Monday, 17 February 2020

Doctor Who - The Haunting of Villa Diodati

Last Night Of The Prometheus

Doctor Who -
The Haunting of Villa Diodati

UK BBC1 Airdate: 16th February 2020

Warning: Minor spoilers right from the start.

As soon as I saw a trailer for The Haunting of Villa Diodati and picked up that it was set in the same night in Geneva that Mary Shelley dreamed up the plot of Frankenstein, I kinda expected the Cybermen to be involved in the story somehow. After all, what better way to inspire the writings of a person into the creation of the Frankenstein legend than a symbiosis of flesh and machine restitched together?

As it happens, though, despite there being no surprises from that quarter, this was a pretty good episode, especially for this ‘seemingly on our last legs to be any good’ series we have here. I was impressed by the writing on this, by someone called Maxine Alderton and the acting was superb. The usual suspects in terms of performance and holding it all together were good too... Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh were all kinds of great but Jodie Whittaker was especially burning bright in this episode... and that’s because she had great dialogue. She really took charge in this one in terms of just where she stood above her three companions and the responsibility resting on her shoulders and it really made for one of her more interesting monologues.

The tale itself was one of ghosts and hauntings with a house which became, from room to room and for each of four sets of people, a giant set of recursive occlusions, trapping them all where they were in much the same way as happened with the fifth Doctor in his debut story Castrovalva back in the early 1980s. Luckily it didn’t, quite, get as old as I thought it was going to in terms of novelty value and it had various ghosts running about in the house too, to spice things up a bit. These were unexplained for the most part and I’d like to think that’s just its own special punchline for Bradley Walsh’s character but I was concerned, in terms of plotting, as to why the skeleton’s hands were running around on their own?

Nevertheless it was a pretty great episode with a lot of dark in it... I mean physically dark (as well as tonally, such as when the Cyberman tells Mary Shelly how he slit the throats of his own children after he’d been converted) and the Cyberman itself seemed like an old design and definitely only half completed... with half the victim’s face still poking out from behind the mask (which helped as a creative echo by way of showing the stitching, especially on his wrist, to lead the way into the imagination for Frankenstein... I would guess that was the point of that anyway).

So, nicely performed and acted... and definitely pretty well written. We didn’t have long to wait until The Doctor and her crew met ‘The Lone Cyberman’ that Captain Jack Harkness had warned about a few episodes ago... and, as I’m sure everyone was expecting, when she met it The Doctor gave it exactly what it wanted, just as she was warned not to (the trade off being that this particular pocket of Earth history wasn’t changed forever).

My only other real complaint was when The Doctor was poking around in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s head. Unlike every other time we’ve seen a Timelord do this in the show (from what I can remember) we’ve had the information come at us as a crash of impressions in an almost surreal collage of mashed together imagery. Instead, this time around, it’s presented as a clear sequence with voice over narrative from Shelley as if he’s recalling it. My guess would be, since this seems to really break with Doctor Who continuity somewhat, that the scene was originally meant to include Shelley recollecting events and they added the ‘Gallfireyan mind meld’, as I would like to refer to it, as an almost afterthought to the scene when they were shooting the interior shots. Which is... a bit meh.

All in all though, this was one of the few really strong entries in this year’s series and it will be interesting to see how this leads into the next two episodes, which will present some kind of two part season finale featuring the Cybermen and, I would guess, also The Master (unless they’re holding him back until next series now to keep that particular story arc going... we shall see). I just hope the end of show spectacular can live up to the few good episodes we’ve already seen and not, like so often back in  the Steven Moffat era of the show, be unable to live up to the tantalising tease of the initial set up.

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