TV Review – ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ (Doctor Who)

SPOILERS ALERT!!!

Hello everyone! 🙂

Welcome to ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog and I’m Tim Bradley!

(sighs) ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’! Here we go. First things first, I appreciate there are people out there who really like this episode. Because…yeah. This was a well-directed and decently-paced ‘Doctor Who’ episode with a creepy, spooky atmosphere thrown in for good measure. You would expect that.

But…I’m sorry. I have some big issues with this episode. Really big issues! I suppose I was expecting too much from this episode. I was hoping this would be a great opportunity to combine both TV and Big Finish audio realms into an episode featuring a character established in the ‘Doctor Who’ universe.

That’s…not what we got here. Okay, I appreciate it this is a different take on the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley for the first time. Especially since this is the TV series doing it now. But my huge problem with this is that the story where the Doctor is meeting Mary Shelley for the first time has been done already.

Yeah! This was the second time where I’ve experienced the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva with four other friends and where the inspiration for ‘Frankenstien’ came from. The first time was a Mary Shelley audio story in ‘The Company of Friends’ with Paul McGann’s Doctor.

I’m very disappointed that the ‘Doctor Who’ TV episode with Jodie Whittaker featuring Mary Shelley wasn’t brave enough to make a reference to the Big Finish audios with that historical author. Mary Shelley even became a companion to the Eighth Doctor in the Big Finish audio stories of ‘Doctor Who’.

It’s like what happened with Warren Brown being cast in ‘Praxeus’ recently. It would’ve been so exciting to have Jodie’s Doctor mentioning to her companions that she met Mary Shelley once in a past life. I really hope the Doctor hasn’t had her memory wiped of meeting Mary Shelley beforehand.

Even a mention of saying the Eighth Doctor/Mary Shelley audio stories taking place in an alternative universe would’ve been okay for me as I was watching this episode. It probably would’ve got on a lot of fans’ nerves (including my own) if that were the case, but it would have provided some explanation.

I mean, it’s not like this is the third time the Doctor’s met Mary Shelley… (realises) Oh wait, yes it is! As well as the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’ featuring Mary Shelley with Paul McGann, there’s also ‘The Creative Spark’, a comic story with the Tenth Doctor and Mary from the ‘Battles of Time’ magazine.

Err…um…okay, maybe it’s not that hard to believe that there would be multiple versions of the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley in the ‘Doctor Who’ universe. But they can’t all exist in the same universe. I mean, when has there ever been an occasion where multiple versions of the same story co-existed…?

 

OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!!!!! ‘Doctor Who’ time travel is weird!

(sighs) Okay, okay. Maybe I’m over-thinking this issue. Maybe there’s a possibility that various versions of the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley can co-exist in the same universe or be in multiple universes. Maybe the Time War had something to do with the issue. That’s something Big Finish can sort out.

With that said, did I think ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ was a very good episode, ignoring the other versions of the Mary Shelley story that had gone on beforehand? Well…um…it was okay. Yeah, I don’t mean sound harsh on this, but there were occasions where I felt the Big Finish audio tale was superior.

Now this isn’t to discredit the writer of this episode – Maxine Alderton. From watching a behind-the-scenes video on YouTube, I could tell Maxine knew her stuff regarding Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and such. She seemed to be really into the histories of these characters when she wrote this TV adventure.

Which is a shame as, for me, a lot of the characters at Villa Diodati got garbled in terms of development. The thing I liked about ‘Mary’s Story’ from ‘The Company of Friends’ was that it was focused on Mary Shelley’s character when she met the Eighth Doctor as he visited the villa…twice. 😀

This TV episode suffered in trying to accommodate for all the characters at Villa Diodati including Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, Dr. Polidori and Claire Clairmont as well as the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz. It was a struggle for me getting to know the characters in a short space of time.

Lili Miller guest stars as Mary Shelley in the TV episode. Again, I think it would’ve been great if Julie Cox was cast to play Mary Shelley here, even in a voice-over narration. I know she may be a little older since the last time she’d played Mary in Big Finish, but it would be a nice connection to the audio tales.

I got confused in identifying between Mary Shelley and her sister Claire Clairmont when watching the episode, since they had similar hairstyles. There also weren’t that many scenes between Mary and the Thirteenth Doctor compared to the Big Finish audio adventures featuring Mary and the Eighth Doctor.

I wasn’t happy that Mary screamed when her baby William (Yeah, I checked that. She did have a son called William apparently. It might’ve been mentioned in the Big Finish audios) went missing in the episode. I remember Julie Cox’s Mary Shelley being stronger when she faced pretty terrifying dangers.

