Title: The Haunting Of Villa Diodati
Release Date: 16/2/20
Network: BBC One
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama
The Haunting Of Villa Diodati
It’s 1816 at Lake Geneva. Lord Byron, Mary Godwin, (soon to be Shelley), John Polidori, and Claire Clairmont wait out a storm. To pass the time, Lord Byron tells them a story of Hildegarde’s Death Bride. Then starts the knocking, which turns out to be the Doctor and the group arriving outside. So, the night in question is the one in which Mary Shelley becomes inspired to write her story of Frankenstein. However, Percy Shelley is missing, and supernatural events are already beginning to occur.
The Haunting Of Villa Diodati, so far, is doing exactly what I’d expect. From a flying vase, a falling painting, and a scuttling skeleton hand, it’s all deliciously unnerving.
Meanwhile, during his search for a lavatory, Graham becomes lost, unaware of the ghosts of a maid and little girl lurking in the halls and rooms. The Haunting Of Villa Diodati is reminiscent of Matt Smith’s 2013 Hide, aesthetically creepy in all the right ways. However, Hide didn’t end well, at all.
As the supernatural happenings evolve within Diodati Villa, the scuttling hand makes another appearance. The hand is a part of the remains of a 15th-century soldier in the Battle of Morat, as kept by Lord Byron in a chest.
Ryan, Yaz, and Mary Godwin descend a staircase, only to find themselves at the top again. The Doctor, Byron, and Miss Clairmont find themselves stuck in a loop, too, while Graham witnesses an entranced Polidori walk through a wall. So far, so good, The Haunting Of Villa Diodati is playing out perfectly.
The Lone Cyberman
As Polidori walks through the wall into Byron’s room, we learn something. Lord Byron is a coward, and Miss Clairmont, who has feelings for him, can do much better. The villa is effectively one great big perception filter, a security system preventing something inside from getting out. At this point, I’m worried, as I suspect The Haunting Of Villa Diodati is going to surprise us horribly.
Yet, in a bold, engaging twist, the white figure on the shore is actually the lone Cyberman, first hinted by Jack in Fugitive Of The Judoon.
It’s an unexpected twist to an otherwise rather formulaic standalone episode, but a great one. So, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor decides to take on the Cyberman alone, without the backup of her friends.
The lone Cybermen is seeking the ‘guardian,’ swiftly killing Fletcher and Elise in the process. This Cyberman, however, is quite different from those seen in Doctor Who before. From the crappy reboots in Matt Smith’s dreadful Nightmare In Silver to the menacing Lumic Cybermen from David Tennant’s Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel, this version is unfinished and partly human.
Much like the Daleks before their return in last year’s Resolution, the Cybermen once again feel threatening, and relevant. It’s a refreshing take on a villain who, in recent seasons, had grown stagnant and boring.
The Doctor’s Decision
So, the Cyberman is hunting for Cyberium, while Graham, Polidori, and Miss Clairmont find Percy Shelley hiding in the cellar of the villa. Percy discovered the Cyberium at a lake. The liquid metal absorbs into his skin, rendering him invisible, explaining the various supernatural occurrences. More crucially, the Cyberium contains the knowledge and future history of the Cybermen, some of which Shelley writes across papers and the walls in a room.
If the Cyberium isn’t removed from Shelley, it’ll kill him, as it burns through his mind, yet giving it over to the Cyberman goes against Jack’s warning from Episode 5.
The aftermath of such an act would be disastrous if history with the Cybermen is anything to go by, but Shelley’s death would be impactful too. One critical point I’ll make comes from Ryan, suggesting it’d be better to sacrifice Shelley to save billions of others. It’s a moral conundrum with no easy answer, granted, but it feels profoundly out of character for Ryan to ever say it.
After the Cyberium leaves Shelley’s body, the Doctor is forced to surrender it to the Cyberman, (whose real name is revealed as Ashad), at the risk of the planet being destroyed by its ship. So, they prevented history from being rewritten in saving Shelley, but the Cyberman escapes with the Cyberium. One step forward, two steps back basically.
With the information from Shelley’s writings, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz prepare to go after the lone Cyberman, setting up Season 12 nicely for the final two episodes. Intriguingly, a question remains unanswered. The identities of the housemaid and little girl were never solved. Perhaps, in the end, Villa Diodati really was haunted…
Verdict: The Haunting Of Villa Diodati is a sharply written episode, remaining thematically faithful to its title. There are intriguing plot developments for Yaz, and the creepiest, most sinister reboot of the Cybermen introduced to Doctor Who in years. Final words, I simply can’t criticize this episode. Solid, smart, and supreme.
- The Lone Cyberman, creepy as hell
- The Doctor and the Plume
- Bradley Walsh and his ghosts
- Ryan's suggestion of sacrificing Shelley to save billions of lives