‘And should I trust you, sir? You who change your voice so easily? What happened to your accent?’ This is much stronger than New Earth, with a plot built around one of RTD’s vertical chases, an impressive guest star, the kind of monster that the show’s never been able to carry off before, and an obvious launchpad for this series’ “arc”. It’s also the audience’s first chance to properly see the new Doctor and Rose adventure together.
I thought this was the most interesting aspect of the episode. The Doctor and Rose are back to being the tight-knit partnership (sans Jack) we really only glimpsed in Boom Town. They’re so into each other, partners in crime, sharing a sense of humour (a £10 bet on Victoria saying the line), a sense of invulnerability, and the attitude of public school students on a gap yah visit somewhere in Asia (squeeing about a real-life werewolf). There’s also a hint of the later 12th Doctor and carer-Clara relationship when the Doctor relies on Rose to tell him when he’s being rude.
To outsiders, they can verge on unbearable. Mickey wasn’t impressed in Boom Town (‘My god, have you seen yourselves? You all think you’re so clever, don’t you?’) and Victoria is not amused either. They might laugh off her summary judgement on their ‘terrible life’, ‘steeped in terror and blasphemy and death’, but I like RTD offering a different perspective to Rose’s gushing in New Earth, and that Torchwood was originally set up to protect the British people from the Doctor.
Again, it’s a funny script (the first appearance of the ‘don’t do that’ joke particularly), but not at the expense of trying to scare kids, which it attempts both through creepy storytelling about wolf legends, the sinister man in the cage, and, when the wolf arrives, a couple of good jump scares (the death of Steward, and the wolf on the skylight). Best of all, the relentless chase through the central staircase which is exhilarating and frightening (and vaguely reminiscent of Dalek). For fans, there’s a James McCrimmon reference and the central conceit – an alien trying to take over the British Empire by striking at the Queen-Empress – that makes more sense than the last time it was tried in Ghost Light.
Arguably, it’s a bit safe for the first history episode of Series Two to feature the TARDIS arriving in the wrong place, meeting an eminent Victorian and battling a supernatural enemy. Didn’t we see all of this in The Unquiet Dead? Well, sort of, but nothing in Series One, barring perhaps Dalek (and that had a very specific agenda) was quite so single-mindedly focused on doing one long chase. It’s perhaps a bit more like the 2002 horror movie Dog Soldiers, featuring werewolves relentlessly attacking a Scottish croft.
Where it is similar to The Unquiet Dead is in the focus on its celebrity guest. Victoria is a brilliant character: unflappable when confronted by a wee naked beastie or a warrior monk, and imperiously dismissive with a glance when she is unimpressed. Obsessed by control, self-control or control over her world, the one thing Victoria cannot countenance is the same as what inspired Dickens – “more things in heaven and Earth”. Pauline Collins plays her gradual shift from amused haughtiness through fear to cold fury exceptionally well.
Sure, there are bits of this that are throwaway or undercooked (the monks look impressive but nothing about them makes much sense; the “drowning in moonlight” finale is unconvincing; presumably the monks surrounding the house scatter when their lupine god is destroyed) but I think it gets away with it because of Euros Lyn’s pacy direction, RTD’s dialogue and the impressive effects.
A glimpse of backstory with the meteor arriving on Earth and then, 300 years later, the wolf pursuing a traveller across the moors. In the classic series this would have made a perfect opening sequence.
Next Time: School Reunion