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The Haunting of Villa Diodati was the eighth episode of series 12 of Doctor Who.

It offered an alternate account of the conception of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley to that of the audio story Mary's Story featuring the Eighth Doctor, though with the story acknowledging that what it was depicting was the result of history becoming unusually flexible around that night.

The episode featured the return of the Cybermen, in their first television appearance since 2017's The Doctor Falls and their first encounter with the Thirteenth Doctor. Specifically, the story properly introduced the Lone Cyberman, as well as his motivations, after he had been mentioned by Jack Harkness in Fugitive of the Judoon.


The Doctor and her companions visit Mary Shelley on a fateful night in 1816 when she creates Frankenstein but all is not as it seems. The rooms of Villa Diodati keep shifting around and ghosts are stalking the halls. And the group soon remember a familiar warning: "Beware the Lone Cyberman. Do not let it have what it wants". But why is Percy Shelley not where he should be according to history?


Lake Geneva, June 1816. Thunder and lightning crash down on the Swiss countryside. Inside the nearby Villa Diodati, a young woman called Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later to be known as famous writer Mary Shelley) gazes out the window with her baby son William. Nearby, three other young people - Lord George Gordon Byron, his friend Doctor John Polidori, and Byron's partner Claire Clairmont - bemoan being stuck indoors. Mary hands her son off to a maid, Elise, and suggests that someone read them a horror story. Bryon does so and as they settle down while night falls, the maid is unaware of a mysterious rattling behind her. As Byron reaches the climax of his story, they all jump at the sound of a knock on the door.

Byron goes to find out what it is, with the others following, concerned it could be an infernal beast. While Polidori assumes it is Mary's partner, Percy Shelley, they open the door and scream at the sight of the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan, all soaked and, aside from the Doctor, in period costume after the Doctor's previous recommendation. The four scream back and after collecting themselves, the Doctor tries to introduce herself with the psychic paper, but it is too wet to work. As Graham fails at grasping nineteenth-century speech, Ryan simply asks to be let in.

Drying off, the Doctor promises the butler, Fletcher, they will stay for one hour at most. Yaz is excited at visiting the night that inspired Frankenstein, but the Doctor enforces her rules: nobody mention Frankenstein, don't interfere, and nobody snog Byron. The group share a drink and dance together. The Doctor and friends are treated to the gossip surrounding Mary taking Shelley's surname despite not being married and Byron separating from his wife to elope with Mary's step-sister Claire. As Graham leaves to find a toilet, the Doctor suggests that writing a new horror story might be a good idea.

Elsewhere, Elise has tucked up William and as she leaves the nursery, a vase flies across the corridor and shatters. The Doctor, however, cannot convince Mary to start writing. Yaz points out she is breaking her own rules but the Doctor knows something is wrong - this should be a famous night of horror writing and just as importantly, Shelley is missing.

Graham continues searching as he stumbles upon Elise, but she only understands French and runs off. As Graham walks, he does not notice a painting fall off the wall, followed by a skeletal hand bursting out of it, walking itself along the floor. Graham rounds the corner and walks upstairs only to find himself back in the same corridor.

In another corridor, Yaz discovers Claire trying to pick a door open. She explains that she believes that Byron's letters about her are inside and she wishes to find out his true feelings for her. Yaz admits that she knows someone like that. As lightning strikes again, Yaz thinks she sees a ghostly figure but dismisses it.

Meanwhile, Byron talks to "Mrs Doctor" about his work. The Doctor asks after Shelley, but Byron explains he is indisposed. Elsewhere, Mary laments her poor attempts at writing. Ryan points out Polidori's bad mood which Mary attests to sleepwalking. Byron assumes that the Doctor has visited to read his in-progress work, which the Doctor dismisses, even if it does mention his daughter Ada that she has met in her future. Instead, the Doctor notes that she is getting an "unrelentingly evil" vibe.

Graham meets Ryan in the drawing-room and is spooked by Fletcher appearing out nowhere for a second time. Ryan says to Polidori that he should try to sleep, but he turns him down and instead challenges Ryan to a duel. Polidori leaves to find a pistol but is attacked by the skeletal hand. It leaps for Ryan's throat but Mary prises it off and the Doctor and Fletcher beat it, crumbling it to dust. The Doctor tastes its remains, surmising with the sonic screwdriver it is a perfectly normal 400-year-old hand. The Doctor leaves Graham behind to look after Polidori while the rest inspect Byron's skeleton.

Bryon shows the Doctor his relics of war and that his skeleton is a fifteenth-century soldier from the Battle of Morat, but now both its hands are missing. Mary explains that when the weather recently got worse, Shelley began receiving visions of a figure floating above the lake. Byron admits that he does not know exactly where Shelley is and Yaz plans on visiting his chalet. Meanwhile, Graham is alone with a sleeping Polidori when a flash of lightning reveals a mysterious woman and girl. He picks up a sandwich from a plate near them and carries on reading.

