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Here's What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of The Haunting of Villa Diodati

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. Although there are shifting walls, disembodied hands, a crying baby, ghosts, and a terrible storm, plus four mysterious strangers. And Bryon’s turning out to be a right ol’ letch. But apart from that, all fine. Ah, wait, where’s Percy nipped off to? “Am I worried about him?” Bysshe, please!

Of The Haunting of Villa Diodati, Tony Jones enthused:

“The measure of how this story worked is how well it flowed. Events seemed natural; servants reacted to events, characters split up to do different things, the companions went with them without seeming contrived. We learned things as we needed, got distracted with apparitions and creepy hand-spiders, and worried about baby Shelley.

“We even had some historical exposition about Mary not yet being married and the volcano bringing the year with no summer. Why can’t it be this natural every week?”

But what did the rest of the DWC think? We trapped them in a looping labyrinth until a few relented and vented their spleens…

Colin Burden

This week it was beige. Very beige. I’m not talking about the plot or the characters, but the colour of the picture. Mate, they turned up the beige! Yes, I know that was down to the candlelight and atmospheric effect, but that was so beige.  Except when outside; that was navy.

This was definitely an episode of two halves; the first marking time with lots of chatter, pointless walking about, silly dancing and looking for a “khazi”, but the scuttling hand was creepy.

Then the Cyberman arrived and the starting pistol was fired. The episode woke up and started running as fast as it could. The Cyberman was gloriously realised; the real face behind the mask making this Cyberman, along with emotions, perversley human. I’m just pleased that they didn’t go with the obvious and vanquish it with flaming torches and pitchforks.

There has been a distinct change in relationship between the Doctor and companion(s): I liked the combination where the companion was there to reign the Doctor in; to have Donna shouting at the Doctor to stop torturing the the Empress of the Racnoss was a very highly charged moment, but that dynamic has been turned around. Ryan’s suggestion of one person’s life against billions only to have the Doctor putting him in his place was a complete reversal. It also jarred as it was effectively the Doctor telling the ‘fam’ that they weren’t needed and a bit of a slap in the face for all those characters, in recent stories, who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Do we just chalk that up to another mixed message?

Despite that, the end of the episode has made me want to come back for more.

But just a few words on the accusation that this Cyberman, with its half visible face, was a rip-off of the Borg from Star Trek. There must be a German word for when ‘A’ appears to be a rip off of ‘B’, but ‘B’ was a rip off of ‘A’ in the first place! Nah, the only ripping-off that has happened here is half of a Cyberman’s face-plate.

Paul Cheesman

As a fan of Shelley, I must say that as an historical adventure I really enjoyed it, and certainly much more than the previous recent forays into human history… but as a fan of Who, I am unsure it made much sense, other than as a prequel for the Grand Finale.

It was certainly chilling, and exceptionally unexplainable and in parts just weird. The effects were used well but I got a bit ‘Castrovalva-ed’ with the stairs and rooms changing about… or is it another nod to Harry Potter?

I though the guest stars played out extremely well. Lewis Rainer’s portrayal of Shelley was excellent; even “the fam” seemed to actually work well…except that the ridiculous doorway entry spiel.

And le pièce de résistance: Frankenstein’s (Cyber) Monster – a Cyberman made up of many parts of other Cybermen: absolutely brilliant. I had just wanted Graham to shriek, when he saw it, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Final Verdict – episode eight – Best historical in the new era, and the best ‘ghostly and haunting’ story in the new era. Now we wait to see if disobeying Captain Jack’s warning will destroy the universe? Or is everything we know a lie?

James Baldock

To the tune of Science Fiction Double Feature:

Jodie’s got a new jacket
And they’re making a racket
Just as loud as the wind and the rain
It’s the summer of darkness
But there’s no sign of Harkness
Still they said we won’t see him again

There’s a fixed point in time
A combining of minds
For an evening of terror and fear
But there’s no drive for mystery
They’d rather play Twister, least
That’s what it looked like from here

Science fiction, Sunday feature
With yet another disturbing creature
Just enjoy it, ignore the ratings
We could argue about UNIT dating
Or, I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
Whether Jean-Luc Picard could make it so
I wonder if we’ll see some more of Jo?

