Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Tooth and Claw … Or, The One In Which Russell T Davis Proves He CAN Write Decent Incidental Characters And Dialogue… But Screws Up the Regulars Big-Time!

So, as ever, a real mixed bag from Russell T. Firstly, the honour of the Smiths compels me to say that this was a very good piece of television, nicely paced, and dripping with atmosphere – Euros Lyn’s direction really came up trumps this week, which was a very welcome result, after ‘New Earth’, from which the thitherto excellent James Hawes strangely seemed all but absent.

For me the most surprising part of the whole thing was RTD’s depiction of the Victorian era (often seen as the ideal home for Dr Who). You might have been forgiven for expecting wickedly snappy anti-British Empire barbs to be dropping from the Doctor’s lips every other sentence, but if fact Russell excels himself with an excellent evocation of the enlightened, devout and pioneering spirit of the age, not only its greater focus on militarism. All the references, by various characters, to God, and Russell’s apparent knowledge of Queen Victoria, add tremendous character and colour to the script. I sincerely doubted beforehand that Prince Albert, one of our greatest “kings” (so to speak!) would even get a mention. Instead, he has a huge role in the story, and comes out of it very well indeed – despite not even appearing!

Woe, woe, woe to the Doctor and Rose in this, however. Russell’s treatment of Rose I guess I can live with – if he wants to make his very own, and admittedly exceptional, character look like a moron (which she does throughout, with the possible exception of the first scene with the caged wolf), that’s his prerogative. The Doctor, however, takes a distinct turn for the worse in this episode.

Given that every Doctor, with the exceptions of Patrick Troughton and the hippy-ish Sylvester McCoy, has been rude, I don’t really know exactly why Tennant’s lines in this grate so much. But from a completely gratuitous insult to Mrs Thatcher (two episodes after the Christmas Invasion – I don’t know whether he seriously thinks she was a worse Premier than the Labour PMs preceding her, or come to that whether the Sycorax-busting Harriet Jones was worse than Tony Blair, I can’t presume to guess the mind of someone so strange, but it really seems as if Russell has issues. Maybe the 80s traumatised him.) –from there to the observatory’s ‘rubbish’ telescope and the Doctor’s venomously-delivered reproach to the heroic Lord Roberts, in “Tooth and Claw” we see more than ever the unpleasant streak underwriting this incarnation. What’s more, it seems quite likely that the Doctor’s stinging reproach in the library contributed to Lord Roberts’ eventual decision to sacrifice himself and thus gain ‘redemption’ in the eyes of the Queen and his beloved wife – nice one, Doctor. Proud of yourself?

If Tennant had the same genius in the role – the combination of otherworldliness, intense gravitas, magic and a core of tempered steel – that Tom Baker had, then the Tenth Doctor would get away with it with aplomb equal to the Fourth. But he’s no Tom Baker, not yet – he hasn’t settled in enough. I still insist that DT has the potential to become a great incarnation: but this vein of unpleasantness should be something the production team rein in for Series 3.

This episode must set new records for the number of people RTD lashes out at: the end of the episode, with Rose and the Doctor’s closing remarks on the monarchy. Apparently they’re all werewolves: of course! That explains why they enjoy hunting, of all things! (she signed the goddamn Bill, didn’t she? What more do you want, you… [obscene rant nipped in the bud]) Royal blood really gets a slamming from Russell, doesn’t it? Not only does it render you helpless before blood control, but it also makes you indulge in those sinful blood sports (seemingly a terrible thing in RTD’s book – after all, the Slitheen liked it too – and they were certainly terrible!).

But I digress. Maybe I’m suffering from a sincere sense-of-humour deficiency, but I have never found Russell’s writing that funny, and the ridiculous offensiveness of this scene is breathtaking, particularly on the day after the Queen’s 80th birthday, and marks a new low in the series revival – Russell’s aggressive, almost missionary promotion of puerility, which taints his episodes what is supposedly his favourite TV show, is fast becoming wearing…

… oh, who am I kidding? It’s been wearing since episode 1, March 26 2005!

I am well aware of how much worse it could have been, given the Victorian-era material: I just wish Russell wouldn’t keep using the Doctor as a vehicle for his stupid prejudices, that’s all – it really spoils my enjoyment. Nevertheless, this is an episode which I expect to see performing well in end-of-series polls.

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