If you take a long look at the start of Series 2, you notice one thing quite quickly – the first three stories are all variations on the base-under-siege story. New Earth – hospital in lockdown while disease-zombies roam. Tooth And Claw – Victorian country house besieged by kickass monks and a werewolf. School Reunion – 21st century school locked while brain-enhanced children crack a tough bit of maths and very naff CGI bat-things go hunting.
Tooth And Claw takes a Hinchcliffe approach to the idea, landing us slap bang in the middle of the Gothic era, and delivering a werewolf story that touches a lot of the classical lycanthropic bases – moonlight, silver bullets, an inheritance passed on by bites and blood – while science-fictioning the bejesus out of it in the process, in the best traditions of Doctor Who debunkery.
It also gives us Series 2’s celebrity historical, moving us on from Charles Dickens to the Queen Empress herself, Queen ‘badass’ Victoria, in a remote Scottish location, where it proceeds to both have its Gothic horror cake and eat it, with a dark-eyed man in a cage becoming a full-on and still, ten years later, a fairly effective werewolf and terrorising the Torchwood estate. There’s a solid alien plot attached too, not a little reminiscent of that of Ghost Light: the ‘wolf’ – or lupine wavelength haemoveroform to you (oh yes, this episode has some classic gobbledegook too) – arrived, probably as only a cell or two of living matter, three hundred years ago, and has been growing like an infection or an inheritance over those centuries, infecting body after body. Now it’s ready to be more than a skulking presence on the planet; it intends to bite Victoria, grow in her, take over her body and establish ‘the empire of the wolf,’ undoubtedly a highly steampunk vision, as the Doctor elucidates it – ‘spaceships and missiles fuelled by coal and driven by steam.’ All of that works, and so do other elements like the werewolf being sensitive to mistletoe with all its lectins and viscotoxins, not because it actually started out with an allergy to those substances, but because it’s been trained to fear them by the monks of the nearby abbey who, for reasons best known to themselves, have ‘turned away from God and started to worship the wolf.’ Where the wheels begin to come off are when we start to consider why they might possibly do such a dipstickish thing as worship the wolf – we’re left to ponder on the fact that dipstickery has never been entirely in short supply in the human psyche, and possibly it’s a power and cruelty kick. Again, if you want to see it, there’s a distinctly anti-clerical feel to the start of Series 2 – cruel cat nuns in New Earth, psycho martial arts monks in Tooth And Claw, both of them doing deeply dubious things with creatures that aren’t entirely human.
There are some beautiful, era-defining Tenth Doctor moments in Tooth And Claw. There’s the stuff of memes and T-shirts that is ‘You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books! Best weapons in the world,’ underling for the world very early on this particular Doctor’s geek credentials – while the Second and (generously) Seventh Doctors were musical, the Fifth and Eleventh sporting, the Fourth potentially artistic and the Third and Sixth comparatively martial, the Tenth Doctor is Big On Books – a gorgeously responsible thing to make the Doctor be into, and a substantial part of the trend towards geek chic during the Tenth Doctor’s time in the Tardis. There’s also one of what would become his trademark bouncy, ranty connecting-the-dots sessions as he works out the trap within the trap, set up by Sir Robert’s father and Prince Albert, and Tennant adds massively to the energy not only of that scene but of the whole story – he’s said that Tooth And Claw was the first story he shot where he felt at home in the Doctor’s shoes, and to some extent that shows; there’s an ease, and even a glee in his appreciation for the genius of Sir Robert’s father, and the fluidity of his fast-paced dialogue really kicks into gear here – we saw it in The Christmas Invasion, but might possibly have put it down to post-regenerative excitement. But no, the chatterbox need to talk really is the Tenth Doctor’s principle characteristic. Something that begins to become apparent in Tooth And Claw is that that chatterbox-nature feels like all the Doctors we’ve ever known, feels in fact like the archetypal Doctor, which is absolutely isn’t. But Tennant makes his Doctor very easy to watch in his moments of genius, so the incarnation, half Russell T Davies, half Tennant, taps into something fundamental about the Doctor, this ‘prattling jackanapes’ incarnation has something of the ready absurdity of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor about him, but brought right up to date for the 21st century.
Perversely then, the things which most grate about the episode are the monks doing all their deeply hokey martial arts at the beginning (very much style over substance, and filmed in such a way as to be technically a child-friendly fight scene in which very few people are actually seen getting hit), and, as in New Earth, the comedic chemistry between the Tenth Doctor and Rose. The whole ‘We are not amused’ competition feels very badly judged, and far from providing a welcome comedic break from the intensity of the Gothic subject matter, it feels like a pair of giggling naughty children laughing at a funeral. Where Tooth And Claw redeems itself from this uncomfortable stab at humour though is in the fact that Queen Victoria actually calls them on it, dressing the pair of them down after having ennobled them. She gives them the kind of lecture parents have been giving their errant children for decades if not centuries, the ‘I’m very disappointed in you’ tone carrying a great deal more weight when it comes from this particularly formidable queen.
Sadly, the lecture and banishment does little to quell their childishness, and even as they make their way back to the Tardis, they’re still at it – treating the idea of the 21st century Royal Family being werewolves as something to cackle and howl about, even though they’ve just fought off a werewolf attack, and plenty of good people have died in the process. While Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in isolation is developing some strong and likeable qualities, people who complain (and they do, to this day), that the dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and Rose was a dreadful reinvention frequently refer to this newly infantile connection they have, the two giggly children travelling the cosmos together, laughing in the face of other people’s death.
Besides the leads, the strongest performance in Tooth And Claw is undoubtedly that of Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria, who, like Queen Elizabeth I before her has become something of a historical cliché, people thinking they know all there is to know about her. Collins brings out the warmth in her Victoria rather more than, say, Judi Dench did in Mrs Brown, giving her a twinkle in the eye that speaks of the young girl she was, while the script also gives her moments showing the iron heart she became – she dispatches Father Angelo personally with a pistol – and the loving woman too, when suddenly, caught off-guard by the Doctor with a line practically borrowed direct from Mrs Brown, she talks about missing Albert, and the true appeal of ghost stories being that hope for a connection with the other side. It’s poignant writing from Davies, but Collins judges all of these moments with a professionalism that followers of her work expect, so they each deliver the impact of their emotion precisely and fully.
Collins is also responsible for delivering the ending that made a nation of Who-fans come up with all sorts of theories. We’d heard of Torchwood once before, in The Christmas Invasion – its deployment as a force to keep the Earth safe in the Doctor’s absence was what had cost Harriet Jones the Doctor’s enmity and her career as Prime Minister. At the end of Tooth And Claw though, we begin to understand the nature of what Torchwood really is – an institute dedicated to protecting Britain’s interests from the strange and the alien, in the best traditions of everything from The Avengers to Department S to the likes of Doomwatch. As the Doctor and Rose fall, laughing and howling into the Tardis, it gives us pause to reflect that Victoria creates the Torchwood Institute as much to keep her world safe from the likes of them as she does to protect against werewolves.
We begin to sense there will be a reckoning between Torchwood and the Doctor, and that whatever losses might be sustained in such a reckoning, they rest pretty squarely on his shoulders for his infantile humour and his alien nature in the presence of one of Britain’s most formidable monarchs.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk