Doctor Doctor Who Guide

A strong and brooding opening to this episode with a shot of the windswept highlands was slightly undermined by the proverbial contemporary filmic cod-Celtic pan-pipe incidental music jarringly reminiscent of the rather intrusive and annoying score of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the worst aspect to an otherwise well-realised trilogy). Nevertheless, this was a strong opening with a noticeably gothic tinge, and sufficiently intriguing to keep one watching. It was palpable from the beginning of this episode that this is RTD's personal answer to the new Who-style pseudo-historical cannon set up dextrously by Mark Gatiss's The Unquiet Dead. The mood of both episodes is similarly subdued and moody (apart from some incongruously farcical elements to early scenes of Unquiet Dead), befitting the dim lighting of the Victorian scenarios. The shots with the monks infiltrating the castle are a little far-fetched and overtly Matrix/Crouching Tiger influenced, sitting very incongruously against the bleak 19thc. Scottish setting, but despite the slightly annoying disorientation of camera angles during these scenes (so typical of modern TV, re Green Wing and even aspects of the recent adaptation of Bleak House), they served their purpose in a peculiar, very Un-Who-ish way, and I was glad to see were largely confined to the opening of the episode.

Much as I love Ian Dury, I found the TARDIS scene rather absurd and typical of RTD's obsession with pumping the new Whoniverse full with allusions to popular culture; where Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is a track much more palatable than the atrocious Toxic in the End of the World, the Doctor's comment on loving the Muppet Christmas Movie is on the other hand another annoyingly callow reference which doesn't say much for the new Doctor's taste in films, which is ironic as Tennant's incarnation, with his black-rimmed square glasses and scattered hairdo, looks more like an art house film critic. I think attempts to make the Tenth Doctor rather light and fun-loving should be kerbed as soon as possible, as he has more potential than that and there's no need to undermine the intrinsic genius of the character by trying to counter-balance his intellectual powers with kitsch pop-kultur fetishes. Mind you, Ian Dury is a good choice if you're going to insist on the new TARDIS console CD-option - but wouldn't classical music, or the jazz of McCoy's incarnation, be a little more enigmatic? The sheer mundanity of a timeless Sherlockian character choosing, out of all the places and times to visit, an Ian Dury gig in 1979 Sheffield is, to say the least, absurdly unambitious. We now have a further insight into RTD's musical taste - but I'd rather know about the Doctor's.

I liked the fact that Tennant adopts his native accent actually, something I wasn't too sure about prior to the episode, but it does suit him, and he comes across a bit like a bohemian Alan Breck Stewart who's detoured via Brighton on his travels, suddenly stumbling back into Kidnapped - but with Queen Victoria! RTD's obsession with what he terms as historical 'celebrity' is seemingly superfluous generally, and although it was a different writer who penned The Unquiet Dead, one is led to assume RTD specified to Gatiss to make sure a famous historical figure was included. This is unnecessary really and seems a little patronising: as if he assumes the only way the 'chavs' of today will pay any attention to an historical setting is if it is dominated by a famous figure from that period who'll they'll instantly recognise. It's more of a Hartnell-era trait (cue Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Romans, The Gunfighters et al), and something which tended to fizzle out later in the series; but arguably the most impressive of all historical or pseudo-historical Who stories were ones which nicely skirted round any famous figures, only hinting at their contemporaneousness, i.e. Pyramids of Mars, Masque of Mandragora (only just), Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror of Fang Rock, Black Orchid and so on. Having said all this, I commend both Gatiss and now, for only the second time (the first was on aspects of Parting of the Ways) RTD for both stories' authentically convincing portrayals of said historicals, Dickens and now Queen Victoria. Though it takes a little suspension of disbelief to accept an actress synonymous with the Liverpudlian persona as an austere Victoria Saxe-Coburg Gotha, I have to say Pauline Collins pulled it off fairly well and was arguably one of the highlights of this story; her spiritualistic speech to the Doctor was very well handled by Collins, delivered in a subdued and powerful manner which hinted at the depths of moroseness so intrinsic to this perpetually mourning monarch. The speech also hinted at the long-dormant scriptural abilities of RTD, for only the third time in Who in my opinion (the other two occasions being the Doctor's speech about time in Rose and the restaurant scene in Boom Town); the only other time I witnessed his skills in this regard significantly were during bits of Casanova, smug and implausible though it was.

The less said about Rose in this episode the better. I'm so sick and tired of the 'character', if it she is a character; she's served her purpose now, I think it's time for her to go and for a new companion to step in. Her sole function in this episode seemed to be trying to get Queen Victoria to say 'we are not amused' - ironic really, because we weren't. Or at least, I certainly wasn't.

