Monday, 10 March 2014
Tooth and Claw written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn
This story in a nutshell: A werewolf…and Queen Victoria!
Chavvy Chick: Rose’s attempts to get Queen Victoria to say ‘we are not amused’ borders on the irritating but only because she is being facetious during a crisis when people are dying. It is not exactly the reaction a decent human being would have, it isn't gallows humour, it's just smugness. ‘People are being savaged by a werewolf? Who cares! I've got a tenner riding on this!’ Her big fat grin as she patronisingly tells the Queen it isn’t amusing at every opportunity does get wearying pretty quickly. Where we see Rose at her best is where she confronts the Host and breaks down the class barriers by forcing the Mistress of the house to aid in their escape. There is a lovely touch of continuity when the Host says there is something of the wolf about Rose and that she once burnt like the sun. Is that Rose’s first ever scream when she comes face to face with the wolf? No, I think that might have been in the face of the Reapers in Father's Day. Oh no, she also let rip a belter when she fell from the barrage balloon in The Empty Child. I always feel that screaming in Doctor Who is fully justified because that is precisely how I would react in exactly the same situation. In the end of day I can handle just how overly confident Rose is in this episode because the whole piece is so pacy and cut together so stylishly that I was distracted at every turn. That wouldn't always be the case this season.
Queenie: I always get a little thrill when a guest star pops up who has played another role in the series and Pauline Collins is a fine example in both cases. She is one of my favourite aspects of the otherwise overlong Faceless Ones six parter in season four and she dominates proceedings here without ever losing a hint of her femininity as Queen Victoria. I love the fact that within this action tale both Davies and Collins allow the Queen some moments of great pathos and depth – the scene around the dinner table where she talks about the loss of her husband and the comfort of a good ghost story is a great example. She goes from playing a historical celebrity in Doctor Who to an actual character with a backstory and feelings in those moments. Queen Victoria pulling a gun from her purse and shooting her nemesis might sound a little over the top but Collins plays this as an entirely natural reaction to so many attempts on her life and I literally punched the air with delight. What else would you do in that circumstance if you were protector of the Realm and your life is in danger? Her violently angry tirade at Rose and the Doctor for making light of these murderous events is extremely welcome. It was long past time somebody reminded this pair of jokers of the cost of their adventuring and I’m glad it was somebody with the integrity of the Queen. Victoria both rewards and punishes the Doctor and Rose for their role in these events which is just about the only sane reaction one could have to this crazy pair. Is Queen Victoria a werewolf? A quirky finishing touch. It is a terrific guest turn, a part that could easily have been overlooked in the midst of all the werewolf action but Collins' commands the attention with her dignified performance.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The dead stay silent…and we must wait.’
‘And then it begins – The Empire of the Wolf.’
‘Pardon me Your Majesty but you’ll have to leg it out of a window!’
‘Starships and missiles fuelled by missile and driven by steam. Leaving history devastated in its wake.’
The Good: From the offset this episode looks as though it has had several million dollars spent on it with the glorious opening shot of the monks strolling through the Scottish hillside. I have read reviews by stuffy old Doctor Who fans who think that sequences like the snappily edited and beautifully choreographed fight scene featuring Monks in vivid red displaying their martial arts skills do not belong in Doctor Who – I reckon they should go and puff on their pipes, stick their slippers on and go and watch The Space Museum. It looks fabulous, it gets the story off to a visually stunning and dramatically impressive start and it was enough for certain children of my mates to turn round and finally admit that Doctor Who is ‘bloody cool.’ And there is nothing wrong with that every now and again. A massive thumbs up for Murray Gold’s faux Karate Kid score too – much of his music for this story is the most memorable of season two and has had its pride of place on my MP3 player ever since the soundtrack came out. When it is warmly lit like it is in Tooth and Claw the tenth Doctor console room is easily my favourite of the new series, it's not trying to be too quirky like Matt Smith’s 80s lounge and it feels both welcoming and exotic at the same time. The setting of this story is beautifully captured by director Euros Lyn. From the rustic exterior of the house to the Gothic trappings inside, it is the perfect setting for this tale of wolves and wonder. In particular the telescope standing proud in the rooftop conservatory sticks in the memory. Davies has really cottoned on to the fright factor and he fills this story with some wonderfully atmospheric moments – I especially love the scene where the Host in the cage puts his fingers to his lips and shhs the ladies who are trapped in the cellar with him. The writer is answering all of the criticisms that have been levelled at him - he's too whimsical, too camp and too domestic - and has instead delivered a script that is tight, atmospheric and offers the director terrifying opportunities. The telescope is like technology pornography – the bigger it gets the more of reaction it provokes and this is a design of real beauty. Never mind the black contacts or the pale make up; it is Tom Smith’s liltingly frightening performances as the Host that really gives me the willies. For a show that attracts a huge number of children the transformation sequence is absolutely chilling and extremely graphic for the time slot and was sure to get some kids hiding under the covers. It isn’t rushed either which I admired the production team for, it is a proper werewolf transformation worthy of a blockbuster. I've seen some dreadful werewolf costumes on every cult TV show from Buffy to The X-Files and it is rather wonderful to see Doctor Who take the most sensible and ultimately most realistic approach to realising the creature, a CGI creation that moves like lightning and truly convinces. For once Murray Gold knows when his music isn't needed and there are a number of highly tense moments in silence when all you can hear is the wolf padding closer and breathing heavily. The celebrated shot of the Doctor and the wolf on either side of the door listening to each other justifies the premise of this episode on its own. Davies isn’t afraid to dispose of his likable characters, which makes this a far more effective drama than it might be because there is a feeling that anybody could be next. Lyn cleverly shows the werewolf attacks from the wolf's POV and they prove to be surprisingly savage. The script is written so neatly that the house initially appears to be a trap for the Doctor and our heroes but ultimately proves to be a trap set up long in advance for the wolf. Poisonous walls and a ready made weapon in the conservatory, like a good Christie these elements are seeded early so the conclusion is very satisfying. A trap within a trap…I love it when moments like that are revealed. The climax of lights and fury channelled through through the telescope is memorable and I love how Davies manages to add a little moment of pathos with the Host asking to be killed now he has been caught like a fly trapped in amber. In tantalising scene of myth building Queen Victoria plucks the idea of the Torchwood Institute to deal with extraterrestrial encounters. At this point it is impossible to know how far this idea would extend...
The Shallow Bit: I find the Scottish accent really bewitching and so I was quite sold on the setting quite early on. Sir Robert is modestly handsome too. Dying so your wife would remember you with honour – that might be one of RTD’s best ever character moments.
Result: When Queen Victoria said she had a taste for supernatural fiction I couldn’t help but nod in agreement and I can still remember the night this was aired and I sat enraptured by a visually stunning and exciting werewolf tale. Russell T. Davies and Euros Lyn work up to the scares, build a tangibly rising atmosphere of terror and seed the show with terrific character vignettes to make Tooth and Claw one of the shining gems of season two. The script in particular seems to be a response to Davies' critics who complain that he writes nothing but kitchen sink drama and fluff and instead he knocks out his tightest piece of writing yet, turning the setting into a conundrum to be puzzled out and utilized to defeat the wolf. As a visual piece it is still one of the most successful episodes of the new series, every shot beautifully considered and edited together with dynamic fluidity. The performances are all top notch with David Tennant really making his mark as the manic, wild eyed Doctor and Pauline Collins producing a sympathetic and resourceful Queen Victoria. Once you strip away all the gloss there is an intelligently rendered tale to be unearthed, one that is happy to put the willies up you. This is a Hinchcliffe horror for the next generation; it's fast, it's sexy, it's scary and it's brilliant entertainment – no wonder a whole new generation fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who: 9/10