Tooth and Claw
|Series Two Episode Two
|April 22 2006
With David Tennant, Billie Piper,
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: Legends tell of a wolf that stalks the Scottish Highlands, every full moon...
"HOOOOOOOWLLLLLL!" by Joe Ford 23/4/06
What can I say? Absolutely everything I look for in Doctor Who and more. There were a few minor blemishes here and there but the overall package here is impressive it would get tops marks from on any viewing. Whilst it may not be the best Russell T Davies script yet (his witty lines were lost amongst all the atmosphere) it was great to see him trying something totally different (ie not a soap or a space opera) and pull it off with real style. If horror ain't your bag, bugger off, but I love horror and this was without a doubt one of the finest Doctor Who has ever dished.
It all starts out so brilliantly with that dynamic opening. Aside from The Unquiet Dead has their been a better pre titles sequence yet? The way Simon commented gruffly "It's not like Doctor Who at all?" made me beam with delight; he is not used to being swept of his feet by such fancy camera and stunt work but this is exactly the sort of thing the show can achieve now that it couldn't before. I was dazzled by these balletic yet arse-kicking monks and their raid on the house was truly terrifying. The slick camerawork not only adds a great deal of energy and style but also doesn't really let you look at the damage these guys are causing so the kids can be scared but only with the implied violence of what is going on.
Hop to the TARDIS for some more rock and roll fun (I love how Russell has introduced more music into the world of Doctor Who; it could often be something of a drab show, so it is nice to see the TARDIS spinning through the vortex to some groovy music). David and Billie have a fine rapport already and like the best Doctor/companion teams (Second Doctor and Jaime/Third Doctor and Jo/Fourth Doctor and Sarah/Seventh Doctor and Ace), it is clear they are absolutely in love with each other and their adventures. The running gag throughout the episode is great and a lovely postmodern touch. The Doctor's accent slipping between Scottish and English is another fine choice, it's a shame he should slowly regain his "natural" voice because David's natural accent is too sexy for words. The best Doctor moment in the entire episode: When he sees the werewolf for the first time... it is not the reaction you would expect when a slavering beast is tearing from a cage and trying to kill but it was 100% the Doctor. Rose isn't exactly idle either, proving her worth when she manages to escape her manacles and turn the serving staff into a fighting force.
What I was amazed by was how well this episode adhered to the cliches of horror and yet still managed to seem fresh and interesting. Let's face it, a spooky house, people being chained up with a monster, a full moon, the monster escaping and rampaging through the house... these have been done to death in every film, TV show and book you can think of. Maybe it was the crazy ninja monks or the fact that the werewolf was an alien (his story enhanced beautifully by the TARDISode), maybe it was the inclusion of Queen Victoria or the fact that answers to defeating the creature were scattered around the house and well built into the structure of the episode, but this werewolf story managed to be both scary and a wee bit different to those you have seen before. Certainly it tops the other science fiction shows I have watched: Buffy was a bit postmodern with Phases, an embarrassing costume and far too many gags spoiling what could have been a scary episode; The X-Files offered up Shapes which did have a genuinely chilling transformation sequence but it was tacked on to a ruthlessly boring episode that hardly featured the creature at all.
The direction was right on the nail, astonishingly classy for television and the sort of standard the show needs to maintain if it wants to stay at the top of its game. What impressed me most was how far they were willing to go to scare the audience, there were a few moment in this episode where I was scared, so I dread to think what the kiddies went through! The way the episode builds towards showing us the monster, manoeuvring Rose into its path just in time to see it turn is perhaps the best buildup for any monster since Terror of the Zygons episode one. The creature in the cage was frightening enough with his silky voice and horrid tar-black eyes but once his skin began to stretch and tear... brrr! The actual werewolf was fantastically designed but just cartoony enough to let the kids know they are watching television. Frankly the scariest moment in the entire episode was when the Doctor and Rose are trapped inside a room and the wolf is prowling around outside, purring and growling. Not knowing where he is was much scarier than actually having him right in your face! The biggest cliche comes when one guy says "Aha the danger is over, I'll just investigate over here" before he gets yanked up to the ceiling and savagely torn to pieces. How many times have I seen that before... and why does it keep getting used? Because it works and it's damn funny! And scary!
