Once again for this series of Doctor Who, Blogtor Who is looking at all the nods and references to adventures which have gone before. This time its the turn of The Haunting of Villa Diodati. So even if you are not already a Mastermind expert on all things in the Whoniverse you can appreciate the little detail as well. Perhaps you are a very knowledgeable Whovian already but did you spot them all?
The Haunting of Villa Diodati features a host of call backs to Doctor Who stories recent and classic, as the story of the Lone Cyberman comes to the forefront.
The Three Mary Shelleys
This episode tells the story of the Doctor’s first ever meeting with Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein. Well, sort of. In fact this is the third Doctor Who story in various media to set an adventure on that very night. Firstly the Big Finish audio play Mary’s Story brings the Eighth Doctor to Villa Diodati to meet Byron, Shelley and the rest. It pushes its buttons a little more bluntly than The Haunting of Villa Diodati. For instance, the Doctor introduces himself as “Dr. Frankenstein.” And an apparently dead body gets resurrected with lightning by Percy Shelley. But it also makes the format busting move of the Doctor taking Mary with him as a companion at the end.
A follow up story has the Doctor and Mary meet The Silver Turk, the historical 19th century chess playing automaton. Inevitably the Turk is revealed to be a Cyberman (while the Turk also inspired Nightmare in Silver’s chess playing Cyberman). Which is less of a case of ‘genius steals, Doctor Who writers get if off the back of a lorry’ and more because once you begin a sentence ‘the Doctor meets Mary Shelly…’ then ‘and they encounter a Cyberman’ is an almost inevitable end to it.
The Tenth Doctor also visits the very same night in the comic story The Creative Spark. In that version the Doctor and Mary meet an alien strongly resembling Boris Karloff’s version of the creature. The alien, seemingly named Frankenstein, causes terror with its appearance and unpredictable behaviour. But the Doctor manages to resolve the confusion and clean the brain storm afflicting Frankenstein.
So, as is often the case with Doctor Who, the past is multiple choice.
The Byron Connection
Sometimes the Doctor Who universe can feel like a surprisingly small place. Last season the Doctor encountered King James I, and wisely skipped over mentioning being his cousin-in-law. And this season started with the Doctor finding herself in 1834 in the company of Ada Lovelace, the self styled ‘poetical scientist’ – the first of what we would call a computer programmer. The Haunting of Villa Diodati takes us back eighteen years to 1816. At this point Ada is only five months old, and Byron is living on the shores of Lake Geneva because he is “separated from his wife [and] the rumours are so disasterous he cannot return to England.” In fact the crux of the scandal was his abandonment of Ada and her mother, claiming that being a father was stifling his genius. Father and daughter were never reunited, with Byron dying in 1824 at only thirty-six.
The Cyberman of Many Parts
Only a few episodes ago Captain Jack warned the Doctor not to give the Lone Cyberman what it wants. But more than that, the Lone Cyberman’s a hodge podge of Cyberman body parts appropriate to the Frankenstein theme. His left arm is from the original Cyberman design, as seen in The Tenth Planet and World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls. The right upper arm and legs come the first modern re-design, as introduced in 2006’s Rise of the Cybermen. Meanwhile, the main part of the torso and the right lower arm is from their most recent upgrade in 2013’s Nightmare in Silver. There’s some unique touches too, like the new shoulder-pad, trailing cables and smashed up helmet. Overall it’s an effective homage to the whole history of the Cybermen.
“I will not lose anyone else to that!”
We also get a call back to the Cybermen’s most recent appearance, and the fate of Bill Potts. After all, this is the first time the Doctor has encountered them since they converted his student and best friend into one of their own. The Doctor’s bitterness and rage is also a welcome reminder that, as far she’s concerned Bill died on the Mondasian colony ship, a mutilated victim of the Cyberman. After all, she only has a passing reference by a walking talking AI replica that says differently. And the Doctor didn’t seem to place a lot of faith in that memory in Twice Upon a Time.
The Castrolvava Complex
The scenes of the characters repeatedly leaving rooms only to find themselves back in them again calls to mind two different stories. In 1982’s Castrovalva, the Fifth Doctor and his companions become trapped in an infinite recursion in a town where space folds in on itself. And the key to escape, then as now, is to ignore your own perceptions and trust to the way out. In The Haunting of Villa Diodati, though, it’s not a genuine distortion in space but an illusion. In that way it’s more like the Eleventh Doctor story The God Complex, with its spooky computer generated hotel which rearranges or extends its corridors to keep its victims trapped.
Psychic Paper Immunity
The Doctor puts the psychic paper’s failure to impress Ada, Byron, Polidori and Claire down to it getting a bit soggy in the rain. But it’s not without precedent for brilliant writers to see through its influence to see only a blank piece of paper. The same happened with William Shakespeare in The Shakespeare Code.
Doctor Who continues at 7.10pm next Sunday on with Ascension of the Cybermen
The aftermath of the Great CyberWar. The Doctor arrives in the far future, intent on protecting the last of the human race from the deadly Cybermen. But in the face of such a relentless enemy, has she put her best friends at risk? What terrors lie hiding in the depths of space, and what is Ko Sharmus?
Series 12 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan), with Chris Chibnall as Showrunner and Matt Strevens Executive Producing. Ascension of the Cybermen guest stars Julie Graham (Ravio), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad) and Steve Toussaint (Feekat). It’s written by Chris Chibnall, and directed by Jamie Magnus Stone (Spyfall Part One, Praxeus)