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Doctor Who The Haunting of Villa Diodati

Review by Paul Bowler.

Spine-chilling danger and a moment in literary history entwine in The Haunting of Villa Diodati as the Doctor and her companions travel to Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816, where a group of renowned luminaries have gathered in the Villa Diodati to tell ghost stories. The Doctor soon discovers that some monsters are real. For this is the night that will inspire Mary Shelly to write Frankenstein, just as a horrific threat is about to arrive, and the Doctor will face the most difficult decision of all – but will it be the right one?

Written by Maxine Alderton and directed by Emma Sullivan, The Haunting of Villa Diodati continues Doctor Who’s twelfth series’ predilection for darker themed stories and encounters with key historical figures on auspicious dates in history.

Based around that fateful evening where Frankenstein was inspired – when Lord Byron challenged Mary Shelly to write a ghost story – and her subsequent desire to create a fable that would curdle the blood, the setting and events of The Haunting of Villa Diodati provides a superb backdrop for this Doctor Who episode.

Jodie Whittakers 13th incarnation of the Time Lord and her companions Ryan (Tosin Coyle), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) take the TARDIS to Lake Geneva because the Doctor wants to go somewhere fun, so after instructing her companions not to mention Frankenstein, and with the intention of soaking up the literary atmosphere they are shocked to find there’s actually sinister elements at work on this dark, stormy night.

The ensemble guest cast for The Haunting of Villa Diodati includes Lewis Rainer as Percy Bysshe Shelly, Maxim Braldry is Polidori (who wrote the first Vampire story), Lilly Miller plays Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelly), along with Nadia Parkers as Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, and Jacob Collins-Levy as Lord Byron.

The Doctor soon senses the house is unrelentingly evil. Percy Bysshe Shelly is also conspicuous by his absence, while ghostly, creeping things lurk in the shadows, and there is also a distinct lack of writing going on as well considering the zenith of creative minds currently assembled within the gloomy walls of Villa Diodati.

Maxine Alderton’s story wonderfully encapsulates this iconic moment in history with the Sci-Fi themes of Doctor Who, and the result is a thrillingly atmospheric tale. Fear not, the Doctor doesn’t just travel back in time and give Mary Shelly the idea for writing Frankenstein. Maxine Alderton has crafted something far more ingenious, melding subtle nuances, exquisite details, all stitched together with intricate characterisation and chilling moment of horror. The Haunting of Villa Diodati is stylishly directed by Emma Sullivan, dynamic camera angles, swarthy shadows and flickering candlelight all complement the gorgeous period setting – with the lavish costumes designed by Ray Holman completing the look of this episode perfectly. It’s also nice to see the Doctor and her companions turned out in period attire for this adventure as well.

With the skeletal remains of a 15th century soldier getting animated and Mary’s warning of Percy Bysshe Shelly’s ominous vision of a burning figure at the lake, it soon becomes apparent there is something very wrong with the house. The Haunting of Villa Diodati is like a very old-school, creepy kind of Doctor Who episode. Following the moody scene setting opening quarter things go a bit Scooby-Doo for a while as the Doctor and her friends begin to investigate their way around Villa Diodati’s inexplicable shifting rooms and corridors. Fortunately the initial spell of goofy high jinks quickly pass, giving way to nightmarish perils, as the perception filter trapping everyone in the house lifts and the real menace is unveiled – the Lone Cyberman!

Yes, Captain Jack’s dire warning about the Lone Cyberman finally cones to pass in The Haunting of Villa Diodati! The Lone Cyberman is a terrifying sight. A lumbering, grotesque parody of a Cyberman, it has travelled through time in search of the Cyberium – the entire history and knowledge of the Cyber-Race – which has found a human host on Earth – Percy Bysshe Shelly! The Lone Cyberman looks amazing on screen, it’s like a macabre junkyard demon, and its voice is genuinely chilling. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is faced with her most challenging dilemma yet, will she heed Captain Jack’s warning about not giving the Lone Cyberman what it want’s, or will she be willing to sacrifice Percy Bysshe Shelly instead to stop the Cybermen once and for all?

The 13th Doctor gets some fantastic confrontational scenes with the Lone Cyberman. Initially she faces him alone in an electrifying face-off, but it is once the action shifts to the cellar that Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation of the Time Lord really steps up to the plate. Faced with an impossible choice she must challenge not only the Cyberman but also the convictions of her TARDIS team as well.

Lilly Miller is also fabulous as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelly) in the final showdown with her modern Prometheus the Lone Cyberman, or Ashad (Patrick O’Kane), as she he begins to remember the man he was, giving the Doctor the chance to unexpectedly turn the tables by allowing the Lone Cyberman to have the Cyberium and save Percy Bysshe Shelly as well – but at what cost?

The Haunting of Villa Diodati was a brilliant episode, full of thrills, scares, and Cyber-chills! I loved the dark gothic look of the episode and how the mystery of the Lone Cyberman was revealed. The Cyberium was another interesting concept, this quicksilver-like liquid embodiment of the Cyber-Race offers a wealth of new possibilities, and it will be fascinating to see how the Cybermen will continue to evolve now the Doctor has surrendered it to the Lone Cyberman. It was also fun how, in a story full of things that went bump in the night, that Graham was the only one who apparently saw a ghost!

Now the Doctor and her companions must fix the calamity the Time Lord has potentially instigated. They must travel to the future, find the Lone Cyberman, and stop him rebuilding the Cyber-Army! The Haunting of Villa Diodati is easily the best episode in Series 12 so far. The stage is now set for the thrilling two-part series finale, I can’t wait for the Cybermen to return in force, and to see how everything will be resolved in Ascension of the Cybermen and The Timeless Children.

Images Belong BBC

About The Author

Hi, I’m Paul Bowler, blogger and reviewer of films, TV shows, and comic books. I’m a Sci-Fi geek, a big fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek, movies, Sci-Fi, Horror, Comic Books, and all things PS4.You can follow me on Twitter @paul_bowler,or at my website, Sci-Fi Jubilee, and on YouTube and Facebook