And so begins the empire of the wolf.
An interesting thing, which I am starting to notice about these episodes, is that I’m actually quite familiar with them; part of the reason why I did my Ninth Doctor reviews was to refamiliarise myself with a character that had always been something of an enigma for me. I didn’t exactly know all of those series one episodes quite so well, and thus I often found myself quite surprised by them.
But that’s not quite the case with series two – there’s something almost reflexive about these, because I know them quite well. I think series two is probably the run of Doctor Who that I’ve watched the most, so it’s almost like it’s burned into my mind, in a way.
It’s difficult to approach it critically as a result of this; there’s something about it that just feels like trying to review the story of Robin Hood or some such similar. It feels like it just is, rather than being a piece of television that I can properly engage with.
Much the same applied to the Star Wars movies when I reviewed them in preparation for The Force Awakens, actually; because of how well I knew them, there was initially something difficult about finding anything particularly new or interesting to say about them.
Nonetheless! I do think there’s still a lot of nuance to pick up on in these episodes; there’s a reason why I came to know them so well, after all, and it’s because they are bloody good.
One of the things which is most immediately noticeable about Tooth and Claw is, I think, quite how fast paced it is. Russell T Davies, in his wonderful book The Writer’s Tale, spoke about how this episode ran over by 10 minutes when it was first edited together; rather than cutting out any individual scenes, however, they chose to pare it back until it “moved like lightning”.
It’s a very effective choice; the pacing of Tooth and Claw does wonders for the tension of the episode, and helps to create an episode which is both exciting, and at times quite scary. Despite this, though, there’s also time to breath – the episode never feels overstuffed, and none of the different concepts ever feel like they’re struggling for room.
That helps a lot, I think; the tenser, scarier aspects of the episode only work as well as they do because we’re allowed the time to process them. The characters are beaten back – but when they are, we watch them regroup, we watch them think, and we watch them recover. This in turn is useful in establishing the Wolf (or, you know, the lupine wavelength haemovariform) as something to be afraid of across this episode.
Of course, the episode trades on a lot of iconography we already recognise; werewolves are the sort of horror monster that much of the audience are familiar with, and thus the imagery of the full moon and suchlike is already very evocative in this context. It’s great to see the new Doctor taking on this sort of monster – it fits into a great Doctor Who tradition of colliding with other genres, flitting around the format, and putting a unique spin on timeless stories.
Tooth and Claw does an impressive job of making the Wolf scary independently of what we already know, however, which is an achievement in and of itself. Like I’ve already said, the pacing of the episode brings a lot of tension to it; however, the way Euros Lyn, the director, manages to present the wolf is similar effective, with a very memorable sequence of the Wolf eating someone. Obviously, it’s not a visceral depiction of blood and claws, but rather lots of quick close ups intercut with one another – in some ways, it really makes the scene feel quite frenzied and manic, which I think is a really great way of working within the confines and limitations that are presented when trying to show a werewolf eat someone during tea time television.
Also rather creepy is the Host, despite his limited screentime; there’s something about his sickly pallor and jet black eyes which is deeply unsettling. (There’s a nice reversal of this at the end, with a touch of pathos as the Host is ‘drowned’.) The only thing that doesn’t quite work is the Shaolin Monks; while the concept of a clerical order devoted to worshipping the Wolf is fascinating, this is something that remains a pretty surface detail. As such, you end up with the impression that they were written for the visual, and the visual alone.
Another important aspect of this episode is to set the tone and direction for the character development of our TARDIS team across the series.
Here, we’re introduced to the Doctor and Rose as time travelling tourists; they’re having a hell of a lot of fun with what they’re doing. Mucking around in history, taking in the sights, really revelling in every experience. But, by the same measure, it’s made very clear that they’re in danger of losing perspective – while they sit around laughing, people have died. This is still real.
As a device, it’s a pretty clever one; we the audience are already predisposed to take the side of Rose and the Doctor, particularly when they’re so joyous. The “we are not amused” bet is a wonderful conceit, actually – not only is it indicative of how the two are treating their travels, as well as developing their relationship some more, it gets the audience involved. Of course we’re expecting Queen Victoria to say “we are not amused”, because if she didn’t, it’d be like a Charles Dickens story without ghosts, or a Shakespeare story without witches.
But it means that we’re guilty of the same mistakes – we get so caught up in the fun and the adventure and the laughter, we aren’t aware of the costs. Not the way we should be.
Speaking with ten years of hindsight, it’s clear that this is a rather influential episode; again, we’re seeing the foundations of the Tenth Doctor’s arrogance, which will come to plague him in subsequent years. On top of that, though, it’s similar to the arc we saw Clara taking last year, explored in Face the Raven, and resulting in her eventual demise (of a sort).
I’m looking forward to seeing the consequences of this, and the manner in which it develops over the course of the series – there’s something rather mysterious about that Torchwood Institute that Queen Victoria was talking about, don’t you think?
All in all, then, we’ve got another very strong episode here. Interestingly, it was written as a late replacement script, when another writer’s attempt at making something of the premise fell flat. Frankly, you’d never be able to tell – this is a very polished effort, and it’s a fine hour of Doctor Who.