The Haunting of Villa Diodati

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    Craig @craig

    The Haunting of Villa Diodati

    I really hope this lives up to its title and is a creepy, hide-behind-the-sofa one. It is the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary, vacationing in a villa on Lake Geneva in 1816, really did spook each other out one night by telling horror stories.

    That night has already inspired several shows and films including Ken Russell’s “Gothic” and Roger Corman’s “Frankenstein Unbound”.

    The Doctor’s plan is for the gang to spend the evening soaking up the atmosphere in the presence of the literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.

    This is written by Maxine Alderton who has, until now, mostly been a long-running, award-winning writer on the soap opera “Emmerdale”.

    It is directed by Emma Sullivan, who also directed last week’s episode, the creepy “Can You Hear Me?”, and has a lot of TV credits including “Doctors”, “Holby City”, “Call the Midwife” and “Silent Witness”.

    It guest stars Lili Miller (who has mostly done theatre so far) as Mary Shelley. Jacob Collins-Levy (best known for playing Henry VII in “The White Princess”) plays Lord Byron. Lewis Rainer (who has been in the likes of “Grange Hill, “Doctors”, “Holby City”, “Casualty” and “Wolfblood”) is Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Maxim Baldry (from “Hollyoaks”, “Years and Years” and the recent movie “Last Christmas”) plays Dr John Polidori.

    jomomentor @jomomentor

    Darn good episode! The threat of a duel to Ryan had me chuckling and the Cyberman rocked up an episode early with a new design. When they saw it glowing from a distance it looked like Mr. Burns from that X files inspired Simpsons episode though!

    Ollie14 @ollie14

    Great episode, really really enjoyed it! The writers didn’t get caught up on the spooky element so it overwhelmed the episode. And… love the Doctor snapped, JW was brilliant!

    Just to clarify a few things then, the Alliance sent the Cyberium back through time, how did that leave the Cybermen in ruins though?

    Assuming Timeless child and Galifrey is going to cleared up in the next series? I think I would prefer that rather than cram it all into Series 12 two-part finale.

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    Great timing for this if we’re considering looking at Penny Dreadful after Who ends…

    I didn’t much like (this is actually possibly the number one complaint on t’other place which is delightfully positive so far) the implication of cowardice in Byron. There is a difference between ghosts and an oncoming army, sure, but he did die in a war he was under absolutely no obligation to fight.

    I liked Mary Shelly, she seemed very real, very young, not idealised. I thought the dynamic of the house party was quite well done. I wasn’t sure about her interactions with the Cyberman in some ways – talking about him possibly being made up of different bodies (I’m pretty sure her Adam was made of one corpse) talking about his memories of being human (Adam was brand new as a person). But this is probably good, in terms of inspiration. She said Frankenstein, the idea for the novel came to her in a dream. But then, the Romantics tended to say things like that, it was sometimes part of the concept. It certainly didn’t come, in the important parts, from this episode. Other than the concept of a gothic horror that is at the same time of human making, and beyond nature.

    Inconsistency over mind wiping though? The Doctor managed not to give too much away about what Mary was about to do, but Shelly did know about his death.

    Psymon @psymon

    Good episode overall, I like it when they link real history to a Doctor Who story like that – showing how Shelley died for example was an interesting new trick (Whittaker seems to be very ‘hands on’ this series – won’t be long until she’s doing the Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue an enemy). A quick look at Wikipedia confirms that is how he died (though the message was possibly confused by the fact he found the Cyberium in water – at first I thought it was confirming he was already dead). The poem at the end is also a genuine poem and I can’t help but think the whole episode was written based on that poem being the output (not a criticism – I like it when they do this).

    The ghost theme was well explained and not too hammy, with a nice ‘did he; didn’t he’ question about Graham’s interactions with the creepy girl and maid, although to play devil’s advocate this could be seen as a subplot too many and an example of the trouble they have keeping 3 companions busy with screen time – Yaz was once again disobeying the Doctor so I can’t help thinking this number will reduce very soon…

    Onto the prophesied Lone Cyberman then – has Cyberium ever appeared in the show before out of interest? I couldn’t help thinking they were going more ‘Borg’ with the Cybermen – having a nano like substance that gives you the knowledge of the collective and converts you from the inside. I liked the whole half-finished look of the Cyberman and it’s clear the intention is that the Doctor gave Mary Shelley the idea for Frankenstein based on her encounter with a Cyberman. Possible get-out clauses for the finale were set with the Cyberman saving William and also the Doctor weirdly absorbing the Cyberium without a second thought.

    Which brings me on to the points I wasn’t so keen on in the episode – the Doctor behaved very rashly and didn’t seem to be at all in control of the situation (I’m no longer surprised Yaz has stopped listening to her). I know acting rashly isn’t exactly a new trait but there’s just something about how Whittaker does it that doesn’t seem quite right. It also bugged me how quickly she dismissed Jack’s warning despite the lengths he went to to get the message to her, it was like she was never going to listen to him. Which brings me to my main irritation with the episode – this isn’t the first time the time travel concepts of the Whittaker-era have bugged me but – what was with the whole Back to the Future logic of her companions ceasing to exist if she let’s Shelley die?! I half expected Grahams left hand to start disappearing! Also the whole episode makes out that their visit created the timeline they have come from – i.e. cyberman = Frankenstein, Doctor = she is the universe, The Guardian subplot etc, they are annoyingly inconsistent this season about fixed points, multi-verse theory, cause and effect, butterfly effects, whether or not they erase the memory of historical characters etc etc. I know the show has never been exactly consistent on those points but it never used to change episode to episode, and you can only blame the showrunner for that…

    Psymon @psymon

    @ollie14 unless the Doctor ignoring Jack and giving the Cyberman what he wanted is what creates the Timeless Child, or the Doctor discovers the only way to fix the mess she has created is to find the Timeless Child? Maybe for a change they won’t ‘reboot the universe’ in the last 5 minutes of the finale and carry forward the story into next season – have a proper cliffhanger for a change…

    I’d be more disappointed if Jo-Doc/Doc-Martin doesn’t make an appearance in the finale…

    Will be interesting to see if they squeeze the Master in too, or if he will roll forward into next series instead. I think the Timeless Child and The Master subplots are so intertwined I’m not sure you could have one without the other though.

    There are so many open threads that to tie them up in 2 episodes could make it very messy/rushed, like you say maybe it would be better to save it – or just tag on a cliffhanger ending…

    There’s also the option of saving one of the subplots for the Christmas/New Year episode – a 2 Doctor story with Jo Martin would make for a good special IMO…

    MissRori @missrori

    @psymon My theory — given what the titles of the next two episodes are, and especially with word getting out (i.e. filming dates) that we probably won’t see Series 13 until well over a year from now — has it that most of this season’s plot points will be wrapped up in the next two episodes, with anything left being held over for the holiday special, as you put it (it would be an interesting way of resolving the Fugitive Doctor issue to do it in a Christmas show!).  I’m thinking that the Cyberwar stuff will turn out to be the means of resolving the Timeless Child/Destruction of Gallifrey stuff and vice versa — given Gallifrey was at the end of the universe in “Hell Bent” — if only because there’s already been a “frontline conflict” Cyberman story with “Nightmare in Silver”.

    Also, about the Doctor not following Captain Jack’s “order” — who’s to say he and his fellows had the right idea in the first place?  We don’t even know what this resistance pocket is exactly, and he’s been involved in shady business before.  In the meantime I do agree that the Doctor absorbing the Cyberium will probably pay off.

    I think the Doctor would have gone into further detail about what would be changed in history had Percy died younger if it weren’t major spoilers for the other historical characters: Most obviously (and it’s been pointed out elsewhere) his dying would have put a serious roadblock to Mary actually writing her book and pretty much inventing science fiction as a genre.  Frankenstein sent out a lot of ripples into literature, science, philosophy, cinema, general pop culture, etc.; who knows how many lives would or wouldn’t exist, or exist in the way they did, had it not been written.  I’m surprised the companions didn’t figure that out for themselves and apologize to the Doctor for her crisis thinking back in the blue box!  That said, I’m glad they’re willing to help her out all the same and head to the uncertain future.

    …It’s easy to wail and gnash your teeth about how much easier things would be, damage that would have not happened, etc. if certain things had gone differently in the past.  But in the end, it can’t be changed — even if we were capable of doing so — and even if it could be changed, nothing says it would necessarily be better.  All we can do is deal with the consequences, even if we weren’t responsible for them.  All we can do is, as Frozen II puts it, “The Next Right Thing”, and that’s what the Doctor’s doing now.

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    Well, yes, that was a good episode! A couple of brief thoughts: Pacing. Unlike previous episodes this season and last, this one was paced in a way that you could both follow the story and become emotionally invested in it. Content. There was just one story, unlike some previous episodes where the companions were split up and there were multiple, competing narratives. Resolution: the Doctor’s decision to give the Lone Cyberman what he wanted in order to save Shelley (and therefore the future) made total sense. In other words, this was a very well written episode. And one, I suspect, that might even encourage some younger viewers who know nothing about Byron, Shelley and Wollstonecraft to actually look them up. Which is exactly what Sydney Newman would have intended back in 1963.


    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    Oh, and one shouldn’t forget Graham’s superhuman ability to hold it in during the whole night! Is there the makings of a bonkers theory there? Well no, I hope not!

    Whisht @whisht

    I enjoyed this one too.
    I liked that tonally the guests and Doctor and Companions were quite distinct. For me that worked.
    Also agree with @blenkinsopthebrave that the pacing was better (and allowed them to split up but not to the point of splitting storylines).

    Also loved the line “Is it too late to choose another group?”

    Agree also that some bits jarred but overall enjoyed this one.

    Off to post the obvious music (Chibnall seems to have remembered the music-thread that links this series!)


    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I didn’t much like (this is actually possibly the number one complaint on t’other place which is delightfully positive so far) the implication of cowardice in Byron.

    A sign that the writer’s done her research. He certainly wasn’t a coward, as such, but he had what you might call fits of nerves when he acted like one. Contemporaries call him ‘timid’ at times, and there’s a remembered conversation when Byron calls himself ‘cowardly’. It seems to have been an over-active imagination – or what moderns would call catastrophising – and he was worried whether it would happen to him in Greece.

    Which is the sign of a genuinely brave man, I think. He went and fought in a war that wasn’t his when he knew just how frightened he’d be.

    Mudlark @mudlark

    For the first 10 minutes or so of this episode I had a sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to live up to its promise. The Austen pastiche dialogue seemed a bit forced at first, and while the notion of delivering the background information on the somewhat convoluted domestic arrangements of the occupants of Villa Diodati as gossip between partners during a dance might have seemed a clever alternative to the Doctor briefing her companions before they gate crashed the party, it did come across as a bit contrived. As did the idea that Mary Shelley would in any case have responded to the arrival of four unexpected and half-drowned guests by immediately proposing an impromptu dance – though I suppose that any excuse for a party would suffice if you had been confined indoors for days by the weather.

