“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.
- 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.