Doctor Who – “The Vampires of Venice,” “Amy’s Choice” & “The Hungry Earth”

“The Vampires of Venice, “Amy’s Choice” & “The Hungry Earth”

May 22nd, 2010

I’ve never watched Doctor Who before, but I think I’m starting discover that the mid-portion of each season is not necessarily conducive to weekly reviews (although it’s probably still conducive for weekly discussion, so sorry for my negligence). I didn’t review “The Vampires of Venice” or “Amy’s Choice” because I was busy on those respective weekends, but I also didn’t review the former because it didn’t feel particularly eventful even when I did get to the episode. This is not to say the episode isn’t worth our time, or that it serves no function, but rather that it will take a paragraph to discuss its function rather than an entire review.

However, there’s more to say about “Amy’s Choice,” and some preliminary thoughts on “The Hungry Earth” (on which judgment can’t really be laid until “Cold Blood” next week), so let’s take a look at these mid-season transition episodes, shall we?

The transition from “The Doctor and Amy” to “The Doctor, Amy and Rory” is quite interesting, and not something I necessarily expected: my experience with the series has been largely through media coverage of the series, so I tended to hear about “new companions” and presume that the series is the Doctor and one other person, usually of the female gender. Amy is still unquestionably the Doctor’s companion, but Rory’s introduction (or re-introduction, going back to “The Eleventh Hour”) has unquestionably changed the show’s character dynamics if not necessarily the types of stories it tells.

There’s a clear relationship between the two, though – more than other “procedurals,” Doctor Who’s monsters/phenomena of the week are designed to create circumstances where relationships can be worked out or tested. Sometimes this can be something twisty and fascinating, like the complexities of “Amy’s Choice” (which I’ll get to once I do some spoiler-free “The Vampires of Venice” talk for the American folk), but in other cases it is simply a story that gives the characters reason to confront certain issues. “The Vampires of Venice” belongs to the latter tradition, telling a pretty simple story (at least in my experience) compared to other episodes but in the process giving Amy and Rory time to connect as a couple. Placing Amy in peril, and then having Rory help save her while the Doctor was busy dealing with the Saturnynians, gives the two of them a chance to bond and reconnect – as far as I can tell, it’s quite common that the Doctor’s companions struggle with their relationships, so it’s almost like marriage counseling through time travel.

In “Vampires” itself, the story is relevant without necessarily being that complex: it’s telling that the Saturnynians were brought to Venice through “the silence” (which is represented by the cracks in time), and it’s poetic that the Doctor would become “responsible” for the death of another race when he chooses humanity over the Saturnynians, but it doesn’t really have a great deal of an impact. The twists in the episode are effective (as we go from “Vampres” to “creepy fish creatures using perception filters,”) but it doesn’t really change a straightforward story that’s designed more to facilitate the character interaction than to really change or adjust anything. It doesn’t even really settle on any major themes or ideas, just presenting a simple little narrative that moves things fairly smoothly (although I’d argue it was paced quite a bit too slowly, as it took me two sittings to get through the episode).

“Amy’s Choice,” however, is a very different beast. In terms of the ongoing storyline about the cracks in time, it has absolutely no “plot” function, but its trippy introduction of the Dream Lord is both incredibly entertaining (giving Toby Jones a really fun role to play) and incredibly interesting in terms of its impact on Amy and Rory’s relationship and the Doctor’s role therein. The Eknodine were an interesting enough villain, but they weren’t there to do any heavy lifting: the story was about the characters struggling to reconcile the two worlds, and also to put Amy and Rory through a bit more psychological tests as it comes to their relationship. Her decision to sacrifice herself, potentially, in order to see Rory again was a really powerful moment, and Karen Gillan really stepped it up as she captures her combination of grief and determination.

This is an episode about Rory and his silly ponytail and Amy with her extremely pregnant state more than it’s about the Doctor, so it’s only fitting that it would actually be the result of the Doctor himself: just as he can occasionally cause his companions to suffer, here his villainous side emerges as a result of some sort of psychic episode. There’s a scientific explanation the show provided, if I remember correctly, but the important message is that some part of the Doctor was responsible for placing them into peril, and there’s a nice thematic resonance to that which is embodied by the twistiness of the episode’s narrative. All of the situations the show created seemed to stem from the characters, remaining about Rory and Amy even when it became about life and death, which is a nice bit of balance that serves the series quite well.

As for “The Hungry Earth,” it’s a little too early to judge. What I like about the episode is that it continues some of the events we’ve seen in “Amy’s Choice,” like how the Doctor is personally responsible for Elliot being abducted by the Silurians and fails in his responsibility to protect Amy from harm as she’s sucked down into the Earth. I don’t necessarily feel like the few townspeople we’ve seen are that personable, and some of the science involved seems to be a bit too vague for my tastes, but the conflict it sets up is pretty darn compelling: the Silurians (which, as far as Wikipedia tells me, have appeared in the series before) as prehistoric Earthlings out to take back their planet after being disturbed by an enormous drilling project isn’t particularly elegant just yet, but it has potential.

The episode’s one problem is that it too clearly choreographs some of its future moves: the captured Silurian telling Rory and the townspeople that one of them will kill her and she knows who it is, even if untrue, too clearly sets it up as your typical volatile hostage situation, and I’d rather we could have avoided the “green growth on old dude” scene in favour of letting the surprise settle in next week (since I had been wondering if we were going to get any payoff from that tongue attack. The setup for the episode is interesting, as Amy experiences terrible things below as the Doctor tries to broker a peaceful arrangement and discovers that he’s negotiating with an entire civilization rather than a handful of stragglers, but I didn’t find anything within its execution to be particularly fantastic.

