Doctor Who #727: Tooth and Claw

"I carved out his soul and sat in his heart."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.22 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Queen Victoria, a werewolf, and the Torchwood Institute is founded.

REVIEW: Traditional Doctor Who in many ways - a base under siege story with running around corridors, POV chasing, and a climax incredibly similar to Horror of Fang Rock's - eye-poppingly innovative in others - the saturated look at the hi-def wuxia action of the teaser - Tooth and Claw is almost as random as New Earth. The conflation of European and Shaolin monks, worshiping an alien werewolf and trying to infect Queen Victoria, well... It's a bit of everything and no theme really holds all of them. As with New Earth, the episode is much more concerned with connecting its events to a greater arc. There's a Bad Wolf connection leading back to the past (see Theories), and of course, these events cause Queen Vic to create the Torchwood Institute, which will protect the Empire from aliens, the Doctor included (again, see Theories). This sets up the finale, and ultimately, Doctor Who's first successful spin-off.

Tooth and Claw is a better episode than New Earth, mind you. It lays the solutions into the script neatly, and gives us a staccato scene of the Doctor furiously putting the pieces of the puzzle in his head, a mirror of the Shaolin action that is so astonishing in the teaser, and then completely disappears (booo!). The Doctor's adoption of Tennant's own Scottish accent is amusing, especially how he asks Rose not to try (which becomes a recurring joke), but it's having him call himself Jamie McCrimmon that's most appreciated. And I cheered when Pauline Collins is revealed as Queen Victoria, not just because she's a fine actress (the scene where she talks about missing her husband is stellar), but because she once shared the screen WITH Jamie McCrimmon, as almost-companion Samantha Briggs in The Faceless Ones. Billie Piper's also got a friend from other work, Derek Riddell who was Don John to her Hero in Shakespeare Retold's Much Ado About Nothing. He looks much taller, squarer and heroic as Sir Robert, a man the Doctor lets sacrifice himself with a chillingly serious "good man". And of course, the CG werewolf looks very good, with some some image-making throughout. Tom Smith gives a creepy performance as the beast's host as well.

So on the surface of it, a good horror-ish episode / celebrity historical. But there's one sore point I have a hard time getting over, and it doesn't get better the more I watch the episode. That sore point is Rose. She used to be the audience identification figure, but now she's acting like it's all a lark, like time and space are her own personal playground, and historical figures are there to do their greatest hits for her. She doesn't take things seriously, and worse, is disrespectful. I've come to understand RTD's trick of presenting a character's reactions and evolution without comment or judgment, and can completely accept this portrayal of the companion who's seen enough that she thinks of herself as a mini-Doctor, using the same humor and untouchable insouciance, and yet, lacking the gravitas a good Doctor can turn on in a split second. It makes emotional sense for this character. It unfortunately doesn't make me like her any better. Rose is ANNOYING here, and - spoiler - it takes a while for her to redeem herself this season, as if the writers very much do not know what to do with the character now that her big arc (Series 1) has played out. Other irritants include the dawning realization in the library scene that it's all become a bit too Buffy, and the horrendous joke about fit, bald men. I find Davies at his worse when he gleefully thinks he's being so naughty.

THEORIES: Rose became the Bad Wolf and now they meet a werewolf? Coincidence? Or more at work? Think about it. The TARDIS was going to 1979, but missed the mark by a century. The werewolf's host can detect something of the wolf in Rose, even though even her vortex-powered self wasn't actually lupine. More to the point, he says "You've seen it [the Empire of the Wolf] too". What does that mean? This Empire is an alternate reality the werewolf is trying to create by infecting and controlling the Royal bloodline, and which the Doctor describes as an accelerated Victorian age and a steampunk nightmare. Sound familiar? Could it be trying to make "Pete's World", the parallel universe the TARDIS lands in in some three episodes' time? Does the Bad Wolf create this reality through some quantum effect, a reality in which Rose's dad is still alive, notably, and make it possible for the TARDIS to get there even though it should no longer be possible? Well? Both universes have a Torchwood, which is created by these events and which, again I'm going to use the word coincidentally, becomes a safe harbor for one Captain Jack, which the Bad Wolf resurrected. AND there's the Torchwood that exploits a gateway between this world and the other, which allows Rose to reunite her family on the other side. All these things are connected in a way that 1) seems to go beyond coincidence and 2) could all have been engineered by a god-like being with omniscience and control over history.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The TARDISode prolongue shows the alien crashing to Earth, and 300 years later, a werewolf attacks an old man walking on the moors.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The look and effects, and Collins' performance, are what make this episode worth watching, though the more innovative elements are rather wasted in favor of a less-than-original Doctor Who runaround.


Pedro Cabezuelo said...

Thank you for putting in words what's been nagging me for years - yes, Rose IS annoying in season 2! This is something that becomes even more apparent the more I watch season one and contrast with season 2. While I loved her in 1 and her relationship with 9, for most of season 2 I just want to smack her. She's annoying and really unlikeable, especially as we'll see when dealing with Sarah Jane and Mickey. And her relationship with 10 lacks any of the veracity and tension she had with 9. Combined with the Doctor's new attitude of changing things to suit his needs they really do become the most selfish team to ever travel in the TARDIS. Rose always had a streak of selfishness to her but we overlooked it because her other traits were admirable. In season 2 her selfishness really comes to the fore and just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Siskoid said...

Yeah. I don't think I have any use for her until The Impossible Planet. And neither do the writers!

Anonymous said...

If they wanted to make Rose less than worshipful of Queen Victoria, fair enough; it's an easy enough thing to back up. Rose wouldn't have to be a bookworm to know that women couldn't vote in Queen Victoria's day, and that Victoria didn't think women SHOULD be able to vote or do half the things men were allowed to do.

Or, I don't imagine the show would ever go there, but the British Empire was the biggest exporter of human misery since the Mongols, usually through simple indifference to the situation of the locals. One need go no further than Ireland and their Potato Famine to see how callously Queen Victoria treated her subjects in time of need.

One needn't go all Britta Perry to be underwhelmed with Queen Victoria, but it could have been a thing in some limited fashion. Going all wacky is twice wrong, once for doing something dumb, and once for not doing something smart.


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