The inclusion of Queen Victoria makes the episode far more than the monster-fest than it could have been. Pauline Collins turns in a surprising performance with none of the gravity I was expecting, but with much humanity and grace. Colour me impressed. RTD tries to pull of his surprise ending again, almost exactly the same as what he did with The Christmas Invasion, having an authority figure and the Doctor who have been acting friendly suddenly at odds with each other in a most dramatic way. It's not quite as good because we don't know Victoria as well as we knew Harriet Jones, but it still comes out of the blue. It's always nice to have a bit of history in Doctor Who and the regulars' reaction meeting the famous Queen is a delight. There were some lovely touches like Albert's death being utilised as part of the plot, the giant telescope, which made the episode much more thoughtful than the runaround it clearly is.
Any complaints? Well the running time again I suppose. Does this story feel rushed? Not really, because it is basically a bunch of people running around a house and this time RTD has wisely confined one bloody great idea to the episode rather than chucking a thousand at the wall and hoping that some of them stick. But saying that I still feel these 45 minute stories would benefit from being an hour long, just so you can flesh out the characters a bit more, maybe add a touch more detail. These New Series episodes are being praised for being far faster paced and exciting compared to the drab, slow moving old Doctor Who TV series but they can't really help that, having to squeeze in as much plot in half the length! What I'm missing is the exploration of ideas; the new series has imagination in abundance, but we do not have the opportunity to explore these crazy, wonderful ideas in any great depth in case the kids fall asleep so we'll just have another action set piece instead. The only story that had managed to marry the modern day need for crazy action and the old series joy at exploring the bizarre (and adequately delve into the characters) is The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Had Tooth and Claw been as long it would probably feel overstretched but just fifteen minutes more to allow us to find out a bit more about the monks, see the household in operation before the invasion, look a bit deeper into the history of the wolf... it would be just as classy, but all the more rich.
But I refuse to complain, this has been one of my favourite episodes so far and on the strength of its broadcast viewing, easily my most exciting experience with new Who. The production was sparkling, the writing crisp and the show is clearly still firing on all cylinders after the overstuffed New Earth. Compelling viewing for all ages and a real shit-scarer for the kiddies.
A Review by Benjamin Bland 27/4/06
Sorry, Tooth And Claw doesn't work for me. I sat down to watch it on Saturday evening on the back of an incredible high from my team Liverpool beating Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals so maybe I thought that was the reason why I didn't particularly enjoy that evening's Doctor Who.
Well, I recorded the episode as ever and discovered that that wasn't the reason. It simply isn't very good. It's main problem is that it's very dull. David Tennant practically admits it on the commentary for the episode. It just starts and goes on a bit about Ian Dury & The Blockheads then it goes on a bit more and we meet Queen Victoria, some weirdo monks and a werewolf. Not a lot happens and the Doctor and Rose spend most of the time laughing about Queen Victoria and various other things. RTD is just trying too hard to stop the story being too scary here by making the characters laugh and smile. It should be scary. That's the reason The Empty Child & The Unquiet Dead were scary last year: no over-forceful humour involved.
Oh and why in a big-budget series are the characters running up and down the same corridor? This is just too old-series to be true. At least then they made an effort to try and convince you it was a different corridor. Tennant impressed me in New Earth, but it looks like he's gone over at the second hurdle as far as I'm concerned. Things better be better next week. Rating: 2/5.
A Review by Steve Cassidy 4/5/06
At the end of Tooth and Claw my partner and I turned to each other and gaped. Subliminal messages passed between our brains.
"No, that can't be an Russell T Davies story..."
It was sheer disbelief that such a thing could be brought to the screen. Everyone had heard rumours for weeks about how good this episode is and how the production team were going to exchange it with New Earth to make a better season opener. Well, perhaps they should have done. I say that because I have been ordered by the Doctor (Nooo!! not that one!!) to keep a large supply of prozac nearby when I review New Earth. That one really was a shocker. But Tooth and Claw? Tooth and Claw is an absolute pleasure.
Once again it is all down to atmosphere. How can you go wrong with a story set in the Scottish Highlands? A place so spooky and mysterious that it is natural creepy story territory. Add to the fact it isn't just set in the Scottish Highlands but in one of the most famous parts - the environs of Balmoral. So the royal family are added to the mix, and just the suggestion of them fleeing down corridors from a threat gets fans licking their lips. And finally - add a werewolf, one of cinema's most enduring villains. We've already had vampires, the mummy and Frankenstein's monster. Isn't it about time old hairy-eyebrows had a crack at the Who whip?