There’s a big metal beast
And a storm from the east
Seems all hope for humanity’s gone
Byron behaves like a cad
Even Yaz isn’t bad
And Graham’s lost on his way to the John

Ryan acts like a melon
Now the Doctor is yellin’
And the butler’s a corpse on the floor
If you ignore all the theories
It’s the best one this series
And I’m really quite anxious for more

Science fiction, Sunday feature
The BBC’s our reluctant teacher
Who would Yaz like to be kissing?
At least the rants and lectures are missing
But I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
I think they’ve kept them in reserve for next week’s show
I don’t wanna go
My favourite Teletubby’s always Po
Ko Ro Bo So
Somewhere I think this song has lost its flow

Rick Lundeen

Usually, before watching the new episode, I have to dodge the DWC and Facebook to steer clear of opinions. This time, I took a sneak peek ahead of just the voting and although there were only about 20 votes, 70% was 5/5, so that seemed hopeful. 

Having watched The Haunting of Villa Diodati, the first impressions for me would be: A) another good set up episode, which this season seems to excel at, this time for the big Cyber two part finale; and B) seemingly less Chibnall writing all around, which helped. Better overall interaction between characters, more or less. No blunt object messages flying about. 

The first half was harmless enough: spooky house, the TARDIS crew barging in on the villa — which really is the height of rudeness as they’re specifically and knowingly crashing a private party, just to “make sure they write like they’re supposed to”. And then Jodie gets all judgmental when she finds them goofing off. She has met writers before, hasn’t she?! (Rhetorical.)

I know that it’s supposed to be viewed as an incredibly important writers’ weekend at the villa but yeah, kind of ridiculous that Jodie just decides to show up there to freeload for no good reason and oh, something funny is going on, what a coincidence. Ghosts AND a Cyberman! But aside from that, I can’t really find it in me to place a ton of importance on the future of humanity all depending on this weekend. More on that later.

Funny thing: the crawling, choking, skeleton hands, I totally forgot about them as soon as the Cyberman showed up. I mean, I know Shelley was in the basement making the house fool people, ala perception filters but I can’t even remember what the deal was with the hands or if we ever got a good reason as to why they were crawling around choking Ryan (except good taste, I guess). I’ll get to the stooges soon enough.

It’s very rare to see an interesting Cyberman — that’s almost unheard of, so kudos here. As soon as he showed up, everything else was forgotten. I found it interesting that he killed the nanny, and Fletcher, but not the baby. Thank God he didn’t of course, as that seemed to be a weakness that Mary was trying to exploit later when talking to him, until of course he turned the tables and went on to talk about slitting his own children’s throats, so… why didn’t he kill the baby? Too harsh for the kiddies in the audience I’m thinking, although mentioning he slit his own kids’ throats was okay?

So the ending was interesting to me as far as the interplay between Jodie and the pets. Sure, it established we have a big two-parter coming, fine. I felt some of Jodie’s reasoning was a bit in and out. Ryan had a point about saving Shelley’s life at the cost of untold millions in the future. Jodie counters with Shelley inspiring countless thousands of others in the future… well… sorry, that seems a bit flimsy. Sure, him being killed might affect the timeline, or maybe not at all. What about Fletcher and the nanny? Nah, servants — who cares? At the very least, the debate could have raged on but Jodie put her foot down and muzzled the pets. She also let a good chunk of her annoyance show once again when her judgment was questioned by Ryan. This week, her lesson was delivered with anger — and I do find it odd that the only times I find her emoting with any real passion, real honesty, was when she saw Gallifrey dead and when she lashes out.

