18 April 2016

Tooth and Claw

Series 2006+10

Kick Ass monks and television’s best ever werewolf!
As an opening gambit, the first few minutes of `Tooth and Claw` take some beating as a gang of shaven headed monks show off their moves- often in slow motion- in martial arts masterclass. Helmed by Euros Lynn, one of the best directors to have worked on the modern show, this is an episode where everything comes right. It’s an odd mix when you think about it- monks, Queen Victoria, a werewolf and a giant telescope but it all fits together so well. It’s an editing success too- some of the cuts are so fast but you still get the essence of what is happening. Though there is no blood to be seen (apparently banned at such an early hour) we are left in no doubt as to the viciousness of the werewolf. 

What a werewolf it is too! It’s an icon that’s been realised so many times you’d be forgiven for yawning but `Tooth and Claw` has the best version I’ve ever seen on TV even to this day. In fact it beats most big screen werewolves as well. The trick that they have mastered here is giving it height so it spends as much time on its hind legs as it does on all fours. The creature’s wiry body suggests a turn of speed that makes it more flexible than your average werewolf. There’s some brilliantly composed animal noises too that give a chill in the episode’s other signature moment when we see both the Doctor and the wolf on either side of a door but in the same shot. As for the moment when the thing rushes for the camera and tears someone apart, well has a monster in the series ever been more frightening? It makes you realise how often Doctor Who uses either stalking or talking monsters; a good old feral animal like this is something else altogether more dangerous. 
It’s an episode that also ably demonstrates how CGI has freed up Doctor Who. Even the best monsters of old possessed that `people in costumes` quality and could really only lumber or march about. That is why the Daleks were so popular- they glided and that made them appear deadlier. When the series returned in 2005 computer generated monsters meant that the sort of things the old series could never do were now possible. Not wanting to detract from what was a strong performance when it comes to the show’s only previous werewolf there is no comparisons. Jessica Martin gave her all to transform in `Greatest Show in the Galaxy`, when Tom Smith as the caged Host starts to turn here it is spine chilling rather than just dramatic because the CGI enhances the performance.
Elsewhere the episode is framed in such an evocative way- the length of the cellar for example accentuates the tension because it gives the prisoners just enough time to get away. The rich dark wood of the house, the wonderful steampunk look of the telescope; all these and more add much. Cinematography too is perfectly aligned to the themes.
Celebrity historicals seem to have become a thing with the modern series and this is one of the earliest and most successful. Queen Victoria remains marvellously in `character` throughout; the script never allows her to become a gag, despite Rose’s constant attempts to get her declare her lack of amusement. He even inserts – as if to underscore the theme of a fantasy being real- a lovely character moment when she reflects on Prince Albert. Later he becomes an integral part of the story even though he’s not actually in it courtesy of his diamond. Stories that work the best always have this sense of being wider than the parameters we’re seeing on screen.
Though the solutions end up being provided by men- the Doctor, Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father- it is the women’s bravery and ingenuity we witness. Lady Isobel does not remain incapable for too long and marshals the maids to use the mistletoe to help the others. Queen Victoria herself is shown to be incredibly brave even if ultimately it is someone else who solves the problem. Rose, too, while still outwardly having a lark is resourceful enough when it comes to goading the household to escape their chains in the basement. Davies’s script is full of neat touches like this even down to small things like the bit where the Doctor is hitting the console as `Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick` is playing. It is the mix of old and new, fact and fiction that makes this period of Doctor Who such fun. Oh, I do recall when this was first shown everyone was asking- `so what happens to the monks at the end`? I’d have thought that was obvious- as soon as they realised the wolf was dead they ran off!
Tardisode: An awesome 53 seconds worth of a meteorite landing and then, 300 years later, an elderly bearded man being pursued across moorland by a monster. We only get the monster’s eye view and you’re imagining that is all we will get but amazingly the final few seconds reveal the Werewolf in it’s terrifying glory. It was very bold of the programme to give away the creature before the actual episode was broadcast but then again if you’d seen this you would definitely not want to miss that episode!
Factette: The idea of werewolves is so familiar in culture that it needs no introduction nowadays. The concept is believed to have originated in Ancient Roman myth and the story of King Lycaon who offended the Gods by serving them human meat. Jupiter punished him by transforming him into a half man half wolf. Lycaon is thought to be the origin of the word Lycanthrope.

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