Evaluating Tooth and Claw

No second chances, that’s the kind of man he is… unless you watched the previous episode where he agreed to take a narcissistic body snatcher/murderer (remember all those innocent lives snuffer out in The End of the World?) to die in the arms of her younger, beautiful self. Then he does believe in second chances.

Okay, it’s not entirely fair to single out one moment where the Doctor doesn’t keep to his word and, despite how utterly baffling the ending to New Earth is, Russell T. Davies stands by his convictions and sees them through to their mature, daft conclusion – a conclusion that works solely because of the performances of Sean Gallagher and Zoe Wanamaker.

Series 2’s opener is very much a case of one hand ignoring what the other is doing. One wants to delight us with a body swapping romp, the other wants to imagine the weight the Doctor must carry when he intercedes at a crucial juncture in humanity’s continued existence. Now, you might say that’s Doctor Who all over – a demented mix of comedy and a serious meditation on our place in the universe – but, in this case, thanks to some particularly ropey characterisation concerning the Sisters of Plenitude’s motivations that, once their serious intentions have been explained, are pretty much abandoned for a bog-standard tale of corruption and salvation, the episode over-extends itself when it really should be bedding in our new Doctor.

Oscillating from one emotional extreme to the other, the first outing for the Tenth Doctor finds a Doctor very much in waiting. In contrast to Christopher Eccleston’s more reserved, wearier Doctor, this happy-go-lucky Doctor believes absolutely in the goodness of the universe; when the Sisters shatter that illusion, he reacts with necessary anger.

The new shoots of the Tenth Doctor emerge slowly; take the moment where he delivers a speech about there being no higher authority in the universe then himself – underlining his treatment of the Sycorax in The Christmas Invasion and his final attitude to Cassandra. Contrast that with the Ninth Doctor’s attempts to negotiate with the Nestene Consciousness in Rose, where, instead of talking about his own importance, he invokes the Shadow Proclamation instead.

Moments like those start to shade in this Doctor but, what would give us a greater impression of exactly what kind of man he is, would be Rose. New Earth is a fantastic episode for a confident, funnier Billie Piper but a poor one for Rose. It’s understandable why you would put the Doctor front and centre of this first adventure; The Christmas Invasion had been a wonderful showcase for her – although the Doctor does get ‘a hand’ in most of the action – so it’s rather strange to not re-establish that relationship from the get-go. The one key moment – and it’s a moment that gains more significance with the coming episode, Tooth and Claw – is when the Doctor finally realises that Rose is not who she appears to be. It isn’t her increased technological knowledge or the fact that she totally snogged him that clued him in, but that fact that she didn’t care and, as he says, ‘Rose would care’.

Series 2 is the moment where it became less about Rose serving as an anchor to the Doctor, to tell him when his behaviour betrays his alien origins, and more about the pair feeding off each other, bringing out both the best and the worst in each other.

Tooth and Claw is the episode where, depending on your view point, we get both extremes. You could argue that the Doctor and Rose are far too glib, indulging in a pointless and careless game of one-upmanship that culminates in the moment where Rose, moments after Captain Reynolds makes the ultimate sacrifice to buy Queen Victoria and her entourage some time, attempts to get her majesty to crack the immortal line ‘We are not amused’. That moment is then followed by Rose and the Doctor geek out about fighting a werewolf. You might ask, what’s the difference between the Doctor calling out Cassandra posing as Rose for her self-interest and the Doctor indulging Rose’s self-interest here?

The episode does at least acknowledge this. Queen Victoria, quite rightly, refuses to tolerate the Doctor and Rose’s behaviour, and, although this is a stretch, you could see their banishment as punishment in part for their antics during the onslaught, (she calls their shared existence as ‘a terrible life’ so perhaps it isn’t that much of a stretch) but again, it doesn’t really seem to affect them – the overriding importance in setting up the Torchwood Institute carries more weight here.

There’s something going on underneath this though: the Doctor and Rose divided from each other are better than they are together. When Rose is alone, she reverts to speaking on behalf of humanity and letting her compassion for the world around her be guided by her experiences with the Doctor. She’s the only one of the captive party that approaches the Wolf as something deserving of compassion, and as she does, you remember all those times when, travelling with the Ninth Doctor, she didn’t take the Doctor’s forthrightness at face value – she isn’t the same girl as the one from the past but she still retains some of that empathy, but only when her head hasn’t been turned by the Doctor.

The Doctor is the same, separated from Rose: he’s the only member of the dinner party to show Queen Victoria any compassion for the loss of her late husband, Prince Albert.

There’s no doubt that all of this is intentional, that these creative decisions were made and not a by-product of over-enthusiasm for their relationship (fast forward to the end of Series 2 where Jackie tells Rose that she’s ‘not human’ any more during Army of Ghosts); it’s just sometimes the execution shows the series’ full intentions too soon.

(But, and let’s get this out of the way, the kung-fu monks are utterly, utterly stupid. I don’t hate them, they’re too naff to really hate, and they mostly disappear once the wolf appears, but the sheer ridiculousness of them truly does make them a sight to behold.)

The Doctor Who production team were, quite rightly, proud of Tooth and Claw. It looks fantastic, Wales does a fine job of standing in for the barren, yet beautiful highlands, the period details are perfect, and director Euro Lyn makes the most of the claustrophobic setting, employing a series of off-kilter angles and atmospheric POV shots to convey the terror of the werewolf (the sequence where the wolf terrorises the Doctor et al. as they barricade themselves in a room is particularly effective).

  • Christian Cawley

    Watched Tooth and Claw a few days ago. Has the energy and pace that some recent episodes (prior to Series 10) have been missing. Fun from beginning to end, with a mystery that makes sense at the end. Brilliant!

  • Peter Rabytt

    A good review Andrew. I haven’t watched it for a long time, but my memory is that it was ok, tho not one of my favourites. I agree that the monks were a bit silly, but I didn’t really mind them, just a bit image over actual point. I thought the attempts to get queen Victoria to say we are not amused were a bit forced, not exactly hilarious. The overall look and atmosphere were good and agree it had an energy. Running away from a rampaging monster is nearly always fun (not in reality I am sure!), especially in a dark and atmospheric setting. So overall, an ok episode. But to be fair, I need to go back and re-watch it with current eyes to give a proper assessment…..as I am relying on memory.

  • Dr. Moo (🐮)

    I have more than a handful of problems with this episode. While it does a lot of things right as a Hinchliffe-style horror story and a celebrity historical with some strong arc development, it doesn’t really work for me at all, and that’s entirely because of how the Doctor and Rose are written like those annoying couples from sixth form that everyone wanted to slap. Ugh. Awful awful awful, lets down the episode completely. May be harsh but it’s a running thread all the way through and it makes it very hard to watch without dying inside.

    I do like the idea that their actions here are ultimately responsible for how they got separated though, as well as both of Ten’s regenerations. (Not that he’s ever called out on it but I guess Ten never is so I needn’t call out this one example.)

  • Philip

    A great piece, Andy. Tooth and Claw is really unfairly overlooked; when I first watched it, I was iffy about it – the main narrative was exciting, brilliant, and scary, but the resolution let it down. Fortunately, it’s gone up in my estimation over a few rewatches, quickly becoming one of my favourite Tenth Doctor serials. Now, I find there’s a lovely poetry to the wolf drowning in moonlight.