Saturday, October 07, 2006

Empire of the Wolf

“Tooth and Claw” is an odd episode indeed. It starts out like a Kung Fu movie, but it’s in Scotland at the end of the 19th century. It’s a werewolf story, but it stars Queen Victoria.

As the last time the Doctor and Rose visited 19th century Earth (when they met Charles Dickens), the TARDIS is there by mistake. (They think they are going to 1979 and wind up in 1879. But Rose's description of the Doctor as a punk rocker with a touch of rockabilly is right on, especially if she means the 9th and 10th Doctors together.)

Besides the Crouching Hidden monks, there are the Queen’s guards in their red regalia, who soon keel over like the Queen’s guards in the Beatles movie, “Help!” Such topics as werewolves are sources of comedy as much as horror these days, and in this story there’s both. A very good looking CGI werewolf, too.

Tennant gets to use his Scottish accent, which is his own regular accent, and there is lots of running around and up and down in a big house. The werewolf is a bit of an alien, of course, and there are the anachronisms we’ve become accustomed to in tales of Victorian times ( Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc.)-- turns out, Victoria’s Albert has apparently helped construct a werewolf-destroying laser, powered partially by full moonlight. (It was a full moon here the night I saw this, actually.)

At one point when it is still in human form, the werewolf/alien tells Rose he likes this planet because it has lots of war and industry, and his goal is to seize the throne and make this the Empire of the Wolf. No one mentions it in this episode, but in the first season, the Doctor and Rose were dogged by repetition of a phrase that including the word "wolf.” (Though there is some cryptic dialogue from the werewolf man who recognizes some familiarity with wolfishness in Rose.) I thought for sure this episode would relate to that.

Eventually it might, because the implication is that Victoria might have been bitten, and the werewolf within her might emerge in the early 21st century to work on that rapacious, predatory Empire of the Wolf. (The Doctor and Rose discuss this in a lighthearted manner—the royal family as werewolves—but it also has a sinister potential.) But it turns out that this episode relates most directly to the first, the Christmas Invasion.

Like that story, there is a running gag—Rose trying to get Queen Victoria to say she is not amused. (When she finally does, she says “I” rather than the royal “we,” which is what makes the well-known expression funny and unique: “We are not amused.”) And just as the first story, everything seems happily resolved in the end, until the leader of England does something hostile. After knighting Sir Doctor of Tardis and honoring Dame Rose, she banishes them both. She considers them aliens on the side of evil, not part of “my world.” She castigates them for cavorting with stars and magic, and “think it fun.” Though she has previously spoken in favor of "imagination" she sees alien threats as beyond imagination.

At the very end, after the Doctor and Rose have gone, Victoria decides to start an institute to investigate and defend against aliens, and specifically against the Doctor. She names it after the house where the story took place, called Torchwood.

When more than a century later Harriet Jones unleashed the weapon against the aliens in the Christmas Invasion, it came from the Torchwood Institute.

The writing, the characters, the stories, the language, everything about this series is keeping me fascinated as I haven’t been since the first run of the Next Generation. I’m planning to see the first season again on DVD, and only wish I could see the second season that way now, not only for the quality and the minutes we don’t get, but to avoid the incessant promos for “Battlestar Gallactica.” They come directly after scenes so not even the fastest fast-forward move can obliterate them. And the only thing worse than hearing the same tag lines repeated so many times that they become clichés, is when they are war movie/TV clichés to begin with.

Coming Soon: this coming week (I hope), my account of the 40th anniversary Star Trek celebration in Seattle.

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