Yaz, Ryan, and Mary walk downstairs hearing more about Shelley's visions but find themselves emerging back at the top of the staircase again. Meanwhile, the Doctor tries to leave Byron's chamber only to enter through the same door which she left. As baby William starts crying, Elise enters the nursery to help him.

Polidori stands up by Graham and he tries to stop him, but he sleepwalks through a wall, and the door out does not work for Graham either. The three groups shout to each other through the corridors and chimney, realising they are all trapped in separate areas. Graham is told that there are no ghosts, despite not knowing who the woman and girl are. As they talk, Polidori emerges into the upstairs room with the Doctor, Byron, and Claire. The Doctor confirms he is still alive, but as he is sleeping, he cannot see the illusion that the others are trapped in.

The Doctor tells the others to clear their minds and try to see through the perception filter. Doing so, Mary finds a hidden door away from the staircase, eventually entering the nursery. However, William's cot only contains a skull and hand. She screams, waking Polidori up. Carefully, everyone gathers together again.

With the skull and hand trapped, everyone shares their findings. Although Byron believes they may be dead and in Hell, Ryan instead wonders if Shelley simply could not enter the house. The Doctor realises that 1816 was nicknamed "The Year Without a Summer" as volcanic activity caused the weather to play up, wondering if this was due to some outside influence. As she talks, Mary points to an apparition over the lake, just like Shelley's vision. The Doctor finally understands that it is a traveller in time trying to get in the house. It eventually does, asking "Are you the Guardian?" Although rusted and patched together, with half a human face visible through its helmet, it is a lone Cyberman, just what Jack Harkness warned the Doctor's friends about in the past. Everyone scrambles to block the doors as the Doctor explains that whatever he is looking for is hidden in the villa. The Doctor goes to investigate alone, knowing what he could do to her friends, and adding "I will not lose anyone else to that."

Meanwhile, Fletcher tries searching for Byron and the Cyberman grabs him by his neck. As he was not who he was looking for, he discards Fletcher, choked, and instead follows the sound of William's crying. Upon finding him and Elise, however, he does not kill the baby. The rest of the group worry about what the Doctor is doing and Yaz theorises they should split up.

The Doctor faces up to the Cyberman and he says that he is complete enough for his purpose, but his blaster no longer works. With him still having emotions, however, he is volatile and attacks the Doctor, despite her trying to get on his side. With the house's rooms still shifting, half of the group finds a room with scrawled pieces of paper stuck all over the walls. Mary recognises it as her partner's writing. The Cyberman lets himself get hit by lightning to recharge, and as Claire finds something with Graham and Polidori, the Cyberman confirms that the Doctor is not the Guardian he is looking for and that the Cyberium has selected another host - something the Doctor is unfamiliar with. He then starts quoting poetry that is very familiar to the others, being the writings of Shelley.

In the cellar, Claire discovers a man hiding, muttering that he has to keep the Cyberman out. He is the Guardian: Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Doctor meets up with the others, only to find Elise and Fletcher dead but William spared. Hearing the news of Shelley from Polidori, the Doctor tries to visit him on her own, but Mary insists on following too, followed by her friends.

The Doctor realises Shelley is hiding the Cyberium and as the Cyberman teleports to him, Shelley sends him away again. The Doctor makes psychic contact with Shelley to hear his story. One day, he found a shimmering silver out by the lake, and upon touching it, it hid in his body. From then on, nobody else could see him (explaining the ghostly movements) and he was hidden in the villa, altering everyone's perceptions to avoid it being discovered. Shelley explains he sees constant symbols and numbers, but no amount of writing them down will make them go away. The Doctor realises the Cyberium contains all future knowledge of the Cybermen and was sent back in time to change the future, but it will destroy his mind if it stays in him.

The Doctor convinces Shelley to stop fighting the Cyberman's influence, no matter what Jack warned her about. She then faces an ultimatum: if she gives the Cyberman what it wants, it will raise an unstoppable army and billions could die, but if she does not, Shelley will die early, unrecognisably changing the future due to his impact. Furious at her situation, the Doctor yells at her friends about how there is no right answer. As the Cyberman commands the Cyberium to show itself, Mary squares up to him, asking if he has a name. The Cyberman admits he was a father once, and his name was Ashad. However, he has no mercy, having only spared baby William because he was weak, and even killed his own children when they fought against him. As Ashad explains he was transformed in death, the Doctor has an idea. Apologising to Shelley, she shows him a vision of his own death, drowning young off the coast of Italy, and the Cyberium leaves his body.