Now to be fair, Lili Miller is okay as Mary Shelley in the episode she’s in. She does have her moments, especially when confronting the Cyberman (Yes, that’s in the episode. More on that later on) who was threatening Percy Shelley’s life. But as I said, Mary’s screen-time is overshadowed by other characters.

The rest of the cast are fairly decent. There’s Jacob Collins-Levy as Lord Byron, who I found very good in this episode. He had an almost Benedict Cumberbatch-air about him and he played off the roguish aspects of Byron pretty well. This is especially when he’s attempting to woo Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.

There’s Nadia Parkes as Claire Clairmont, who had a nice scene with Yaz in the episode and is a different interpretation of the character compared to what I heard in the Big Finish audio ‘Mary’s Story’. There’s also Maxim Baldry (who I’ve seen before in ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’) as Dr. John Polidori.

I did find the Dr. John Polidori character in this ‘Doctor Who’ episode rather odd compared to the Big Finish audio version of him. He did seem cowardly at times and was unpredictable, especially when he challenged Ryan to a duel at some point. Polidori also walked like a zombie in his sleep in the story.

Lewis Rainer guest stars as Percy Shelley in the episode. This is a different version of Percy Shelley compared to the Big Finish audio ‘Mary’s Story’. He’s introduced rather late when he’s gone missing and is being threatened by a Cyberman. It seems that Percy has something the Lone Cyberman wants.

Yes! You heard that right! The Lone Cyberman makes an appearance in this ‘Doctor Who’ episode. I wasn’t expecting a Cyberman to actually appear in the episode (though I should’ve guessed). It’s pretty intriguing how this TV episode has a Cyberman give Mary Shelley her inspiration to pen ‘Frankenstien’.

Even though Marc Platt had already done that in the Big Finish audio ‘The Silver Turk’! Yeah, this doesn’t feel like anything new. How come the TV series thinks it can do this kind of Mary Shelley/Cyberman story when Big Finish did it first? Perhaps it’s a wibbley-wobbly timey-wimey thing!

Again, not meaning to rant further, but one of the few things I liked about the Steven Moffat era of ‘Doctor Who’ era was that he acknowledged the Big Finish audios were a part of the ‘Doctor Who’ continuity in the mini-episode ‘The Night of the Doctor’. How come this doesn’t get followed on here?

But going back to the Lone Cyberman in this episode! I like the Lone Cybermen. It was quite creepy when seeing it half-faced with one side being his Cyberman face and the other half being human, as he’s played by Patrick O’Kane as Ashad. My Dad was reminded of the Borg from ‘Star Trek’ seeing this.

And I agree. The Lone Cyberman appearing Borg-like in this episode was pretty effective and quite disturbing. It actually makes the Lone Cyberman as something Borg-like from ‘Star Trek’ more convincing than the Cybermen who were Borg-like in ‘Nightmare In Silver’. Especially in dark corridors!

Once again, Jodie Whittaker excels as the Doctor in this episode along with Bradley Walsh as Graham, Tosin Cole as Ryan and Mandip Gil as Yaz. These four have been a constant highlight throughout Series 12 of ‘Doctor Who’, despite the mixed feelings I have about some of the episodes of Series 12 so far.

It was great to see Graham, Ryan and Yaz in period outfits to fit in with the rest of the company at the Villa Diodati. It was slightly annoying the Doctor was still in her trademark Thirteenth Doctor outfit. Seeing her in a period costume would’ve been brilliant. At least she did wear a scarf…that sort-of had her blend in. (?!)

It was disconcerting when things seemed to be out of order in the house as our characters were going around in circles. Oh no! It’s the recursive occlusion from ‘Castrovalva’ again! I did wonder how the Doctor was going to unravel this bizarre mystery and get the house back into proper working order.

It was pretty dramatic and tense when the Lone Cyberman wanted something from Percy Shelley which was inside his head/mind. The Doctor was told not to give what the Lone Cyberman wanted by his friends from Captain Jack. But she makes a really hard decision in order to save Percy Shelley’s life.

Despite my issues regarding the continuity of the ‘Doctor Who’ stories featuring Mary Shelley and whether they coexist with each other, I appreciate the Doctor telling Ryan, Graham and Yaz about the importance of preserving history. This is especially when Percy Shelley’s life is at risk by the Cyberman.