    After that, though, it certainly picked up the pace and delivered in terms of story and spooky atmosphere, and I have no real complaints. The Escher style puzzle of the house apparently folding in on itself was very effective, although it might seem a bit surprising that the Doctor was not reminded immediately of the examples of recursion s/he encountered in Castrovalva and Logopolis. But then I suppose that from her point of view that was a very long time ago.  The way that Dr Polidori’s sleepwalking was exploited as a means of solving the puzzle was ingenious, also.

    The semi-converted, somewhat battered looking, and by inference patched together cyberman was, for me at least, disturbingly gruesome and threatening in a way that massed ranks of shiny metal men are not, and I really liked the suggestion that it was this encounter which inspired Mary Shelley to dream up Frankenstein’s monster*.  In that philosophical context the cherry-picked lines from Queen Mab which this cyberman recited, channelling Shelley, were an apt commentary on mankind in a historical perspective and the kind of recurrent folly and twisted thinking which could lead to the creation of his kind. We were also reminded that for the Doctor the encounter is a painful reminder of what happened to Bill.

    Humans like all of you, changed into empty, soulless shells; no feelings, no control, no way back. I will not lose anyone else to that.


     the Doctor’s decision to give the Lone Cyberman what he wanted in order to save Shelley (and therefore the future) made total sense

    Yes, given that dilemma, what could she do but choose the least bad option. I gather that some commenters elsewhere have argued that Shelley was not that great a poet and the Doctor’s decision should have gone the other way, but Shelley as a social and political philosopher had an influence far beyond his reputation as a Romantic poet. If he had died in 1816 instead of 1822 he would not have written The Mask of Anarchy, written in 1819 in response to the news of the Peterloo Massacre, which had far reaching influence in shaping the concept of non-violent resistance. It is far more punchy than the earlier Queen Mab, which covers some of the same ground but does go on a bit. As the Doctor said, words matter.

    Random observations:

    The way in which the 18th century characters persisted in calling the Doctor ‘Mrs Doctor’ was a subtle touch because, of course, at that date the idea that a woman could have been styled ‘Doctor’ in her own right would have been inconceivable, even if there may have been one or two idealists dreaming of a day when it might be possible.

    I’m not sure that the inclusion of articulated and animated skeletal hands skittering around in spider fashion or the odd misplaced skull added much to the tale, beyond providing a touch of the conventionally ghoulish. It was also surprising that the protagonists, after a just brief glance into a box full of assorted bones, were able to determine that one or more of the hands of the skeleton were missing, given that the hands when not under supernatural influence would have been a scattered jumble of assorted very small, disarticulated bones which would almost certainly have fallen through to the bottom of the box. It is difficult enough to ensure that you have identified all of the hand or foot bones even when excavating a skeleton in situ 🙂

    *Though I seem to recall reading that the initial idea probably arose out of a philosophical discussion one evening during their stay at the Villa.








    Mudlark @mudlark

    Another random observation which I forgot to include; I was very amused to see Byron’s repeated attempts to flirt with the Doctor meet with a decided and blunt rebuff. How very different from the 10th Doctor 😉

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Yes, I was thinking Castrovalva and Logopolis. So much so, in fact, that I kept expecting the Master to pop up out of the woodwork. So, another callback to BG era Who, but not an obvious one. The genetic theme is cyberised – could this be the connection with the Scorpion-aliens? They were scavengers, and this variety of Cyberman scavenges human parts.

    And what is the reason for that very odd subplot with the genuine ghosts? There’s a skeleton (literally) in the closet (well, the chest) and ghosts in the woodwork. Something meta about the Time Lords, maybe? Skeletons and ghosts and patched up creatures made of bits of something else?

    I wonder why it is that the Chibnall historicals seem to be so much the best episodes of his era? It’s like everyone (actors, writers, production team) have the ‘touch’ with historicals. – which then proceeds to promptly desert them when they have to do something else.

    This may be a little unfair, because there’ve been some very good episodes this series. But I keep getting this feeling that we do a historical with real historical characters and everything noticeably goes up a notch.

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave


    I wonder why it is that the Chibnall historicals seem to be so much the best episodes of his era?

    Could it be the pacing? The futuristic stories happen at a frantic pace–almost like a video game. They are not just cluttered with colourful imagery and explosions, etc, but also with characters running and jumping from one setting to the other. It is all happening very, very, fast. And (for me, anyway) the faster it happens, quite often the less engaging it becomes. It strikes me that when they do an historical story, on the other hand, the pacing is slowed down considerably–the historical characters tend to walk rather than run, and there is time given to focus on the historical veracity of events (the bus in “Rosa”) or to draw attention to the historical veracity of prose (this episode).

    I am sure there are other factors involved, but I do wonder if pacing is an important one.

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    The ghosts. A couple of people have commented on the ghosts, and I am now starting to wonder if they are more important than we realize. Given that the monster in the episode is the half-formed Cyberman, with his allusion to Frankenstein’s monster, the show could easily have been a variation on the novel’s subtitle, “The Modern Prometheus”. But they chose to call it “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”. Yet Graham was (I think) the only one aware of the ghosts. Why, then, give the story that particular title? Unless it had a greater significance than we are according it.

