Doctor Who: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

Yet another historical episode where the Doctor takes the crew to visit a famous moment in literary history. Near Lake Geneva, Lord Byron has rented the Villa Diodati where he is staying with his friends Percy Shelley, Mary Shelly, John Polidori and Claire Claremont. The actual historical holiday would result in Polidori composing one of the first modern vampire novels but more notably, Mary Shelley writes the story that she would extend into the novel Frankenstein.

The Doctor gate crashes the party only to discover that things are amiss: Shelly P is missing and the house is beginning to behave oddly.

The first three quarter or so of this are great fun. Chris Chibnall’s historical episodes (of which there have been a lot) have had a tendency for reverence for their subject matter but there is only a modicum of that here. Instead we get some deftly done comic horror, with genuine scares, creepy moments and some well played comic timing.

Unsurprisingly, the cause of the pseudo-supernatural goings on turns out to be an alien artefact but here the episode shifts bringing in one of the story-arc elements and a darker tone for Whittaker’s Doctor. I won’t spoil that bit. I think it works even if the connection with the Mary Shelley’s seminal work of science fiction is a bit trite.

Overall, a solid piece of entertainment. This is only a ten episode season for Doctor Who, so we are into the end game next week with the penultimate episode.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

  1. Well… OK, it was all very atmospheric, very dramatic, lots of ideas, good incomplete-Cyberman ranty villain.


    What happens to Frankenstein (and “The Vampyre” for that matter) now that the crucial event at Villa Diodati has been so comprehensively disrupted? And why was the Doctor turning up to that particular event in that particular way in the first place? The Doctor is no stranger to crucial historical events, granted, but they’re usually large-scale ones where s/he can blend into the background (and/or work behind the scenes to keep the timeline on track.) Surely the intrusion of four complete strangers into the private gathering can’t help but disrupt the flow of events, even without the Cyberium etc.?

    And, well, the story didn’t exactly dwell on Mary Shelley, did it? Seemed more enamoured of Lord Byron – admittedly, a good portrayal of Lord Byron in full “suave twerp” mode, but surely less important than Mary?

    Basically, I’m not sure what the historical figures were doing in this story at all – it would have worked out just the same if the TARDIS had just dropped into a random house with a random selection of people in it (which has happened often enough before, goodness knows.)

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  2. I really didn’t like this episode. The more familiar I am with the historical figures used, the more I’m aware of the thin characterisation of them, I guess, or the more it bothers me.There’s only so much you can do in 45 minutes but still.

    Also seriously Doctor, you’re crashing a small and intimate gathering that was foundational in the history of the modern Gothic. The mere fact of their presence there is obviously going to mess things up, even without things consistently going all to shit around the Doctor.

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    1. Many years ago, an episode of Highlander – The Series also visited that famous house party. Methos was posing as John Polidori (which means that Methos invented the modern vampire mythos), Byron was a fellow immortal and Mary Shelley chanced to witness the lightning show that follows when one immortal beheads another.

      The bulk of the episode was set in contemporary times (i.e. 1990s) with Lord Byron now a rockstar. Duncan MacLeod beheaded him in the end, which left me outraged, because he is Lord Byron and you can’t just chop his head off, even if he is a jerk.

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  3. I would have liked it more if we hadn’t had a ton of historical ones in a short season, and if they didn’t keep contradicting themselves on the historical figures, specifically some of them have their memories removed not to impede their future contributions to history and some of them don’t, without any logic to it. In this case, the Doctor leaves Shelley with the knowledge that he dies from drowning, a fate which he could then avoid and greatly change history. I enjoyed the portrayal of Fletcher, Byron’s valet, but they killed him off. In real life Fletcher outlived Byron and shepherded and nursed Byron through his last illness, so that would seem to have some impact on history. And Claire is pregnant with Byron’s child at the time, which didn’t seem to even come up. Baby William, whom everyone worked to save, dies two years later. So it was rather messy.

    I did enjoy the changing house and poking fun at the historical figures. Also the Doc facing the central dilemma of the Doc’s existence, of no good choices. But structurally they are rather off this season. The cybermen in the future plotline, however, should go off okay.

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  4. This just felt like someone really really wanted to do this historical scene, and crammed it in.

    It reminds me of my travails running a Call of Cthulhu game, where I’d be idly researching something and discover that a cool historical figure is somewhere near the plot at the right time and then desperately try to shoehorn them into the plot, often to the bemusement of my players.


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