“Doctor Who” in recent years has tried to tackle horror to mixed results. “The Haunting Of Villa Diodati” gets right down to the creation of horror stories, introducing us to the night Mary Shelley was inspired to create “Frankenstein.” Throw in a classic “Doctor Who” villain that was inspired by Shelley’s creation, and you have the makings of a thrilling episode.
Where Is The Horror Coming From?
The Doctor and fam find Mary Godwin, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and Byron’s physician John William Polidor entertaining themselves in the remote Villa Diodati. Godwin’s fiancé Percy Bysshe Shelley is missing, but none of the group seems overly concerned about it. Well, except the Doctor, who realizes that this gathering would eventually create great works of literary genius. There is also something strange about Villa Diodati itself. Reanimated skeletal hands, shifting halls, and moving stairs designed to keep everyone inside, figures that appear and disappear — all the makings of a horrific experience.
The group eventually finds Shelley hidden in the house. He is responsible for the mysteries inside. Or at least some of them, I’ll get to that in a minute. He found a shiny object in a lake and became intrigued by it. It turned out to be the Cyberium, a new addition to the show’s Cyber-history. And the lone Cyberman that Jack warned us about earlier this season shows up to claim it.
Beware The Lone Cyberman
This Cyberman is different from what has come before. Ashad is aware of his life before becoming a Cyberman and seems ‘happier,’ if the word can be used here, about what he is now. And since when do Cybermen have names? Or quote poetry? Or save children? We don’t get a lot of answers, but they are sure to come in the next two episodes. In the meantime, this is the best reintroduction to a classic villain we’ve had since 2005’s ‘Dalek.’ Of course, Jack’s warning not to give Ashad what he wants is useless. The Doctor, in classic speech mode, explains why she has to provide Ashad the Cyberium. Of course, this sets up a Cyberwar we’ll witness in the next two episodes.
Just A Trick Of The Eye?
There are some problems with this episode though. The plot devices used to ratchet up the fear don’t necessarily have explanations. The Cyberium would seem to want to be with a Cyberman, so the protection of Shelley doesn’t entirely add up. The re-animation of the skeletal hand is also a little off. Was the Cyberium also trying to influence the story Mary Shelley would eventually write? The mother and child that bring Graham something to eat disappear as quickly as they appear. I’m not sure if this is something that will get covered in the next two episodes. It may not matter.
The Haunting Of Villa Diodati
In the end, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is an excellent watch-from-behind-the-couch classic, provided you don’t think too hard about the elements. The Cybermen, or Cyberman, in this case, is the most terrifying we’ve seen yet. The Doctor finally has an edge to her, which has been missing since Jodie Whittaker took on the role. Removing the ‘lesson’ that has bogged down the previous few weeks also comes as a relief. The setup for the series finale is all there. We’ll see where “Ascension of the Cybermen” takes us next week.