Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fang Horror Rocks!

Prefect SlogNo, not a new variant of Scissors Paper Stone, but a brief summary of my response to Tooth & Claw, the second episode of the second series of new Doctor Who. Was that the werewolf's bollocks or what? Okay, it kicks off with the guys from the BBC One idents giving up their waterside T'ai Chi for a spot of Matrix style ass-whupping, but that just serves as a welcome reminder that it's only really in Doctor Who that you're going to get warrior assassin monks, a spacefaring werewolf and Queen Victoria in the same episode.
To tell the truth, throughout it all I was getting two strong past DW story vibes, one of which was of The Unquiet Dead: simple ghost story, terrific atmosphere, beautifully executed and featuring a key historical figure played brilliantly by a great character actor. Replace 'ghost' with 'werewolf' and replace 'characters helplessly trapped in a room at the end' with 'a Doctor who's actually doing something to solve the situation', and that's pretty much what you get here. With more action.
The other strong vibe I was getting was one of Horror Of Fang Rock: period piece, isolated setting, classic horror with an sf twist, diamonds etc. So much so that somewhere in the middle I actually commented that if the Doctor adapted the telescope into a laser to destroy the beast, that would certainly clinch it. And lo and behold...!
Of course, the major difference - er, other than the lack of a lighthouse and the fact that the isolation is achieved by a cordon of armed monks instead of stormy seas and fog - is that we have a single 45 minute episode and the whizz-bang storytelling that comes with it. But it's the episodes that achieve this kind of standard within that framework that remind us that new Doctor Who needs to be judged by its own new set of rules. I.e. they set the bar and show what can be done with that new pacing. I recall when Rose first appeared, I bemoaned the fact that 'We have no time to stand and scare'. It's the same here: the scaring has to be done on the move. But when it's done well, it makes all the difference between a rush and a rush job.
I'm afraid that these reviews have to be done at much the same speed at the moment, because of writing commitments and what have you (hopefully I can make an announcement before too long), but I'd have to scrabble around a bit to find much worth criticising in this one. Yes, it all turns a bit Buffy when they're in the library leafing through books for a clue as to how to defeat the monster. Yes, I did wake up this morning wondering what the hell had happened to all the monks surrounding the house. At the death of their leader Wolfie, they *might* have dropped their weapons and wandered off to resume their pondside callisthenics between BBC One programming, but I missed what happened to them. (Basically I'm going to have to rewatch it to find out if I blinked at the wrong time or something, but a rewatch is no trouble at all in this case.) And yes, the episode should have ended with Rose and the Doctor departing in the TARDIS, laughing their socks off at the royal family and howling like wolves - instead of that ham-fisted ad for the spinoff series, Torchwood, that was tacked on at the end.
I mean, I've heard fans complain about nods to the past - well, phooey, I loved the bit where the Doctor refers to himself as Dr James McCrimmon - means nothing to anyone watching DW for the first time, but it's a nice touch for those of us in the know. Whereas, by contrast, this little nod to the future as Queen Vic plugs the spinoff felt unnecessary and clumsy - and others who had no idea Torchwood was on the way have told me much the same thing. They were left wondering what the hell that was about. Surely a subtle reference in Torchwood to the idea that they'd been established by Queen Victoria would have sufficed to build a subtler but just as firm bridge?
But really, never mind. Last season, it wasn't until episode 3 that I really felt like Doctor Who was back. This year, it's an episode earlier and that's a step in the right direction. And next week: the return of Sarah Jane Smith. So woo, and indeed, hoo!


Stuart Douglas said...

{does happy little dance}

Good, wasn't it?

Stuart Douglas said...

"writing commitments and what have you (hopefully I can make an announcement before too long)"

I missed that - sounds promising...

SAF said...

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Tooth & Claw. Now all I need is Sarah Jane Smith and the chance to do lots of Metal Mickey jokes following the Cyberman episodes and that will be my season complete :)

TimeWarden said...

In an earlier post you said, "If you’re susceptible to their charm, then the illusion holds together." I think this is a really good point, and about any TV series, or piece of music, novel etc., not just "Doctor Who". It's another way of saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder!


Stuart Douglas said...

At last, an explanation of why Andrew Cartmell kept refering to Sophie Aldred as sexy in 'Script Doctor' - obviously her charm held the illusion together (which sounds suspiciously like another way of saying she has a lovely personality, and no woman I've met has ever taken that as a compliment :)

SAF said...

Lol. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but any beholder who thinks Ace was at all sexy should just watch that scene in Fenric where she 'seduces' the guard. Dear oh dear. I am sure Sophie Aldred has a lovely personality though.

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "any beholder who thinks Ace was at all sexy should just watch that scene in Fenric where she 'seduces' the guard"

Ah yes, that scene comes second only to 'sixty year old Uhura does a sexy dance' from ST:V in the Most Unintentionally Hilarious Seduction Scene awards.