what is fantasy and more importantly asking the question, “If you die in a dream, do you die in reality simultaneously?” Essentially two stories in one, with scenes jumping alarmingly between Upper Leadworth, a village lost in time (with a nod to that 1960’s classic series The Avengers; no, not the superhero team, the one with Steed and Mrs Peel -- oh use Google!) with the Doctor visiting a happily married Amy and Rory (Rory has a pony tail, Amy has a “planet” in her belly and there’s a bunch of very sinister senior citizens at the Sarn Old People’s Home). While at the same time, The Doctor,  Amy and Rory are also aboard the Tardis sharing a dream of them in a quiet English village, married, expecting their first child and yet suddenly the Tardis is plunged into darkness and an unwelcome intruder places the time machine on a collision course with an impossible astronomical anomaly. And there’s a choice to make -- which reality is real, which is fiction and Amy gets to choose! Now I won’t spoil the rest of this one because you really need to watch it and savour every scene. It has some very eerie sequences in a frozen Tardis, cruelty inflicted upon old women with handbags, Zimmer frames and a fake piece of wood with a point that you won’t see your grandparents in a same light again. As for the Dream Lord, played by Toby Jones, he’s brilliant, oozing bile out of his pores, one of the most mercurial villains for The Doctor to face yet, or will face because … no, I won’t say another word! Just watch the last scene in the Tardis carefully; it’s quite a revelation putting another perspective of The Doctor’s personality right into your lap! It’ll make you think! Right! Got to go now and get the shopping! Back in two weeks with the next two-parter: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood which I’ll review together featuring the return of a classic monster race that last appeared 26 years ago with a very dodgy pinto horse! And no, it isn’t the Kandy Man! And they are not Vampires either, they’re … Whap! Who hit me with that fish?