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Doctor Who - Tooth and Claw

As Doctor Who fans go, I'm quite a newcomer to the scene. The first story I ever watched was the Tom Baker story City of Death in 2003, in preparation for the freshly commissioned new series. I swotted up on plenty more Classic stories before Chris Eccleston's grin burst on to our screens, and now I fully class myself as a Who fanboy.

So, that's me, but what about Who's latest adventure, Tooth and Claw? Well, there was a lot of talk about this episode pre-transmission. After the mediocrity of New Earth expectations were high and people were saying this looks like a more traditional episode. 'Traditional' in this sense seems to mean "well, it looks it could belong in that 70s era of the show, when it was having a damn good stab at being horror". That's fair enough, but I don't see how the horror themes of Tooth and Claw are any more traditional than the brightly coloured, high paced New Earth. Anyway, that's besides the point, and the point is that period pieces are popular, and almost always deliver a atmospheric and exciting episode (see The Unquiet Dead, Talons of Weng Chiang and The Empty Child for some PROOF of this).

Don't answer the door! - The Doctor and Wolfie with naught but a door betwixt them
Don't answer the door! - The Doctor and Wolfie with naught but a door betwixt them

The episode is set in 1879 (after The Doctor performs a trademark bit of mis-parking), during the reign of Queen Victoria. As it happens, The Doctor and Rose have landed smack bang in the middle of the Queen's route to the royal jewelers (via The Torchwood Estate) so with the use of his psychic paper, they tag along. Little do they know that the Torchwood Estate has been infiltrated by some rather creepy looking kick ass monks, with the full intention of infecting the royal bloodline with their pet puppy with large teeth.

And, as the episode unfolds, it's obvious that what we have here is a fantastic storyline. It melds history with the fantasy world of Who brilliantly, such as the inclusion of the Kohinoor diamond, and the obsessive recutting sanctioned by Prince Albert. Plot points, such as the 'rubbish' telescope, the reason the diamond was being taken to the Royal Jewellers and the close relationship of Prince Albert the proprietor of the Torchwood Estate all come together in a fantastically energetic moment of exposition from The Doctor. Indeed, it's moments such as these when Tennant really clicks into the role, and the magic flows. My only niggle would be that we don't get much information about the Werewolf's apparent alien origins, or how he infiltrated the Monks' order - but it leaves plenty to be explored should we ever return to the story.

But a surprisingly tight main plot from Russell T Davies isn't the only thing to love about this episode. It features possibly the finest supporting cast since The Unquiet Dead, with the wonderfully creepy and Skeletor-like Father Angel (Ian Hanmore) and squeaky voiced wolf boy, The Host (Tom Smith) putting in top performances. In particular the scene with Wolf Boy and Rose had me utterly glued ("I can see it in your eyes, you've got something of the wolf about you"), not to mention the suitably regal performances of Her Majesty's Guard. All in all, these supporting actors went a heck of a long way to giving this episode a feeling of gravitas and a really spooky and unsettling atmosphere. Crivens.

Moving away from the gushing praise for a moment, though, there were more than a few details that had me chewing the back of the sofa in frustration. First off, The Doctor and Rose are quickly descending into the land of the gurning fools. Here we are in the Scottish dales with a werewolf bounding around and people being ripped in to wee chunks, and The Doctor and Rose seem more bothered about getting Queen Victoria to say her 'catchphrase'. It was awfully jarring to watch and really pulled me out of the experience. The Doctor, in my eyes, should be completely above mocking and making light of dire situations - people are dying and it ain't no laughing matter. It has been said that The Doctor and Rose are being specifically written this way as part of an arc that will see them become flippant and over confident, with nasty repercussions. Fair enough, but I question the sanity behind *deliberately* making our heroes act like twats. I don't want to experience that, no matter how many fancy story arcs Mr. Davies wants to chuck in. The Doctor is over 900 years old; he should clearly know better and he should *always* be on the moral high ground.

Which leads me to another niggle (I'll be done in a minute, I promise) with the episode: Queen Victoria's big hoo-hah at the end. Let's, for the moment, forgo the cringeworthy Knighthood scene ("Sir Doctor of TARDIS" my arse) and get to the really incomprehensible part where the Queen, fresh from her knighthood duties, *banish* the pair from her kingdom for some reason to do with blasphemy or whatever. Now, call me up on this if you like, but rewarding someone for saving your life by giving them the highest honour a citizen of your Empire can receive, and then banishing your new Knight and Dame off into the wilderness, makes NO SENSE. It would have been much more effective for Queen Victoria to rip straight into them and, what's more, drop that god awful "We are not amused" nonsense.

It was nice to see how Torchwood (forthcoming BBC drama starring John Barrowman as the excellent Captain Jack) was formed, but the impassioned speech made by Queenie to announce this was clunky at best, and an embarrassing mess at worst. Still, clunky dialogue has always been a sticking point with Russell's scripts, and the point is that we now have Torchwood firmly lodged in the continuity and, very interestingly, their remit seems to be anti-Doctor. I find that very interesting, especially since Captain Jack could have *many* reasons to resent The Doctor for leaving him on The Game Station in Parting of the Ways.

Now, on to an issue where Doctor Who very rarely disappoints: visuals. With the sort of locations used, you can't really go wrong when it comes to making your scenes looks pretty, but Euros Lyn (Director) really did make it look special (despite apparently borrowing some of Top Gear's filters at times). But I think the real kudos should go to The Mill. I've never been a fan of excessive and unnecessary use of CG (something I think Who is guilty of on occasion) but their work truly put the perfect finishing touches to the whole feel of the episode. Mattes of Scottish hills and scenery were added in to de-Wales the countryside (and this was done seamlessly) and, let us not forget, Wolf Boy was just astonishing. The transformation itself was done very convincingly (and it was something I was worried about before hand, since I've *never* seen a production get this right) with echoes of the creepy transformation of Richard Wilson in last year's The Empty Child. Apart from a few dodgy moments, the wolf itself was equally astonishing - skillfully lit and sparingly used, this truly was a movie quality special effect. Also, that shot of The Doctor and Wolfy on either side of the door is one of my favourite shots *ever*!

So, I think that just about covers it. I reckon this is the best single parter story Russell T has produced and a prime example of how to execute a complex story within a 45 minute time frame - a few skills he seems to have picked up from The Unquiet Dead's Mark Gatiss, I shouldn't wonder.

As for the rest of the series, I have very high hopes. I find that, on the whole, I agree completely with Russell's macro plan for the new series, but it is only in the micro details where he and I start to disagree. I love what he's turned the show into, but various character traits and story structures leave me cold and unhappy. But, to be fair, it's only the odd detail, and I can live with that. Quite happily.

4 Stars

About this entry


I find that very interesting, especially since Captain Jack could have *many* reasons to resent The Doctor for leaving him on The Game Station in Parting of the Ways.

You make a good point about this, and I've seen similar views expressed elsewhere; but what people seem to be forgetting is that Captain Jack is a blimmin' time traveller. He's also a time-traveller who, in already-established continuity, is missing two years of his life having had his memories erased.

Consider also that RTD has stated that Torchwood will not tie into Who continuity particularly strongly. That is, there will obviously be references to the Doctor and his world, but the idea is not to provide a direct link with the series. Such a direct link would clearly exist if we knew that Jack had somehow escaped the Game Station and found his way back to the 21st Century. And Jack is going to reappear come series three of Who - it's there, and only there, that I expect that the story of him and the Game Station will be cleared up.

I find it far more likely, therefore, that Torchwood will in fact cover "the missing two years". Try this on for size - Jack, wandering through time and space, for whatever reason ends up involved with Torchwood. He works for them for two years, and - again for whatever reason - leaves. Perhaps he leaves under a cloud, or perhaps it's just standard practice - but they wipe his memory of the time he spent working for them. This would explain why he's never mentioned it before, and also why he has no idea who the Doctor is when he first meets him.