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    I seem to be saying this every week but that was probably the best episode of the Whittaker era (which is a good sign that it is constantly improving). Certainly this episode finally gave Jodie her ‘Doctor’ moment and it’s been a damn long time coming. I’m liking this angry and impatient Doc a lot more — in fact, she excels at being more Hartnell-ish than Capaldi, who wore his Hartnelliness on his sleeve a lot but was actually in the end something a lot more unique. I hope JW and Chibs start to realise that Whittaker’s strengths lie far more in giving us an intense Doc rather than the quirky-quirky Tennant knock-off that we’ve been getting and which seems to be falling away a bit now.

    The Cyberman was great also. In philosophy, the closest we’ve had to the original Tenth Planet Cybermen. Although having him with a deactivated emotion inhibitor, while meaning that they can get round the making him an actually interesting antagonist to engage with, makes me wonder whether you can really consider him a Cyberman and rather more of an armoured psychopath. But even so, he was a memorable villain. And it looks like we’ll be seeing him again.

    However, as a huge Shelley nerd, I’d have to say that as a historical this story absolutely sucks — and that’s saying something considering some of the filmic violence that’s been inflicted on the Diodati story over the years. For one thing, Byron was clearly an absolute arse but the last thing you could call him is a coward, as is implied here, I think. The guy used to keep a bear in his rooms at Oxford ffs. He also died a general in the Greek wars of independence. Claire Clairmont was also hardly the winsome almost lovestruck schoolgirl we see in this story. She was a pretty fiery and forthright individual, certainly by the standards of the time and seemed to have pursued Byron as much as he pursued her. (Also no sign of Byron’s club foot, I notice.)

    And then there’s Shelley. Shelley is always made out to be this thoughtful dreamboat character and they really amped this up here. But he was a deeply off-putting figure to most. He certainly wasn’t this elegant figure and was always remarked upon for the extreme dishevelment of his dress. Byron used to complain that he smelled overly of talcum powder. And he was a highly excitable figure with a shrieking high-pitched voice that grated on many.

    It’s probably too much to expect a totally faithful rendition, of course, and in previous stories this series we’ve seen deeply selective interpretations of historical figures. And literary figures get an especially bad rap in Who — from HG Wells to Shakespeare but this was particularly bad, if you ask me. To the extent that I ask myself what the actual point was? Why not just have any old haunted house with some gifted people in it? I guess it has something to do with the dangerous precedent set by Mark Gattiss and Simon Callow who are both immersed in Dickens and could bring that love and knowledge to bear on a Who story. I imagine that was harder to reproduce than it looked and to my mind it’s probably only Richard Curtis who has come close.

    And once again there’s a question with the ever-expanding-can-of-worms that is mindwiping. In fact, what we see here is the absolute opposite — with the Doc forcing in ‘memories’ that a character really shouldn’t have. Which to my mind strikes me just as bad the other way around — especially as Shelley even in this rubbish interpretation doesn’t strike me as emotionally strong enough to be carrying around the knowledge of his own death for a couple of years.

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord


    Hmm, that’s interesting about the ghosts. They certainly made a point of emphasising it at the end.

    I’m also slightly troubled by how this story seems to contradict the events of the Eighth Doctor Big Finish stories with Mary Shelley in them, particularly the one set at Diodati. I thought BF was canon now. Personally, I’m seeing it as further proof to my theory that JodieDoc has been an alt-universe Doc all along.

    lisa @lisa

    At least one of these companions will turn into a cyberman before the end.  Just like in Death in Heaven

    and World Enough and Time.

    I really get  this impression that we are getting another whole sort of new origin story for Cybermen in

    the way that there is now a new  origin story Ruth Doctor and that they both are probably connected.

    Quite honestly I’m also seeing Chibnall  trying to make the Jodie Doctor become progressively

    darker and harder for the companions to trust.  So I won’t be surprised if one of them chooses to ignore

    her and does something  which will turn them into cybermen.



    Rob @rob

    So the Cyberium is a meta Cyberstamp equivalent which we had absorbed in The Next Doctor and as @psymon mentioned above the obvious absorption of the Cyberium by the Doctor allows a mind timey wimey Cyber screw too.

    Mind wiping by Timelords, this allows for the possibility of of  Jo Martin Doctor (Dr Foster from Gloucester) to be a future or previous and also possibly a link to Doctor Faustus? Wow the coffee has kicked in.

    Thought this was a good episode too

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    @bluesqueakpip oh that’s good to know!

    I’m studying Don Juan a few module blocks from now, so I’d like to think I’d have known that if I’d seen this episode later.

    ‘An over active imagination’ works splendidly with the gothic aspect as well.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Yes, I only knew it because I was in a play about the mad foursome a couple of decades back.

    It can be referenced in The Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of His Life, which is on Google Books.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I’m going to say no, just because it’d be too like Death in Heaven. Instead I’m going to suggest that the Doctor will make some terrible mistake because she’s trying to stop one of the fam being Cyberised.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Well, ghosts in the Whoniverse are often the sign of a time distortion. So maybe the ‘conflict’ with the Big Finish audio (haven’t heard it) is a subtle signal that the time distortion caused by sending the Cyberium back (followed by the Lone Cyberman) is more dangerous than we think?

    The Big Finish set with Mary Shelley then becomes a ‘should have happened’ time loop. This might explain why the Doctor (who remembers being the Eighth) is so worried about killing Percy Shelley that she is willing to risk billions of future deaths. She already knows time has been badly altered.

    And why she wanted to limit the fam to one hour. With Shakespeare and Christie he was perfectly willing to stay overnight/for tea.

    [Edit: Come to think of it, could that be the reason the TARDIS is parked so far away that they all get soaked? It’s trying to avoid itself?]

    Whisht @whisht

    btw… has anyone been keeping check (or stripe!) on the Doctor’s clothes?

    I noticed that she was wearing a Fourth Doctor-esque striped scarf at the end of this episode.
    I haven’t been looking too closely in other episodes and before I do (or fail to do!) if anyone else has then pile in and mention!


    Maybe its nothing but… maybe there are clues (oh for the days of Blue and Red!)


    Arbutus @arbutus

    Well, this was fun, and surprising, too. (As I have determinedly been avoiding spoilers, even little ones, I was good and surprised when the “traveller” turned out to be the Lone Cyberman.) I enjoyed the setting and the guest actors, and felt that the creepy/scary component was just right. I agree with @bluesqueakpip that, for whatever reason, the historicals have definitely been some of the strongest episodes, which works for me since they’re always my favourites!  🙂

    I really liked the tone of the Doctor’s response to the appearance of the Lone Cyberman—the statement about team structure, and the reminder (or perhaps, for this team, new information) about the kind of choices that fall to the Doctor, and that she essentially stands alone. Also, I thought her fear and loathing of the Cybermen was put across really well, in a contained sort of fury that I felt was really effective.

    @miapatrick     I felt that the differences between the Lone Cyberman and Frankenstein actually worked very well. Either the Lone Cyberman provided the seed, and Mary Shelley grew the plant. Or the seed was provided as it was in RL, but the encounter with the Cyberman could have inspired the emotional aspects that might be packed into such a scenario. In any case, we wouldn’t want to see MS’s genius diluted with the idea that she only wrote what she saw!

    Arbutus @arbutus

    @psymon     While it’s entirely possible that Yaz will leave the team, I’m not convinced by the argument that her disobeying the Doctor means anything. Isn’t that what all companions do?

    I didn’t get the feeling that she dismissed Jack’s warning without care, but given what was at stake, when would the Doctor ever have done differently than what she did? She tried taking the Cyberium on herself, which I thought was pretty great, actually, since it was killing Shelley. But presented with the imminent destruction of earth and all that future history, what else could she have done?

    @blenkinsopthebrave     I wondered as Graham wandered around in search of the loo, hadn’t he ever watched any BBC costume drama? Don’t we all know about chamber pots?

    @mudlark     As to the Doctor’s nice, tidy rebuff of Byron’s advances, well, she did make the rules: No snogging Byron!

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave


    Chamber pots. I always remember a brilliant sketch done by Alan Bennett in a comedy sketch show back in the 60s (It might have been Beyond the Fringe, but I think it was another show that I cannot recall). In it, he plays an antiques dealer, and a clueless, but pretentious, couple come into his shop, and their eyes focus on a Victorian chamber pot. Bennett, as the antiques dealer, realises the calibre of clients he is dealing with and comes over to them.

    Wife: “Could you tell me something about this lovely piece?”

    Antiques Dealer: “Well madam, this is, in fact, a very rare Georgian breakfast bowl.”

    Wife (excited): “Really?”

    Antiques Dealer: “Oh yes, madam. In Georgian times that ate very large breakfasts…”

    And, of course, the couple depart with their proud purchase.

    Mudlark @mudlark


    I wonder why it is that the Chibnall historicals seem to be so much the best episodes of his era? It’s like everyone (actors, writers, production team) have the ‘touch’ with historicals. – which then proceeds to promptly desert them when they have to do something else.

    I suspect the reason is that Chibnall lacks the kind of free-wheeling imagination and/or specialised knowledge required to create truly original and effective science fiction or fantasy, which is probably also the reason why he seems to be relying so much on recycled material and references from old episodes, and why the monsters of his creation have tended  to be a bit underwhelming. With historical material, on the other hand,  he is  on safer and more solid ground, even if he chooses to play a bit fast and loose with the recorded facts, because he is – or feels himself to be – dealing with a world, events and people he can more easily identify with.


    Mudlark @mudlark


    Clearly Graham is not of a generation which can remember the po’ under the bed or the commode – necessities if one was to avoid a nocturnal trip to the privy at the bottom of the garden 🙂  The water closet was not unknown in the early 19th century, but it was still a rarity and not terribly efficient.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I’m not sure that’s entirely fair – as I said a couple of weeks back, it’s really difficult to do an arc that may involve the Doctor’s past without going back into the Doctor’s past. I’d agree Chibnall didn’t have a ‘winner’ like the Weeping Angels when he tried a series of entirely new monsters – and it may well be that he’s got the kind of imagination that works best when it has something to ‘spark’ off. But his puppet master Dalek in Resolution was truly creepy, and I think this very cyborg-y version of the Cybermen might have legs. Possibly someone else’s legs, knowing Cybermen. 🙂

    No, the question is more: given that the historicals are often very good indeed, possibly ‘classic’ material – what is it that’s lifting them up, but not the present day/future episodes? Is @blenkinsopthebrave right and it’s a simple matter of pace?

    @jimthefish – forgot to mention – if you think any actor is going to ruin a perfectly nice part by doing a historically authentic high pitched grating voice that will irritate the audience no end, you can think again. ‘Historically authentic?’ Lewis Rainer no doubt said, ‘I’m in this historically authentic cellar with a *%)$&”! Cyberman!’


    Davros @davros

    This season has had its ups and downs but I loved this episode.


    The portrayals of Byron, the Shelleys and Polidori were lovely: a little harsh on Byron but he was reputed to be quite vain. The little tie-in with Spyfall Part 2 was serendipitous but pleasing.

    The presentation of The Doctor was spot on: personalities change but the reality of the situation doesn’t. The loneliness of her position is a fact, something reflected on by all of the post-gap versions. She can gesture towards inclusion and democracy, but who has the power? Who can take the responsibility? Just her.

    The companions were well used and their distinct characteristics highlighted. One of the few times I’ve liked Ryan’s contribution to the fam.

    It was clever to make Polidori’s sleepwalking the key to breaking the illusion. That’s what I want to see: something I haven’t seen before. (IRL Polidori wrote about somnambulism but I don’t know whether he was a sufferer.)


    It was also a good choice to make the cyberman only half-converted: cybermen are horrifying in concept but a half-converted cyberman without an inhibitor chip is much more unnerving. Seeing a cyberman cradling a baby: yikes. I think there is more of Ashad’s backstory to come: why, how, could a non-inhibited cyberman slit his own children’s throats? I think that was probably a lie.

    The bogus geometry of the trap reminded me of Castrovalva, which initially led me to believe O might be involved…

    I’ve heard a lot of reviews and comments saying that the promotional material ruined the surprise. Well sux2bu because I never look at the promotional material: no trailers, announcements, rumours. I skip the preview at the end of the episode. I just watch the show, so I had zero expectation of seeing the Lone Cyberman in this episode. This makes for it a nice stealth three-parter, like the ends of series 3 and series 9.


    winston @winston

    I finally watched and I liked it! The historical episodes are always my favourites anyway and I have no problem with the writers changing things up a bit with these people from the past. I enjoy seeing real people from the past put in these impossible, fantastical situations. It was fun to see Shakespeare being controlled by alien witches and Dickens fighting the Gelf in the gas pipes. What if werewolves were real and Queen Victoria battled them or Queen Elizabeth 1 married the Doctor or the Frankenstein monster was based on a Cyberman ? I love what ifs.

    @blenkinsopthebrave  I agree that the pace was slower and less hectic and that helped me sink in to the story easier. Loved the Doctor in this one, she was very fierce. Grahams control was amazing, I would have either wet myself when I saw the ghost or rushed out into the rain. I might have looked for a chamber pot because I just bought a pretty antique one last week. My OH spent summers at his grandparents in the early 60s and they had no indoor plumbing so at night it was the pot or the trip to the “little house” out back.

    All in all I think it was a great episode.

    winston @winston

    I was also going to say that historical episodes do spark my interest in the people portrayed and I usually go in search for more information about them. They also inspire me to read or reread books, poems or plays they wrote or check out  inventions the made or paintings they did. If that works on children that is great.

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    @bluesqueakpip, @mudlark

    More reflections on pacing. If you compare what Moffat could do with an episode like “Heaven Sent” to all of the Chibnall present/future episodes, there is simply no comparison. “Heaven Sent” was paced in a very slow way…and it was hypnotically riveting.  To be honest, I think Chibnall would be incapable of that. But it is not just about the pacing, it is knowing how to engage the viewer in a world that has been presented to them that bears no relationship the the world they know, amd yet capture them, almost hypnotically, until the resolution.

    So, I would tend to agree with @mudlark while also reaffirming my point about pacing.

    Davros @davros

    Some responses to the comments of others:

    “Doctors”: is this show good? It seems as though every second Doctor Who cast member has been on it.

    “they are annoyingly inconsistent this season about fixed points, multi-verse theory, cause and effect, butterfly effects”

    Mmm. Although the new Who has not strictly stuck to a plan, several times it has been shown that small changes are okay because they tend to get smoothed over, but you’re unable to just change the past willy-nilly because paradoxical timelines are erased. Something like this happens in Journey To The Heart Of The TARDIS, and (sort of) in Angels Take Manhattan. In Dark Water, the Doctor highlights this problem: things have to be done delicately, because if he just goes back and saves Danny, then Clara won’t have come to him telling him to save Danny. You have to _trick_ the universe: undo things in such a way that the macro effects don’t mess up the causality. Examples of making the changes delicately occur in The Wedding Of River Song and in The Day Of The Doctor: go back and fix things but leave the appearance the same. Obviously there have been exceptions: the cracks in the universe caused major shifts, and TLGTW messed up everything, but you can’t generally go back and change stuff in the wibbly wobbly ball and expect the changes to _stick_.


    Love it. 🙂

    “I thought BF was canon now. ”
    I was given to understand that there is no official canon or continuity. Some of the BF material has been referenced in the TV show but other parts don’t quite marry.
    Having said that…
    Because of the nature of the DWU, we expect that there can be any number of different external continuities that The Doctor exists in. e.g. The Doctor has observed a few different “first encounters” between humans and aliens, and we can explain this by saying that things have become changed by her own actions or those of other time travellers. On the other hand, we expect that the narrative we are shown is from the single personal continuity of The Doctor. If something happened in _her_ personal past, and she doesn’t remember it, then there ought to be some “explanation”. The most common such explanation comes from the Multi-Doc stories in which only the most recent Doc remembers their shared events. (cough except Capaldi was the most recent in TDOTD cough). Now, nothing the Doctor says in this episode strongly implies that this is the first time she (in her continuity) has met Mary. On the other hand, the Big Finish stories show a relationship between Mary and Eight all through this period. Solution: this Mary is in a different continuity from the one who dealt with the Eighth Doctor. The Time War or the Cracks shifted things about and so _this_ Mary meets The Doctor for the first (and maybe only time) when she encounters the Thirteenth.

