TARDIS 12-08 : The Haunting of Villa Diodati

Warning: This episode recap contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.

So, for a week or two now, BBCA has been running an ad saying that “Doctor Who ‘mastered’ [with a shot of Sacha Dhawan, in case we didn’t get it] the art of surprise” and that the back half of the season would “change everything.” Which of course SHOULD have gotten my guard up. But these sneaky sneaky showrunners did something very tricky and very clever and dammit if they didn’t get me again. Many fans, myself included, were somewhat let down by the mid-season lull created by the last two episodes. I found myself expecting another somewhat dull filler episode, being somewhat disappointed, and questioning my fandom just the tiniest bit. Is this still the show I fell in love with 30 years ago? Did these showrunners lose their way when they hit their sophomore slump? Could the internet complainers… have a point? Spoiler alert: the Internet complainers never have a point. If you ever find yourself questioning your fandom, I urge you to look back to the episodes you love and remind yourself that these people do know what they’re doing and you need to have at least as much faith as you would if you found  yourself stepping into the TARDIS for an unexpected mysterious journey with the Doctor herself.

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Probably because I was expecting a fun, spooky romp in Victorian times (and maybe a bit because I’ve been sick), I admit I kind of slept on the first half of this episode. Its “horror movie” nature had me yelling about dumb things that I felt the show was smarter than. I had trouble keeping the new characters straight and wondered why I should care about all of them, especially those who were not famous authors (and wishing a tiny bit that the Pater Noster gang would show up to liven up the party). I was straight up mad at the creepy spider-like crawling skeleton hand (possibly because this arachnophobe had been treated to a live animal show featuring a tarantula the day before and I’m still not over it). And I confess, I still have unanswered questions (I’m not entirely sure what the bones had to do with anything). But none of that matters, because about halfway through, this episode suddenly became the most interesting thing I’d ever seen because the lone Cyberman arrived.

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As my husband noted, an angry Cyberman is downright unsettling and not something we’ve seen before. Chibnall and Co. continue to give us new takes on classic lore and nail it every time. You kind of had to know the second that Jack warned that the lone Cyberman mustn’t get what it’s looking for that the Doctor would be forced to give it to him (because we’ve seen TV before), so I appreciate the show not taking too long to get us there. She tried to hold on to the Cyberium and realized she couldn’t. I’m more interested in what comes after she gives it to him, anyway. If she wins in episode 8, then what are we even doing in the much-hyped banger of a two-part season finale?

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The rest of the episode surrounding the main mytharc business was enjoyable enough. There was too much going on for any one character to have very much to do, but it was fun watching the Victorians and the companions figure things out around the haunted house and I’m never mad about seeing Team TARDIS in period costumes (Ryan and Graham’s enormous cravats made me the happiest). I also enjoyed that, while the primary purpose of this episode was to set up the finale, it took the right amount of time to wrap things up in the lives of those they’d dropped into. Lady Clairmont, who I didn’t care a fig about until the end, had the chance to tell Lord Byron, basically, boy BYE. Mary Wollstonecroft and Shelley were set on their paths toward family and their future. And the ghosts Graham saw? Well, nevermind about them. I really don’t mind that plot element being waved away in a single line, because the show took a moment to acknowledge it and then moved on to More. Important. Things. I suppose the only thing that bugged was the Doctor’s offer to go in alone against the Cybermen. Her friends were never going to let that happen, so that scene could have been handled differently or even left out entirely. But it doesn’t really matter, because we’re in for some fun edge-of-our-seat stuff to finish out the season and I can’t wait.

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Looking at season 12 as a whole, I really have to admire the craft of it. I may not have loved every episode, but I truly appreciate how it was put together to drop the biggest bombshells in the most unexpected places, which is no small feat in 2020. That structure is what makes me most excited for the next two weeks. We’ve seen how far our minds were blown when we didn’t see it coming, I can’t wait to see what they do when we are expecting a big showdown. Will they work in Doctor Ruth? The Timeless Child? The Master’s destruction of Gallifrey? Captain Jack Harkness (I hope, I hope, I  HOPE)? Literally anything is possible. See you next week!

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