Doctor Who 12×8 Review: “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”

A haunted 19th century lake house, Lord Byron, and Percy Brysshe and Mary Shelley? Surely nothing could go wrong. Except when it all does.

Things begin to come to a head for the 2-part finale. In a way, this episode acts as a prologue for all the insanity to come. Maxine Alderton’s top-notch script is clearly a labor of love for the works of the referenced authors, and once again director Emma Sullivan executes on a fine episode that also oozes Gothic atmosphere.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” brings a lot to the table. We have the Year Without a Summer (TM), and the creepy vibes imposed by the rain and dread resting in the house. It doesn’t take long before an apparent haunting is at work, with objects flying, animated skeletal pieces moving about and a ghostly visage of… something… above the lake. Oh, and the Doctor and company show up, and when the Doctor herself is feeling the dread of evil suffusing the house… you know it’s like, literally bad.

Jodie Whittaker has been given an interesting challenge this season. In a departure from last season’s (almost aggressively) upbeat portrayal, Whittaker has had to dial up the morose a bit, finely balancing a Doctor who has not lost their sense of hope against a heavy weight of losing her home (again), being warned that disaster is coming (again) and that she may not even really know her true past (that’s new). I think Whittaker is fantastic as the Doctor and I think this season has added some depth. It’s a tricky narrative to deliver, since it would be easy to venture into sulking territory (looking at you, 7th Doctor) given the circumstances, but Whittaker has nailed it so far.

The script is clever in its delivery and resolution of its mysteries. There are some real rollercoaster moments in just the scene between Mary Shelley and the Lone Cyberman (Jack warned us and here we are!). It was a great scene, with the tension absolutely palatable in the “yes yes yes nooooooo!” interplay between the two characters. The motifs at play here, with Frankenstein and Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” being woven into the narrative, were expertly handled. It elevates the story to something finer and richer than the usual fare, and the script has to be one of my favorites of the season.

How much do you want to bet the ghostly woman and girl Graham saw will play a part in the future (my guess: the final episode this season)?

“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is a great entry. The literate script and moody direction, plus some clever weaving of plot threads, makes for a season highlight. More like this, please.

Rating: A

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