THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
EPISODE "NEW EARTH"
AND THE NOVELLA "I
AM A DALEK."
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE DOCTOR AND ROSE
HAVE TO PROTECT QUEEN
VICTORIA, BUT CAN
ANYTHING STOP THE
EMPIRE OF THE WOLF?
22ND APRIL 2006
For two years running now, Russell T Davies’ winning formula has succeeded spectacularly. Establish your regulars in an episode where they deal with a threat close
to home, fling them into the far distant future for an outer space frolic, and then send them into the (relatively) recent past to face a supernatural foe. And the third step in this stirring sequence for the tenth Doctor and Rose, Tooth and Claw, has to be regarded as one of
the best episodes produced since the rebirth of Doctor Who. It has the ‘Queen Victoria’ headline; a superlatively realised monster; well-drawn, intriguing characters; and, most importantly of all, it has a Doctor that is absolutely in his element. Add to the mix some
of the best direction that the show has ever seen, and we are left with a non-stop forty-
five minute rollercoaster ride.
“The FIST OF MAN!”
Tooth and Claw begins with what can only be described as one of the most awe-inspiring pre-title sequences ever… in any show. Veteran scribe Terrance Dicks once said “what elsewhere is called plagiarism in Doctor Who is called homage”, and in the opening few minutes of this episode the series pays homage to some of the best martial arts movies
of all time, as well the likes of The Matrix and Schindler’s List. The opening skit is simply sublime - it is brilliantly performed, shot, and scored. The contrast between the red of the monks’ robes and the near-greyscale background is absolutely stunning, and both Ian Han-more as Father Angelo and Ron Donachie as the House Steward give suitably severe per-formances. This sequence also introduces to us whatever monster lurks inside the cage, affording the episode that brilliant cliffhanger substitute as the screams of Lady Isobel tear into the howl of Murray Gold’s title music.
And from there, the energy of this episode is relentless. Even inside the TARDIS, neither of the main characters stays still for a second. The Doctor is frantically hitting his ‘rhythm stick’ against the TARDIS console to the sound of Ian Drury, whilst Rose skips around after him wearing what looks like an updated version of Sarah Jane Smith’s Andy Pandy outfit from The Hand of Fear. And true to form, the 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 reslihed the opportunity to play the Doctor without his affected mockney accent so early on in his tenure, just as I’m sure that Billie Piper was glad that she didn’t have to keep up Rose’s initial “hoots mon” nonsense for the remainder of the episode. The psychic paper plays its usual effective ‘lets save ten minutes of padding’ role in quickly establishing the Doctor as the Queen’s “Royal Protector” and then we are away, with just a little bit of fanwank - “Doctor James McCrimmon” – thrown in for good measure! I bet Frazer Hines was dead chuffed.
Ignoring for the moment the astonishing performances of the regulars, the supporting cast
of Tooth and Claw is absolutely first rate, the standout performances coming from Derek Riddell (Sir Robert McLeish) and Pauline Collins (Queen Victoria). Forced into committing treason and perceptibly plagued by guilt, McLeish is a character that the audience can really empathise with, especially when his really quite obvious hints about all not being well on the estate fall upon deaf ears.
“Every full moon the howling rings through the valley... This is a man who becomes an animal.”
Doctor Who fans may already be familiar with Pauline Collins from her role as Samantha Briggs in the second Doctor serial The Faceless Ones; a story in which she enjoyed a few scenes of flirtation with a certain Jamie McCrimmon, funnily enough. Her portrayal of Queen
Victoria couldn’t be any further
away from Samantha though;
Collins conveys the Queen’s
intelligence, bravery and steely
resolve majestically, aided and
abetted by 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, though her killing of Father Angelo is equally well-handled - the Queen’s shaking hands and flustered disposition make Angelo (and indeed the audience) think that she is going to shoot him, but as her actions prove, the Queen is a formidable woman.
And the Doctor isn’t impervious to the Queen’s derision - quick to notice his accent bouncing back and forth between Scottish and mockney, as the story progresses her growing mistrust of him becomes more and more evident. This is interesting because it really goes against Doctor Who’s storytelling convention; 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.
Another scene that lingers is the one featuring Rose’s brief conversation with the werewolf host prior to his transformation. His calm voice – a soft, eerie Scots burr – really makes the skin crawl, especially when he begins to talk about his plans for the “Empire of the Wolf”. This is no mere animal – it is an alien life form with a sinister purpose. Fans of Big Finish Productions will doubtless 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 is not explored any further, it alludes to a possible sequel and also helps to illustrate how confident Rose has become (or, as may well be the case, over- confident). She barks orders at her fellow prisoners, makes conversation with the werewolf host – she even repeatedly tries to cajole Queen Victoria into saying “we are not amused”.
“Books! The best weapons in the world. This room is the greatest arsenal we could have!”
Ultimately though, Tooth and Claw will be primarily remembered for the Mill’s superb CGI werewolf which is a truly astonishing piece of work for a television show. When the Doctor first looks upon the creature, he remarks that it’s “beautiful” and he’s right on the mark – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better-realised werewolf anywhere. I love the claustrophobic lib-rary scene in particular; the visual of the Doctor and the werewolf both sniffing at opposing sides of the wall is unforgettable.
However, in classic Doctor Who fashion the werewolf is used only sparingly, the mostly implied presence of the creature only serving to make its brief, visceral appearances all the more terrifying. In any event, the dramatic meat of Tooth and Claw lies with the reactions of the humans to the werewolf, rather than the creature itself. The creature’s curtailed exposure also allows the story a little time to breathe, leaving Davies room 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. There are no un-inspiring silver bullets to be found here…
Sometimes stories as good as this one can suffer from ‘cop-out’ endings that leave the viewer unsatisfied, and I had a horrible feeling that the mistletoe strewn throughout the forty-five minutes was to lead to such a cop-out. To my delight though, the resolution here is one of the strongest wrap-ups that I can recall. The Doctor’s epiphany about the suspiciously “rubbish” telescope; the diamond; Prince Albert; and McLeish’s father is beautifully acted and shot, and director Euros Lyn’s sharp cutting really captures the Doctor’s rapid train of thought. The wolf crawling across the glass ceiling is an outstanding set piece too, as is its ultimate demise in the light chamber. It was nice to see McLeish ultimately redeem himself too, sacrificing his own life to buy the Doctor some time.
Finally, I think that the 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 chuckling at Rose becoming “Dame Rose of the Powell Estate” to frowning with concern as the icy (and potentially compromised) 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 carefully-chosen words emphasise the Doctor and Rose’s growing confidence and apparently casual disregard for danger, and I suspect foreshadow a fall to come later in the season. Moreover, they also leave the doors wide open for a sequel as we think that the Queen was bitten by the wolf, and so we don’t knowwhether she’s genuinely reacting against the ungodly Doctor and his “feral child” or if she’s being influenced by the lupine cells that she may have been infected with. Nevertheless, her words do not 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 Royals being werewolves, contrasting beautifully with the scene of the mourning Lady Isobel talking to the markedly sober Queen about the setting up of a certain institution that I understand we may be seeing a lot more of in the future.
For me then, Tooth and Claw was almost flawless; one of the most awesome episodes that Davies has penned thus far. The only thing that I’d take issue with is the fact that the perfect opportunity for a Bad Wolf quip was missed!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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