    ” So I won’t be surprised if one of them chooses to ignore her and does something which will turn them into cybermen.”
    I hope it’s not that. We’ve seen that with Danny and Bill, and PW-Jackie. Surely they can think of something new and shocking.
    On the face of it, you’d have to think that if someone is going to go out because of disobeying the Doc that way, it is going to be Yaz.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    why, how, could a non-inhibited cyberman slit his own children’s throats? I think that was probably a lie.

    Yes, I get the feeling that something about it was a lie. It’s possible he’s not got an inhibitor because he’s a fanatic about the joys of Cyberisation, but he was certainly lying about the baby – he may have seen the baby as a future Cyberman, but he still saw it as a baby. As you say, a Cyberman going coochy coo with a baby was a ‘yikes!’

    There is a circumstance when a loving parent would slit his or her children’s throats, and that’s when what they’re facing is worse than death. They’d ‘joined the resistance’, so were fighting being Cyberised. Did Ashad kill them because he’s a fanatic? Or because he knew the alternative was bringing them in for Cyberisation?

    @blenkinsopthebrave and @winston – Sadly, I have to point out that there’s a time jump when Doctor Polidori goes to sleep and that I strongly suspect that Graham took a leak during that ‘off-screen’ bit – though I agree he’s got really good bladder control. Reminds me of the scene during the Buffy Series 7 finale when they’re facing a massive battle and Xander tells everyone where the toilets are…

    Blenkinsop, I did not find Heaven Sent hypnotically riveting. I did find it slow – it relied on Capaldi, I think, and if you didn’t like Capaldi’s Doctor the viewer was left with nothing much else to watch. I’d a thousand times rather re-watch the Tsuranga Conundrum than Heaven Sent, even though I know perfectly well most people would think Heaven Sent is artistically ‘better’.

    Heaven Sent seems to be one of the very few episodes I didn’t comment on; probably I was working on the ‘if you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything’ line of thought at the time. However, I will say that comparing a talented writer (Chibnall) to a writer of genius (Moffat) is a bit unfair. It’s not that I like every single thing Steven Moffat has ever done, but I do think Moffat’s a genius, even when his latest experiment didn’t work for me.

    Um. Yeah, maybe it’s the pacing of the scripts? Because I actually liked the pting and would be happy to see it crop up again. Likewise the male pregnancy. The ideas are there, but the problem seems to be plotting and pacing them.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    “Doctors”: is this show good? It seems as though every second Doctor Who cast member has been on it.

    The BBC considers it as one of its ‘rep’ training-ground soap series for baby TV actors and writers – so its quality can be a bit variable, ranging from ‘superb’ to ‘we have to broadcast this, it’s Tuesday’. But that’s why almost everyone has been on it.

    Mudlark @mudlark


    I did not mean to disparage Chibnall’s ability as a writer in general; he just seems so much more at home dealing with people in the world as it is or was in the past.

    Over the past 60+ years I have read a great deal of science fiction and a somewhat lesser amount of fantasy by numerous different authors. Many have written entertaining and occasionally even thought provoking narratives based on ideas already current and widespread in the genre: there are a few, though, who have the singular gift of imagination and the ability to show us life, the universe and everything from a completely new and original perspective, and to draw us into their vision so completely that we become immersed for the duration and thereby changed.

    Doctor Who is not entirely science fiction, of course, or entirely fantasy, though it draws on both, but at its best it has that ability to draw us in to the world it creates and to enable us to view ourselves and the world in a new light.  In the futuristic episodes Chibnall has written some interesting and entertaining variations on long established themes such as the Daleks or the Cybermen, but I doubt very much whether he could have dreamed up those concepts ab origine. He does also, as @blenkinsopthebrave has noted, seem to think that episodes set in an imagined future need to be frenetically paced and full of flashy effects – things which in fact often tend to detract from their effectiveness.


    …  it is knowing how to engage the viewer in a world that has been presented to them that bears no relationship the world they know, amd yet capture them, almost hypnotically, until the resolution.

    Exactly so 🙂


    nerys @nerys

    As my husband and I keep saying, we have to remind ourselves that it’s not just the Doctor and her companions who are different. It’s the head writer and all (or at least most) of the other contributors, as well. I find myself enjoying some episodes, and not enjoying others as much.

    I agree with @blenkinsopthebrave about the pacing, especially when comparing “Heaven Sent” to this episode. I was riveted by that one (though I appreciate @bluesqueakpip pointing out that not everyone found “Heaven Sent” to be riveting). My problem with many Moffat episodes was that, at least for me, they required multiple viewings for me to make sense of them. Chibnall’s episodes are mostly the opposite; I get them on the first viewing. So they strike me as a little too simplistic. I liked this episode. I just wasn’t as emotionally satisfied as I hoped I’d be. It’s puzzling.

    “The Haunting” did require a second viewing from me, by the way. For some reason, our DVR cut off the ending. I thought something was missing, and indeed it was. So things came together for me a bit better when I streamed it.

    Ollie14 @ollie14

    Agree @psymon. Think Master and Timeless Child will be cleared up this series, but as much as I’d like to see Ruth again, they could potentially try and cram to much into this 2-parter and ruin it.

    I’d save the Ruth Doc stuff imo. Keep the excitement going.

    @missrori. Is the Cyberium the thing the Alliance sent back through time to destroy the Cybermen? If so, how did it? And we don’t know yet who the Alliance are?