In the end, the Doctor takes the thing out Percy’s head before eventually giving it to the Lone Cybermen who leaves to join his cyber legion, I believe. The Doctor and her friends say goodbye to Mary Shelley and the others before they head back to the TARDIS and stop the Cybermen in the future.

That should be exciting and worth looking forward to. Sadly, this Mary Shelley ‘Doctor Who’ TV episode on its own didn’t do for me. There were occasional moments where I did find myself laughing at funny moments and the scary moments in dark-lit rooms and corridors were worth watching in this.

It was also thrilling to see an intriguing version of a Cyberman that appeared Borg-like. But I can’t rate this one highly like others can. It felt disappointing and a missed opportunity for the Thirteenth Doctor TARDIS team meeting Mary Shelley. It should’ve been way better and bolder than what we’d been given.

If you enjoyed this Mary Shelley ‘Doctor Who’ TV episode and rate it highly, and I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of you who do, then I can deny you that enjoyment. But as for me, if it’s all the same to you, I prefer the Big Finish audio version of ‘Mary’s Story’ in ‘The Company of Friends’ over the TV episode.

Next week’s episode is called ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’ (Part One) by Chris Chibnall.

Thanks for reading!

Bye for now!

Tim. 🙂

2 thoughts on “TV Review – ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ (Doctor Who)

  1. I think Chibnall not keen on Big Finish so his attitude is stuff em there not canon when Moffat actually has made them canon with Night Of The Doctor, i think Chibnall being a bit petty here & i too was annoyed at the continuity errors as i enjoyed Mary’s Story on A Company Of Friends CD.

    I enjoyed this episode because of the gothic horror aspects, i loved the battle scarred Cyberman showing half his human face & the scene where he said he slit his childrens throat was terrifying & maybe went bit to far in terms graphic content.

    What did you make of Graham seeing ghosts? Were they ghosts? I thought that a bit confusing as it didn’t go anywhere, Jodie was great though, i don’t know if you feel the same way but there’s echoes of seventh Doctor darkness starting to show in this series.

    Fantastic review Tim, you have a knack of delivering a easy to follow narrative on the more complex stories & summed up perfectly the inconsistencies of the timeline flaws of Mary’s character, maybe Mary will appear & have her mind wiped?

    I originally gave this 5/5 but rewatching it i was over prasing this episode & so reduced my rating to 4/5.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Simon.

      Yeah, I’m getting that impression Chris Chibnall isn’t too keen on the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’. Which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed his era so far and I hope he’s not dismissing the Big Finish audios out of spite for some reason. I would certainly like there to be a ‘Thirteenth Doctor Chronicles’ box set someday and hopefully some Big Finish audios with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor someday. I know I’ve been critical about this episode in that I’m complaining there are three story versions of the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley in three incarnations. But as I’ve indicated in my review, we still have two versions of ‘Shada’ to reconcile and there’s two versions of ‘Human Nature’, one with Sylvester McCoy and one with David Tennant, so what do I know?

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the episode because of its gothic horror atmosphere. It certainly did well in that. I agree, the Lone Cybermen was the best thing about this ‘Doctor Who’ story. I’m looking forward to how things turn out in the two-part season finale when we start that next week.

      I’m not sure what to make of Graham seeing the two ghosts of the woman and the little girl in the episode. It was left unresolved and didn’t seem to go anywhere. Maybe it’s saved for what’s to come in the two-part finale. I hope so, anyway. I’m intrigued about what’s going to happen and how the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz are going to tackle the Cybermen menace. Whether the Master, the Ruth Doctor and Captain Jack will be in it as well is another matter.

      Yes, Jodie Whittaker still excels as the Doctor in her episodes. I didn’t think there were echoes of the Seventh Doctor era with darker tones to the series. It hadn’t crossed my mind, but it’s interesting you’re seeing it like that. I’m still trying to finish my updated reviews on Season 26 of ‘Doctor Who’ on Blu-ray by the way. 🙂

      I have added both ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ and the comic story ‘The Creative Spark’ to my ‘Mary Shelley’s Timeline’ on my blog by the way. I’ve identified them as ‘divergent timelines’ for now as the stuff with Paul McGann’s Doctor is aplenty so far.

      I wouldn’t want you to change your rating of the episode on my part. If you originally approved something that was 5/5, do please stick to it you want to. My opinion of this episode might change by the time I come to re-reviewing it on Blu-ray.

      By the way, I’ve added a poll to the DU forum for my ‘Top 10 Reviews of the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’. Please feel free to check that out.

      Many thanks for your insight into this episode, Simon.

      Tim. 🙂

      Like

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