Movies & TV Review: Doctor Who News: Series 12 Episode 8 'The...

Review: Doctor Who News: Series 12 Episode 8 ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’

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We have finally reached the final normal episode of Series 12 as the series will end on a two part finale and we have one finally real historical figure taking centre stage as The Doctor and her gang arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.

I have always been and always will be a fan of the episodes opening with a little prologue before the credits and tonight had one of the more fun ones as we are first introduced to the literary brilliance of Lord Byron, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Dr John Polidori. On an evening of merriment held during a strange stormy night, a slightly scary story ends with a mysterious knock on the door. As they approach the door to the sound of thunder and lighting in a darkened Victorian house, nervous and anxious they open to door to find the Doctor and Team TARDIS, changed into period clothing

I had a strange sense that this episode would be more of a prelude to the series finale two-parter rather than a standard episode of Who which would only tease to it and I was right. Something about the setting featuring Mary Shelley who would go on to write Frankenstein creating a monster from body parts of different people just compliments the very idea of a certain old enemy of the Doctor. The episode did try to stick to the regular monster of the wee formula but it did not take long for the real purpose of this story be revealed.

The first half of the story is really more of a silly attempt at being all spooky than actually being anything resembling the eery effect of last week’s story telling in ‘Can you hear me?’. With strange things happening such as objects flying across a hallway right to a skeletal hand becoming animated after bursting through a painting. Graham was used to great effect as his need to find the bathroom is made extra hard by a house seeming ever changing, trapping the people in their rooms with no way of leaving or for anyone or anything to get into the house. The silliness did lead to some funny moments with the Doctor batting away the advances and flirtations of Lord Byron himself and Ryan almost finding himself in a duel to the death with Dr John Polidori. Graham and Ryan again playing the rolls of comedy act is becoming rather tired this season, but perhaps something I will come to a bit later on might give some hope as to what might come at the end of this series.

The main focus of the story soon jumps to where I had expected this setting to lead which was to introduce the very thing that Captain Jack Harkness had told Team TARDIS to warn the Doctor about, the Lone Cyberman. Missing from the group so far was Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband to Mary, he had seen an apparition that when seen through a window by the group, the Doctor deduced that it was something trying to enter the house but something and the very thing that was causing all the spookiness was also the thing preventing it from gaining entry. The horror theme quickly turned to sci-fi as the Doctor worked out that something was creating a perception filter which was causing the house to appear to be changing when it was simply working to keep everyone trapped where they were but soon the apparition did break through and when it did, it finally began the tease for how the series finale will start.

The Apparition was indeed a single Cyberman, but one that had not fully been converted and so it had a rather cool half Cyberman half human hybrid that was trying to locate “The Guardian”. It moved around the house hunting for it. Only the Doctor has encountered a Cyberman before and with Team TARDIS recognising this as the thing Captain Jack had told them to warn the Doctor about, it was left to the Doctor to one again handle the exposition of explaining to them and the audience just a Cyberman was and the threat and evil they represented. I have to admit I really liked how the Cyberman was introduced into the episode rather then waiting to the two part finale as that already has a lot to already deal with. There was also a very lovely moment where the time old method of defeating one by appealing or reawakening the human emotion of a Cyberman was attempted but then quickly shot down as the Cyberman revealed that the human inside was just as evil as a Cyberman would have been.

The warning from Captain Jack was simply “beware the lone Cyberman and do not give it what it wants” and this was pretty much all the final twenty minutes of the story was about. The husband of Mary Shelley had discovered something shiny in the lake before the evening’s festivities had begun. Finding what could only be described as a silver liquid metal, he had absorbed it and learned it was known as the Cyberium, an AI entity that held all the knowledge of the Cybermen and is used to create ones. It was this that had been able to hold off the Cyberman for so long but it was slowly killing Percy. The moments of the Doctor and Cyberman coming face to face and seeing this half converted Cyberman, still with his human emotions but being angry and irritated by the Doctor made this meeting of old enemies something fun to watch. 

Where the story really delivered however was in how Team TARDIS’s relationship with the Doctor once again crept up. A few times we have seen how travelling with the Doctor has impacted on the lives of Graham, Ryan and Yaz. They have been asking questions and really just doing some soul searching as the reality of what travelling with the Doctor means. Here we see them pleading with the Doctor to follow the warning from Captain Jack but this only provided us the audience a chance to look at this relationship from the view of the Doctor. When trying to save the life of Percy but knowing the only solution is to give the Cyberman what it wanted, the Doctor actually snaps at Ryan, telling him that changing history has a price, and that by changing the event of that night and allowing Percy to do could change the future so much that none of Team TARDIS were ever born, then asking Ryan if he would sacrifice their lives right then for that to happen.

This is the side of the 13th Doctor that I want to see more of, when she said that ultimately no matter who is travelling with her that in the end is down to the Doctor to make the final choice of life and death and that the decision remains on her shoulders it finally removed the “its fun being in the TARDIS with the Doctor” mystique that often comes in the first series with a companion and has definitely been the current experience of Team TARDIS all through Series 11 and now 12 but this is the only time that the reality of travelling in time and space, fighting monsters and dealing with threats so big they can risk the Earth to the very reality itself. For me, I am really tired with Team TARDIS and I truly believe the show would be far better with a single companion as half the time members become background scenery or comedy characters but this all feels as though one or more of current Team TARDIS might be having second thoughts of this life and may choose to return home or something more tragic during the series finale.

Where we are left is a Doctor with no other choice by to give the Cyberman the Cyberium and knowing the next thing must be to go find it in the future and stop its plan to raise a new Cyberman Army. Her instinct is to take Team TARDIS home to spare them the danger of what this means, no doubt as a result of losing Bill as the 12th Doctor though her name is not mentioned. So the first part of the series finale will see the Doctor and Team TARDIS going to battle with the Cybermen and I do understand why this episode was used as the prologue of sorts to that story simply because there is still so much to wrap up for this series. We have The Master and a destroyed Gallefrey bringing the Timeless Child into the series and then we have the ‘Other’ Doctor in Ruth which still has so many questions left unanswered.

But for this episode, it was average in terms of where it began before the work to prep for the finale kicked in. It for me, showcased quite a lot about what I would like to see changed before a series 13 for the 13th Doctor and the groundwork has been laid down. Now just to see if the finale can stick the landing.

Sean McCarthy
Freelance writer but also a Gamer, Gooner, Jedi, Whovian, Spartan, Son of Batman, Assassin and Legend. Can be found playing on PS4 and Xbox One Twitter @CockneyCharmer

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