The selling point is the CGI of the werewolf. Not just money but care and expense has been taken in creating this monster. And it IS a monster, this is a monster tale. WHOOPPEEE!!! I'm in seventh heaven. I'm sorry for those who damn "the monster of the week" ethos much preferring the psychedlic storytelling of Kinda or Ghost Light. But to get punters' bums on seats it's generally the monster tales which do it. Kids will enjoy this so much they will come back next week. And it was also a "Base under Siege" plot - there was a Troughtenesque feel to it. And that isn't just down to the Jamie McCrimmon mention.
Where was I? Oh yes, the SFX. Well done 'The Mill'. Just compare the grizzled snarling werewolf tearing through the corridors of Balmoral with the one created for 'An American Werewolf in Paris'. The CGI on that was so bad that in places you could see straight through it. In fact I would go as far as to say it was even better then the werewolf in the Harry Potter film. It was of course destroyed via a deux ex machina. What is this? Steve Cassidy going to rip into Mr Davies for yet another lazy McGuffin to save the day? Nah, not this time. Much to my surprise Mr Davies' script had cause and effect. The importance of the "moon laser" was set up early in the story. Its importance cleverly linked with Prince Albert and even incorporated into a trap within a trap. That's why this story works: because time and care is taken over the story. It's a shame it isn't longer. Its status as a classic would be assured if it was a two parter like The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.
Instead occasionally it does feel a bit rushed. The tearing around adds to the freneticism of the story and the memory of Queen Victoria running down corridors with skirts hitched chased by a werewolf will stay with kids a very long time. Pauline Collins got newspaper inches as Queen Victoria. Unfortunately, my family were Queen Vic junkies. My grandmother died in 1977 and she swore to the very end that the current queen was not a patch on the one she knew as a girl. So I know my stuff about Queen Victoria and the only media I have seen get her right was the film "Mrs Brown". This is Victoria done by Disney. Starched and severe but beatific and kind. She is not the terrifying old harridan of yore. Pauline Collins does a reasonable job but the leads would not have taken liberties with the real Victoria the way they do with this one. But it is only a kids' story and it's meant to entertain, not lecture.
Are there any faults apart from the length?
Well, yes - the leads are a pair of arses in this one.
I'm ambivalent to Tennant. I have no strong feelings either way. He actually works really well when you put him on his own away from Rose. The dinner table speech where "the legend of the werewolf" is explained is a case in point. It could be a cliched scene but Tennant plays it very nicely. And the joke about Jamie McCrimmon is nicely done and a clever tip to the fans. However, the "we are not amused" in-joke was a clunker of the first order. Never have I been so embarassed as this is flogged to death in scene after scene. Instead of coming across as funny and likeable, Rose Tyler comes across as supercillious and smug. The two leads seemed to be sniggering and giggling all the way through the adventure. It's nice to see onscreen chemistry but when they are hugging and grinning just seconds after someone has been ferociously mauled to death by the werewolf it comes across as a bit callous.
Queen Victoria actually picks up on this. She turned on the Doctor and Rose at the end and verbally smacked them down. She realised they didn't belong in her world and doesn't want them in it; she actually had the power to expel them from the empire. Many people have suggested that along with Rose's flippancy in front of Queen Victoria and the Doctor's "there are no greater gods then I" in New Earth that the pair are getting above themselves. And also that RTD is setting them up for a fall. Of course, it may be that it is the way that RTD writes and has been writing for the characters from the beginning and the "fall" will be supremely convenient.
So there we have it. It's very good because it is a simply traditional story. No emotional strangleholds, no domestics, no deux ex machinas - just a rollocking tale of how to escape from a ravenous beast that wants to eat you.
Queen Victoria, werewolves and the Scottish Highlands. Just how can you go wrong with that?
A Review by Finn Clark 21/8/06
Tooth and Claw isn't exactly intellectual. It's not trying to have the thematic depth of New Earth, instead being Hairy Werewolf Fun in 1879. To be honest I thought it was fairly shallow and didn't quite work with all its "I'll sacrifice myself to buy you, uh, no time at allAAAARGH" moments, but on the other hand it had kung-fu monks. You can't go wrong with kung-fu monks.
