“The Vampires Of Venice” is the second episode Toby Whithouse has penned for Doctor Who after “School Reunion” in Series 2, and the premise of this story – the Doctor and his friends fighting vampires in the 16th century – feels like a very fitting one for Whithouse to tackle, considering “Being Human” is arguably the series he’s best known for. With “The Vampires Of Venice”, we’re officially entering the middle portion of Series 5, and we get a pretty large change in the status quo when a new person temporarily joins the TARDIS crew. Something I’ve always liked about the earlier seasons of Doctor Who is when a third person is brought onboard the TARDIS for a few episodes, just to shake things up when it comes to the usual Doctor / companion dynamics. The show had previously done this with Captain Jack towards the end of Series 1, and with Mickey Smith around the middle of Series 2, and in both cases, it led to a pretty fun stretch of episodes.
The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond have already proven to be a charming duo together, but when you toss Rory Williams into the mix as a straight man, you get a pretty great trio who have a lot of chemistry with each other. After his basic character traits were established in “The Eleventh Hour“, Rory grows quite a bit during this run of episodes between “The Vampires Of Venice” and “Cold Blood“, learning to be more courageous and to stand up for himself more, and the Series 5 finale (“The Pandorica Opens“) officially puts a bow on his character development. Unlike John Barrowman and Noel Clarke, Arthur Darvill would later be upgraded to a full-time cast member after Series 5, so if nothing else, it’s interesting to see where Rory’s character officially got his start as a companion in “The Vampires Of Venice”. Like many of Toby Whithouse’s better episodes, “The Vampires Of Venice” also has some interesting things to say about the Doctor’s character, and how he handles his adventures through time and space with human companions.
The teaser (where the Doctor makes a complete fool of himself and Rory) makes it apparent that the Eleventh Doctor is pretty awful at reading a room, but his heart’s in the right place. By now, he’s aware of Amy’s crush on him, but he does not return it in any way whatsoever and he just wants their friendship to return to normal, so he decides to play matchmaker. He takes Amy and Rory on a romantic day out so they can sort out their relationship issues (basically, he ships them), and while he’s doing that, he winds up investigating foul play at a shady, supernatural private school. Eleven loves seeing new things, so he’s thrilled to discover vampires, even when they’re trying to kill him (geeking out with Amy about how cool it is).
When things start to get dangerous, Rory accuses him of being reckless and irresponsible, which is something he can’t quite deny. The Doctor feels responsible for everyone he brings along with him in the TARDIS, and he does try to look out for their safety: whether or not he actually does enough (without robbing them of their agency as adults) is an interesting question to consider. It’s also the first of many times the Eleventh Doctor will stop and ponder on what kind of long-term effect he actually has on his best friends. Matt Smith shines with a particularly steely performance during a scene where Rosanna proposes a truce to him, appealing to the fact that they’re both the last survivors of their species to try to gain some sympathy from him. The Doctor coldly and firmly rejects the idea, because their priorities are just too incompatible: she couldn’t care less about native life on Earth, while he considers every human life to be precious and he’s disgusted by her callousness. The only thing that comes of this exchange is that both of them fully resolve to finish what they started and see their plans through to the bitter end.
Now that she’s had some time to calm down from the hell she went through in the last episode and come to her senses, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is not exactly proud of what she did, betraying Rory’s trust behind his back. But true to her biggest character flaw, she wants to avoid the uncomfortable subject as much as she can, and she’s gone back to refusing to acknowledge her crush on Eleven exists at all (which she’ll have to face eventually, if she ever truly wants to move forward – something the next episode, “Amy’s Choice“, will force her to do). By this point in Series 5, it’s clear that Amy loves having adventures: never staying still for long, seeing incredible things, fighting monsters and saving people’s lives. Unlike Rory, who’s happy with a quiet existence, this sort of lifestyle speaks to her wanderlust and she’s not ready to give it up anytime soon.
Amy’s flaws as a romantic partner are obviously given a lot of focus in the aftermath of “Flesh And Stone“, but we also get some insight into Rory’s personality flaws and what sort of issues Amy might have with their relationship: namely that he can be very overprotective of her. Feeling worried about what might happen on her adventures with the Doctor, Rory wants to keep her out of harm’s way every step of the way, and shoots down every idea she comes up with to help the Doctor on his case, which clearly annoys her. Amy wants to prove she’s a big girl who can handle herself, and she does not make the best case for that when she gets kidnapped by the villains and needs to be rescued. Later on, Rory tries to save her from Francesco, a predatory vampire who’s been obsessed with her for days, and quickly gets overwhelmed (since he hardly has a ton of fighting skills under his belt himself), at which point, Amy steps in and winds up saving him. After this, Rory learns his lesson about selling Amy’s survival skills short and starts to ease back on being your classic overprotective boyfriend.
For Rory Williams, Amy’s lovable goof of a boyfriend, “The Vampires Of Venice” is his first major role in the series, and his first trip through time. Rory is pretty horrified when the Doctor crashes his bachelor party to deliver some bad news about Amy. He’s always secretly had his doubts about whether or not he could measure up to Amy’s magic Doctor (who seemed to be perfect in every way) in her eyes – and that was before he discovered the Doctor was a real person. After what he learns in the teaser, Rory gets very jealous and insecure, spending much of this episode having a one-sided cockfight with the Doctor over Amy. Compared to how he was a bit of a doormat in his first appearance, Rory becomes a bit more assertive in this episode, stepping forward more often with his concerns and his grievances.
He’s once again shown to be a sharp and perceptive person, who manages to guess how the TARDIS works without having to be told, and he handles traveling through time pretty well, all things considered. Compared to Eleven and Amy, Rory is very much not a seeker of thrills and serves as the straight man of the group, who’s the first to question if their decisions are actually wise. And despite his jealousy and his disgruntled feelings about the Doctor and Amy, Rory does have some fun on this trip, enjoying the sights and sounds of Venice. Arthur Darvill is pretty consistently funny as Rory, thanks to his comedic timing and his understated reactions to all the weird things going on, like the look of sheer horror on Rory’s face when he realizes he’s sitting on gunpowder. After helping the Doctor to save Venice (and thousands of lives in the process) in the climax, Rory finally understands why Amy enjoys seeing the world with him so much and is thrilled when Amy invites him along on their voyage across the universe, which nicely sets up the next episode that will explore the relationships all three leads have with each other.
Two noteworthy side characters in this story are Guido and his daughter, Isabella, who find themselves caught in the crossfires of Rosanna Calvierri’s nefarious scheme, when Isabella becomes the latest victim of her elite academy. Her father pushed her to enlist in their ranks with the other girls her age – he’s just an impoverished ship-builder, so he thought it would be a path to a better future for her – so Guido is saddled with a hell of a lot of guilt, and a ton of parental concern, when that seemingly innocent decision winds up putting her in grave danger. Guido teams up with the Doctor so they can infiltrate Rosanna’s school and get Isabella back, but their mission ultimately proves to be a failure, when she’s executed by the vampires. It’s a real tragic turn, and an excellent example of how sometimes, despite his trying his best, the Doctor can’t save everyone.
Rosanna sums up the main theme of this episode quite well in the cold open: protecting your own and looking out for the best interests of your clan at all costs. As you would expect, Guido is absolutely crushed by what became of his daughter. No parent ever wants to outlive their children, and there’s no greater pain imaginable than to lose them – that kind of grief will ironically drive Rosanna herself over the edge by the episode’s end. Since he has nothing left to live for anymore, Guido sacrifices himself to take down Rosanna’s foot soldiers. He got his revenge on his daughter’s killers, and he dealt a major blow to the house of Calvierri that wound up being their undoing. Guido and Isabella’s side-plot in this episode isn’t explored very much in depth, but it is a very poignant and important one to include: it illustrates the consequences of Rosanna’s plan for the people of Venice which she clearly doesn’t care about, and establishes what’s at stake if the Doctor can’t stop her.
The house of Calvierri, a clan of wealthy aristocrats, are our villains of the week: they run a private school in Venice where they recruit teenage girls into their ranks so they can turn them into vampires like themselves. Rosanna Calvierri is their matriarch, who seems to be an affable person on the surface. She has a silver tongue and can make her ideas seem very seductive and enticing when she’s trying to sell them to people, but underneath, she’s very callous and ruthless. Since she’s an off-worlder, she has no love for the planet Earth or anyone living on it, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to advance the interests of her clan. She’s completely indifferent to poor Isabella’s death after she has the girl executed for helping the Doctor and Amy, and she plans on sinking Venice so her people can take over the city, killing thousands. Her son, Francesco, is clearly very hungry for her approval, and he proves to be a very creepy predator towards women throughout the hour.
When it comes to the villains’ backstory, “The Vampires Of Venice” builds off the new revelations about the cracks in time we just got in “Flesh And Stone”, exploring the effects they’ve had on the rest of the universe. Rosanna and her clan are refugees, who fled their world after it was destroyed by the cracks and escaped to Earth through a wormhole, much like Prisoner Zero did. Now she wants to repopulate her species on Earth by converting Earth girls into new members of their kind for her sons to mate with (a plan that the Doctor quite rightly deems as gross and creepy). In a fitting bit of karma, after she made plenty of parents like Guido lose their children, Rosanna gets to experience plenty of grief, heartbreak and loss herself after Francesco is killed and her species is seemingly doomed to extinction. With nothing else to live for anymore, she rather shockingly decides to take her own life, spiting the Doctor one last time as she does so.
