Doctor Doctor Who Guide

For two years running Russell T. Davies’ winning formula has succeeded spectacularly. Establish the characters in an episode where they deal with a threat at home, fling them into the far distant future for an outer space romp and then send them into the (relatively) recent past to face a supernatural monster! The third step in that master plan, “Tooth and Claw” has to be one of the best episodes produced since the rebirth of Doctor Who. It has the headline “Queen Victoria!”; it has the wonderfully realised monster; it has intriguing characters and most important of all, it has a Doctor that is in his element. Add to the mix some of the best direction that the show has ever seen, and the audience is left with a non-stop 45-minute rollercoaster ride!

“By what power? The hand of God?”

“No. The FIST OF MAN!”

“Tooth and Claw” begins with one of the best pre-credit sequences ever. In any show. I can’t remember who it was (Steven Moffatt I think?) that said “what elsewhere is called plagiarism in Doctor Who is called homage,” and in the opening minutes of this episode the show pays homage to some of the best Kung-Fu movies ever as well as stuff like “The Matrix.” The fight sequence is simply sublime; it is brilliant performed, shot and scored. The contrast between the red of the monks’ robes and the pale background is absolutely stunning, and both Ian Hanmore as Father Angelo and Ron Donachie as the Steward are awesome. The pre-credits sequence also introduces to us whatever is in the cage, giving us that brilliant ‘cliff-hanger’ substitute as the screams of Lady Isobel tear into the opening title music.

The energy of Doctor Who is unbelievable. Even in the opening TARDIS scene, neither of the main characters stays still for a second. The Doctor is frantically hitting his ‘rhythm stick’ onto the TARDIS console to the sound of Ian Drury, whilst Rose is skipping around after him wearing what looks like an updated version of Sarah Jane Smith’s ‘Andy Pandy’ outfit from “The Hand of Fear”! The time travellers aren’t slow to get caught up in events as they stroll straight out of the TARDIS and into Queen Victoria’s guards! I’m sure that David Tennant appreciated the chance to play the Doctor without his affected mockney accent, just as I’m sure that Billie Piper was glad that she didn’t have to keep up the comical “hoots mon” nonsense for the remainder of the episode! The psychic paper plays its usual effective “lets save two episodes of padding” role in quickly establishing the Doctor as the Queen’s “Royal Protector” and we’re away, with a little bit of fanwank - “Doctor James McCrimmon” – thrown in for good measure! I bet Frazer Hines was chuffed!

Ignoring for the moment the wonderful performances of the regulars, the supporting cast of “Tooth and Claw” is absolutely first-class, with the possible exception of the rather wooden Captain Reynolds (Jamie Sives). The obvious standout performances are Derek Riddell as Sir Robert McLeish and Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria. Forced to commit treason and obviously plagued by guilt, McLeish is a character that the audience really can feel sympathy for, especially when his quite obvious hints about all not being well fall upon deaf ears! Doctor Who fans may be familiar with Pauline Collins from her role as Samantha Briggs in the Patrick Troughton story “The Faceless Ones” – a story in which she enjoyed several scenes of flirtation with a certain Jamie McCrimmon… Her portrayal of Queen Victoria couldn’t be any further away from Samantha; Collins conveys the Queen’s intelligence, bravery and steely resolve brilliantly, aided and abetted by Russell T. Davies’ well-written and well-informed script. I was particularly impressed with the scenes in which her (well documented) grief over Prince Albert’s death is addressed; between them Davies and Collins have really nailed the character. Her killing of Father Angelo is particularly well done. The shaking of her hands and her flustered disposition make both Angelo (and the audience) think that she won’t shoot him, but as her actions prove the Queen is a formidable woman.

“Every full moon the howling rings through the valley… this is a man who becomes an animal.”

Ultimately, “Tooth and Claw” will be primarily remembered for the Mill’s superb C.G.I. werewolf which is an astonishing piece of work for a TV show. When the Doctor first looks upon the creature, he remarks that it is beautiful and he’s right on the mark – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better-realised werewolf anywhere. In classic Doctor Who fashion it is used sparingly (and cost-effectively!), the mostly implied presence of the creature making it’s brief, visceral appearances even more terrifying. It also means that the fast-paced story has a little time to breathe; much of the brilliance of “Tooth and Claw” comes from how Davies focuses on the reactions of the humans to the werewolf rather than on the creature itself. This also allows the writer to cleverly set up the work done by McLeish’s father and Prince Albert – the ‘wolf trap’ as it were – something that may have suffered were this merely a story about a werewolf on the rampage, killed by an unimaginative silver bullet. Such a story produced as well as this and with a cast as good as this would still have been spectacular, but written as well as it is “Tooth and Claw” is just amazing.

