Doctor Doctor Who Guide

‘The Christmas Invasion’ and ‘New Earth’ convinced me that Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who scripts are improving, but nothing could have prepared me for ‘Tooth and Claw’. Visually impressive, action packed and gripping, and with a great script the episode is easily the best new series episode since ‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’.

Director James Hawes does a fine job of directing the episode, and the opening location filming as the monks arrive at Torchwood House looks stunning, the moody sky and bleak moorland giving events a wind-swept and vaguely hostile feel from the start. The scene of the monks attacking the household staff is a minor blip; the fight scene is superbly choreographed but the slow motion kung-fu high-jinks manage only to be derivative of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon rather than, as presumably intended, paying homage. But the terrified screams of the household as they see what is inside the cage immediately compensates, and the rest of the episode is largely flawless, Hawes bringing a tense, thrilling feel to proceedings as the Werewolf hunts down the occupants of the house. The sets are stunning, another reminder that the BBC excels at period pieces. The CGI Werewolf caused me some concern when I first saw the episode trailer at the end of ‘New Earth’, but whilst it isn’t perfect, Hawes’ wisely keeps it largely off-camera as much as possible, providing only brief glimpses of it for much of the episode, and the moody lighting further conceals its limitations. The result is suitably scary, as the slavering monster runs amok. In fact ‘Tooth and Claw’ is probably one of the most frightening episodes to date; the limitations of the time slot mean that we never see any gore, but we hear the screams and sounds of ripping flesh off-screen, and it conveys all the gore that is required.

The episode is largely very well written, with few of the gaping plot holes that have marred Davies’ previous episodes. The Werewolf manages to bridge the divide between science (fiction) and magic, portrayed largely as a traditional beast complete with need for moonlight, and partly as parasitic alien entity that has possessed and transformed a human host. Some aspects of the script could have been improved; it isn’t clear for example whether the Werewolf is actually collaborating with the monks, or merely used by them. It tells Rose that it wants to migrate into Queen Victoria and rule the Empire and thus, at that period in history, most of the world, and Father Angelo also tells Victoria that he wants the throne. But the monks keep the Host caged, and protect themselves against the beast by wearing mistletoe wreathes, which suggests that the monks want to use the Werewolf as an assassin, not actually place it on the throne. Which does rather raise the question of why they don’t just kill the Queen when they have her at their mercy. More irritatingly, the monks vanish at the end after the Werewolf is destroyed, and aren’t mentioned again; presumably they leg it once they know they’ve been defeated, but it would be nice to have some acknowledgement in the script.

The regulars work particularly well in ‘Tooth and Claw’. The first scene in the TARDIS, as the Doctor spouts gratuitous pop culture references, curses Margaret Thatcher, and has Ian Drury and the Blockheads blasting out of the console is profoundly crass and deeply irritating, but this is a momentary lapse; once the Doctor and Rose step out into the Scottish countryside, they start getting great lines and great banter, such as the Doctor’s glee at discovering that they are in Scotland and immediate adoption of a David Tennant’s real accent and his pained, “Don’t do that” when Rose makes an incredibly bad attempt to do the same. It’s genuinely amusing, as is much of their dialogue here. And the alias Doctor James McCrimmon is a charming but unobtrusive nod to the past. Their bet, that Rose will not be able to make Queen Victoria utter the immortal words, “We are not amused”, is entertaining at first, and then starts to grate. But Russell turns the conceit around, with subsequent unsubtle attempts to make her issue the phrase being met with the furious response, “You find this funny?!” Davies structures the plot well, making use of both his regulars without needing to sideline one of them; whilst the Doctor dines with the Queen and Sir Robert and thus hears the story of the local Werewolf, Rose discovers the maid and is subsequently imprisoned with the creature, whereupon she alone of the prisoners has the nerve to talk to it. This serves to demonstrate how used she has got to dealing with the unusual and terrifying, but also provides exposition that doesn’t feel like an infodump. It is also Rose’s quick-thinking and bravery that allows her to rouse the household staff into pulling together and ripping their chain from the wall, thus saving herself and them from immediate dismemberment.

