Sunday, April 23, 2006

Doctor Who - Tooth and Claw

Pic by Shaun Lyon. www.gallifreyone.comThat was a bit better. After the visually brilliant but scattershot plotting of New Earth, comes Tooth and Claw, a far tighter story with more great visuals and a werewolf to boot. One of the problems with reviewing is that it's always a lot easier to write something if there are elements which can be picked out as being lacking. With Tooth and Claw this is hard as the overall story is excellently paced, with some superb dialogue and some brilliant character pieces from the guest cast. We open with a group of Kung-fu monks arriving at a Scottish house and promptly delivering a mysterious covered cage to the cellar, wherein they have chained the Mistress of the house and most of her servants. When the cloth covering the cage is lifted, Mistress Isobel (Michelle Duncan) screams in abject horror ... A great start, but what exactly is she screaming at? As we see later, all that is in the cage is a somewhat quiet and weedy looking cowled figure ... The Doctor and his 'feral' companion arrive in a location they were not expecting to be, and promptly get involved in a story which sees a falling 'star' carrying an alien entity to Earth which can take on the appearance of a human while it waits to emerge. The Doctor and said companion take refuge in a building where the monster reveals itself and chases them, and a dwindling group of surviving humans, up to the top of the building, where the Doctor realises he can use the power of light, focussed by a diamond, to defeat the alien shapeshifter ... ... ah. Now hang on, that's the plot of Horror of Fang Rock! Surely not ... The main problem really is that, unlike Horror of Fang Rock, Tooth and Claw is all far too rushed to really develop the themes of an alien which can remain hidden until the appropriate moment. I remember with fondness the Doctor's wonderful episode-ending line in Horror that he thought he was locking the enemy out ... but instead he'd locked it in ... with them! Well there was none of this here. Instead we know from the word go who the monster is, and once it emerges then it's running and killing for the rest of the episode. Other points of comment: Queen Victoria was a bit of a wet fish. I'm not sure that Pauline Collins was the right choice for this part as she seemed totally lost in it. However, it is worth pointing out that the only reason that Collins seems weak is because the others were so strong. Particularly Ian Hanmore's awesome Father Angelo. A brilliant portrayal of the evil chief monk, and he really looked the part - sort of Richard O'Brien crossed with Patrick Stewart. It's a shame he died (or did he? We never saw this on screen) as he would be a great returning nemesis. The other character who impressed me was Jamie Sives as Captain Reynolds ... another brilliant piece of restrained acting. In fact, just about everyone was top notch. Which also had the effect of throwing Billie Piper's gooning into sharp relief. Rose's trying to get Queen Victoria to say 'We are not amused' was both silly and annoying. Maybe this was something included for the kids. Which is certainly what the werewolf was not - complete with the bone cracking sound effects which were left off the transformation of Dr Constantine in The Empty Child last year, the werewolf was scary, fast, growly and hairy and I'm sure the bringer of many nightmares last night. The deaths, though bloodless were likewise terrifying - in part because nothing was seen, leaving it all up to the fertile imaginations of children to decide what an 8 foot slavering, toothy man-wolf could do to a weak human body, especially given the state it left the cage in. Random questions: How does the Sonic Screwdriver now affect old-style mortice locks? How did Queen Victoria get her box from the 'safe' without the key to said 'safe'? Maybe they hadn't locked it. Why was Rose described as 'naked' when all but her arms were covered up? When Isobel noticed that the Monks were all garlanded with mistletoe and that the wolf left them alone, why did she then start cooking the stuff in the kitchen? Why not simply make more garlands from the piles of it left lying around? Why at the end when the wolf vanished, did the light from the telescope stop? It was still pointed at the moon. And while we're on that subject, where did the wolf go anyway? Moonlight made it change, but too much moonlight destroyed it? Made it go back to where it came? Caused it to super-evolve? I suppose it doesn't really matter, but this is another ending where the Doctor cobbles together some deus ex machina(**) to save the day ... it would be nice to have some 'proper' endings some times. I can't finish this review without mentioning Torchwood. Probably the most dreadful aspect of the episode. I internally groaned when the house was revealed as being called Torchwood house (and my kids also groaned unprompted by myself), but then the coda ... what a shoehorned, crowbarred piece of nonsense. And all this isn't even relevant - from all reports, Torchwood is not aimed at the same kiddie audience that Doctor Who is. It's an adult show planned for an after-9pm timeslot ... so what's with the blatant cross promotion? If you're going to do this then at least be subtle about it. Overall I really enjoyed Tooth and Claw. A great little episode which is, as far as I can see anyway, totally internally consistent. The acting was brilliant (except perhaps for Piper's Rose who for the first time seemed out of sorts here) and the overall impact high. Next week we appear to have an episode of The Demon Headmaster to look forward to ... (** - Ok, ok, so Deus Ex Machina doesn't exactly have the meaning I intended here ... I *know* DEM usually means 'a god from the machine' - in other words a cop-out, a little like the ending of Boom Town perhaps - but according to my dictionary it can also mean 'a romantic or artificial ending' and this is closer to my intent here - that the endings seem to be artificial rather than flowing from or having any connection to the preceeding plot threads - Why does shining moonlight through the crystal affect the Wolf at all? What happens there and why does this resolve things?)

5 comments:

Benjamin Adams said...

Deus ex machina.

[Inigo Montoya] I do not think that phrase means what you think it means. [/Inigo Montoya]

Anonymous said...

It wasn't a deus ex machina, dude. I thought you were well read!

Paul Greaves said...

Perhaps not a deus ex machina, but it was still a bit crappy!

Hi David, glad you're still posting here...

If you're interested, my opinion of Tooth and Claw is here: www.patience-of-angels.blogspot.com

kopicbloodaxe said...

I've enjoyed your reviews of New Earth and Tooth and Claw. For me, the one let down with Tooth and Claw was Rose's insistence at goading Victoria - surely with all her travels with the Doctor by now she should have learnt proper respect for authority? It just felt really out of place. On to the fighting monks - absolutely superb but underused. I'd have liked to have seen a standoff between a few monks and the werewolf - maybe the Lady Isobel could've snatched a few of those mistletoe garlands from their necks causing the werewolf to turn on them? If only...

rwatson said...

The Torchwood references are NOT for the spin-off they are setting up the conclusion of this series of Doctor Who.