I also enjoyed Rose’s brief conversation with the werewolf host prior to his transformation. His calm voice – a soft, eerie sort of Scottish burr – really makes the skin crawl, especially when he talks about his plans for the “Empire of the Wolf.” This is no mere mindlessly violent creature – it is an alien life form with a sinister purpose. Big Finish fans’ may have caught the allusion to Marc Platt’s 2001 fifth Doctor audio play “Loups-Garoux”, when the creature remarks that Rose (like Turlough in that play) has the wolf in her. Although here this isn’t explored any further, it alludes to a possible sequel and also helps illustrate how confident Rose has become. Now she is certainly the Doctor’s equal, even in arrogance. She barks orders at her fellow prisoners, makes conversation with the werewolf host – she even repeatedly tries to annoy Queen Victoria into saying “we are not amused.” From the Queen’s prophetic words at the end of this episode, it appears that our time travellers may be heading for a fall.

“Books! The best weapons in the world. This room is the greatest arsenal we could have!”

The ‘base under siege’ story angle is one that has worked very well for Doctor Who in the past, and it has never been done better than it is in this episode. Monks shooting at you on the outside, a werewolf hell-bent on tearing you apart inside – fantastic! I love the claustrophobic library scene: the visual of the Doctor and the werewolf both sniffing at opposing sides of the wall is unforgettable, but even more impressive is the story itself. Davies again takes the opportunity to show us just how sharp Queen Victoria is; she’s the only one to notice the Doctor’s accent bouncing back and forth between Scottish and mockney, her growing mistrust of him becoming more and more evident. I found this interesting because it really goes against Doctor Who’s storytelling convention; Doctor Who stories normally begin with the Doctor on the outside, slowly worming his way into a position of trust with the authorities. In this story, it’s precisely the other way around.

Sometimes stories as good as this suffer from ‘cop-out’ endings that leaves viewer unsatisfied, and I had a horrible feeling that the mistletoe was going to be such a cop-out. Luckily, the resolution is one of the strongest elements of the story. The Doctor’s epiphany about the suspiciously “rubbish” telescope, the diamond, Prince Albert and McLeish’s father is beautifully acted and shot; Euros Lyn’s sharp cutting really encapsulates the Doctor’s rapid train of thought. The wolf crawling across the glass ceiling is an outstanding set piece, as is its ultimate demise in the light chamber. I was pleased to see that McLeish is given a chance to redeem himself, sacrificing his own life to buy the Doctor some time, and also that the Doctor and Rose’s killing of the werewolf isn’t out-and-out murder; the host actually pleads for them to turn up the brightness and free it.

I think that scene where Queen Victoria knights both the Doctor and Rose really demonstrates everything that is good about Davies’ writing; everything that is good about this new series of Doctor Who. In less than two minutes, Davies takes us from chucking at Rose becoming “Dame Rose of the Powell Estate” to frowning with concern as the icy Queen exiles both her protectors from the British Empire.

“…you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death and I will not allow it. You will leave these shores and will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good and how much longer you can survive this terrible life.”

The Queen’s words emphasise what I referred to earlier, the Doctor and Rose’s growing confidence and how they literally laugh in the face of danger. Moreover, they also leave the doors wide open for a sequel as we think that Queen Victoria was bitten by the wolf, and we don’t know for sure whether she is in fact genuinely reacting against the ungodly Doctor and his “feral child” or if she is in fact being influenced by the loupine cells she may have been infected with. After all, she was certainly defensive about the “splinter of wood” that supposedly cut her. Nevertheless, her words don’t seem to have any effect on the Doctor and Rose who laugh all the way back to the TARDIS about the possibility of the 21st century Royal Family being werewolves, contrasting beautifully with the scene of the mourning Lady Isobel talking to the deadly serious Queen about the setting up a certain institution we may be seeing a lot of in the future…

I sincerely hope that the fantastic script, great performances and first class production of “Tooth and Claw” will silence many of naysayers who were quick to condemn the light-hearted romp that was “New Earth.” For me, “Tooth and Claw” was almost flawless; one of the best that Davies episodes has penned. The only thing I would pick on is that he missed the perfect opportunity for a “Bad Wolf” quip!

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