Doctor Who: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

I think it’s an important concept for fans to grasp hold of that Doctor Who has changed. This is nothing new, the long history of the series is rife with format and tone and style changes. So while I still love the elements of the “classic” New Who, it’s not that show any more. No different than going from the Troughton era into the Pertwee days, really. This new Doctor Who loves its historical stories more than its futuristic flights of fancy, is more interested in making an overt point about the world we live in, and isn’t trying to be quite so melodramatic nor so arch as it once was. And that’s all right–a new flavor for a new generation of viewers, that’s the way it always works.

I thought tonight’s installment was a lot of fun, and that’s even before the foreshadowed Cyberman turned up, as I expected he must. The first half struck a very nice tone, balancing the creepiness factor with some genuine fun and giving all of the main players something to do. I like the fact that the episode took its time getting to where it was going–scariness is often a matter of timing as much as anything else, so the deliberate pace served the material well. The guest cast, too, came across well, being neither so overbearing that they stole focus from our four leads, nor so crudely sketched that they made no impression.

Ryan, it turns out, is good when he’s being funny, a fact that the show should do more with (assuming he sticks around after the end of this season.) Yaz is at her best when she’s moving in a direction, taking charge just a little bit. And Graham is simply delightful in almost all situations, just being a regular bloke. He’s the best-drawn of the three, mostly down to Bradley Walsh’s skill. In any event, everybody came across nicely this time out.

A good showing, too, from the Doctor, who seemed on top of tings from the very start. The set-up to the finale and what that will mean for the rest of the traveling team was set up in her perfectly-pitched speech about the fact that their team structure isn’t really flat at all, but rather a mountain atop which she resides. I give points to the show for allowing Ryan to be flawed enough to suggest that they let Percy die in order to prevent the Lone Cyberman from getting the Cyberium, but also for the Doctor’s pointed refutation of this course of action.

We’ll see how the next two episodes fare, but this one was buoyed by its adherence to a fundamental principle that has become apparent: one Cyberman (or Dalek, which is really where the theory comes from) is scary, and unrelenting, and indefatigable; a thousand Cybermen (or Daleks) become Keystone Kops that get shoved over and pushed around and forced by circumstances (the good guys have to win, after all) to gt physically defeated by much less powerful foes. I can certainly understand why the spectacle of a horde of Cybermen is impressive, but the trick is in doing such an army without reducing the effectiveness of each individual member.

So my suspicion at this point is that we’re going to leave the two-part series finale with more questions than answers. Oh, we might get some–especially given that the title of the last episode is The Timeless Children–but I suspect that any viewer who expects everything to wind up mostly sorted is going to walk away disappointed. I’m steeling myself at this point, imagining that we’ll maybe get some answers-in-the-form-of-questions at best. If the show can surprise me in this regard, great.

Overall marks here were that this was a good, solid, entertaining episode, one of the better outings for the season, and one without any glaring deficits. Looks as though next week we’ll be moving ahead into the future for virtually the first time this season (apart from Orphan 55, where the fact that we were in the future was used as a punch line more than as a fact of the environment.)

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