The initial location shots with the Highland Regiment escorting Victoria were nicely filmed, and throughout there was an air of military authenticity (in terms of uniform detail etc.) that harked back to the Douglas Camfield school of Who. 'I'm Dr Jamie McCrimmon' was a nice touch too. In all surface senses then, Tooth and Claw (a rather fatuous title) is a solidly depicted pseudo-historical; it looks and feels pretty much as it should, despite the odd misplaced haircut or two, and multi-panoramic camera direction; and in many aspects kept to the traditional Who pseudo-historical format in terms atmosphere and period detail. However, there is something about the gas-lit dinginess of Victorian settings which lends itself very easily to 'atmosphere' - it'll be interesting to see how things are handled in The Girl in the Fireplace. Not another Casanova I hope.

The supporting cast all act extremely well, obviously schooled in the Bleak House-earnestness of acting. The scenes with the pallid lycanthrope of unnervingly large brown pupils (reminding me of John Hurt for some reason) in his cage were very well directed and genuinely disturbing (on a par with the screaming lady in Unquiet Dead); so too were the transformation scenes excellently shot, albeit almost identical to those in American Werewolf in London and the superbly affecting Company of Wolves. The CGI realisation of the werewolf itself was also well done, probably helped by the darkly lit setting, and it was a nicely sinister touch to have the beast walking about on its hind legs.

What lets this episode down however is the trademark RTD Scooby-Doo-style run-a-round plot device, which rather takes the edge off what up until then is a nicely crafted, genuinely suspenseful build-up of storyline. And it is in the storyline also that the episode rather flounders, as it isn't very clear what the storyline actually is. It seems about 300 years ago a strange comet crashed into the nearby glen; that ever since there have been rumours of a werewolf in the local vicinity; that it turns out this werewolf is descended from an alien and now wishes to infect Queen Victoria so as to turn the British Empire into an Empire of the Wolf; and that somehow the late Prince Albert was knowledgeable of all of this and thus made sure to keep cutting down the diamond in his wife's possession so as to keep it refined as a sort of protective talisman. Mmm. I'm not quite sure where the monks fit in to all of this, but then I'll need to watch it a second time to get the full gist I suppose. The mistletoe was an interesting touch and a nice turn on the usual silver bullets and garlic. The Doctor's lightning-quick explanation that the werewolf's lack of resistance to the sap of mistletoe was somehow related to how it was trained by the monks was quite interesting in a sense, but again not really explained properly. And this is where RTD still seems to flounder: in properly explaining the background to his 'plots'. Mind you, this was a constant problem with the Cartmel era, especially regarding such scriptural vagaries as Ghost Light (striking though it was in some scenes).

Talking of which, in many ways, albeit mainly superficially, Tooth and Claw seems to share much in common with Season 26's motifs: we have essentially a curse relating to a werewolf, cue Curse of Fenric and its original title, The Wolves of Fenric; then we have what seems like the housemaids from Ghost Light's Gabriel Chase present in identical garbs; there's also an uncanny similarity to Marc Platt's plot, in which an alien is intent on destroying the 'Crowned Saxe-Coburg' in order to take over the British Empire. And the title Tooth and Claw itself brings back memories of the motifs of Survival.

Overall though, on first viewing this was an infinitely superior effort from RTD to last week's sub-standard post-modern Time and the Rani, the achingly grating New Earth. Tooth and Claw is easily the best episode RTD has written so far, despite its many flaws, and one just hopes to God that he will continue to make similar efforts in the future. Tooth and Claw is the first true consolation for the plotlessness of Rose, the idiocy of End of the World, the scatological farce of Aliens of London, the one-dimensionality of Christmas Invasion, the juvenile dullness of New Earth and the all-pervading tedious soap of the Tyler set. It is not nearly as good as it could have been due to too much emphasis on 'action' and monster-dodging over real plot and depth, but it is still RTD's best episode to date and is in itself worthy of the old Who cannon. It is also the first episode in which I think Tennant's Doctor shines: he is fairly charismatic, witty and affecting, and ironically I find him more impressive with a Scottish accent - not such a controversial possibility when one recalls McCoy's rolling r's. For the first time since his rather slapdash debut in The Christmas Invasion, the true Celt is finally surfacing in Tennant's Doctor (perfected by McCoy's brooding harbinger of doom in Curse of Fenric). I'm still not convinced by Tennant in the part, but in Tooth and Claw he's getting a damn site nearer to convincing me. He'll just take some getting used to - but he needs more space to develop, so for goodness' sake can we have less of Rose from now on and more of the Doctor please.

6/10

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