Best of all, the Doctor, for the third episode in a row, gets to save the day. Tennant is at his most “Doctorish” here, the script showing off all sides of his persona without it feeling like Davies is just running through a list of character traits ad hoc. The Doctor’s expression is one of excitement on hearing Sir Robert’s story of the Werewolf, and his first reaction when he comes face to face with the creature is to exclaim with a look of sheer fascination, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” Trapped in the library, he reads books to work out what is going on, putting on his spectacles with a business-like air and announcing, “This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have! Arm yourselves.” And with Sir Robert’s father and Prince Albert long dead, it is the Doctor who realises that the house is “a trap inside the trap”, as he deduces what the “telescope” is really for and why the Prince obsessively sought the perfect diamond.

The supporting characters also work well, which isn’t always exclusively the case in these single forty-five minute episodes, and it helps that the cast is first rate. Chief amongst them is Pauline Collins, who of course previously appeared in the series as Samantha Briggs in ‘The Faceless Ones’, as Queen Victoria, and she is absolutely superb. Victoria is convincingly regal and imperious, but more than that she works as a person, sounding utterly devastated as she talks of how much she misses Albert, and filled with fear and anger as the Werewolf closes in. Collins gets several especially great moments, including the Queen’s trembling but steadfast defiance of Father Angelo, whom she shoots dead, and the scene at the end in which she knights the Doctor and Rose and then banishes them from the Empire. This is unexpected; it’s so easy to take for granted the Doctor’s easy ability to befriend significant figures from history that it comes as a genuine surprise when she condemns his lifestyle, angrily telling the pair, “I know that you court with stars and magic and think it funny.” Also worthy of note is her withering response to Captain Reynold’s over-the-top response to her joke at the dinner table, as she icily promises, “I shall contain my wit, in case I do you further injury.”

Derek Riddell is very good as Sir Robert, a man forced into treason by fear for his wife, and torn by guilt; inevitably he gets to make a noble sacrifice, buying time for the Doctor, Rose and Queen Victoria. His wife, Lady Isobel also works well, Michelle Duncan’s fine performance benefiting from a script that allows her character the brains to realize why the Werewolf didn’t attack them in the kitchen, and the courage to lead an attack on the beast, thus saving Rose’s life. The erstwhile Captain Reynolds is the epitome of a loyal and brave soldier, also sacrificing himself to buy time for the others to try and escape, and Jamie Sives is perfectly cast in the role. As for Tom Smith as the Host, he’s astonishingly creepy, his voice alternating between keening falsetto and bestial snarl in chilling fashion. Ian Hanmore is also worthy of mention, as the rather intimidating Father Angelo.

‘Tooth and Claw’ ends with Queen Victoria prompted by the terrible events that she has experience to establish the Torchwood Institute to combat such unusual threats to the Empire. This is of course a further lead into the forthcoming spin-off series revolving around the mysterious organisation, which was first mentioned in ‘The Christmas Invasion’, and some fans have already complained about the blatant self-promotion. And yet I think it works well here, Davies providing the slight twist of Victoria being at least partially inspired to establish the Institute by her distrust and dislike of the Doctor. Since we’re undoubtedly going to get further mentions of Torchwood in order to hook potential viewers of the series, they might as well have some significance to the plot of the episodes they are in.

Overall then, ‘Tooth and Claw’ is, in my opinion, the best episode of Doctor Who that Russell T. Davies has written to date, with even the obligatory gay joke on this occasion proving genuinely funny rather than simply pointless, as the Doctor tells Sir Robert that he wasn’t immediately suspicious of the monks because, “They were bald, athletic, your wife’s away. I just thought you were happy.” Less welcome is the Werewolf telling Rose, “There’s something of the wolf about you”, which just brings back painful memories of the end of ‘Bad Wolf’/‘The Parting of the Ways’. One thing I’m not sure about however is the significance of Queen Victoria’s possible Werewolf bite. It seems suspiciously like an excuse for setting up the stream of largely feeble “They’re werewolves!” jokes at the end. But who knows, maybe Davies is planning a sequel in which Prince Harry becomes a Werewolf in Nazi fancy dress.

Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor