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ReviewsReviews

Tooth and Claw

Series Two, Episode Two
Shane Anderson

There are a lot of little details in “Tooth and Claw” that ought to have been cut somewhere. Too much of the author’s personal politics and too much pop culture knowledge projected onto the Doctor really grate, as no doubt they’re intended to. In other words, I think Mr. Davies and some of the other writers enjoy taking jabs at the fans. The Doctor seems less like a mysterious alien and more like a teenager be-bopping around Earth’s history, listening to pop music and indulging in movies. These little asides never really come across as authentic character moments for the Doctor that we’ve been watching for 40 years now.

However, regardless of that, the episode itself is quite good overall. Despite the fact that I’m tired of RTD’s writing style, and despite the fact that this is his sixth episode in a row, for the most part he’s done a good job this time around and deserves credit for it.

“Tooth and Claw” is in many ways a very traditional monster tale with many familiar elements. There’s the old mansion out on the lonely moors, with the local legend of a monster that turns out to actually exist. True to form the monster is nearly indestructible, unaffected by bullets but allergic to a certain herb. The monster is of course is given the typical Doctor Who treatment in that it is not supernatural, but is an alien life form that crashed on Earth hundreds of years before the story takes place. The book that the Doctor finds in the library details the arrival, and the host in the cage tells Rose that he’s “so far from home”.

The idea of an alien werewolf isn’t actually new. The Eighth Doctor novel “Kursaal” introduced the Jax, a virus that migrates from host to host, and appears early on as a werewolf. The werewolf in “Tooth and Claw” could just as easily be one of the same creatures, though it’s been awhile since I read Kursaal so some of the fine details escape me. Regardless of the recycled idea, the CGI werewolf is excellently realized. It’s far more convincing than a man in a suit would have been, and is made very effective by being largely kept in the shadows of a dark house and by only being seen for brief moments. And it’s not just a mindless killer, but an intelligent alien with a plan to take over the British Empire by migrating into Queen Victoria. Presumably the monks are all for the wolf taking over, or else they’d just have killed Victoria on sight rather than set a trap. Perhaps they think that they will be able to exercise the same amount of control over the wolf once it possesses Victoria as they do over the current human host, and thereby rule the British empire.

The monks are effective villains, but the martial arts are silly. Since when do Scottish monks in the 18th century know kung-fu? Their disappearance at the end of the episode ought to have been at least addressed, although it’s easy enough to surmise that with Father Angelo and the wolf dead, the jig was up and they figured that they had better leg it out of Dodge. I expect Victoria had them hunted down later and punished for their crimes. Father Angelo is only around for half the episode, but he’s a creepy villain with his quick reflexes and glaring eyes.

Queen Victoria is treated quite well by the script, and well acted by Pauline Collins. It’s not unusual for someone to play multiple roles over time in Doctor Who, but isn’t it enjoyable to have someone return after almost forty years? How many programs are still around after that length of time? It speaks well of the Doctor Who formula that it allows such longevity. Victoria is a well-rounded character, displaying good humor, wit, grief and a good measure of determination and spirit. I was cheering her on when she shot Father Angelo dead. Her grief over Albert’s death is touching, and seemed to resonate with the Doctor as well, given his silence and facial expressions during that conversation. Victoria is also used well in the story, being not only the ‘guest historical celebrity’ of the week, but also essential to the plot. The actions of the monks are motivated by their desire to assassinate Victoria and take the throne. Victoria is the voice of incredulity as well, questioning the Doctor and his lifestyle, and outright condemning it in the end. She rewards the Doctor and Rose for their actions and bravery, and then banishes them for their cavalier attitude to life and danger. Brilliant. She also is open minded enough not to rationalize away the werewolf attack, but to found Torchwood as an institute to investigate and defend Great Britain from paranormal dangers. It’s an altogether satisfying use of the character, thoroughly justifying her inclusion in the story.

The humor works sometimes. The bumpy landing in the highlands one hundred years off target is amusing, as is the Doctor’s sudden switch to a Scottish accent (Tennant’s real accent) and adoption of “James McCrimmon” as his alias. Rose’s attempts to get Victoria to say “we are not amused” grow old rather quickly though. The unavoidable gay joke is highly offensive, as well as quite honestly being a pitiful excuse for not noticing problems with the household staff. “Your wife’s away, your servants are bald and athletic. I just thought you were happy.” The wife’s away, forget marital fidelity, gay orgies everyone. It’s smut, and it’s not funny, it’s disgusting. I’m not British, but the mockery of the Royal Family at the end also disgusted me, as did the smug dismissal of Margaret Thatcher. No respect for anyone, eh Russell?

The Doctor and Rose are gelling as a team, though I think Rose worked better with the 9th Doctor than the 10th. Piper and Tennant seem like a couple of kids on a lark, laughing and irreverently mocking anything they feel like (rather like RTD), and it gets old fast. Rose in particular is becoming an annoyance. I don’t know what’s happened to her since last year, when she was such a great character. Much has been said about her attempts to get Victoria to say ‘we are not amused’ and so I won’t belabor the point, but if I were traveling in time and met a famous historical figure, I’d be trying to get to know them, not poking fun at them. It does make Rose look quite foolish, which may be the point. However she does display quite a bit more character and moral fiber when she is talking to the host and learning about the werewolf. She also shows some initiative and leadership when she leads the chained prisoners to pull free of the wall and escape the cellar as the wolf transforms.

I’m hesitant to compare David Tennant to either Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton, because I don’t think he’s anywhere near the level of those two actors, but his character seems to draw attributes from both. He’s energetic, enthusiastic and suitably eccentric. Whereas the anti-establishment attitude of the Doctor goes back all the way to Hartnell, it’s far too overt coming from the word processor of RTD and the mouth of David Tennant. Subtlety is the key. The Doctor’s rapid intellect is demonstrated in the library when he works out the trap inside a trap that Albert set up years earlier. His energy is apparent when he’s running down hallways and trying to spring the trap for the wolf. He’s sombre when listening to Victoria speak of her grief over her dead husband. He displays wonderful wide-eyed wonder at the werewolf when he gets his first view of it. It’s an excellent performance.

In short, “Tooth and Claw” is a rather traditional monster story adapted to the Doctor Who framework. It is very enjoyable, and I wish all of Russell Davies’ efforts were at this level. A good solid episode.

Michael Hickerson

If there's anything the latest Star Wars trilogy taught us, it's that just because you can render and realize an impressive looking digital character on screen, that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea to do so. (Jar Jar, anyone?)

To work well, a digital character have a solid story surrounding it, not just the latest in modern effects. (Gollum from Lord of the Rings, for example).

So while the good Doctor has met a variety of the classic monsters over the years--vampires, zombies, etc--he's never really done battle with a werewolf as the central antagonist of a story. I think a large part of that was the BBC wisely realizing that a werewolf, if not done right, would look even less credible than usual and really away the willing suspension of disbelief that is so vital to Doctor Who stories. (We can accept the sets wobble, but if the monsters are too shoddy, it ruins the illusion).

But with "Tooth and Claw" we get a story that features the Doctor facing a werewolf.

And yet as I come away from the story, I'm less impressed with the effects (though they are quite good) and instead I pull out the old mantra of Doctor Who--"It's the stories that make the show, not the effects."

I think we all thought deep down that Russell T. Davies had a really great script in him. And, so far, this is the closest we've got to a great script from Davies. I'll go out on a limb and say it's his best story since the first two episodes of series one. Certainly, it's the least complicated and the most straightforward. The Doctor and Rose arrive in a place, get caught up in a series of events and have to work to defeat some monster or evil by story's end. "Tooth and Claw" feels like it was a lost script from the Gothic era of Hinchcliffe and Holmes. It's a fun, entertaining little story that doesn't have an agenda beyond entertaining the audience for 45 minutes and being pretty edge-of-your-seat for much of that time.

That said, it's not perfect. I'm still not quite sure what the Monks' overall plan was and why they felt they wanted to infect Queen Victoria with the werewolf mutation. Sure it set up a nice joke at the end and maybe it's part of the overall plan for the season, but that part didn't make a lot of sense upon initial viewing. Also, I have to wonder why the Monks left the house after the werewolf is destroyed. I wonder if something was cut in the final edit and if a deleted scene on the DVDs will address this (not that you should rely on DVDs and deleted scenes to cover up plot holes...but we can hope).

And while the foreshadowing about Torchwood was about as subtle as two by four to the head, I like the way its been set up. To have it established as a reaction to the Doctor's involvement in the affairs of humanity was a nice touch. And the final scene while it was a bit like "Wow, did you know we've got a show coming soon called Torchwood?" wasn't quite as wince-inducing as I feared it could be. I do hope that as the season goes along, it's not some massive preview for Torchwood. I don't mind setting up the spin-off, but I do mind if the spin-off takes over the parent show.

Overall, the cast is quite solid. Tennant continues to impress though I still get this feeling he's waiting to be really unleashed. Of course, it did take until "Dalek" last year for Eccleston to knock one of the park. I get this feeling Tennant is on the cusp of greatness in the role, though each week he gets better and better.

I will also admit that it's kind of a relief to get past "Tooth and Claw." After five solid episodes by Davies, it will be nice to get some different writers in the mix next week. But I will give Davies credit--"Tooth and Claw" is a great script to mark as your last for a while. It's memorable, fun, scary and entertaining. It's a solid, if not perfect Doctor Who story.

Tom Miller

This was an absolute belter of an episode, in which Russell T. Davies has shown that he can be an excellent Doctor Who writer.

We are perhaps in safe territory for Doctor Who, or the BBC in general, when we go into the Victorian era. But even so, it was wonderfully recreated and I was personally pleased to see that the period was accurate and dignified without easy resort to Empire-bashing. Ms Collins was very good as Queen Victoria, just occasionally let down by slightly weak dialogue. I was also impressed with the rest of the supporting cast, and I applaud the number of heroic characters - Captain Reynolds, Sir Robert and Lady Isobel too. It is always nice to see the Doctor save the day, as he does, but it is also good to have some other role models - you don't have to be the cleverest man in the universe to do the right thing. Father Angelo was also suitably chilling as a bad guy: I don't know where the monks learned their moves, but maybe worshipping the wolf has some unknown advantages?

We are only a few episodes into his time as the Doctor, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that David Tennant is brilliant. I love his portrayal. For all that I shall be grateful to Mr. Eccleston for reviving the character, I always felt that he never quite got it right with any degree of consistency. I am so excited by the Tenth Doctor, he has boundless energy and fun, which also makes his serious more pointed and his mystery more mysterious. Good job, keep it up! And loved the Scottish accent. Ms Tyler was average here, although for her that is still Oscar-winning good in my book. The attempted joke on 'we are not amused' was awkward, a little embarrassing, and made her look dumb, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment overall. I also thought she made a good companion, showing strengths that the Doctor does not always have - good interpersonal skills with Flora the maid, for example - and helping others get out of trouble. Her attempt at a Scottish accent was laugh-out-loud funny, and indeed the dialogue was snappy throughout.

The best thing about this episode was that the plot was so well devised. Not only did everything fit together well at the end, but I did not see it coming because the buildup was so subtly done. It is so much more satisfying when pieces carefully laid out tie together, especially when it is the Doctor who works it all out. The scene in the library was memorable for several reasons - the wonderful pan shot to the Doctor and the Wolf either side of the wall, the sound of the wold creeping round the room, the Doctor's comments on books being the greatest arsenal, and then his realisation just before the wolf comes crashing down. Great entertainment, unbeatable.

This was one of my absolute favourite episodes of the new Doctor Who. Even so, some minor criticisms: what were they screaming at in the pre-credits sequence - just a man in a cage? Shouldn't the diamond have been in the machine, rather than on the floor? And please, spare us the terrible overacted monarchy-are-werewolves stuff - could have been funny, but was simply too much as it turned out.

Interesting to see Queen Victoria announcing the creation of Torchwood, although as an end-of-episode teaser it simply couldn't live up to the textbook- enigmatic Face of Boe from last week!

Overall, a great romp!

Geoff Wessel

In short, I hated it.

No, really, this has to be the single worst episode of RTD's run to date.

I mean, let's ignore the fact that this was basically just Spin Off Setup #2. Let's ignore the fact that that whole ending dialogue between the Doctor and Rose was really ripping off: Kim Newman's "Anno Dracula" novels, Clive Barker's comic series "Night of the Living Dead: London", and that one Garth Ennis Hellblazer storyline ("Royal Blood"?) in which a royal is demonically possessed.

No, let's instead focus for a wee moment on how for the most part this episode made Queen Victoria out to be a charming doddering old nanny type, who really really missed dear old Albert (indeed, Alan Moore's From Hell made references to Victoria possibly using psychics to try to contact Albert from beyond), as opposed to the HAG who helped set human sexuality and development back about, oh, 200 years or so? Now far be it for me to dispute the notion that just because Something is True, Something Else Can Also Be True, but I'm watching this, as Vickie spends half the episode acting like the maid from the Disney cartoon version of 101 Dalmatians, and I can't help but think of something I learned in freshman year Honors Family Studies class, in which something like 20% or so of all births ended with death to the baby and mother because of Victoria's attitudes about nakedness, so well jolly joked about in this episode, because doctors WOULDN'T LOOK AT THE WOMAN'S VAGINA AS SHE'S PASSING A BABY OUT OF IT, instead delivering babies with THEIR HEADS TURNED?! Yes, these are the things I think about watching Doctor Who.

[Yeah, OK, Victoria "banishing" the Doctor and Rose was more along the lines of what I envisage Victoria as, but I mean, come on. Really.]

But hey, yes, instead, let's gloss over the completely historically illogical quaint idyllic Scottish KUNG FU FLICK we get at the beginning. Hey, I actually thought that was pretty cool when I saw it in the trailers but as we actually get into the story it MAKES NO FRACKING SENSE. How the Hell you gonna tell me Scottish monks are learning wu-shu in a time when Japan had JUST opened its borders and China was a feuding warlord state from Hell? And the worst thing is, the only time we ever get any HINT of it again was the HMIC disarming Victoria's captain of the guard, and then THEY DISAPPEAR FROM SIGHT! The Hell!

The Doctor is a punk? With a hint of Rockabilly? IN WHICH UNIVERSE, BABE? In THIS one he just walked off the set of Quadrophenia and wears Buddy Holly glasses. Meanwhile, hey, I know, let's rehash all the Ace-"noble-savage" jokes from "Ghost Light" but never actually get Rose INTO the period dress now that we've made a big frakkin' deal over how "naked" she was.

The werewolf is an alien? Get outta here, we've never seen Supernatural Explained As Aliens before, naw! Especially not in the Victorian Era, a time period we've NEVER been to before, especially not accidentally or anything! *koff*UnquietDeadwhichIalsodidn'tmuchcarefor*koff* And in the end, all this leads up to the Super Sekrit Origin of...the big honkin death ray in "The Christmas Invasion." Um, yay.

I was so so looking forward to this one, and I was so so let down. I just don't get it. What the Hell is going on with this season so far?

Oh, and look, Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, and Tony Head next week. Maybe once I scrape the fanwank glaze from my monitor, there'll be a good episode. Maybe.

We were not amused, tho. Oh no, not by half.

James Leach

I thought this episode of Doctor Who was a decidedly mixed affair. It had a fairly silly beginning, a good middle and a groan inducing end.

The beginning sequences - the ninja monks, the ease with which the Doctor and Rose latched onto the Queen and Her Wooden Bodyguards and the Doctor not cottoning to the Shifty Goings On at the Spooky House - were quite dire. As the story picked up its pace, it improved. The actual appearance of the werewolf and the pursuit through the halls of the house were moments replete with film horror and classic gothic imagery. The middle segments also featured the Doctor and Rose being a true partnership and employing the detective work which brings out the best facets f their personality and makes them the heroes of the story. The end returned us to twee again, as the Queen gave the Dcotor and Rose fairly pointless knighthoods and then banished them. Russell T Davies also trew in an overt mention to 'Torchwood' for anyone who did not watch the 'Christmas Invasion' episode or catch the name of the huse in which this week's action took place.

The Doctor and Rose annoyed me at points throughout this episode. Their awe and wonder at exploring space and time has now become a kind of smugness, as they giggled and whispered their way through the episode. Rose's efforts to make Queen Victoria say 'I am not amused' may have been intended to make her funny, but she merely came off as being a bit shallow.

Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria gave an equally mixed performance. Her Queen was witty and had a sense of fun as opposed to the dour widow who mourned her husband. I like the idea that Prince Albert (who was one of the driving forces behind the Great Exhibition) was secretly working towards defending the empire from supernatural forces. However, her scenes at the end were grating. The cheesy and silly 'knighting' of the Doctor and Rose was followed by an equally ludicrous U-turn in which she told the Doctor he was banished from the Empire. The Doctor hardly took this seriously; mainly because he and Rose were in such a giggly mood.

Davies decided to give Queen Victoria the task of shamelessly name-dropping 'Torchwood' into the end. The idea that she founded Torchwood was an inspired one. However, I would have appreciated a bit more subtlety, as opposed to her saying the name Torchwood a multitude of times in the space of about 45 seconds. 'I will call it Torchwood, the Torchwood Institute....the Doctor should beware, for Torchwood will be waiting.' Queen Victoria also brought a dose of scepticism to the Doctor Who adventures - her disapproval of the two travellers' almost cavalier acceptance of the dangers surrounding them was obvious but not overdone and her Queen maintained a quality of being aloof despite the Doctor's knowledge and his overtures of help. However, as I mentioned before, our Mr Davies managed to destroy this undertone of mistrust and make the Queen's concerns over the Doctor a near full blown emnity in their final scene together.

The episode also touched on the theme, once again, that the Doctor's actions have conseqences and that his seemingly innocent travelling in time can bring destruction in its wake. His adventures this week have given form to the same Torchwood that will one day invoke his anger when it destroys the Sycorax. The Doctor's actions cause ripples in time and are not simply self-contained adventures every week.

To sum up, a fairly unoriginal offering which made me cringe for the most part but which also continued several of the series' long-running themes and had the occasional moment of brilliance.

Kenneth Baxter

Tooth and Claw is not a bad Doctor Who story, but it is one that could have and should have been so much better. It does have a lot of good things going for it. There was an excellent monster which looked fairly frightening. The cast as a whole put on a good performance and were convincing in their roles. The setting looked nice and managed to feel fairly authentic from a historical point of view (Alright as a Scot with an interest in history I did have some issues with some parts of the plot, but no more than I have done with any number of period dramas). Together these elements had the potential to make a classic story.

And therein lies the problem: Tooth and Claw is not a classic episode of Doctor Who. A number of minor defects combine to spoil it. Firstly the opening with the monks went for spectacle rather than substance and logic. Why train the monks in martial arts rather than arm them with conventional weapons or brute force? The Kung Fu proved totally irrelevant anyway as the monks abilities were not really eluded to again. Indeed the monks just disappear from the plot after Father Angelo is killed. Equally why on Earth would Victoria knight the Doctor is she was going to banish him and Rose. What happened to them? Why did they not attack after the wolf was defeated? This to me smacks of a script in need of another draft.

Another negative is the ending came across as a laboured and I thought it was an unsubtle way to set the ground running for a future story arc and next year’s spin off. In my opinion, it would have been far better to hint at what was to come, by leaving the name of the house seen, but not spoken and to have omitted Queen Victoria’s final remarks completely. The Bad Wolf arc worked so well because we had no idea those words meant. This episode has completely blown any suspense over what Torchwood is.

A further problem and one which I fear bedevils too many of Russell T. Davis’ scripts is the nature of the humour. There is nothing wrong with a bit of comedy in Doctor Who, but too many of Davis’ stories attempt to get laughs via silliness. The Slitheen were an obvious example of this and here we have a ridiculous conclusion about the Royal Family being werewolves and an increasingly annoying running ‘gag’ about Rose trying to get Victoria to say we are not amused. Oh yes and Rose’s attempt at a Scottish accent…. Other writers like Stephen Moffat have struck a perfect balance between humour and drama, with the lighter side of their stories being far wittier and more intone with the rest of the piece.

I don’t think Russell T. Davis is a bad writer and he deserves credit for turning Doctor Who into the most talked about BBC programme. Moreover, he has some wonderful ideas and can write excellent stores when he puts his mind to it, but I do wonder if he is overstretching himself. I suspect that by writing several episodes on top of executive producing two series he is not giving himself the time to fine tune all his scripts.

Nonetheless, Tooth and Claw was better than most T.V. programmes and my criticism of it is just a sign that I have come to expect great things from 21st Century Doctor Who.