    Davros @davros

    Chibnall wrote all of Broadchurch. The man knows how to write pieces set in the modern era…


    Getting the tone right for Doctor Who must be a bit of a balancing act.


    @blenkinsopthebrave Are you suggesting Graham’s bladder is bigger on the inside?

    nerys @nerys

    @davros Chibnall wrote all of Broadchurch. The man knows how to write pieces set in the modern era…

    True, and it’s Season 2 of Broadchurch that’s had me concerned. The other two seasons, especially the first, were excellent and engaging. I’m not sure why Season 2 was such a mess, other than the usual “sophomore slump” suggestion. But you are correct that Chibnall can write for the modern era. So far it seems that his best Doctor Who episodes have been based on historical figures.

    Are you suggesting Graham’s bladder is bigger on the inside?

    Touché, LOL!

    lisa @lisa


    I just had the hunch  that when the Doctor spoke about not losing anyone else to the Cybermen

    it was as if broadcasting that she will be losing some one to the Cyberman.  I think Yaz

    cause she seems to be the most reckless.


    I’m considering that the secret of the Timeless child could be that all the Timelords

    including the Doctor and Master originate from the same root.

    That could make the Master feel more  ‘out of sorts’  than he/she usually does and he/she

    tossed a tantrum on Galifrey.   But that’s probably too simplistic.

    On the Ruth Doctor I’ve been thinking she came from the future to hide in the past from Galifrey

    and since she is crossing the Jodie Doctors timeline where she shouldn’t be maybe she cant retain

    memories of her. Like in the 50th anniversary episode “Day of the Doctor”.

    janetteB @janetteb

    A good episode. though like @mudlark I was not keen on the bad “Jane Austen pastiche ” at the beginning. It felt “soapy” and reminded me too much of a certain Red Dwarf episode. the S/O was saying that he preferred last week’s episode but then the story picked up and all was forgiven. I do love the Mary Shelley story though am not an authority and so enjoyed the criticisms of @jimthefish. Perhaps it was the experience here that gives Byron the ability to overcome his cowardice and go on to fight in the Greek war of Independence. He certainly was an arse but he did defend the Luddities and deserves kudos for that.

    I feel as though I need to watch it again.  I liked the the mystery of the “ghosts” Graeme saw was not resolved.  i thought it a play upon the classic, it may or may not have an natural explanation kind of ghost story so hope that we never do find out if they were actual ghosts.

    I agree with the comments above by @blenkinsopthebrave regarding the pacing. Even though many of these historical episodes are not written by Chibnell I feel he is more “at home”, in the historicals or present day stories. It is mostly the historical episodes that stand out, that are memorable from both the last and current series. The only non historical story from last series that I have re watched is the one set in Norway but that is set in Norway.

    Agree with @jimthefish that it was nice to see the Doctor get angry. That “spark” was very long overdue.

    @lisa I hope you are wrong about Yaz.  I think she is a great companion and hope she will be part of “team Tardis” for a long time yet. I do like your theory regarding “Ruth Doctor.”  I have long wished for a story where the Doctor encounters a future regeneration. It has to be done..



    Charlie Cook @charlie-cook

    This series is like the Star Trek films, alternating between poor and excellent. TBH I have only just got around to watching this week’s as I wasn’t all fired up, but what a treat. This was another winner, and as commented previously by others, it was the pacing. One story, stick to it, move it along. Back to being excited for tomorrow… defo hoping to see Jack and altDic in one of the next two. Still fretting that we are going to end with a ‘Bobby in the shower’ ending though…

    MissRori @missrori

    @ollie14 (sorry for the late reply) The Cyberium is basically a record of the Cybermen’s history.  Apparently because the future Cyberman empire was close to the losing end of the war, it wanted to use the Cyberium to figure out a situation/place in the past to time travel to and change the outcome so that humanity would end up on the losing end instead.  The Alliance decided to send it back in time, possibly specifically to the Doctor, so it would not end up in their hands.  The Doctor had to give it up, though, so now she and the TARDIS fam have to go to the future to save humanity from whatever changes have been made to it by the Lone Cyberman’s foreknowledge.

    (It’s basically the sports record book from Back to the Future Part II in other words.)

    MissRori @missrori

    @lisa The problem with one or more of the companions being Cyber-converted is that we just had that with Bill Potts, and with two of the companions being minorities like she and Danny Pink were, there are some ugly optics by constantly turning those characters into Cybermen at this point.  (There are also “stuffed in the fridge” issues raised if it’s Yaz.)  The best mode of handling this I can think of is that they might get Cyber-converted, but the Doctor gets a chance to undo it this time.  Maybe overloads their circuits with emotions or something.  Still not sure why Twelve didn’t do that with Bill, just take her back to the TARDIS and get her to a reputable sawbones…

    lisa @lisa


    Time is becoming all messed up because the Cybermen are changing it to benefit themselves.

    This is also  how we can have changes on Galifrey and the Ruth Doc and  Master in current time.

    The divergence does seem rather sudden.  Did  the Master destroying Galifrey  have an

    effect on  these new differences too?   Because he gives her the warning and then we have

    episodes showing repercussions.  All the upside down stuff began after the Master did that and

    not before the cyberium  incidence.

    I still would like this Master to turn out to be Omega ‘O’ visiting from N space and  Yaz is still

    my pick for conversion but I hope your right.


    MissRori @missrori

    @lisa I’m thinking that the Time Lords are the ones making time wacky, which is why we’re seeing the Cybermen first, and as you note, we saw the Master running around before any of them.  Or maybe this Timeless Child is the real culprit behind it all.

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