Suddenly, everyone finds themselves teleported back into the drawing-room, the house having been reset without the Cyberium's influence. However, Shelley is still weak (with Yaz performing CPR) and the Cyberium chooses a new host, settling on the Doctor. However, the ground starts shaking and a hole opens in the sky - Ashad is prepared to bring his ship to destroy the world. Although the Doctor knows the world should not end in 1816, she cannot be sure if he is bluffing and has no choice but to surrender the Cyberium to him. He vanishes, the hole closes, and the thunderstorm disappears as Shelley comes to. The Doctor explains she used a Time Lord trick to show him his own death and trick the Cyberium out of him, but now the future is in the gravest danger. She now has to fix the mess she has created before the Cyber Army can rise again.

The next day, the group reflect and Claire tears into Byron for his poor treatment of her, breaking up with him. The Doctor apologises for giving Shelley knowledge of his death, and she simply tells him to never lose hope - Ryan adds that Mary should keep on writing. Returning to the TARDIS, Graham admits he is still confused about the woman and child who brought him a sandwich. The others confirm they saw nothing of the sort and the Doctor refuses to say that they were not ghosts.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor turns serious, saying that she is willing to return her friends to 2020. However, they choose to stick together, having Shelley's coordinates ready. In the garden of Villa Diodati, Byron reads his poem Darkness to an audience - a tale of an apocalyptic event. As Team TARDIS give each other one final silent nod of approval, he finishes: "The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air, And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need / Of aid from them - She was the Universe."



General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics

General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.



The Doctor[]

  • The Doctor says she's getting a vibe of evil from the villa.
  • The Doctor loves "a good plume".
  • The Doctor has a natural "Time Lord magnetism" that makes the Cyberium choose her as host.
  • The Doctor shows Percy a vision of himself drowning by using an "old Time Lord trick".




Food and beverages[]

  • Graham notices a plate of hors d'oeuvres on the table by the fireplace.
  • The Doctor notes that the Cyberman might need a breath mint.


  • The Doctor attempts to use her psychic paper to pass herself off as someone else but finds that the paper is blank and might need a blow dry.
  • The Doctor scans the villa with her sonic screwdriver.
  • Polidori want to fetch his pistol for a duel with Ryan.
  • The Doctor realises the villa has a perception filter all around it.
  • The Cyberman's wrist blaster is broken.
  • The Doctor notes that the Cyberman still doesn't have an emotional inhibitor yet.
  • Ashad uses a lightning strike to recharge himself.
  • The Cyberman reveals that it is looking for the Cyberium.
  • The Cyberium is an AI containing all the knowledge and complete history of all Cybermen, that fused itself to Shelley's cerebral cortex.
  • Ashad signals for his ship to come.
  • The Doctor and her friends take off to stop the Cyber-Army from being built.
  • Ashad makes a time hop.

Story notes[]

  • The episode had a "cold opening".
  • Unusual to a normal set up, this particular episode did feature a cliffhanger but it wasn't set at the end of the episode, instead appearing before Team TARDIS head back to the TARDIS, in the final scenes in Villa Diodati.
  • In the real world, the competition to create the best ghost story took place over three days, not one single night.
  • The Cyberman's incomplete Cyber-suit is a unique patchwork design consisting of a new Cyber-helmet atop a body mostly matching the 2013 design introduced in Nightmare in Silver, lower legs matching the 2006 design introduced in Rise of the Cybermen and a left arm resembling the recreated Mondasian Cybermen introduced in 2017's World Enough and Time.
  • Although uncredited, the Cyberman's helmet design visibly appears to be based on Matthew Savage's 2006 design.[1]
  • Jodie Whittaker confirmed the line about losing "anyone else" to Cybermen was a deliberate reference to Bill Potts specifically.[2]
  • Some of the references to Frankenstein are from the films rather than the original novel.
  • Early versions of this story included other aspects of Mary Shelley, such as her fears of failing as a parent, having potentially killed her mother, and her relationship with Percy. Drafts of Ashad were named the 'Cybersurgeon' and involved him searching for an amulet to help convert humans, including Claire Clairmont. Later drafts named him as the 'Cyberzealot'; official paperwork continued to refer to him as 'C-Zel' to keep his identity secret and the name Ashad was not chosen until post-production. (DWM 570 supplement)


  • 3.86 million (BBC overnight)[3]
  • 5.07 million (BBC overall)[4]

Filming locations[]

(All DWM 570 supplement)

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

to be added


Home video releases[]

DVD and Blu-ray releases[]

  • This story was released as part of the Complete Twelfth Series boxset on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1/A on 9 June 2020, in region 2/B on 4 May 2020 and in region 4/B on 3 June 2020.

Digital releases[]

  • In the United Kingdom, this story is available on BBC iPlayer.

External links[]