Some stories are rich unfolding tapestries, but this one is deliberately simple-minded. It's a wafer-thin excuse for parading the absolute maximum in gore and violence that they could get away with in the timeslot, which I think is an admirable ambition that we can all respect. No single episode can do everything, so I approve of devoting an entire week to blood and guts. Nowt wrong with that. We all like a nice monster and this one's downright adorable. It's hairy, it's ugly and it chews people up with crunchy sound effects. I'm particularly impressed by the fact that it's a good-looking werewolf, in defiance of the universal law that werewolves look crap. Seriously. Be it TV or cinema, it's inescapable. Real wolves just look cute, e.g. Angela Lansbury's Company of Wolves. Big-screen creations range from "looks okay in certain shots" (American Werewolf in London) to "it's the Taran Beast!" (Howling III: The Marsupials). Focusing on telefantasy gives us the likes of Buffy's Oz the Attack Hamster, so all things considered the omens weren't good. Nevertheless Tooth and Claw's werewolf looks great. Do not underestimate this achievement.
However it's not just a werewolf. Classic werewolves are best known for being mindless ravening beasts, but this one's downright chatty. It has a plan. It's not from around here. On the one hand this is slightly disappointing since a few rewritten lines and a good hard squint could almost have turned this technically into a historical, but I think it made a difference that the werewolf had a plan. These one-parters often have shallow villains, superficially impressive and/or portrayed by a famous actor but at the end of the day confined to a B-plot and playing second fiddle to the Emotional Journey Of The Week. Look at the Krillitanes in School Reunion. They have everything you could want for a top-class monster except the ability to hold up the Doctor for more than about ten minutes of actual screen time. Since Tooth and Claw was above all a monster episode, it was vital that its star attraction be as imposing as possible in every way.
For me the episode's biggest problem is the way in which its male characters keep getting themselves predictably killed off. I won't grumble too much about the fellow who dies through sheer stupidity. You can understand his viewpoint, though even babies in their cradles were rolling their eyes at that point and saying "sooo dead". However I'm less wild about those two other chaps sacrificing themselves to buy everyone else time, since: (a) it's a cliche, (b) doing it twice is a cliche squared, and (c) the amount of time gained in each case looked to be pretty insignificant. There's something slightly off about those moments, perhaps more because of the direction than the script. The second one is superior because of greater characterisation, but even so I don't think the death-defying last stand heroics quite worked. Nearly, but not quite. Here's a secret... directors normally have to be great or terrible for me to really notice them, but I remember having a slight grumble about Euros Lyn's direction of The Unquiet Dead last year. Hmmm. However at least this story looks prettier.
The episode gets one big thing right, though. I've seen fans grumble that there's insufficient foreshadowing of how the Doctor beats the monster, but these people are talking out of their arses. On rewatching the solution's set-up is screamingly obvious, yet on first viewing I didn't see it coming. That's crucial. In cases like this I prefer erring on the side of saying too little. You'll have to endure a few writery spods whining as if stories were puzzle boxes, but on the other hand at least you won't hear complaints that the ending was obvious twenty minutes beforehand. Tooth and Claw got it right. Our attention is drawn to the solution's significance, but if they'd given us more clues we'd have guessed. In fairness the writery spods sometimes have a point - New Earth for instance trying to pack too much into too few lines - but even had these criticisms been true about Tooth and Claw I'd have still been preferred a mildly esoteric sin to "Obvious A Mile Off" syndrome.
Of course there's a more conventional guest star: Queen Victoria. Pauline Collins does fine, overcoming the fact that we know all British queens throughout history were really Judi Dench. She doesn't get a big emotional arc, but she gets to be tough and perceptive. Another character I liked was the master of the house who loves his wife and hates the fact that he's being forced to betray his monarch. The cast doesn't have a weak link, in fact. Everyone's solid.
The final Torchwood speech would have worked better if we hadn't known all about the impending Torchwood spin-off series, but Russell T. Davies couldn't assume that the whole audience was like us. Not everyone reads Outpost Gallifrey. Torchwood needed setting up like anything else. Furthermore, as always the new series is still giving us a light touch and a sparkle alongside the meatier stuff. Rose trying to sound Scottish is a hoot, but still better is the Doctor's final hypothesising. It's delicious. What's more, the best bit is that in the Whoniverse, we don't know if it's mere whimsy or a real possibility to be followed up later.