As for Yaz, she was around. Ryan was his usual useless self, but he did manage to get out his trademark line about getting it all sorted, bless his heart. Graham was, once again, comic relief. Have you noticed that we’ve grown accustomed to them stumbling around blindly? Just part of the furniture and it’s kind of a relief this week that there wasn’t some horrific social message, gaffe, or insult? Made the whole enterprise seem nicer. More free of consequence. I do worry about the possibility of letting the show wear one down so that one starts “getting used” to the way things are and mistaking it for massive creative improvement. 

As for Jodie, aside from another flash of annoyance at Ryan, she once again tries to ditch the cosmic barnacles so she can go after the Cybermen at the end but they remain attached to the hull. I think we’ve already seen the best of what Jodie brings to the table, much like we’ve seen the best of what Chibs has to offer. The best thing I can say about her is that Jodie plays the part of the character known as “The Doctor”. 

So, to sum up, decent set up for the finale, at least no preaching, abandoned ghost story, interesting Cyberman, companions still useless, Jodie still trying to get rid of them.

Andrew Hsieh

Just as shocking as Fugitive of the Judoon, but even more frightening than last week. There was so much I didn’t see coming, and it has become another Series 12 episode to deliver top marks.

A brand new haunting take on Mary Shelley’s backstory, which would later inspire her to pen Frankenstein. Radically different from the Big Finish audios Mary’s Story (from The Company of Friends) and The Silver Turk, whilst retaining certain elements without coincidence. I know that the whole continuity issue has recently been subject to debate, but I think it’s more of a discussion for another time.

Maxine Alderton’s script really shines bright on the arc-driven narrative and plot twists, whilst keeping us all in suspense. Although I’m not familiar with much of the guest cast, except for Maxim Baldry (best known for his roles as Stepan Dachevsky in Mr Bean’s Holiday, and Viktor Goraya in RTD’s Years and Years), I loved how they faithfully captured the essences of each historical figure.

Opening with a pre-titles sequence, we are treated to another tease of thrills and suspense in Geneva, 1816. But it ends on a funny note when Team TARDIS suddenly appears on the doorstep, only to cause a literal shriek into the credits before immediately resuming. Priceless. Well, that wasn’t the only comical moment; the dancing scene in the dark near the beginning made me laugh as well. It’s always nice to have some awkwardly lighthearted moments before shifting focus onto the main plot, which later turned out to be terrifyingly spectacular.

Yes, I am referring to the Lone Cyberman himself: Ashad. Its appearance faithfully pays homage to the 2013 design, last seen in the Series 10 finale, but Ashad’s partially-visible face was the most terrifying of all with the visible emotions and rage. Whilst bearing some resemblance to the Borg from the Star Trek franchise, his face kept making me picture the original 1966 Mondasians’ visible eyeballs and the 1980s Cyber-Leaders’ transparent chins. (To be honest, I find them to be more gross than Tim Shaw’s trophy teeth.) And the part which sent chills down my spine, most of all, was when the Lone Cyberman picked up Mary’s baby son William and said, “Don’t be afraid, little one. You will be like us.” I wasn’t sure if he was going to kidnap him or, worse, send him to his early death at the same time.

I loved how Jodie Whittaker nailed her confrontations with the Lone Cyberman, especially when she found baby William alone on the floor which made me shed a few tears. Its mission to retrieve the Cyberium reminds me of the first and original Terminator film, where the T-800 is sent back in time for a specific purpose; could also count the second film, as the T-1000’s liquid form visually resembles the Cyberium.

As the Doctor successfully retrieves the Cyberium from Percy Shelley, the stakes are raised much higher when she gives the Lone Cyberman “what it wants”, reluctantly ignoring Captain Jack’s warning. “What the hell have you done?!” I thought. A plot twist majestically delivered, leading directly into the epic two-part finale. I think we are in for an even bigger bombshell than Spyfall

Leon Hewitt

Since 1999, Big Finish has been producing Doctor Who audio dramas. The dramas have been successful and are well produced. When I listen I know exactly what I’m going to get, and because of this I tend not to listen to many anymore. There is a particular style to Big Finish dramas. The Haunting of Villa Diodati also had this style. It was televised Big Finish.

Like a lot of Big Finish’s output, this episode had a small cast. It touched on a well known historical event (the origin of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein). It takes place in one location. The story has plenty of twists and turns. This was good, solid Doctor Who. Just like Big Finish do month in, month out.

The highlight of the episode was the appearance of the Lone Cyberman. Cybermen tend to work best when the full horror of what they are is utilised. Hints of the underlying human within these monsters has been a common theme throughout the revived series from the breaking of the emotional inhibitor on a Cyberman in Age of Steel, to the climax of Bill Pott’s story arc in The Doctor Falls. The Lone Cyberman continued this theme, the costume design reminding us that they are just like us, albeit ‘enhanced’.

As great as the story was, there were elements that didn’t quite work. The house folding in on itself like some real life Escher print felt more like the annoying haunted house maze levels in Super Mario Brothers (you know, the ones where you go through the door and end up in the same room you were in five minutes ago) than an eerie haunted house trapping our heroes. And while I think the Thirteenth Doctor is becoming more Doctorish, they still have her over-explaining and I wish they would cut down on the amount of sonic-ing. These tics give the impression we are watching a Doctor Who tribute act. An act based on a rough understanding of the character. One that you would imagine playing well on a cruise ship. Still, this was her strongest performance. Her ‘Do I have the right?’ scene this week (I’ve lost count of the number of times she has been given this kind of scene) worked much better than the previous iterations.

These are minor quibbles though. This was a great episode and a fine lead-in to the final two-parter. Thankfully this series is actually building to some kind of climax, rather than meandering through 10 episodes like it did in 2018. I actually want to watch next week’s episode, whereas at this point in the last series I had stopped watching. Confession: I didn’t watch the final few episodes of that series until New Year’s Eve 2018. Yup, that ol’ fan gene wouldn’t let me watch the New Years Day special until I was up to date.

Bar Nash-Williams

Confession time, eh, Leon? Okay then…

When I was a teenage girl, I did teenage girl things. Like, for a year or two, loving classic Romantic stuff; listening to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, studying Turner, reading Dostoyevsky, reading about the Byron Bunch. Yes, I did read Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage all the way through. Once. But I was far more interested in Byron’s letters and journals, and those of his sister. A fascinating period of history. So I’m sad but not surprised that it was handled in a somewhat shallow and jokey way. The only Shelley I really like is Ozymandias, which I once wrote out in full on the sand of Brighton beach.

So, without further ado;

They came, four travellers from an antique blue

Who said they wanted shelter from the storm,

But like their writer found it hard to form

Dramatic gold, while one searched for a loo.

As ghosts and walls and babies disappeared

The Doctor and her fam – who could have known? –

At last (perhaps too late) some depth have shown,

But all went round in circles, as we feared.

Then one rose up, half-formed, half-humanish;

Snarled dark superiority and steel

And fought the Cyberscout to be the host*

And fought her fam, to future-proof her wish

To save the poet, whose not-wife’s appeal

Revivified the season’s corpse. Almost.

It was a weird mix of haunted house and bedroom farce, period drama romp, and sketched-in social commentary, but it was funny, glossy, and pacey. I was bored that it was just another Cyberman rather than a more interesting opponent, but his rawness raised him above most of his kind in NuWho. Yet another story crashed by pre-echoes of the finale. Chibs has got an awful lot of work to do to make it all worthwhile.

*High-church readers will understand the confusion in my mind at the idea of a Cyberium needing a host to hold it, when I’m used to a Host needing a ciborium to hold it.

And there we are: mostly positive, with reservations. It all hangs on the finale. Here goes…

NEXT: I could call myself… Ms Clever!

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Here's What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of The Haunting of Villa Diodati

by Philip Bates time to read: 13 min
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