Friday, February 21, 2020

Doctor Who 12x08 Recap: “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” (Remember Jack’s Warning) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“The Haunting of Villa Diodati”
Original Airdate: February 16, 2020

It’s Lake Geneva in 1816 and it’s a great night in literary history. Tonight, Lord Byron will challenge Percy and Mary Shelley to write a story and Mary will write Frankenstein. But at the moment, Percy isn’t around and Byron is too busy flirting with both Mary and Ms. Claire Clairmont. A storm rages outside, adding theatrics to Byron’s scary storytime until the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz knock on the door. Now it’s a real party. Under strict rules not to mention Frankenstein or sleep with Byron, the Fam enjoys a period adventure that’s about to be more than they signed up for.

Graham finds himself going in circles while searching for the bathroom. Whenever the lightning flashes outside, ghostly figures appear in the house. A skeletal hand bursts from a fallen painting and scuttles along the floor. It bursts into the room just as Dr. Polidori, who is having terrible insomnia, is challenging Ryan to a duel. After destroying the hand, the Doctor determines it’s human, leading Polidori to accuse Byron of bringing evil into the house. He does have a skeleton in his chambers, after all, and that skeleton is missing both hands. The Doctor asks after Percy and learns he started having visions of ghosts around the time the storm came.

Believing Percy to be holed up in his chateau nearby, Yaz, Ryan, and Mary decide to visit him, but they get caught going in circles on the stairs. In fact, everyone in the house is trapped in a loop wherever they are and are unable to leave. Outside, something or someone is conducting electricity near the lake. Polidori arises from sleep in a trance and walks out of the room by going straight through a wall. He reappears moments later upstairs in Byron’s room, where the Doctor determines he must be dreaming and therefore unaware of the barriers the rest of them see, such as the walls.

The entire house is like a perception filter. If you can see through it, you’ll find walls aren’t actually there and doors are hidden behind them. Mary is able to find a door to lead them off the stairs and to her infant son’s room. But baby William isn’t in his crib. Instead, there’s only a skull and a hand. Polidori awakes suddenly, unaware of what’s been happening. No one can leave the house and the Doctor believes whatever is outside conducting electricity is causing the storm and the oddities in the house. It’s a time traveler and just then it makes it inside. When fully formed, we see it’s a Cyberman.


This is the “lone Cyberman” from Jack Harkness’ warning. The Cyberman is unfinished but still deadly and is searching for “the guardian.” The Doctor follows after it while telling the others to stay put. Although the Cyberman kills a maid hiding baby William, it spares the baby’s life. The Doctor and the Cyberman fight, with the latter recharging via lightning. He is looking for a substance called Cyberium and seems familiar with Percy Shelley’s writings. Speaking of Percy, he’s discovered in the basement looking ill and disheveled.

Shelley has been trying to protect the Cyberium, which was found by chance in the lake. It immediately bonded to him, making him invisible in the house and giving him the ability to change perceptions in the house. He’s been using the latter to keep the Cyberman at bay while writing down all of the symbols and numbers that have been flooding his mind. The Doctor reads Shelley’s mind to learn the Cyberium is used to wage a massive war in the future. To protect the future, someone (maybe Jack?) sent it back in time but the Cybermen have followed it. The Doctor doesn’t see any way to get the Cyberium out of Shelley without the Cyberman’s help but her companions wonder whether, given what Jack said about the Cybermen, letting Shelley die is necessary. Taken aback, the Doctor reminds them that changes in the past may affect whether they exist in the future.

The time for debate ends when the Cyberman appears, ready to kill Shelley to get the Cyberium. Mary attempts to appeal to his soul and although she learns his name, Ashad, he viciously recounts murdering his family after joining the Cybermen. He has no mercy for Shelley so the Doctor tricks Shelley’s mind into thinking he’s dead, forcing the Cyberium to exit his body. The substance bonds with the Doctor instead but Ashad threatens to burn Earth to ash to get it from her. Reasoning that the Cybermen may be inevitable, the Doctor gives up the Cyberium.

Knowing she’s messed up by giving away the substance, the Doctor resolves to use the symbols and numbers Shelley scribbled down to fight the Cybermen in the future. She tries to persuade the fam to stay behind in their own time but they’re sticking with her.

Final Thoughts:

  • I wasn’t really into this episode until the Cyberman reveal and then it was far more interesting. I do wish the mysterious time traveler had been another surprise cameo, even Jack Harkness back yet again, but I’ll take a half-finished Cyberman.
  • A mangled Cyberman being the new inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is pretty cool.
  • One of the ghostly maids looked a lot like Eve Myles a.k.a. Gwenith Cooper from Doctor Who’s “The Unquiet Dead” and Gwen Cooper from Torchwood.


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