This story isn't as rich and textured as New Earth, but that's an unfair criticism. It's an excuse for peddling lots of cool violence to a Saturday teatime audience, so from that point of view the kung-fu monks are almost as important as the werewolf. As an action movie it doesn't completely avoid mis-steps, but basically it does what it's designed to do.
"It's good to be a lunatic. Hit me, hit me..."
A Review by Ron Mallett 9/9/06
It is quite clear that Davies and co. are trying for an original series 13 or 14 feel to this series. This misses the point entirely; if you are attempting to be creative you would be trying to attempt what Hinchcliffe and Holmes might have attempted in the mid-seventies if they had access to the money and technology they do now, not simply trying to pump out scripts that are a poor imitation of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
The immensely childish and distinctly "unWhoish" element continues. This story we were treated to a sort of Austin Powers moment where the cult members fought in a slow-motion, martial-arts style. From that moment on anyone over the age of 12 and possessing a triple digit IQ would have found it very difficult to take the whole thing seriously.
There are also some major, major plot flaws with this story. For instance the Queen is clearly post-menopausal... so how is she meant to have passed the lupine gene on? Is Russell T. Davies suggesting that she ran around on all fours and bit her closest relatives without anyone actually noticing? If the whole situation was a trap, then would anyone sane inflict it on their loved ones without giving them some kind of warning and leaving the outcome entirely up to chance unless there was intervention from a well-meaning time traveller? Once again the story seemed to be more of a way to link some mental images and situations together that Davies thought would look cool. Shallow is the way I would describe it.
Still technically the show continues to be impressive. The wolf creature was convincing and the sets were excellent. The performances were sound. It's just a pity it wasn't Doctor Who. As for the Torchwood reference: send me to the land of snores! I suppose UNIT never existed now or some such thing. It must be nice to be able to play God with a formerly impressive modern popular mythology.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. by Donna Bratley 4/11/06
Such was my immediate reaction to "Queen Victoria, a werewolf, and kung-fu monks" and such my reaction remains on repeat viewing. It starts off fast, and gets faster. Blink and you'll miss a clue, or a wisecrack, or a steward being snatched up into the rafters. Many people find the 45 minute single story format rushed, but not me. I don't need to know where the monster came from, or how its connection with the Brethren came about. It's there. It's an alien. OK, got that, move on.
I never knew Russell T Davies had a script like that in him. Unlike New Earth, Tooth and Claw doesn't rely upon the vibrant performances of his leads alone: the problem the Doctor and Rose face has an ingenious solution that can be tracked through the episode, aided by a cast of supporting characters a viewer can appreciate and empathise with.
A lot of people have problems with Rose's incessant, increasingly desperate, attempts to get a (possibly apocryphal) catchphrase out of the queen; not me. We know she's not the most academic of companions. It's entirely possible all she actually knows about that formidable woman is that she was reputedly "not amused". It makes her look daft, but real.
And of course, Victoria knows what she's doing. The looks she casts at each unsubtle prod are perfection. Rose might be the only person in the room not to realise how daft she sounds (Sir Robert's embarrassed, and even the Doctor shakes his head, ever so slightly) but the Queen is unmoved.
Even better is her reaction to the eager flattery of Captain Reynolds at the dinner table. Getting Pauline Collins for the role, give that casting director a medal. Regal, yet never untouchable, this is a portrait of the woman behind the sovereign, still grieving for her dead husband, completely confident in her position: shrewd, competent, with a sly wit the portraits don't display.
In fact, the whole supporting cast deliver, fleshing out an assortment of humans, mostly doomed, whose demises we can feel for. None of your Star Trek "stranger along on a mission to be zapped" for Doctor Who, and it's one of the format's strengths. Derek Riddell especially makes Sir Robert, trapped in an agonising dilemma and trying to do his honest best, a thoroughly sympathetic figure.
Torchwood House. What a gorgeous, dark, Victorian mansion it is! The perfect place to conceal a werewolf in the cellar. The BBC traditionally does historical well, which, being a history buff, I appreciate. The weather on the day of filming the exterior shots didn't harm the atmosphere, either, though that lashing rain can't have been much fun to work in. Couldn't you just hear, as Sir Robert told his "tale of nightmares" the rain battering the windows and the wind whistling? It's all so claustrophobic. Base under siege plus history, plus spectacular monster. I grin just thinking of it.
What a monster, too. The CGI creations have veered between magnificent and oh-dear since Doctor Who returned, but the muscular wolf is a triumph. The transformation is gloriously horrific, and the view of snapping jaws and screaming victims is more disturbing than any vision of dismembered limbs in its wake could be. I especially liked the werewolf POV, but I'm a sucker for seeing through a monster's eyes.
Just one complaint about the look:
Couldn't they have found something a bit less obviously plastic to represent the greatest diamond in the world? Apparently the Koh-i-noor came from a hardware store. It shows.
However, Doctor Who for me stands or falls on the Doctor and his companion, and in David Tennant and Billie Piper the show has its own crown jewels. Rose's role overshadowed the Doctor's last year, a trend which, happily, has now been reversed. She still gets to shine, questioning the caged Host, or turning on the Doctor with an indignant "Where the Hell have you been?" when she's been careless enough to get herself caught, but, like all the best companions, she's the Doctor's foil, not his equal.
The best script RTD has produced draws the most Doctorly performance of new Who, too, from Tennant. From his immediate curiosity at the mention of the wolf, through excitement at the discovery of its real identity, to (best of all) that look of sheer, honest delight at confronting the creature, he's absolutely the Doctor. "Books! Best weapons in the world!" Was the ethos of the character ever summed up more succinctly?
In terms of sheer acting ability, he's up there with the best ever to have taken the role: Patrick Troughton springs to mind. Rewatching Tooth and Claw, I noticed how his expression changes through Victoria's beautiful "dead stay silent" speech, picking up as it does on the isolation of the Doctor since the Time War's end. He doesn't move; he doesn't speak. But you can read exactly what the Doctor is feeling in Tennant's face. That's acting.
Both leads get to have some fun with accents: great to hear the Scottish Doctor, even if it was only for half the episode, and even better to hear Rose's hilarious attempt to match him. And while some of the media have harped about Tennant's cheerful mockney accent, it's Billie's whole-hearted "everyfink" and "fing is" that jars to me. Still, it's a minor complaint in the midst of my admiration for an effortless, good-humoured portrayal.
At the end of a breakneck episode, far more positives than negatives, though Russell can't help but almost spoil it with his pointless "the Royal Family are werewolves?" gag. It didn't look, from the position it was in at the moment of its demise, that the wolf could possibly have bitten Victoria.
Two final puzzles: What happened to the monkey-boys? And did Rose really win her bet? She got an "I am" not a "we are". Don't pay up, Doctor!
A Review by Terrence Keenan 8/3/07
Honestly, if this one doesn't hit all the right fanboy buttons, then I don't know what will.
Kung-Fu monks with Scottish accents, a big snarly werewolf, Queen Victoria and the old dark house. Add the Doctor and simmer.
It's Rusty's best script, and the first tale in two seasons that really uses the 45 minute length to perfection. The structure and pace are perfect. There are no extraneous "domestic" scenes, and only one lame running joke (the "We are not amused" thing). Everything ties together by the end. Even the obligatory Torchwood reference works as part and parcel of the story, not just rammed in for fanboy debate.
David Tennant shows that, when in serious mode, he is quite brilliant, but even in the lighter moments, he comes across well, unlike in, say, New Earth.
Poor Billie Piper. She does her best with this New Rose, a smug, obnoxious chav with none of the well-rounded bits from season one. Tolerable, for the most part, unfortunately, she gets saddled with the lame running joke, which does not help the situation.
Pauline Collins is brill as Queen Victoria. She is presented as an actual person, with depth, not just as some Royal cliche. The rest of the cast are as strong Collins, with no bad performances to muck things up.
Overall, Tooth and Claw is quite good, a New Who take on the Old Who standards. Moreover, it's a strong tale, well told, with only one lame running joke to complain about.
I'd recommend a brisk jog. It's good for your health! by Evan Weston 10/2/14
I said in my New Earth review that the episode was "frustrating in general". Tooth and Claw takes that description and raises it to new heights of banging-my-head-against-the-wall. There is a terrific story here that is mostly told the way it should be, but it's marred by so many outside factors that the episode itself ends up being fairly average overall. And it shouldn't be.
