Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tooth and Claw

[2006, Season 28/Series 2, Episode 3]

So, here’s the thing about Rose Tyler: she’s terrific.  Really, she is.  She’s brave and funny and loyal to the Doctor.  She’s a genuinely complex character, utterly credible and perfect for grounding a crazy show like Doctor Who.  Above all, she is perfect for her time: she represents the Millenials (or generation Y, if you prefer that) in the way Vikki represented the youth culture of the ‘60s and Ace captured Gen X teens.  Rose is delaying her entry into adulthood, one of the most defining traits of our generation.  She still lives with her mom, doesn't have a degree nor has any urgency in getting one.  She's just wandering aimlessly through life, trying to find her place without really finding one.  She's never without her cell phone and is fairly tech-savvy.  Pop culture means far more to her than to older generations, and she has a pretty firm grasp on it.

Her personality suits the generation perfectly while also filling what we want in a companion.  She's adventurous without actually looking for adventure.  She's brave and loyal, so much so that she becomes a great companion despite being pretty empty-headed.  

Rose is truly a fully-developed character; her character flaws aren't things that are convenient to the plot or that fit in with the story.  They're just who she is.  She's self-absorbed and often oblivious to others, even though deep down she really does care very deeply.  There's a loving, compassionate soul beneath the self-centered shell.

And Billie Piper couldn't be more perfect.  She's totally engaging, and moves from drama to comedy to action smoothly and does them all superbly.  Her chemistry with Tennant is spectacular.  Also, she's really, really gorgeous.

And yet, Rose is missing one vital piece of the companion puzzle.  It's not that she's dumb.  I mean, she is, but that's not the problem; she makes up for that by being useful in so many other ways.  Heck, it's part of her charm.

The Doctor reacts to Rose's intellectual prowess.

No, it's her attitude toward the Doctor that's imperfect.  She's so totally head-over-heels and so in awe of what she sees as perfection in physical form that she never tears him down when he needs it.  The Doctor is an egotistical being with a serious dark streak who really, really needs to be cut down to size every now and then.  He's also an alien, and can seem indifferent and cold because he's focused on something more important.  

There's nothing wrong with the Doctor being smug or dark; that's who he is.  But the companions need to get him for it.  Barbara and, to a lesser extent, Ian did this; Liz, Sarah, Leela, Tegan, Peri, and Ace had no problem whatsoever ripping him a new one when he needed it.  Even Jo Grant, for all her perky submissiveness, still teased him and got on to him when he really did go to far.  And then there's Romana, who could be every bit as smug, but they tore each other down for being too full of themselves.  There was a mutual cutting down.

But when the Doctor gets smug or indifferent around Rose, she just matches his smug indifference with every ounce she can offer.  And then sometimes she just tops him.  Here, in Tooth and Claw, she gets obsessed with making Queen Victoria say she is not amused.  Kinda funny at first, but then she starts doing it even when everyone's life is in danger, and then when people are being murdered and eaten by a werewolf, and it comes off as near-psychotic.  And it's not because she's seeing something bigger or more important; she's just self-absorbed and wants to pull off her own private joke more than think about everyone around her.   People are actually dying, horribly, and she can't think of anything but joking around.  Which, of course, just makes the Doctor worse.

Seriously, somebody died, like, 30 seconds ago.

So, yes, it's fun to watch them together, but she actually tends to make the Doctor's flaws worse when he really loses it.  It's not that a little levity in a dangerous situation is bad, but with the Doctor around, Rose doing it is way too much.  Even he knows to dial it back; she doesn't.

Yes, let's spend this moment of danger making googly-eyes at the alien.

And at the end, when Queen Victoria rightfully tears them to pieces and makes them enemies of the empire, they just go off and laugh about it without ever realizing that there might actually, you know, be a reason Victoria's gratefulness pretty much only extended to letting them back into the blue box with their lives.

And ultimately, this makes her relationship with the Doctor fairly uninteresting, because there's never any sort of tension between them.  It's fun to watch them together, and they're clearly having a blast, but it just isn't interesting below the surface.  I love the Doctor, love Rose, enjoy watching them together.  I love getting the screenshots of Rose for these reviews.  Great character, pitch-perfect performances, excellent companion in almost every way.

But she isn't the greatest, and there's why.

Oh, right, there was an episode I was supposed to be reviewing.  So… Tooth and Claw.  Yeah.  Um…  It’s… pretty good.  Nothing really memorable or special, but it’s got lots of action and humor, a bit of horror, some thoughtful details, David Tennant being awesome all over the place with his Doctorlyness, and typically slick Euros Lyn direction.  There's some good character work in the supporting cast; the two big death scenes are genuinely affecting.  The werewolf is very CGI, but it's impressive given the budgets they work on here, and works very well for the story.  The actual defeat of the werewolf is quite beautiful.  Not a great episode, but fun stuff.


* * *


  • Okay, what the hell is up with the monks doing the wire-fu at the beginning?  Where did a bunch of earth monks learn to do all those impossible stunts and jumps?  Look, it's Doctor Who.  I can take a lot.  The most dangerous beings in the Universe are garbage cans with plungers for arms?  Sure.  Totally logical beings with no emotions driven by revenge?  Why not?  A race around the Solar System with 17th century sailing ships?  Absolutely.  But earthling monks doing wire-fu?  That seriously stretches credibility in my book.