However, much of the effectiveness of the episode will be judged by “Cold Blood,” just as Rory’s integration into the story will depend on what happens to him (presuming that he is unlikely to stay with the Doctor forever). I’m still having fun with the series, “Amy’s Choice” in particular, but now that we’re out of the heavy mythology stuff I’m not entirely missing writing about the show. That said, chances are things will pick up in the weeks ahead, so I look forward to seeing how the series concludes.

Cultural Observations

  • Okay, so is there any precedent for companions traveling to “visit” one of their past adventures? Does this guarantee that Rory and Amy have a happy ending, or was the Doctor lying about the identity of the people waving on the hill in order to give them hope about their future? It seems like that moment is really important, but it’s sort of just lying there for now, and I wonder if it doesn’t take all of the suspense out of the story in question since Amy very clearly gets out alive.
  • Nice to see Lucian Msamati, who i know from his stint on No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, show up in “The Vampires of Venice.”
  • I don’t know if anyone else has played Assassin’s Creed II, but I thought their fake Venice (filmed in Croatia) did a pretty good job of living up to my video game knowledge of the city.
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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Doctor Who – “The Vampires of Venice,” “Amy’s Choice” & “The Hungry Earth”

  1. I expect that the appearance of future Amy and Rory will be used next week to prove a point. Amy or Rory will assert that their appearance indicates that they are predestined to stop the Silurians, to which the Doctor will retorrt “doesn’t work like that.”

    As for how many companions there usually are, traditionally it’s just the Doctor and a young female, but occasionally over the past five years they have been joined temporarily by a recurring guest. In the classic series there were periods with multiple regular companions (at one point there were three!).

  2. A lot of fans online have been very curious, considering the cracks in time, about temporal discrepancies and oddities this season.

    Some have suggested that the Doctor has been crossing over his own timeline as early as The Eleventh Hour this series, while some point to the scene in Flesh and Stone where he escapes from the Angels without his jacket, talks to Amy, leaves, then returns to comfort Amy — with his jacket clearly on! — as evidence. I suppose it could be an oversight on the part of the production team, but future Amy and Rory (it seems) crossing over their timeline as well could be subtly establishing some sort of theme.

    The Doctor and his companions rarely revisit their past adventures as they’re happening — crossing over their timelines isn’t encouraged, period; RTD had the 10th Doctor say in “Smith and Jones” that crossing over your own timeline is “strictly forbidden”, except for “cheap tricks”. However, this was very pre-The End of Time, so perhaps he’s grown more comfortable with doing it now.

    In terms of the episode itself, I liked it; Chris Chibnall generally gets to do action-based scripts (“42” and a lot of what he did for Torchwood), so he’s good at it by now, but the way the Doctor was written seemed only somewhat Eleventh and more Tenth (or even Ninth!).

    My only real criticism with this season is that, aside from Moffat, a lot of the stalwart writes for the show don’t seem to do very well in writing specifically for the new Doctor. “Victory of the Daleks” felt more like a 10th-and-Martha episode, and “The Vampires of Venice”, even with the Amy/Rory dynamic, could have been recast with Rose and Mickey in the show’s first season.

    We’ll see how Gareth Roberts (“The Shakespeare Code”, “The Idiot’s Lantern”) does in three weeks’ time, eh?

  3. Tom

    When I was watching Vampires, I too thought “didn’t I climb that building in Assassin’s Creed?”

    • Danel

      In my mind, after the anticlimactic “stop the machine by pressing a button” moment, the Doctor leapt from the tower into a conveniently placed pile of hay.

  4. Amy

    yeah, I think Amy and Rory end up falling through a crack or something (I know it supposedly killed the angels, but i think it’s possible) – they seem to be time travelling without the doctor. There’s something odd there…

  5. CharlieDia

    There have been random moments throughout that seem like they’re trying to warn the Doctor & Co. about what’s to come. Like it’s entirely possible that Amy and Rory aren’t being nostalgic and waving but trying to warn them off from going on with their adventure. If that is the case, they probably didn’t show what the Doctor saw because it’d be too obvious. I haven’t been keeping up with fandom this season, so I don’t know what the consensus is if whether Amy’s warning video to herself back on “The Beast Below” is a similar warning from the future or not. Like they’re trying to change the past, even though they kind of can’t without causing a paradox.

  6. Louis Mastorakos

    Myles, I don’t know if you’re watching Doctor Who Confidential, but the companion episode actually discusses the timeline crossing by showing part of a scene that was cut from the episode. Plus I’d recommend Confidential in general for someone who is both new to Doctor Who and interested in television as a storytelling medium: a whole series devoted to how another tv series is made.

  7. Pingback: Series Finale, Part One: Doctor Who – “The Pandorica Opens” « Cultural Learnings

  8. Rich

    In Flesh and Stone, I’m certain it was The Doctor from another time. He’d just rushed off and we see him return moments later, with a calm demeanor, a jacket on, sleeves rolled up, and a watch with a black band (not gold like the rest of the show). I believe his telling Amy to remember what he told her when she was 7 ties in with the scene at the end of The Eleventh Hour when young Amy is sitting on her suitcase and smiles as she hears the TARDIS returning. In the story, The Doctor took 12 years to return.
    Perhaps he’s setting up the elements for his escape from the Pandorica.

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