In Review: Doctor Who – The Haunting of Villa Diodati

Some monsters are all too real...

Synopsis: The Doctor and friends hope to soak up some of the literary atmosphere when they travel to Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley to create Frankenstein. But it soon turns out that some monsters are all too real.

 

Story

This week’s episode was a terrifying, sexy and darkly gothic horror story that showed us the 13th Doctor at her most frightening and vulnerable. The Doctor and her friends visit Lord Byron’s manor on the night that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein but it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. The house itself conspires to separate the characters from each other reminiscent of The Chimes of Midnight, and the Doctor works out that Villa Diodati has been placed under a perception filter. We see the lone Cyberman that Captain Jack Harkness warned Yaz, Graham and Ryan about, who goes on a rampage in search for “the Guardian”. This is revealed to be Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom the lone Cyberman confronts and demands possession of the Cyberium, that Shelley was infected with which will enable the lone Cyberman to rebuild the Cyber armies and lay waste to planet Earth. We see a furious, impassioned and desperate 13th Doctor here who rages at her inability to defeat the lone Cyberman and calls Ryan out hard on his suggestion that they let Percy Shelley die to save the future. The Doctor also shows us a protective side to her character as she orders her companions not to follow her when she goes to confront the lone Cyberman in case they are Cyber converted as well. There is humour to be found here as well in Lord Byron’s sleazy flirting with 13 and Claire Clairmont, both of whom put him in his place. Also humorous was the psychic paper’s vulnerability to water, which I hope is continued by other writers like the sonic screwdriver’s inability to work on wood. There was an interesting moment with Yaz when she discussed some unrequited feelings for somebody “unreliable”. It remains to be seen if this is the Doctor or if it is possibly the Master as the rumours have been suggesting. I also really liked how the unusual weather conditions of 1816 were explained as the work of the Cyberium. I loved the structure of this episode and how like last week the story and information was gradually revealed and the tension built up into a world shaking climax.

 

Acting

Jodie Whittaker really shone in this episode. The moment where she practically yells at her companions to stay behind when she goes after the lone Cyberman was brilliant as was the furious passionate speech 13 delivered in defence of the importance of one life when Ryan suggests sacrificing Percy Shelley. This is the most Doctor like I have seen Whittaker throughout her entire run, and I sincerely hope we see a lot more of this fury and passion in future episodes and seasons. I really enjoyed Jacob Collins-Levy’s flirting with the 13th Doctor as Lord Byron, and I thought he played and subverted the role of alpha male nicely when he hid behind Mary Shelley. Collins-Levy also provided some great narration at both the start and end of the episode which made me wish we could see more of him. Lili Miller did a stupendous job of showing us Mary Shelley’s courage in the face of utter evil as she attempted to reach out to the human that the lone Cyberman had once been. Maxim Baldry portrayed the edginess of John Polidori well, and I liked his interaction with Tosin Cole’s Ryan as well as Ryan and Graham’s horror when they realised Polidori had gone to fetch a gun. Bradley Walsh brought some great humour to this episode. I particularly liked his fake posh accent when Graham complained about coach drivers at the beginning of the episode.

Incidental Music

The incidental music was brilliant in this episode. The score that played when the characters first begin to discover that the house is not what it seemed was so creepy and put me in mind of The Chimes of Midnight. The music used when the lone Cyberman is revealed was incredibly scary and really helped to sell the terror of that moment. There was a lovely sweet theme used when the Doctor found Mary Shelley’s baby William which I thought worked really well against the backdrop of terror and death. I also really liked how tense the score that played when the 13th Doctor gave her companions the option to leave her was and there was a beautiful melancholy score at the very end of the episode when Byron read his poem about the Doctor.

CGI

The CGI this week was utterly phenomenal. I loved how most of the episode was in near darkness and the CGI of the lone Cyberman was absolutely stunning. I really enjoyed the effects of the Cyberman walking through the library at night and the CGI of the white shape on the lake which was revealed to be the lone Cyberman. The disembodied hands were very good as well. Also of note was the CGI used when Polidori walked through the wall, which I thought heightened the tension and put me in mind of a Sylvester McCoy episode, being weird and terrifying even by Doctor Who standards. I adored the design of the lone Cyberman and I hope we see this character at some point in the future. I loved how we could partially see the man he used to be and the rage and evil on the actor’s face which complemented the Cyberman prosthetics brilliantly.

Overall

An utterly fantastic episode that set up the finale brilliantly.

9.5
Doctor Who - The Haunting of Villa Diodati
  • Story
    9.5
  • Acting
    9.0
  • Incidental Music
    9.8
  • CGI
    9.8

I'm a writer on the autistic spectrum who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
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