Review of Series 2, Episode 2 – with spoilers
Jane Tranter, the BBC head of drama, issued the Doctor Who production team an edict before this series. They were, she said, to give the historical episodes a “kick up the arse”. With Tooth and Claw, pretty much the whole of South Wales’ TV talent has taken a collective boot to the genre’s backside – and the result is 45 minutes of television gold that’s scarier than many a horror film twice the length.
As the Doctor and Rose find themselves in Victorian Scotland – indeed, in the company of Her Majesty herself – they arrive at the sinister-looking Torchwood House, unaware that it has been taken over by a group of violent monks, in the final stages of a plan to infect the Empress of India with the bite of a werewolf.
As assassination attempts go, it’s one of the more outlandish – but it results in a taut thriller. CGI experts The Mill produce a werewolf that far surpasses that from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which shared many of the same animators, but at the same time it’s sensibly given limited screen time. This is due in part due to budgetary limitations, but it allows us to see the far more horrific consequences on the humans caught in its fray. As the residents of Torchwood House are picked off one by one, there’s a sense of death and danger that scared the beejesus out of me. God knows what children thought of it.
As Queen Victoria, Pauline Collins gives one of her best performances of her career, bringing the legendary monarch to life as a warm, witty widow with a steely sense of purpose. It’s a portrayal that makes the episode’s big twist – that, unlike most stories, the Doctor is not hailed as the all-conquering hero at the end, but effectively drummed out of town, banished from the Empire by its sovereign – all the more effective.
And at the episode’s end, we have the big reveal – that Queen Victoria, angered by his attitude, sets up the Torchwood Institute in opposition to him. Of course, we’ve already seen the Institute in action in The Christmas Invasion – another episode where the Doctor falls out with the most powerful woman in the country. Clearly, with a series of the same name gearing up for production, we’ll be seeing more of them in the weeks to come.
All in all, we have the perfect Doctor Who episode, and one that sets a standard that future episodes will really struggle to match. Director Euros Lyn, one of the stalwarts of Series One, pulled out all the stops – the pre-credits sequence is possibly the most amazing two minutes of action the BBC has ever committed to tape – and delivered an action-packed ghost story that demonstrates that, after the disappointment of New Earth, writer/producer Russell T. Davies is a complete and utter genius.