“TOOTH AND CLAW” – Series 2, Episode 2, Story 169 – Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Euros Lynn – It’s back to the Victorian Age for the Doctor and Rose where they meet a famous Victorian Brit, get stuck in a house, and partake in a horror story. Oh, and Rose bonds with one of the servants, and the famous Victorian Brit refuses to believe in the monsters. And the home owner dies. And there’s a tie-in to Torchwood. And it’s the new Doctor’s third story. And there’s an allusion to Rose and the Bad Wolf. And it takes places in Scotland in 1879. I know, it’s time to talk about THE UNQUIET DEAD, right? Wrong, that was Wales in 1869, not Scotland in 1879. Everything else, though, is the same, although there is the matter of the Doctor having a different face this time around. Same companion, though. The Doctor and Rose end up trapped inside a house with a werewolf that’s actually an alien. Doesn’t really matter because he still wants to tear you up and eat you for dinner. There’s also monks that do fancy karate and a big, honking telescope. The Doctor and Rose do their thing, save the Queen and get knighted and damed and then exiled. Because The Queen Doesn’t Have A Sense Of Humor And Is Going To Create Torchwood To Kick The Doctor’s Ass.
During my reviews of the Series 1 run, I wrote an article about Russell T Davies’ proclivity for doubling up the details in subsequent episodes. Now he’s elevated the doubling up to subsequent seasons. I point this out not because I mind, but because I notice it. The seasonal doubling is a bit of a safe play, so it annoys me more than the episode-to-episode doubling. We’re getting duplicate episodes from last season and we’re also, in essence, getting them in the same spot.
Just like last season where we jumped into the future, ran into Lady Cassandra and the Face of Boe and then dropped back into the Victorian Age for a house-bound horror story, this season pulls the same back-to-back move.
I don’t like false comparisons (you know, if two horror stories come out at the same time you’re almost duty bound to pick one over the other) but since RTD is inviting the comparison by walking in his own shoes, I’m going to pick a side: Last year’s efforts were better. THE END OF THE WORLD is better than NEW EARTH and THE UNQUIET DEAD and TOOTH AND CLAW are a push.
I like TOOTH AND CLAW, but it’s a very predictable episode that leaves you with the feeling that it all happened just so RTD could write the epilogue, where Queen Victoria decrees the creation of the Torchwood Institute to safeguard Britain from alien threats like the Doctor.
The Doctor intends to set the TARDIS down in 1979 but ends up in 1879. They get picked up by the Queen’s caravan and taken to the Torchwood Estate, which has been taken over by monks who practice martial arts and worship a werewolf. The monks’ intent is to have the werewolf snack on the Queen and turn her into a werewolf and thus create an Empire of the Wolf. Cool, I can get behind that.
The execution of that idea is where the episode falls flat. There’s no tension, no suspense, no horror. Unlike Charles Dickens in THE UNQUIET DEAD, Queen Vic isn’t all that interesting.
The monks have the staff chained up out in the barn where the werewolf-in-human-form waits for them. Rose gets captured and stuck out in the barn with them. Compared to crying, fraidy cat Rose in THE CHRISTMAS INVASION, Rose has her head screwed on right and acts rather than waits in TOOTH AND CLAW. The best scene is a verbal confrontation between her and the werewolf-as-human where she figures out he’s an alien and he figures out she’s got a bit of the wolf in her, too.
David Tennant is great as the Doctor here; one of the best parts of Tennant’s acting is that he can hopscotch emotional states so quickly and so believably. His Doctor can jump from arrogance to whimsy with the turn of a phrase. To Tennant’s credit, this jumping around largely gives the impression that the Doctor is the master of the situation and not mastered by it. He’s incredibly curious and he thinks out loud, which adds to his franticness. He’s super curious, but Rose is never far from his mind.
None of the werewolf bits are all that scary, especially after the wife of the estate’s owner, Lady Isobel figures out that the werewolf has an aversion to mistletoe. What’s confounding is that, okay, Isobel and the servants whip up a batch of boiled mistletoe and have a nice “save the day” moment, but then … no follow-up. The Doctor has figured out the mistletoe weakness, too, and he follows up on in by … yeah, nothing. How about breaking off some wood and making some weapons? No? Why?
Oh, that’s right, it’s because there’s a big fancy telescope that will more dramatically kill the werewolf by shooting it with moonlight. Awesome.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, more often than not, how endings happen are far less important to Davies than how the characters react to that ending. The key isn’t to offer the most logical ending but the most dramatic one. Last episode we had the Doctor dumping different flavors of Kool-Aid together; this one has the large telescope. It’s a big and flashy finish, and there’s not a whole lot wrong with it except it can leave you feeling a bit flat, at times. Where Davies falls short in comparisons with other DOCTOR WHO writers like Bob Holmes and Terry Nation and Steven Moffat is that thinking “too much” about their scripts often left you with a greater appreciation for what you just watched, while with Davies it can drive you nuts.
Don’t get me wrong, either. I’m not anti-Davies. His scripts aren’t usually boring or stupid, though they sometimes end with a magician’s flash – it gives you a bang and throws off some smoke but it’s all a sleight of hand.
What happens in TOOTH AND CLAW after the ending is that Queen Vic chastises the Doctor and Rose after knighting/daming them for their frivolous behavior and then exiles them from England forever. Then she promises to start Torchwood.
It’s an enjoyable episode, but despite the horror theme and set-up (everyone is trapped inside the house with the werewolf), it’s neither scary nor creepy. The idea that this house was built as a trap for the werewolf is an interesting one, but it makes you feel that the past story is more interesting than the one you’re watching. That’s bad. I want to know how the house is a trap because, really, it looks like there’s two rooms that are traps and the rest is just a normal house.
An unpromising, but certainly not disastrous, start to the David Tennant run. There’s obvious chemistry between Tennant and Piper and Davies knows how to pace a story; TOOTH AND CLAW is enjoyable and fast-paced, but when you get to the end, you’re unchanged and unmoved.