Series 2 of Doctor Who is a season with a good amount of highs and lows, particularly in the second half, so “Tooth And Claw” has always stood out to me as one of the highlights: the one where the Doctor meets Queen Victoria and a werewolf. Impressively, “Tooth and Claw” manages to be even more jam-packed with characters and plot points than “New Earth” was, but it still flows incredibly well thanks to Russell streamlining his subplots and managing his time wisely; Davies wastes no time establishing all the key players in the first act, and devotes the entire second and third acts to the runaround mystery in Sir Robert’s manor.
After two relatively light episodes, Russell ventures into darker territory again in “Tooth And Claw”, which is enticing. As fun as a good RTD era comedy romp is, Rusty is usually at his best when he’s writing a gruesome or macabre adventure, as evidenced by “The Parting Of The Ways” being his best script from Series 1. “Tooth And Claw” is pretty much Russell T. Davies writing his own low budget, Doctor Who horror movie, embracing all the usual horror movie cliches while toying with a few of them, and since werewolves are my favorite horror movie monster, I’m all onboard with that. Despite the genre emulating fun Russell has with this installment, “Tooth And Claw” is not the standalone episode it seems to be at first glance. After the seeds of it were planted in “The Christmas Invasion“, “Tooth and Claw” is a major turning point in the Torchwood arc: the creation of the Torchwood Institute, by the queen of England herself. Between Rose making Captain Jack immortal in “The Parting Of The Ways”, the Doctor convincing the queen to create her secret society in this episode, and the Battle of Canary Wharf in “Doomsday“, the Series 2 story arc can best be described as ‘the Doctor and Rose unknowingly set up the premise for the spin-off show’.
David Tennant is firing on all cylinders in “Tooth And Claw”, as he continues to grow into his leading role. Early on, the Doctor is genial and charismatic as always, delighted by the idea of rubbing elbows with royalty. For the sake of his present company, Ten pretends to be a Scotsman for the first half of this episode, giving David Tennant a chance to use his native Scottish accent for a change (which is quite a shocker, after you’ve grown accustomed to his British one). As the night unfolds and it becomes apparent he’s going to get to meet a queen and a werewolf on the same day, Ten gets super into the werewolf conspiracy. He loves a good ghost story, a good mystery, and brand new forms of life, so he might stop to admire the monster that’s currently trying to kill him once or twice, regardless of how inappropriate that is.
As the most knowledgeable person in the manor, Ten appoints himself leader of the survivors and tries to take control of the crisis. The funny thing about the Tenth Doctor is that, through sheer force of will and his amiable personality, he has a habit of easily convincing people he’s more in control of a situation than he actually is, when in reality he’s flying by the seat of his pants. He tries to save as many people as he can, but if someone won’t listen to basic common sense, or if they want to make a grand, heroic sacrifice for the sake of honor, Ten won’t hesitate to let them make their choice. With no other means of defending themselves on hand, he shrewdly deduces that the best way to stop the werewolf and find its weakness is to find out what it is. So he taps into his detective skills again, arms the remaining survivors with knowledge (the best weapon out there), and they manage to solve the puzzle just in time for the Doctor to save the queen and the British empire.
Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler shows just how much her gut instincts and intuitiveness have improved during her time in the TARDIS this week. When she’s split off from the Doctor, Rose takes it upon herself to take charge of a dodgy situation: consoling Flora and trying to find her help, interrogating the werewolf in the cage for information until the moon rises, and finally rallying her fellow prisoners in the basement to break their chains and free themselves before they can get eaten. Mainly though, “Tooth and Claw” serves as an example of how the Doctor and Rose are not always the best influence on each other. They both can admittedly be self-involved at times: the Doctor spends so time looking at the big picture, solving the mystery of the week, that he sometimes starts to forget about the little people, the collateral damage, while Rose can get overly caught up in her goals and insecurities, thinking primarily about how things will affect her.
You put the Doctor and Rose together for a long amount of time and things can get pretty smug, cliquey and insular, particularly with Ten and Rose, whose personalities are a lot more similar than Nine and Rose. The pair of them enjoy the werewolf murder mystery way too much. They treat the whole thing like a lark and encourage each other to do the same, laughing about seeing a real live creature and trading in-jokes. Rose repeatedly needles the queen to try to win a bet she made with the Doctor, and she keeps on doing it, even after a member of the queen’s entourage has just been ripped to shreds by the wolf in front of them (Rose, no). After all is said and done, the Doctor and Rose saunter back to the TARDIS, laughing about the idea of the whole royal family being werewolves. Unfortunately, they learn nothing from this episode about being too full of themselves. In fact, they only get worse as the season progresses, but it does have consequences for them eventually.
As you would expect from an aging monarch, Queen Victoria is a stoic and dignified woman, carrying herself with grace to the point where she’s almost mirthless, though she does possess her own dry sense of humor, and like her men, she’s fully prepared to die for a good cause. She misses her late husband dearly, and it’s clear that she never fully recovered from Prince Albert’s death. She’s a strict and orderly sort of person, and despite her flights of fancy, she’s deadset on the world working a certain sort of way. So when her worldview is steadily torn down by the revelation that the supernatural is entirely real, she does not take it well, shutting down and going into denial at one point – and by the end, she might have even been bitten by a werewolf. So she uses her regal authority to try to regain some sort of control. After being disgusted by their borderline callous behavior, Victoria thanks the Doctor and Rose for saving her life and then banishes them from England (how that’s for gratitude, eh?), before funding the Torchwood Institute. We saw with Harriet Jones what happens when powerful authority figures get a bit too scared and paranoid about the unknown, so the Queen’s plan for Britain to have a secret defense almost certainly won’t end well.
Meanwhile, Sir Robert has a nice, complete character arc throughout this episode. As the son of a brilliant man with big shoes to fill, Sir Robert would like to consider himself to be an honorable person who’s very devoted to the crown, but he’s blackmailed into helping the monks work against the queen when they threaten to kill his wife. He spends most of the episode feeling guilt-ridden about committing treason and wants to find some way to redeem himself for being complicit in the werewolf’s evil plot. Eventually, he chooses to sacrifice his life to protect the queen and ensure the wolf’s destruction, finding some measure of honor in death.
Russell shrouds the episode’s lupine antagonist in cryptic mystery, and it’s certainly an unpredictable mystery, because the answers are so strange and bizarre that you couldn’t possibly guess them in advance. The antagonist of the week is an alien werewolf that crash-landed on Earth centuries ago, near a local monastery of Catholic monks. It survived for years as a single-celled organism, passed on by bite from host and host, growing in strength; and in the meantime, the monks supported the wolf and revered it from generation to generation, forming their own cult. The werewolf may look like a savage beast, and it’s certainly cruel and merciless, but it’s actually a shrewd, power-hungry schemer. The wolf longs to infect the queen of England so it can conquer Britain, creating it’s very own empire of the wolf. Through the monks, the wolf lures her into a trap to make it’s fantasy a reality.
So the villains of this episode are a social-climbing werewolf and a bunch of werewolf worshiping, kung fu monks: the sort of thing you’ll only ever see in Doctor Who. The werewolf proves to be a fearsome and nearly unstoppable creature, bar his weakness to mistletoe. The sheer brutality and relentlessness of the wolf makes it a frightening and effective foe as he chases our heroes all throughout the Torchwood estate, constantly on their heels. Eventually, after the deaths of several redshirts, the Doctor and company find a way to subdue the wolf. He’s been outwitted by the late prince and one of the local lords, and his trap for the queen is actually, ironically, a trap within a trap. Turning werewolf lore against it, the Doctor and Rose manage to kill the beast with moonlight in a fairly thrilling climax and finally put it’s poor host out of his misery, breaking the curse that’s been haunting the Scottish countryside for several generations.
Euros Lynn, who previously helmed “The End Of The World” and “The Unquiet Dead“, directs this episode. “Tooth And Claw” has a very somber and grey atmosphere, to match the classic gothic horror tone Russell was aiming for and the wet, windy, dreary appearance of the Wales countryside. Euros Lynn shoots most of the episode like he’s filming a music video, trying to include as many different angles and quick cuts as he possibly can. And to his credit, most of the time, the approach works incredibly well, like the werewolf’s drawn out transformation sequence, or the various chase scenes through the manor (which include the werewolf’s POV). There is one scene though, where the music video approach looks incredibly, hilariously goofy – the attack of the kung fu monks, where a bunch of bald, middle-aged guys in anachronistic orange jumpsuits seem to be under the impression they’re in a martial arts movie instead of a sci-fi show, and get an insane amount of air with their flying leaps.
The werewolf himself was one of the series’ most impressive CGI creations at the time, making for a frightening lumbering brute for our heroes to contend with, and it’s aged surprisingly well after a decade, compared to some of the other visual effects in this season (like the ones in the very next episode). Whenever Doctor Who emulates a certain genre, Murray Gold’s score tends to follow suit, embracing all the musical trappings of it (which makes the series’ soundtracks a lot of fun to listen to). Murray uses an electrifying combination of a howling choir, a traditional orchestra and an electronic pulse to create an old school monster movie leitmotif for the werewolf, with some Asian influence from the monks. Variations on it are never far away throughout the episode, until a moment of catharsis is achieved when Ten finally breaks the werewolf’s curse.
“Tooth And Claw” is an admirable early attempt from the show at doing a monster movie episode, while slipping in some covert arc progression, and it’s one of the gems of Series 2.
* The teaser leaves me with some questions. When the monks pull the tarp off the wolf’s cage, Lady Isabel and her staff immediately scream their heads off in absolute fear at the beast within, except the werewolf hasn’t transformed yet. The only thing they would have seen is a chained up, half-naked man with pitch-black eyes. Why is that terrifying? Do coal black eyes automatically signal ‘werewolf’ in the Victorian era?
* “Could we find some clothes for Ms. Tyler? I’m tired of nakedness” “It’s not amusing, is it?” Victoria looks like she’s this close to telling Rose to shut up.
* “That’s the charm of a ghost story, isn’t it? Not the scares and chills, that’s just for children, but the hope of some contact with the great beyond. We all want some message from that place. It’s the Creator’s greatest mystery that we’re allowed no such consolation. The dead stay silent, and we must wait”.
* Russell includes a fascinating suggestion that Rose might not be entirely human anymore, after her stint as a goddess in Series 1, and it’s certainly plausible. After having an experience like that, I doubt anyone would come back exactly the same person as they were before.
* “Look. Inside your eyes. You’ve seen it too. The Wolf. There is something of the Wolf about you. You burnt like the sun, but all I require is the moon!”
* “What if they turned from God, and worshiped the wolf?” “And what if they were with us, right now?”
“I take it, sir, that you halted my train to bring me here?” “We have waited so long for one of your journeys to coincide with the moon” “Then you have waited in vain. After six attempts on my life, I am hardly unprepared” “Oh, I don’t think so, woman” “The correct form of address is Your Majesty!”
* “Oh, my lady. Look! They’ll never let us out. They mean for us to die!” Yeah Flora, that was pretty obvious when they locked you all in the basement with the wolf to get eaten.
* I’ve ragged on the Doctor and Rose a good bit, but being non-natives of the time period does have its perks. Many of the supporting characters in this episode feel honor-bound to lay down their lives for the queen, as her subjects and/or employees. While the Doctor and Rose want to keep Queen Victoria safe, you’ll notice that they never once volunteered to use themselves as disposable meat shields for her majesty, and no one in the audience blamed them for that in the slightest.
* “I tried to suggest something was wrong. I thought you might notice. Did you think there was nothing strange about my household staff?” “Well, they were bald, athletic. Your wife’s away, I just thought you were happy” Damn, Ten.
* “Nevertheless, that creature won’t give up, Doctor, and we still don’t possess an actual weapon” “Oh, your father got all the brains, didn’t he?” Again, damn, Ten.
* “I committed treason for you, but now my wife will remember me with honor!” HONOR!
* I have one last question: what happened to the werewolf-worshiping monks? Did the queen’s soldiers round them all up offscreen, or did they all high-tail it out of Dodge when they realized their leader and their other leader had both bit the dust?
* “OH MY GOD, THEY’RE WEREWOLVES! AWWOOOO!”
* “I saw last night that Great Britain has enemies beyond imagination, and we must defend our borders on all sides. I propose an Institute to investigate these strange happenings and to fight them. I would call it Torchwood. The Torchwood Institute. And if this Doctor should return, then he should beware, because Torchwood will be waiting!”