Tooth and Claw ★★★★

Can David Tennant's Doctor save Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins) from a werewolf? With books as weapons? Russell T Davies shows once again he's a master television writer

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Story 169

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Series 2 – Episode 2

“There’s a lot of unfinished business in this house. His father’s research, your husband, Ma’am… All these separate things, they’re not separate at all, they’re connected!” – the Doctor

Storyline
In 1879 Scotland, the Doctor and Rose join a royal party as it travels by coach to Balmoral and stops at Torchwood House. But the estate has been captured by a group of monks who plan to allow a man infected with lupine wavelength haemovariform to bite Queen Victoria and thereby usher in an Empire of the Wolf. The “werewolf” breaks free of his cage, but the Doctor uses the observatory – plus the Koh-i-Noor diamond – to neutralise the threat. The queen orders the creation of the Torchwood Institute to repel supernatural/alien attacks.

First UK transmission
Saturday 22 April 2006

Production
September–October 2005. Main locations: Penllyn Castle, Cowbridge; Gelligaer Common, Mythyr; Craig-y-Nos, Pen y Cae; Headlands School, Penarth; Llansannor Court, Vale of Glamorgan; Treowen Manor, Monmouth; Tredegar House, Newport; Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan. Studios: Unit Q2, Newport; HTV Studios.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Queen Victoria – Pauline Collins
Father Angelo – Ian Hanmore
Lady Isobel MacLeish – Michelle Duncan
Sir Robert MacLeish – Derek Riddell
Captain Reynolds – Jamie Sives
Steward – Ron Donachie
The Host – Tom Smith
Flora – Ruthie Milne

Crew
Writer – Russell T Davies
Director – Euros Lyn
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Mark Braxton
(filed 22 April 2016)
Down the years, Doctor Who hasn’t been afraid to plunder the monsters of myth and movie legend: we’ve had ghosts (The Unquiet Dead), vampires (State of Decay), mummies (The Pyramids of Mars) and even Frankenstein (The Brain of Morbius). We’ve also had a werewolf in the McCoy caper The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but not the furry, snapping beastie you expect from a werewolf. Until now…

Not that this is a straightforward creature feature. With its kung-fu army and stop/start motion, Doctor Who appears to have turned into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The days of Derek Ware and his Havoc stunt team seem light years away! The action, arrestingly filmed by Euros Lyn, is a typical instance of wrong-footing from writer Russell T Davies to keep us on our toes. In just the first two minutes, Tooth and Claw has a very different feel to the preceding story, and that’s just as it should be.

That said, Davies’s playful tone in New Earth – underlined by the Doctor and Rose’s giddiness – continues apace. Clearly, the travellers are enthralled both with each other and by the endless possibilities generated by the Tardis. To the point where they start to annoy us – but more of that later.

Listening to Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick on the Tardis jukebox, the Doctor resolves to take Rose to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads play a gig in Sheffield in 1979. “It’s nice to be a lunatic,” sings the Doctor (rather cleverly, as it transpires). It’s happy, clappy stuff that isn’t just 43 years away from the sombre, angular exchanges of Hartnell and co – it’s an entire universe away! The Fisher-Price Activity Centre incarnation of the Tardis seems like a step backwards to me, but there you go…

Before you think that no one and nothing is recognisable in our favourite show, fear not: the Tardis manages to screw up and deliver its occupants to the wrong place (Scotland) and wrong time (a century beforehand). Normal service resumed!

You can picture Russell T Davies laughing at the keyboard when our hero introduces himself to the royal party as “Doctor James McCrimmon from the township of Balamory”. It’s funny and light-hearted, with its little meta-morsel for fans to enjoy. The practice would get well out of hand a decade later.

Much of the success of this werewolf runaround hinges upon the visual effects – and sometimes it’s a fine line between success and failure. Only two years before Tooth and Claw, the big-budget cinema outing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also featured a computer-generated werewolf  – for the character of Professor Lupin played by David Thewlis. Despite the many virtues of Potterworld, it was a sequence that looked hokey then and it looks hokey now.

The loopy transformation in Tooth and Claw is also rendered by CGI – but it works. Partly it’s because Euros Lyn keeps these scenes dark but also there isn’t quite so much enthusiastic leaping around. I find that it’s often the gravity-defying movement of computer-animated characters that lets the craft down.

The noticeably beefed-up sound design also helps – in fact, the snarling and crunching is pretty intense – I seem to remember turning the volume down a little while showing the episode to my children!

Once the slavering fiend has been unleashed, one fears for the finale – that it might succumb to silver-bullet cliché. But this is Russell T Davies, remember, and the way in which he springs the protagonists from his trap-within-a-trap is the story’s most elegant feature. “You want weapons?” asks the Doctor. “We’re in a library. Books! Best weapons in the world.” It’s a lovely line, from a master television writer. It shows great control – and his sense of responsibility doesn’t end there.

The Doctor and Rose’s recklessness, and their habit of playing time like a fiddle as though there will be no consequences, can’t have escaped viewers’ notice. The way they gamble over the likelihood that Queen Victoria will conform to received wisdom is little more than arsing about. It’s quite deliberate by Davies, and he ensures that they are slapped back. Having ennobled the companions as Sir Doctor and Dame Rose, she banishes them from her empire. Quite right, too.

A word for Pauline Collins as the monarch. Like Simon Callow as Dickens in The Unquiet Dead, she gets the potentially tricky portrayal of a historical figure just right: unstuffy and sharp-witted, authoritative and human. (It’s also nice to see her back in Who for the first time since 1967’s The Faceless Ones, when her character, Samantha Briggs, could so easily have been promoted to a companion.)

Even as they saunter back to the ship, the Doctor and Rose don’t seem unduly remorseful. But the regal reprimand (“Your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death”) is a theme that Davies will return to in due course. Always planting seeds.

Speaking of which, and more controversially, he lays the foundations for the spin-off series Torchwood, which debuted exactly six months later. It was to be a bumpy ride.

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RT Archive

In 2006 RT’s Doctor Who Watch revealed how the werewolf fx were achieved.

We also caught up with guest star Pauline Collins.

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David Tennant and Billie Piper – rare RT photos from 2006

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