I mentioned the story. This is probably Russell T. Davies' tightest and best-structured story since The End of the World. All the elements fall right into place and are introduced early enough to give the viewer a chance without spoiling anything. Basically, the Doctor and Rose end up in a scary Victorian mansion (with the actual Victoria), which we know is being held hostage by a group of insane monks, and most of the crucial plot pieces - the telescope, the diamond, the wolf - are introduced right there in plain sight. It's really a wonderful working of plot structure by Davies, and it shows he has the capacity to build a story as well as anyone. The only exception is the mistletoe, but even that is given significant foreshadowing when the wolf spares the lady and her servants.
The story is also, if we're being honest, really cool. The setting is really intriguing, the villains are bald and fight with staffs, and, come on, there's a werewolf in Doctor Who! The wolf looks great thanks to improving CGI - with bigger budgets come better effects, I suppose - and is used marvelously, weaving in and out of the plot and reappearing at just the right moments. Though, a minor quibble; if his plan was successful and he clawed Queen Victoria, as is heavily implied, then wouldn't the world have plunged into the "Empire of the Wolf" anyway? Well, no matter. Maybe it did; we'll never know.
However, this is where I have to stop praising Tooth and Claw. Ordinarily, I'd be able to explain how the story is supplemented by great lead performances or an inspiring guest star or terrific production design, but there's none of that here. The End of the World was helped out by a fantastic lead acting job from Billie Piper, a much-improved and so-far-not-often-matched score from Murray Gold and the brilliant look and feel of Platform One, and those elements took Davies' script to the heights it deserved to achieve. Here, nothing surrounding the story does anything to strengthen the plot, and there's one element that's worse than all the others.
I'm speaking, unfortunately, about Billie Piper's Rose, and how god damn annoying she is in this episode. This becomes a bit of a problem on and off throughout Series 2, but I was stunned upon re-watching how obnoxious and smug Rose is in Tooth and Claw. She keeps trying to get the queen to say "I am not amused," which wasn't funny the first time and sure as hell isn't the fourth time, either. She laughs her way through what should be a dark, suspenseful tale, and she even acts as a plot cipher at points. Part of this is Davies not having a place for her character in an otherwise excellent script (note that Rose's best moment is when she gets to do something, calming down the servant girl Flora in her bedroom), but Piper certainly doesn't help matters with a ham-fisted, craptacular performance that qualifies easily as her worst work so far. Billie Piper is a better actress than what she shows here, and it's a shame that I have to knock her just one episode after her awesome turn in New Earth.
Also coming up a bit short - though not by nearly as much - is David Tennant, who gets to use his native Scottish accent for half the episode and looks a bit too happy to be doing so. I don't have that much to say about Tennant, since he is still clearly breaking in the role of the Tenth Doctor and he gets much better starting in the next episode, but he's mostly giggling and babbling his way through this one, and though it's charming to a certain degree, it becomes exhausting after a while. The guest performances are average, but nothing special. I've seen tremendous praise for Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria, but I don't understand it. The script builds the character towards a kind of emotional breakdown the whole way, but you wouldn't know it from Collins' performance. Her steely-eyed act gets old quickly. Derek Riddell acquits himself slightly better as Sir Robert, but he doesn't get all that much to do. Likewise, a game Ian Hanmore is completely wasted as the villain Father Angelo, and what could have been a very interesting bad guy is shot dead halfway through the story. While this is done to let that wonderful wolf shine through, the effect is somewhat canceled out by Angelo's loss.
We also have to talk about Euros Lyn's direction. Lyn has done some wonderful work so far in new Who, and he also directed The End of the World with excellent restraint. Tooth and Claw is the most stylized episode of Who yet, maybe ever, and this is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it pays off greatly for Lyn: drenching the episode in a grayish-purple color is an excellent choice and does a great job in creating mood (credit first-time cinematographer Rory Taylor on that one as well), and his pre-titles sequence is a terrific montage of insanely fast cuts and disorienting camera that illustrates the speed and power of the monks through cinematography. However, a lot of the direction feels forced, and Lyn isn't able to maintain his style through the end of the episode, choosing to revert to his restrained approach in the final 15 minutes. This isn't a net negative, but it doesn't help the episode as much as it should.
And that's the thing about Tooth and Claw: there's no help for this legitimately awesome story. The only reason I've been so negative over the course of this review is because there is so much wasted opportunity here, much more than in Series 1's biggest whiffs, The Unquiet Dead and Boom Town. Tooth and Claw is going to get a decent grade simply on the merits of its story, but this episode is proof that, while a great plot can be the center of an episode, the other elements have to come together as well to achieve true greatness.