Doctor Doctor Who Guide

One of the many criticisms levelled against new Doctor Who is its pacing. The 45 minute episodes being seen to force the expulsion of great swathes of development and backstory- paring the series down into little nuggets of edited ‘who-lite’. Pish and tosh, I say. Yes, this new series is a different beast- but this new, short form, Doctor Who is as capable of being as dynamic, affecting, smart and magnificent as any work of shorter fiction. More is not always better. And nowhere, to my mind, has this been demonstrated with greater effect than in ‘Tooth and Claw’.

If this had been an old four-parter, we would presumably have had a prologue detailing the monster’s crash to Earth, the Evil Monks would have taken up at least half the first episode with veiled allusions to what was to come. Maybe they would have taken control of the house at the end of part one (trapping the servants in the basement, wheeling in the shrouded cage, crash-zoom on lead baldy “This will be the Empire Of The Wolf!” cue titles). Certainly the werewolf transformation would only have come at the end of part two and part three would have been a run-around chase scene ending with them trapped in the library.

More importantly, and disastrously, we would probably have had to endure unnecessary elaboration- all serving to diminish the impact of the story. Rose’s conversation with the Host would have involved layers of back-story in which we learned the name of its home planet, its race (maybe, if produced under JN-T, it’d be a Rutan- for no discernable reason) and probably a way to eventually kill it.

Good horror sees no need to abide by rules and needs no explanations- despite what the lazy nonsense of Kevin Williamson and the post-modern, post 'Scream' bandwagoners may have you believe. It positively revels in throwing up nonsensical ideas and then making you believe in their possibility. The best horror feeds off that wonderful paranoia we all feel- the abnormal brain-function that causes us to fear that, even though we know we’ve locked all the doors and windows- and our multi-million pound alarm system is switched on, that sounded like someone breaking in and scraping a knife along the paintwork!

Old Doctor Who would have had the million pound security, let the murderer in- but then revealed they teleported in from Venus and actually it was all an alien plot to steal your pyjamas and actually, the aliens aren’t that scary after all. Ho hum.

What new Doctor Who does- in this wonderful new short form- is bung all that out the window. Yes, we get a reference to the monster being an alien- but it’s over in a few seconds and the real meat of that particular thread is left to some ill-advised internet/phone downloadable doodah that only fans/nerds desperate for that kind of security blanket will see. For everyone else watching, the monster is a werewolf. A big, nasty, powerful, man-eating werewolf that rips people apart and does not, ever, despite earlier talk of a stellar empire, pull out a laser gun or wear a pair of silver trousers and a funny hat.

It is vital you consider that for a moment. It’s important. It means, I think, that Doctor Who has grown up. Maybe this is as a result of cgi allowing things on the screen that previously could only be alluded to in the most basic of visual terms. Maybe Doctor Who no longer needs to convince us of a monster’s veracity by swaddling it in post-war, space-race, terminology. Maybe, because we can now see it with our own eyes more or less as intended, we no longer need that extra spoonful of sugar. Maybe the aliens no longer need to be quite so cosily alien and instead can come from somewhere else- and after all, isn’t that what the supernatural is all about?

‘Tooth and Claw’ was a fast-paced, dramatic episode that probably scared the nation’s children into therapy. Some bits still felt like padding- the Tardis sequence especially seemed to serve no purpose and just delayed us getting on with the plot. That terrible, mocking dialogue with the Doctor and Rose discussing the possible lycanthropy of the Royals just seemed so crass after the sensitive treatment of Queen Victoria throughout the episode. But I have never, never seen an ending like that! Victoria’s vow to the creation of Torchwood, tellingly almost-overdubbed with the cliffhanger sting, sent a shiver down my spine. There was a real sense of Doctor Who evolving, changing and becoming something entirely new and different. Something, ever-so possibly scary.

Given time and the opportunity to pursue these story ideas- either in the series itself or in one of it’s spin-offs- ‘Tooth and Claw’ could come to be seen as the launch of a whole new existence for this fantastic show that somehow, somehow, refuses to die. And just keeps on getting better. It’s better now, as a tv show, than it ever was before. Forget your Tom Bakers and your Phillip Hinchcliffes. Verity? Sorry love, don’t need you anymore. It’s in very, very safe hands.

Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor