Saturday, 17 August 2013

Tooth and Claw

Or 'The Werewolf One', as it is known in our house. It's not surprising that a fairy-tale creature, the Big Bad Wolf himself, should provoke such an extreme reaction in the boys. Their brains are hardwired to be scared of beasts that could devour them and Tooth and Claw punches all the danger buttons. They are drawn to this episode (Chris said it was the one he was looking forwards to most), but also repulsed. Unlike the Daleks or Slitheen, the werewolf genuinely is the stuff of nightmares.

Tooth and Claw has a suitably spooky air to it, especially early on as the monks bait their trap and the wind blows across the moors under a leaden sky. And then, once the Queen's party have taken shelter in the house, the tension builds as night falls, the full moon rises, and dark tales are told by the crackling fireside. The suspense isn't wasted either. Thankfully when the werewolf arrives it delivers all the necessary scares, screams and thrills: smashing loose from its cage, dragging the Steward to his death and sniffing murderously at the library door. It is easily the most successful CGI creature we have seen to date. Credit must also go to Tom Smith's truly terrifying performance as its human host - he does a lot in a short amount of time to sell the horror of the creature. Elsewhere there's good support from the rest of the guest cast, especially Derek Riddell and Michelle Duncan as Sir Robert and his wife, Lady Isobel. Pauline Collins, though, is excellent as Queen Victoria, her performance rising far above mere caricature: this monarch is a real person, a product of her time, by turns appalled or delighted by events, and more often than not, capable of rising to meet the next challenge.

The Doctor does well here, too. He gets some good jokes, many good lines, and a great moment in the library where he cleverly solves the mystery. It's rare, these days, that the Doctor gets to demonstrate his intelligence (as opposed to his knowledge), so this scene is definitely another step in the right direction, cementing his presence as the central character of the show. But Rose is not having such a good day.

There's an ugly contrast between the way in which the horror and violence of these events affects the Victorians and Rose's reactions to them. It must be deliberate as well. This world of 1879 is treated with respect by the show so that the deaths (particularly those of Captain Reynolds and Sir Robert) have the impact that they might have in Rose's modern London. Rose's exhilaration rightly affronts everyone around her - except the Doctor of course. Nor can she stop herself trying to trick Queen Victoria into parroting her misattributed catch phrase "we are not amused" at inappropriate moments. It seems callous and disrespectful, especially compared with, say, Donna's compassion towards Caecilius and family in The Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor seems worryingly blind to it, but Queen Victoria is not. As with Mickey or Jackie on other occasions, she offers an external perspective on Rose and on her relationship with the Doctor. When Victoria gives her verdict she is utterly damning and the consequences of Rose's behaviour here will return to haunt her.

By bedtime I think it was fair to say that Tooth and Claw was returning to haunt Christopher, but I can't complain about children being afraid of giant slavering carnivores. It's surely a good thing. Both the boys praised the realisation and realism of the werewolf and declared this 'the scariest one ever' (knocking New Earth off its ill-deserved perch after only forty-five minutes). William gave it an 8 and Chris, for all his anxiety, gave it a 10. So being scary must be a good thing!


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