Every incarnation of the Doctor since its revival has delved into horror with mixed results. Sure, you have classics like “Blink” and “Hide”, but then again you have forgettable episodes mixed in there like “Arachnids in the UK” or “Night Terrors.” Now, Doctor #13 has her moment in the shadows and the result isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s more closer to a classic than a not-classic.
In “The Haunting Of Villa Diodati,” the Doctor and the Tardis Fam pay a visit to the home of Lord Byron on the night that Mary Shelley is supposed to come up with the idea for Frankenstein, but instead of a night of literary history, they find a house of dark apparitions, shifting hallways, and a mysterious visitor looking for something that could sentence billions of people to death in the future.
I am not about to say that this episode is an instant classic, but for what it is, it is a very well done episode. It’s free of the recent problems that has been plaguing Doctor Who since Jodie Whittaker took over, namely the terrible pacing where the resolution comes quick and suddenly out of nowhere. The pacing in “The Haunting Of Villa Diodati” is very well done and structured, the ending making perfect sense and is given the time to work.
What’s more, Jodie Whittaker is finally given a Doctor moment… one of those big impassioned speeches where the actor is free to really ham it up and show us that they are the Doctor. When Whittaker laments in the basement that sometimes it’s impossible to win, I have to admit… I see her as the Doctor now. She deserves the title.
Now, I want to see her proper angry.
Even the companions, one or two of which gets left out of the story every week, were well used. None stole the show, but each one of them had a point in actually being where they were and that was a plesant change.
I loved the Lone Cyberman in this episode. For the first time… well, ever for me at least, the Cybermen were made scary again. Sure, they’ve been disturbing such as when Danny Pink or Bill Potts was assimil… I mean, transformed into a Cyberman, but never scary. The Lone Cyberman… dude, he was scary. Out of character angry for a Cyberman, cold, calculating, and hard to look at with his actual face poking out from underneath the mask… here, the Cybermen didn’t seem like a chrome rehash of the Borg, but something completely and terrifyingly different.
The most enjoyable thing about the episode was watching how the events of “The Haunting Of Villa Diodati” ended up planting the seeds of inspiration in Mary Shelley’s mind. Being a bit of a literary geek, it was a lot of fun to see those pieces fall together with such subtlety that even the Doctor, who had been warning her friends not to interfere, didn’t see it happening. What I liked most is that it was a storyline that was presented slyly and silently, not something that the writers presented to the audience with a grin and a “aren’t we clever?” wink. It was just there and, if you noticed it… great and, if you didn’t… well, that’s fine too.
It was rough in places and not quite a classic, but it was a perfectly serviceable and entertaining episode with some great bits, clever moments, and some great direction and cinematography that made it a true blue haunted house adventure.