"You find this funny?"

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Eh. This is a perfectly competent episode. So why aren't we leaping up and down?

Well, some of it's simply personal taste. Werewolves just don't float our boat. We'd scratch Russell T Davies's eyes out in the fight to see who was the bigger Buffy fan, but even Buffy's werewolves didn't do anything for us. (We rate the Xander at the zoo episode the Worst Buffy Ever.)

In fact, the only werewolf thing any of us has ever enjoyed is Jane Jensen's wonderful adventure game, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. (And it isn't even the best Gabriel Knight game: check out Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of the Sacred, Blood Of The Damned for a much earlier - and brilliant - take on the material of the execrable Da Vinci Code). In The Beast Within, Jane manages to convince us utterly that Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria was actually a werewolf. What's more, we're also now certain Wagner was involved in a plot to focus beams of sound on the Werewolf King to kill him.

Hmmm, maybe that's one of the reasons why Tooth And Claw left us faintly bored. We've seen it all before.

And that's the problem with the beginning,too. The opening, with the orangey red-clad monks battling the almost-monochrome locals in an almost-monochrome setting, is visually stunning, but the effect of it's completely negated by the fact that it's not only bafflingly gratuitous but also a complete ripoff. It's that bloody boring homage thing again that we moaned about re New Earth: this time it's a tediously faithful copy of wuxia films. We wouldn't mind quite as much if the wuxia stuff turned out to actually mean something, but it doesn't. The reason the monks have managed to master swooping upside down very very slowly is, astonishingly, never mentioned, and it's completely unrelated to the rest of the plot.

To be fair, the rest of the first half's very decent. There's some killer dialogue about the wee naked child, and after they get to (unggh) Torchwood, they get quite the atmosphere of brooding menace going. (In fact direction is fantastic throughout.) Pauline Collins, reprising the part of Queen Victoria she played in The Faceless Ones, is stellar: her Queen Vic is indomitable, witty, sharp and courageous. In a horrendously misjudged running joke, Rose tries to put one over on her, but the Queen isn't fooled for a second.

Things ramp up: the monks pass out the warm milk, the Queen gets trigger-happy and Rose has a lovely chat with a wee Scottish lad in a cage. No complaints from us - it's all very nicely done, especially the genuinely creepy proto-wolf: he's all the more effective because of his weediness.

Then the moon comes out.

Corridor-running. Base under siege. And a bad, bad doggy.

Like the CGI Slitheen in Aliens of London, the CGI werewolf's very good. It really isn't its fault that our eyelids grew heavy when it snarled into view: it's just, you know, the werewolf thing. They howl and slaver and everybody flees and that's it, really. A bit of snarling, a bit of rending, and that's the whole repertoire.

It might perhaps have been a touch more engaging if the plot made a bit more sense. We observed, before slipping into slumber, that Daddy Torchwood might have shown amazing prescience with the whole trap thing, but if he knew all about the wolf and the fact that the monks had trained it into avoiding mistletoe and all, why didn't he just march over to the monastery for a little dog obedience training? He was the local laird, after all, and karate chops or no the monks would have caved in pretty quickly when confronted with a bunch of well-armed local yokels. Call us quibbly, but we think that plan's a touch more certain than crossing his fingers and hoping the Queen would come visiting with the Koh-i-Noor tucked in amongst her knickers.

And what about those monks, anyway? If they're all worshippy and all, why is the wolf in a cage? Wouldn't you think if they thought the wolf was God, they'd have wanted to get nipped as well? And if the wolf's so powerful, how come the monks get to train it to fear mistletoe? Just who's in charge here, anyway? And the vanishing act at the end? We hear tell that if you play the episode backwards, you can just make out a despairing cry of "Leg it!" and the thump of mistletoe wreaths being tossed to the ground.

As for the faux telescope, well. How the hell did he know that was going to kill the werewolf? Of course, the reason it was actually there was to complete a tidy circle back to the Torchwood beam used to kill the Sycorax in The Christmas Invasion. It's thematic, see? The Doctor jaunts through time and space with a giggle and a merry quip, never realising what destruction he's wreaking in his path. If it wasn't for his irreverence here, the Torchwood Institute would never have been created. He pointed the accusing finger at Harriet Jones for killing the Sycorax, when really it's All His Fault. Hmm. It's clear Russell T Davies has this overconfident Doctor, and possibly Rose as well, riding for a fall: it'll be very interesting to see where he takes them.

Queen Victoria's banishment speech which fits in so well with this theme struck us as a little out of the blue the first time we saw the episode, but the second time through we could see it was consistent with her attitude to Rose and the Doctor all the way through. We were a bit surprised, though, that she was so harsh on them given that her dear Albert was so keen on the ungodly occult. The exile, too, is a puzzle. Torchwood will be waiting? Huh. Guess they forgot to send a memo to UNIT.

Characterisation here is faultless. Only a few episodes into David Tennant's tenure and it's already barely worth mentioning that the Doctor is excellent; Rose, when she's not not amusing us with the "we are not amused" shtick, is also great. Pauline Collins continues the unbroken tradition in the revived series of heavyweight guest stars who lift the entire episode onto a higher rung, but the secondary characters are all wonderful as well. The matter-of-fact Captain Reynolds's self-sacrifice is a genuinely touching moment, as is the death of the conflicted Sir Robert. We’re always as mad for good characters as we are bored by monsters, and these two do a lot to inject some heart into what could be a standard horror runaround.

Hey, even we with our werewolf antipathy can see that a lot of it’s great. And if you like werewolves more than we do, you’ll probably find it a total winner.

MORAL: Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.



So now we know why the Ninth Doctor and Rose were lying on their backs in the TARDIS giggling in The Unquiet Dead, yes? That’s very nice continuity.


Why is the Doctor pretending to be Jamie in the first place, with the real fake real fake real fake accent? The Doctor might occasionally come up with a false full name if pressed, but he doesn’t usually lie about who he is. That’s a major part of his charm.


Although we love the Doctor’s line “She was just sitting there! Like a stamp!” we are definitely not amused by his marvelling over meeting famous people and monsters. Rose, yes, that makes sense. But this guy’s been at it for centuries, and he’s just not going to have the girlish enthusiasm of somebody in their second year of travelling.


“There’s something of the wolf about you.” Russell T just wouldn’t let it lie, would he?


For the monarch of one of the largest empires the world’s ever seen, isn’t the Queen a bit sparsely attended? Where are the flocks of ladies in waiting? Why, she even has to carry her own handbag!


We love the way Queen Victoria pins the blame for killing Father Angelo on the hapless Captain Reynolds. Just goes to show the art of spin is no new invention.


Isn’t that a great shot of the Doctor on one side of the door and the wolf on the other? Go Euros Lyn.


The mistletoe’s in the varnish, right? So how come the wolf can’t get in through the doors but can effortlessly get out through them?


We appreciate the sentiment, but books are the greatest arsenal? What made him think there would be anything in the books that just happened to be in that room that would help them kill a werewolf? Call us philistines, but we’d take a gun loaded with silver bullets every time.


Sir Robert’s wife is agreeably quick on the uptake when it comes to the mistletoe, but major points off for then deciding to make it into mistletoe soup. Why come up with a one-shot weapon when they could have draped themselves in twigs?


The Doctor’s been exiled from Earth? Dude, if only. Instead, we’re getting just the same structure as last year: far future, Victorian Earth, present-day Earth…. Did they have to make it exactly the same?

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