Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Tooth and Claw begins at a frenetic pace, and once started on that road never lets up for any of the following forty-five minutes. It has been well-documented that one of BBC Head of Drama Jane Tranter’s specific notes for series two of the new Doctor Who was that the historical episodes should be given “a kick up the arse,” and this seems to have been very much taken to heart by director Euros Lyn, making a welcome return to the show for the first time since The Unquiet Dead last year.

Which is fitting, as Tooth and Claw is an interesting comparison with that Mark Gatiss episode – the Doctor meets a famous figure from British history in the Victorian age, but not in England, and confronts a famous archetype of villainy, in this case a werewolf as opposed to ghosts and zombies. Lyn’s direction, however, is very different; all hand-held cameras and lots of movement, and although this does give a real vigour and immediacy to the episode, it also has its weaker points. The slow-motion monk fight at the beginning, for example, looks utterly ridiculous and I found it impossible to take at all seriously. Which is a shame given the purpose of a pre-titles sequence is to really draw people in, but then again it was the only visual element of the episode that I felt let the side down at all. He can be forgiven for it, however, for lovely directional ticks such as actually showing us just how the Doctor and Rose ended up laughing together on the floor of the TARDIS back in The Unquiet Dead – now that’s continuity!

There was so much going on on-screen that it was easy to miss things at times – for example, it wasn’t until the second viewing that I spotted that Flora running upstairs to hide herself away is shown at the start, and she doesn’t simply turn up randomly in Rose’s wardrobe later on without any warning. Flora herself provides another comparison to The Unquiet Dead, drawing obvious parallels with that episode’s serving maid Gwyneth, and other characters Rose met throughout the first series, such as The End of the World’s cheery but doomed plumber Raffalo. Indeed, it has become something of an in-joke in fandom that any guest character who Rose seems to take a liking to is in for a grisly end, so Davies no doubt relished dangling such a promise in front of us – with Rose assuring Flora that she’d be safe – making us all think “ah, she’s in for it then,” only to have the young girl indeed survive the ordeal in one piece.

Billie Piper herself had less to do in this episode than she did in New Earth last week, and it wasn’t Rose’s most pro-active episode. She was also saddled with a joke about Queen Victoria’s famous catchphrase that seemed to be used a few too many times to me – I felt it would have been all right once or twice, but Davies played too many times. Again though, it’s one of the episode’s very few faults – that and the fate of the monks were the only holes I could really pick in the script. Father Angelo’s death at the hands of the Queen was nice but rather glossed-over, and as many other fan commentators have said, where did all the other monks disappear off to afterwards?

David Tenannt must have relished the chance to use his own accent as the Doctor for a change, and I found it particularly interesting as when he was cast I was hoping he would play the Doctor more in the mould of his character Scottish DI Peter Carlisle from the 2004 BBC One serial Blackpool rather than more towards his Casanova performance from last year, which is what he seems to be doing. Although aside from the accent and the claim to be called ‘James McCrimmon’ – a lovely throwaway gag for the fans – the characterisation didn’t actually change all that much with the accent. The Tenth Doctor is seeming rather manic and, as with the “highest authority” business in New Earth, a little too sure of himself at times, which must be laying groundwork for something to come later in the season. Victoria herself spots it in the library, picking Rose and the Doctor up on their irreverent attitude in a similar manner to Harriet Jones in the cabinet room in World War Three last year. That she later banishes him from the Empire comes as a shock to the Doctor, even though the ban is of course basically unenforceable, but he doesn’t seem to take it too much to heart as a few minutes later he’s happily laughing and joking with Rose about the present royal family being werewolves. Will he get over such a come-uppance again so quickly next time?

There seemed to be a lot of this foreshadowing of things to come in the episode. The Doctor's reaction to the Queen’s little speech about ghosts was certainly interesting. Empathising with the Queen, I thought, as he’s lost so much too. A nice little moment, but again it had the feeling of things to come. A more obvious example was Victoria’s decision to found the Torchwood Institute at the end – at first it seemed like a subtle-as-a-brick advert for the forthcoming spin-off series, but comments in the MP3 episode commentary from the BBC website suggest that Torchwood will actually have a part to play in the season finale, so it might all tie in more closely to the parent series after all.

Anyway, back to the episode itself rather than the hints it may or may not have contained about the future, which at the moment we can only guess at. On a purely personal and really picky note, the Doctor being so au fait with Ian Dury and the Blockheads irritated me a little, as I’ve never really liked him being so familiar with the pop culture of his writers. It used to annoy me when the New Adventures did this every month, which was why I liked Davies subverting it himself in Damaged Goods by having the Seventh Doctor be completely ignorant of the Pet Shop Boys. Still, I don’t suppose it’s something that would have bothered anybody else, and it’s hardly a major complaint.

One aspect that certainly cannot be faulted, in my view anyway, is the performance of Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria, making a very welcome return to the series thirty-nine years on from her previous guest appearance. Most portrayals of Victoria have her being rather dour and regal, especially following the death of her husband Prince Albert, but Davies’s script allows Collins to inject a humour and vigour into the performance that really makes her seem like a fresher and more interesting character. She also has an insight that characters from the past – who, being from the past, are usually of course all very stupid – are not normally allowed to possess, which is also a nice change.

Of the other guest cast, for me Tom Smith as the Host and the freaky-looking Ian Hanmore as Father Angelo stood out, although the rest were all very good as well but with simply not enough screen time to make a huge impression. Smith’s voice in his scenes as the Host was suitably unnerving, and gave the character a real creepiness that made him disturbing even before he became a great angry CGI werewolf.

Ah yes, that wolf. I know praise and disdain have been heaped upon it in equal measure, with on the one hand some fans saying it betters Hollywood fare, and on the other one tabloid newspaper critic claiming the episode had “ZX Spectrum effects”. I felt it was very good, for CGI – it never looked anything other than a computer graphic, of course, but it was certainly a very good one. Some shots of a real costume with texture and interactivity with the actors might have helped, but usually the wolf was seen so fleetingly it didn’t matter. It was an impressive achievement, one of the Mill’s best efforts and perhaps one of the best effects seen to far in the new series.

A nice little plot, well-explained and on the whole well-executed, very good performances as always and a great look to it. Perhaps a smidgen too fast in places, but that’s a very small complaint about what was on the whole a fine episode in a fine series.

Filters: Television Series 2/28 Tenth Doctor