By Seb
April 23, 2006 @ 9:40 pm

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That's a very interesting theory, but I'd really like them to continue the suggestion that these missing 2 years have a sinister secret... if they do reveal what these two years contain, then I really want a "BLIMEY!" moment in there, not just a "oh, he left the Civil Service to travel and had his mind wiped when he handed in his notice" explanation.

The thing with Torchwood is that it has a lot of life in the concept (not as much as Who but, thene again, what has?) so I'd like it to keep going for a good long. Assuming, of course, that its good. So, any soret of event that see Jack leaving Torchwood is likely to kill the show prematurely.

By Cappsy
April 23, 2006 @ 9:50 pm

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Regarding the "why did Queen Victoria knight them?" thing, you have to remember that this was a different age. The Doctor saved her life and, according 19th century British morality, that means the Queen had to recognise and reward this even if she was going to condemn them afterwards (think of Napoleon being put on trial and then sent to be Emperor of some small island and retaining his title, there was a different sense of respect to enemies then).

By Zagrebo
April 23, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

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Well, Russell T Davies dislikes/hates the monarchy and I think he felt the need to give Queen Victoria a negative side beyond Good wise old Queenie. And yes, it was very poorly done...

This episode was absolutely awful.

First the plot. A werewolf. Bad idea, been done millions of times before and very hard to do anything new with. If you've got some fantastic new idea, then go ahead. RTD had nothing. The entire tale is told embarassingly straight. There is absolutely nothing new there, the plot is old and tired. Wait no, we have rather dull, evil monks tacked on. It's not gonna do. Also, there really is no plot. There's no depth, no substantial explanation, no real charecterisation. Just really, really poor. New Earth, for all its apparent faults (don't look at me for most of them), at least seemed to be driven by a real threat. This however had none of that. The self-sacrifice of two male characters was a cliche built upon the foundations of nothing characters and was completely hilarious. It also has no impact because, well here's a list: 1) for reasons of zero characterisation, we don't give a shit, 2) their sacrifices appear pointless in an unintentional way, 3) the brave-I'm-gonna-reclaim-my-honour-sacrifice isn't shown at all, isn't really heard just a stupidly booming ineffective score continuing to power on with some monster noises, 4) linked to the entire episode's success and mentioned more later - the werewolf is quite clearly fake and therefore not frightening and not a valid threat. A threat not backed up by any plot in particular, just a failure on many levels.

What really annoyed me about the plot was the elements that supposedly come together to form a resolution are introduced sloppily and the diamond that appears and becomes some object that gives us a big CGI effect to close of the episode. Its sudden appearance at the end from being a hidden object and its sudden added special qualities just seems very convenient.

The comedy was really week in this episode and so I can't really blame David Tennant and Billie Piper for given seemingly lacklustre performances in the few lines of dialogue they got in between the running around corridors. Tennant just wasn't able to impose himself in the part at all in this episode. Characters that maybe could have been invigorated by a great performance pass by inconsequentially and Queen Victoria just doesn't come across as commanding, regal or significant as an encounter in the Doc's travels.

And that werewolf just didn't work. Can we just remember that the Alien films had men in suits? Because the CGI on this werewolf is too often unimpressive and a few shots betray its artificiality. There is no suspense. If you are gonna have a werewolf, an inherently frightening beast, you need to make some efforts to make it scary. And when you've got that musical score overly loud, ineffective and unorignial overpowering the action at every opportunity, so much fear was sucked out of the scene. Give me the creaking of the staircase, the heavy breathing of characters as they run for their lives, the... anything really. The werewolf simply didn't work.

It was a really poor episode, the worst so far. 1/5.

By Rad
April 24, 2006 @ 12:44 am

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Also, just responding to a point in the main review, The Empty Child was original stuff. The way the gas mask transformation worked with Richard Wilson was unexpected and as he said 'Stay away' and 'Muummmeee' you were really dreading it. You cannot apply the same thinking to a tired old werewolf transformation where we know it will happen from the moment we see the ugly bloke with the eye problem.

One of the most frightening moment in the former episode was when the Doctor was about to open the door with the eponymous evil kid behind it. The sounds and the music actually added to the situation. The score in this episode really took away from what little fright there was.

And maybe you'll tell me this is Doctor Who does the period piece and that criticisms of there being a werewolf are therefore rendered irrelevant as we bathe in romantic cute unimportant waves of whimsy. But forget that, the entire story was shoddily written, shoddily directed and rather shoddy.

By Rad
April 24, 2006 @ 12:56 am

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Rad...I recommend you don't watch any more episodes if you're just bothered about a monster in Doctor Who looking fake. That's all I'm saying...

I thought it was a great episode. YES the plot resolution felt rushed. YES the Queen's Torchwood speech felt a little forced and spoken to camera. YES the knighting scene and the 'we are not amused' running joke was more Russell T Davies mentalness. But none of those things ruined the episode for me. Tennant is growing on me. I'm sure he'll be back to the OTT in School Reunion, but at least we know he can get it together and become the Doctor when it matters. He'll grow into the role.

The direction on this one was outstanding (thank the lord Euros Lyn is directing more episodes this year, the next being The Girl In The Fireplace). Some excellent moments like when the Doctor and the werewolf face off, and the monks at the beginning, that were effective even though it looks like a BBC1 ident gone crazy. I don't know how anyone can say there was no tension in this episode. And I for one really liked the whole diamond/telescope ending, made extra special when the wolf guy said 'let me go'. And is RTD going somewhere with his Royals and blood obsession? They were on the roof in The Christmas Invasion 'cause they all had the same blood type, and now there's a chance they have a bit of the wolf about them (as does it isn't the end of the whole Bad Wolf thing after all...).

By performingmonkey
April 24, 2006 @ 2:50 am

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"a bit of the wolf about them (as does it isn't the end of the whole Bad Wolf thing after all...)."

He also said "You burned like the sun but all I need is the moon" - a reference to Rose in Parting Of The Ways.

By Jake Monkeyson
April 24, 2006 @ 11:21 am

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"effective even though it looks like a BBC1 ident gone crazy."

A BBC1 ident gone Wachowski Brothers.

By James
April 24, 2006 @ 11:39 am

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>the wonderfully creepy and Skeletor-like Father Angel (Ian Hanmore)

I'd've said he was more Colina myself.

By si
April 24, 2006 @ 12:38 pm

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I don't know how anyone can say there was no tension in this episode.

There was a tiny bit at one point where they were waiting for it to come in the door...

And that was about it. There was no other tension, backed up by the fact I started rearranging my DVDs in the middle.

By Kirk
April 24, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

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I'm not sure how to respond to your comments, Rad, as I'd just be repeating what I said in the review. I guess it's nothing more than personal taste, and I guess I'm just less sensitive to CG wolfies!

When I compared the werewolve's transformation to that of Wilson's in The Empy Child I really talking about froma technical point of view. Both changes were technically impressive and well done. I have no qualms about the fact that The Empy Child's transformation was a million times more creepy, though.

By Cappsy
April 24, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

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As for the tension, the scene in the library was all the tension I needed. I didn't mind that most of the episode was high octane running about. That is, after all, a Doctor Who staple.

I really, truly loved the scene when The Doctor figures it all out. The quick cutting and erratic direction really ramped up the face, almost as if we were being dragged along at high speed by The Doctor's thoughts. Also: the smallest crash zoom ever! Bless.

By Cappsy
April 24, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

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Just to pick up on something two days after the fact...

and it was something I was worried about before hand, since I’ve *never* seen a production get this right

Two words : American. Werewolf.

