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).
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.