The next historical figures the TARDIS crew will encounter are the legendary authors Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, and her lover Lord Byron, on that fateful night at the Villa Diodati in Geneva in which the writers engaged in a contest to tell the scariest ghost story. After being unimpressed by her fellows’ efforts, Mary laid the foundation for what would become her most enduring work — ‘Frankenstein’.
Of course, in a ‘Doctor Who’ twist, the episode “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” features the return of familiar villains, the Cybermen, who show up, and lo and behold, help inspire Shelley’s famous monster tale.\
Speaking to Radio Times, showrunner and executive producer Chris Chibnall revealed:
“We’ll be seeing Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, on the night she writes Frankenstein. Maxine Alderton, who’s written that episode, is an absolute Mary Shelley and Byron… not a buff, she’s an expert. She studied them, she loves them, she knew all about them, she came with a great idea. And it was completely irresistible. I think to spend a night with them, in a haunted house, feels absolutely prime Doctor Who territory.”
The episode features a young cast — Lili Miller, Nadia Parkes, Jacob Collins-Levy, Maxim Baldry and Lewis Rainer — which Chibnall says was Alderton’s idea.
“There’s a very very young cast, because Mary Shelley was 18 that night. Maxine had a great take on the characters, just because they’re such a young group of characters. Sometimes that gets a bit lost, how young they were when they were creating these incredible works.”
Sounds a bit like Apple TV+’s ‘Dickenson’, no? It also sounds like an upcoming HBO Max series, ‘The Shelley Society’, co-created by ‘Riverdale’s Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Tessa Leigh Williams, and James DeWille. This series depicts Mary (maiden name: Godwin) as a young woman, leading a team of “romantic rebels” including her lover Lord Byron and her future husband Percy Shelley “against a host of supernatural baddies,” including her own famous creation, in what is described as a “Victorian X-Files.”
Back to ‘Doctor Who’ and “The Haunting of Villa Diodati,” Chibnall teased:
“There is a ghost story. I would be looking far more to a ghost story at the Villa Diodati. Because that house looks very haunted to me.”
Next weekend’s episode of ‘Doctor Who’ is “Can You Hear Me?” so “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” will be the one after that (on February 16). Then, this season wraps up with a two-part story, the name of which hasn’t been revealed.
In the US, ‘Doctor Who’ airs on BBC America at 8pm EST.