  1. Ha, a rant on this one sure but good points. I'll rant on too if that's ok.

    In S1, a big theme was Rose's intense all-heart feelings helping the war-wounded Doctor on his recovery (and continued growth). Focused on The Doctor and herself, but that too was important to his recovering himself as it were. The Doctor and Rose were building to something of a personal parity through S1, culminating in the whole Bad Wolf thing. Well, geez did some fans go batty. Didn't like the idea of anybody but The Doctor holding sway (never mind I guess that some of the best stuff in the past came through his "flaws" or "handicaps") and some were railing that Rose was this horrible thing usurping the show, now going to become all-powerful or whatever. That wasn't the intention of RTD but some fans really went off LOUDLY.

    Maybe it was a reaction to fan gripes about that, we'll probably never really know why. But what seems like a self-conscious quasi-reset of the Doctor/companion dynamic seems to have happened literally as soon as Eccleston was gone. RTD kept to his themes, it usually worked well anyway, there would be the odd exception but... Rose did continue to reflect the themes concerning the Doctor (hubris being one) but was very conspicuously not allowed parity on certain levels anymore, even when this led to obnoxiously unnatural imbalances. That extended from returning more of the actual plot action (as opposed to reaction or providing situational setup) more exclusively to The Doctor and nixing the idea of Rose being an assertive emotional counterweight (which she had consistently been in S1, an obvious example being in Dalek).

    It appears, to me, that the inconsistency of Rose in S2, your point of a serious shortcoming in their dynamic and some common fan "issues" with Rose just may stem from a production "policy" if you will. It was definitely not the most realistic way to go for the characters and their situations. Their stunningly shallow, farcical-caricatured behavior in this ep is the extreme example and they seemed to play it a bit more real after seeing this, but the "policy" continued. After a knee-jerk opposite in Donna for the next special, the more conservative approach to the companion seems to have continued with Martha. Perhaps after realizing the cost of what I'd suggest was quite an over-reaction, Donna's return may have been self-consciously intended to provide a contrast/counterweight.

    S1 had set up a fine ensemble and really made The Doctor and companion dynamic play as it too seldom had before. Quite the contrast to this episode...

    Whew! That's a lot of typing. Hope it was expressed well.

    Thanks also for both pointing out the ludicrous action flick "monks," the fine work of the supporting cast and, in context, the werewolf.

  2. Had to actually get something done before coming back to waste more time. That's a great point how Rose's "delaying her entry into adulthood" is an associable theme to the generation but I'd suggest RTD is doing much better than that.

    Adulthood means different things to different people in different places at different times. Before this "career first" generation going back... well, ages, and currently still in a goodly portion of the world, it was/is not only expected females would stay with mum and not pursue any study but in fact that was the ideal for an adult woman unless a man took her and then she was to do similarly in his household.

    All of the female companion characters in Who are actually way out there in being independent minded and adventurous to more conservative standards by just going along, so I should acknowledge how relative this all is. In the past, they sometimes had an unnaturally forced end scenario wherein Who would end up passing her to a man, a point entertained as a love story meant to "retire to her proper place" as a wife (Jo comes to mind but she's not alone).

    RTD didn't do that. She became capable of all kinds of stuff, but Rose wasn't put in a box and put away as either suddenly self-fulfilled and independent or another man's wife. Instead it's part of the theme about need that ties in with The Doctor (how it relates to why he's 'married' to the TARDIS, his loneliness and his relationships) and (thanks to mind-bending science fiction elements) he (in a more "human" version) ended up taking on being the partner for life himself.

    I think he was trying to get a really big picture in there without taking the convenient simplifications (old or new) and by hook and crook managed to worm it in even after the companion "policies" were seemingly revamped.

  3. Wow. Your (excellent) comments are nearly as long as my rant. :)

    Good points, all around.

  4. Still another point (I'll be doing Ringo here soon, "I've got blisters on my fingers!").

    There was another agenda in S2. In S1, they had (very bravely!) gone in with The Doctor and Rose as an exploration of relationships without any conventional pattern. Which confuses Rose socially ("what sort of a date are you?" "why does everyone keep assuming he's my boyfriend?") but she accepts whatever it is at heart whereas it sneaks up on The Doctor (who is ever want to be off and running anyway). He's not father, but he is serving as part of that. He's not sexual but she can get him er, dancing. It's not exclusive but the other is irreplaceable. So on. What's important is what's being explored and the social categories are being challenged by going right over them with just the odd notice. In a way it's RTD trying to make people think through society while still being a mainstream entertainment.

    That was all fine, but going into S2 there were two clear reactions: some loud fans railing against a relationship and the loads of new fans it helped bring to Who. So at the same time that Rose was being "put in her place" from "too great" a plot element or counterweight with/against The Doctor, there was also the 'shippers who had to be catered to. This episode is where the consequences of conflicting agendas show the most. Rose must be in gaga love affair mode to serve one side but is unable to counter The Doctor on the other. In much of this episode then, Rose is caricatured to serve the agendas. Comparing this to an extremely clear example of the original method - Father's Day - is... phew. Wild Strawberries vs XMen.

    I still enjoyed it but certainly had to qualify a lot after S1 in certain areas. A spectacular show still, but it is too bad the more natural approach couldn't have been retained instead of the ol' production agendas setting in.