“The Vampires Of Venice” is directed by Jonny Campbell, who makes some tasteful decisions in the director’s chair this week: like the smash cut from Isabella screaming to Rory screaming at his bachelor party in the teaser; the slow and steady zoom-out shot of Rosanna ‘hydrating’ inside her manor, which looks sumptuous; and the final shot of the episode, where the camera zooms inside the TARDIS’s keyhole as a transition into the end credits. Doctor Who did a lot of location shooting in Croatia for both this episode and “Vincent And The Doctor“, and as a result, the scenery in this episode is absolutely gorgeous and a large divergence from the norm for the show. From the crowded streets by the canals, to Guido’s old home, to the Calvierri clan’s enormous mansion, everything about the setting of this episode feels charmingly rustic, creating an immersive period piece.
I want to give props to the costume and wardrobe department, who were given the job of recreating 16th century fashions: the excessively gaudy (and no doubt expensive) clothes Rosanna and Francesco wear throughout the hour feel just right for the period, while also suiting their pious and haughty personalities. The Mill have their work cut for them this week: for the vampires’ true forms, the special effects team creates fully CGI creatures that are more complex than anything they’ve rendered before, and they pull it off well (especially when Francesco tries to kill Rory), but the green screen in the climax, when Rosanna unleashes her storm over the city is considerably less convincing. Murray Gold pens a rich, earthy and old-fashioned score this week to match the Italian setting, with some pretty beautiful flourishes from his orchestra in “Chicken Casanova“. “A Cab For Amy Pond” is filled with tense strings and pounding percussion, perfect for a good chase scene, while “The Vampires Of Venice“, the climatic theme for the villains, really cuts loose with howling, operatic vocals from the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
“The Vampires Of Venice” is a pretty strong romp episode that manages to be a simpler story than the chaotic Weeping Angels two-parter that preceded it (a palette cleanser, so to speak), while also still maintaining the momentum of Series 5 so far: keeping the character progression and the unfolding of the series arc chugging along at an enjoyable pace.
* “The Vampires Of Venice” has one of the most awkward set-ups for a Doctor Who episode that you’ll find in the series canon. A lot of people would be thrilled to go on a romantic trip to 16th century Venice. But I imagine going with the fiancée who just tried to cheat on you, and the person she just tried to cheat on you with would be a very uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.
* “Venice! Venezia! La Serenissima! Impossible city, preposterous city, founded by refugees running from Attila the Hun. It was just a collection of little wooden huts in the middle of the marsh, but became one of the most powerful cities in the world. Constantly being invaded, constantly flooding, constantly just beautiful!”
* “Um, according to this, I’m your eunuch!” “Oh yeah, I’ll explain later”.
* “Why is him being your brother weird, but with me, it’s okay?” “Actually, I thought you were her fiancée?” “Yeah, that’s not helping”.
* “Carlo, explain yourself. Why have you brought me this imbecile?!” Oof.
* “Now? You want to do this now?!” “I have a right to know. I’m getting married in 430 years!”
* “Just as well I brought this, then. Ultraviolet. Portable sunlight” “Yours is bigger than mine” “Let’s not go there”.
* “You know what’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around”.
* “They’re not vampires, they’re aliens!” “Haha, classic!” “That’s good news? What is wrong with you people?”
* “There were cracks. Some were tiny. Some were as big as the sky. Through some we saw worlds and people, and through others we saw Silence and the end of all things”.
* “This ends today. I will tear down the House of Calvierri, stone by stone. Take your hands off me, Carlo. And you know why? You didn’t know Isabella’s name. You didn’t know Isabella’s name”.
* “Only the male offspring survived the journey here. She’s got ten thousand children swimming around the canals, waiting for Mum to make them some compatible girlfriends. Urgh. I mean, I’ve been around a bit, but really that’s, that’s eugh“.
* “The people upstairs are very noisy” “There aren’t any people upstairs” “I knew you were going to say that. Did anyone else know he was going to say that?”
* “The only thing I’ve seen uglier than you is your mum!” “Wait, did you just say something about mummy?” Oh hell no. It was at that point that Rory knew he was a dead man walking.
* Rory and Francesco’s ‘fight scene’ with the broom is easily the comedic highlight of this episode. That was some high-grade cringe.
* “Tell me, Doctor. Can your conscience carry the weight of another dead race? Remember us. Dream of us”.
* I’d just like to point out that while Rosanna and Francesco are dead, there’s no indication that the Doctor did anything to remove the other fish people from the canals and transport them off-world. Until they die out, I’m guessing Venice has a new form of population control.
* “Look at this! I’ve got my spaceship, I’ve got my boys. My work here is done” “Um, we are not her boys” “Yeah, we are” “Yeah, we are”.