By Seb
April 25, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

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Would you be ashamed if I said I'd never seen it?

I was more referring to Buffy's numerous dodgy attempts, really. I should have just been specific really instead of revealing my werewolfy ignorance. Bah.

By Cappsy
April 25, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

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'Rad...I recommend you don't watch any more episodes if you're just bothered about a monster in Doctor Who looking fake. That's all I'm saying...'

Did you read my post? The werewolf only got one paragraph with the majority devoted to plot, I don't see how I was 'just' bothered about it. As far as I can see I only have two lines in my entire post about the werewolf looking fake. No, I gave you quite a few points on why I didn't think the werewolf was a threat and the CGI was one point in a comparatively small part of the post.

By Rad
April 25, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

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Rad... I said 'that's all I'm saying...' because I didn't want to go into a full-blown rant against you, which is what I wanted to do but couldn't be bothered. Who is always going to be Who. It's always gonna be made for a family audience so never too frightening. It's never going to be too complex. The monsters are always going to look fake (if they still look fake on a $200 million movie, they're gonna look fake on a BBC1 primetime show). The 45 minute format means character work is restricted. At least more has gone into giving the Doctor and companion character development than ever before. This is Who, get over it.

> Queen Victoria just doesn't come across as commanding, regal or significant as an encounter in the Doc's travels.

Yes she does. So there.

By performingmonkey
April 25, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

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I'm with monkey on that last point - Pauline Collins was absolutely superb...

By Seb
April 26, 2006 @ 11:46 am

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"The werewolf only got one paragraph with the majority devoted to plot, I don't see how I was 'just' bothered about it."

Perhaps monkey shouldn't have said "just"? If he'd said "I recommend you don't watch any more episodes if you're bothered about a monster in Doctor Who looking fake..." I think it's a fair comment, and obviously tongue in cheek. Obviously if anything takes you away from the story/mood by making you too aware of its fakeness (or that it's *really realistic*), it's not especially beneficial. But CGI is getting better all the time and Who is really making the most of it. And it wasn't *that* long ago since the Slitheen were waddling about like tellytubbies so let's not get too teary-eyed about a presumed disappearance of the men-in-suits approach.

By James
April 26, 2006 @ 4:17 pm

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Not tellytubbies. Mr Blobby was more the texture and balance that I had in mind.

By James
April 26, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

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Right, so I barely mention it in my post. A post which is overshadowed by a very large previous segment on plotting and another supplementary post afterwards that points out how The Empty Child managed to create a more effective tension from its use of sound and music than Tooth and Claw did with the werewolf. You say I'm 'just' bothered about the werewolf looking fake. I show this clearly isn't the case. Then you admit it looked fake. So, you've taken a point that I give no precidence and mention only twice, agreed with me and then told me to 'get over it' because the show happens to be itself. I've barely talked about it so I don't see how I'm under it in the first place to 'get over it', it remains a perfectly valid if small, and irrelevant in episodes more successful with the show's format, point and even though you've set yourself as an apologist for all the series' failings, I think when you start telling me the show's ability to provide charecterisation and well-realised enemies is compromised to the point where there can be no complexity and constant roll-out of ever-fake monsters respectively, you are doing the series itself a disservice. Even though you have tried to make them so, I also refuse to accept that my criticisms are series-specific because many episodes over the last year have managed to create well-developed, memorable characters and worked wonders with budgetary limitations.

By Rad
April 26, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

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Well I am no Who expert by any stretch, but I enjoyed the episode. The "amused" sub-plot was rubbish admittedly, but I did like the set up to the Torchwood series, and all of the acting was pretty good. Tennant makes a "fun" Doctor - ramping up Eccleston's more offbeat moments while thus far repressing the more callous aspect - and this makes good, saturday-evening TV.

One thing that I appear to have missed with this episode - what happened to the monks? Did they just run off after the Host/Werewolf was zapped? Did I miss something earlier?

By darkpigeon
April 26, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

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