The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Lili Miller, Jacob Collins-Levy, Nadia Parks, Maxim Baldry, Sarah Perles, and Lewis Rainer
Writer: Maxine Alderton
Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Alex Mercer, and Nikki Wilson
Composer: Segun Akinola
Director: Emma Sullivan
Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, and follows the adventures of the time-traveling alien known as the Doctor, along with their companions, as they explore and help the universe.
In the summer of 1816, at a getaway within Villa Diodati, one of the greatest literary works of all time is about to be inspired in the mind of a young Mary Shelly. However, things don’t go quite as planned, as her evening spent among friends is somewhat crashed in the form of the Doctor and her companions, seeking refuge and itching to watch history unfold. However, among all the ghost stories being read by Lord Byron, a sickening disturbance lies within the house they’re all residing in. One that includes skeletal hands, infinite rooms and stairs, and a mysterious glowing figure out in the storm. What exactly is going on within Villa Diodati, and how can it be stopped? Also, who, or what, is behind the supposed “hauntings” to begin with?
I’ve seen several people, much prior to the actual episode’s release, calling this story out for supposedly de-canonizing the Doctor Who audio dramas by Big Finish that featured Mary Shelly and that fateful night at Villa Diodati. More or less of a tidbit, but at this point, the canon of this show is pretty much one inch away from being nonexistent, so both can exist in my opinion. With that being said, I wasn’t expecting way too much from this episode, especially with the two-part finale on the horizon. This would mark the third episode of Series 12 that takes place in Earth’s past, and quite honestly, I wasn’t too excited by the prospect of another one. However, this episode absolutely caught me off guard tonight, as it presented such a chilling and unnerving story for the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends, while putting things into motion for the finale in the next two weeks.
Every time I have the slightest thought that I’ve said all I could say about the Thirteenth Doctor, she continues to surprise and astound me, week after week. Jodie absolutely kills it yet again, providing this iteration of the character at quite arguably her most stressed, disheartened, and vicious. To go further into exactly why would reach spoiler territory, but what I will say is that a certain scene near the climax of this episode is one of her most defining moments yet, if not her most defining. Mostly always seeing her as sort of an awkward, lovable oddball has made her much darker moments this series so gratifying, and somewhat frightening. One of my biggest requests after last series was that we see more of her dark side, and Series 12 has given that to me in flying colors. I can only imagine where her character goes in the two-part finale, and I’m genuinely excited to find out.
While they don’t get as much development as they did last week, the fam continue to be cohesive and enjoyable to watch. Something I’ve loved seeing so far in Series 12 is that they’ve been humbled several times through their adventures with the Doctor, as they’re starting to truly see how terrifying the universe can be, as well as how important every decision they make is. Now’s also a good time to mention that this episode looks absolutely stunning, as Sullivan’s directing perfectly captures this eerie, ominous, and foreboding tone that the story sets up. Not to jump the gun, or anything, but I honestly think that she might be my favorite director from the Whittaker era so far. More than anything, I definitely hope she’s brought back for future episodes. Akinola’s score is also very atmospheric and moody, going hand-in-hand with Sullivan’s directing, as both accomplish a feeling of utter dread and fear.
While they’re not exactly much to write home about, the side characters were quite good in this episode, especially Mary and Lord Byron. I’m not the biggest history snob, but from what I’ve heard, Byron tends to be romanticized by the history books, so seeing this episode refuse to do that was pretty nice to see. The one thing I want to talk about so badly, but can’t due to spoilers, is the threat itself within the episode. Without going into too much detail, it’s a very unique one, something we haven’t fully seen before. It makes for a pretty formidable antagonist for this story, and while I can’t say much more beyond that, I will say that it won’t be long before we see it again. And honestly, I’m pretty excited to see it again when it’s time.
Overall, this episode was pretty stellar, one of the best of Series 12. While there’s not too much I can say without spoiling, it was a very atmospheric and entertaining ride with the Doctor and her friends, while setting the stage for the Series 12 finale. I remember watching Series 11 a little over a year ago, enjoying it, but still hoping to see certain developments in the future. My review of the finale contained an entire look back at it, after all. So far, Series 12 has not disappointed me for the most part, as every development felt completely natural, and didn’t cater to certain people screaming their heads off about this new era for the worst reasons. All in all, so far this series has been one of the best in recent memory, and I genuinely cannot wait to see what lies at the end.