The second episode of the new season of Doctor Who is a definite improvement on New Earth. Written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Euros Lynn, Tooth and Claw is a stylish thriller, with slick action sequences, darkly horrific moments, and numerous touchstones which harken back to the grand old era when the Doctor wore a long scarf, the lights were kept low, and the stories reveled in Gothic storytelling and Victorian-style settings.
Leaving 5 Billion A.D., the Doctor tries to take Rose to a rock concert in 1979; instead, landing them on the Scottish highlands in 1879, just in front of a carriage and security convoy bearing Queen Victoria. And, given that the Doctor has just conducted a trip of almost five billion years, we’ll forgive him for being out by 100 (that’s a difference of, what? 0.000002%? Not bad in terms of geologic time. And given that the Fates always seem to throw miraculous coincidences in the Doctor’s way, we’ll forgive him for miraculously materializing in front of Queen Victoria just when she needs him most.
Which she does. Her party is being drawn into a trap set by a group of Scottish Kung-fu Monks and their werewolf master. They’ve dropped a tree on the railroad line and maneuvered things so that the party has no choice but spend the night in the Torchwood Estate — which they’ve taken over after imprisoning the local inhabitants (using their Kung Fu powers and probably also the element of surprise, since you cannot look upon a Scottish Kung-fu Monk and NOT be surprised).
The Doctor and Rose look upon this as a lark, and Rose bets the Doctor ten pounds that she can make the Queen say “I am not amused”. But then people start dying, and it becomes a fight for survival, to stay out of the clutches of the werewolf, and discover why Torchwood Estate just might be a trap to use against the trappers. Rose nicely takes control and rallies the servants, the Doctor uses hits wits to save the day, the monster is beaten, and everyone lives happily ever after — at least the ones that are not already dead.
There are a lot of good things here. The dialogue sparkles in the hands of Russell T. Davies, the Doctor and Rose. There is a wonderful bit with the Doctor’s psychic paper, which tells Queen Victoria that he’s been appointed by the Lord Provost as her protector. David Tennant caps this off with a wonderful facial expression that says, without saying a word, “was I thinking that? I guess I was. Oops.”
Queen Victoria herself is nicely played by Pauline Collins. I don’t know enough of the historical figure to assess whether the actress’ portrayal is in character, but I liked the hint of hidden steel that the Queen received in this episode, especially the way she dealt with the evil Father Angelo (Ian Hanmore) and then credited the Captain of the Guard with it.
As a werewolf story, Tooth and Claw succeeds, delivering the requisite chills and touchstones towards the werewolf legends, while at the same time providing a sound science-fiction explanation, just as the series did for vampires in the classic series’ State of Decay.
But despite the fact that the story is almost flawless in terms of script and direction, and despite the fact that all of the principles and the guest stars put on excellent performances, there was something about Tooth and Claw which rubbed me the wrong way — so much so that I downgraded my rating from the 9 it could easily have grabbed, to an 8.5 out of ten. Upon seeing the story a few more times, I’ve decided to further downgrade my score to a 7. And the problem, I think, lies with the Doctor and Rose’s characterizations.
I have rarely wanted to smack a Doctor Who companion upside the head as much as I wanted to do to Rose as she continued to make her “I am not amused” joke, even after people had died. The Doctor and Rose’s love of adventure are one thing; the thrill of experiencing werewolves I can understand. But one thing that I never expected the Doctor and Rose to be, is callous. Their blas√© attitude crosses the line on at least a couple of occasions.
This I could accept if I had a sense that this was the start of some plot or character development that would be addressed before Rose left the TARDIS. Queen Victoria’s dressing down of the Doctor and Rose gives some hope in this regard, but it’s almost immediately shrugged off and (my foreknowledge of the season gives me an unfair advantage here) never taken up again.
Then there is the foundation of the Torchwood storyline. This promises some interesting developments in the series to follow, but in some ways it comes across as an overreaction — a sense increased by the Doctor and Rose shrugging off Victoria’s dressing down two scenes earlier.
I’m left with the impression that Russell T. Davies made a startling miscue on the Doctor and Rose’s characters. I hope this is a mistake he doesn’t make again.
Still, Tooth and Claw is a nice step up on New Earth, and the previews of the next episode, School Reunion promise interesting things this Monday at 8. Evil Giles! Sarah Jane Smith! K9!! Definitely something to look forward to.