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Apr 22, 2006

We Are Amused

I was in the pub last night celebrating my best friend's girlfriend's birthday and I was trapped in the lull of a conversation with someone I'd never met before, who everyone else seemed to know.  Which is something that happens a lot, but I digress.  He sensed something was wrong and turned to me and asked:

"Do you like football?"
"No." I said.
"Oh." He said.
I'd had a couple of beers by this point so I thought it was worth at least trying to have conversation about the subject.
"It wasn't until a few years ago" I continued humorously, "That I found out that teams actually play each other twice during a season.  'home' and 'away'."
"Really?"  He said.
"Yes." I said.
He told me he'd only recently become a follower because of an ex-girlfriend.
"Really?" I said.
"Yes."  He said.
"Well" I explained, "I can tell you that Liverpool are playing Chelsea on Saturday."
"In the FA Cup."
"Is it?"
"Yes."  He confirmed.
"Oh.  Well do you want to know how I know there's a match on Saturday?"
"How?" He asked.
"Well, Doctor Who's on afterwards and if the match goes into extra time or penalties, the episode will be delayed and there'll be scheduling chaos."
"Really?" He said.
"Yes."  I said taking another swig of Budweiser and sitting back in my chair.  There was an unhealthy pause.  I could tell my attempt at self depricating humour and fulfilling a stereotype on purpose may been ill conceived.
"So you like Doctor Who, do you?"  He asked.
"Yes."  I said.

So there I was tonight at 7 o'clock-odd hoping that Chelsea wouldn't score against Liverpool in extra time.  John Motson even mentioned the wait for the show by Doctor Who fans in his commentary.  For the first time in ages I was actually scared that someone might score in a football match and actually cheered when Joe Cole missed.  I said in last week's review that I might actually be more excited about this series than I was as a child.  Based on my behaviour in the past twenty-four hours that may well be the case.  Perhaps.

Once the episode began  I cheered again.  And again.  And again.  I cheered after the magnificent teaser.  I cheered during the book scene and I cheered as the Doctor and Rose stepped into the TARDIS, only to cheer again was the origins of the Torchwood Institute played out in one thing I always love in drama.  The scene you're not expecting.  Tooth and Claw was the Doctor Who I know and love: funny, heartstopping, exciting and terrifying.  It had heart, soul, passion and history.  Credit where its due, it took that mad shopping list of elements (kung-fu monks, werewolf, Queen Victoria) and turned it into what has to be one of the best forty-five minutes in the programme's history.  That sounds like mad-hyperbole but really after last week's episode I think it's deserved.  This was Russell T Davies' writing at full capacity, and this time he gave it a great ending.  But those opening few moments with the killer monks juxtaposed with the farm hands -- certainly more preferable to the sobbing and knob twiddling of last week's episode.  You need to grip the audience and at best make them wonder what they've tuned into and this did it in spades.   A Touch of Zen?  I should say so.

Anyone who was worried about some of Tennant's gesticulating last week should have been silence.  This week he presented a layed, perfectly metred performance with the just the right edges of creepy and loveable.  Anyone who wants to argue against the idea that this Doctor might a bit too domestic now has the moment when he discovers the werewolf to fall back on.  Only an millenia-old alien would be excited and impressed that he met this lupine killing machine and would stick around as everyone else left the room.  But again we're introduced to another change this season -- the Doctor actually saving the day at the end and not through luck, but through thought.  Granted the poor heroic traitor Sir Robert bought it in the struggle, but it was the Doctor who pieced together the clues and vanquished the beast in the flash of moonlight.

Although Rose had less to do in this episode, the great joy after last week's nervousness was seeing the chemistry between Tennant and Billie Piper.  Russell T Davies says that he didn't screen test them together because he doesn't believe there's such a thing as chemistry, just great acting, well compare these two now with the Chris and Billie of last year.  Here, you can tell the Doctor and Rose just really enjoy each other's company and it's flirt city.  But there's a respect there too, and the facility for antagonism - Rose asking the Doctor where the hell he's been when he finally pops in to save them.

The episode was well served by an excellent guest cast too -- Pauline Collins' offered dignity and humanity, expecially in the scenes when she remembered her late husband.  Those final moments of the episode in which she revealed what we kind of knew all along about Torchwood were played just right command and substance.  Derek Riddell as Sir Robert (who I remember as Rab in The Book Group) demonstated yet again why he's 'one of the UK's underrated actors' (according the the IMDb).  He's another guest star who understood that the best approach to the material is to underplay, underplay, underplay -- look at those moments when he's re-united with his wife.  Michelle Duncan as his wife made her few scenes significant because of her presence -- as far away as anyone can be from a previous role as Lady Di in that ITV drama of a few months ago.

The photography in the episode was frequently amazing.  It had a look which can be achieved when you skip the bleaching-process in film (see the film Three Kings) -- which is odd because the series is shot on DV -- enhancing the blacks making the mise-en-scene all the more spooky.  Even through the werewolf was revealed, director Euros Lynn understood that short sharp shots of the beast and the reaction to his gruesome appetite are more effective than to reveal the gore completely -- a knock on effect of the timeslot but ironically more frigthening.  Large sections of the show looked like a film -- the monks in the distance on the moor, the sweeping crane shot as the Doctor visited the telescope room or lab and the point-of-view shots from the werewolf's persepective.  There was also that amazing shot of the Doctor listening at the door as the werewolf joined him on the other side, snarling (which was actually very similar to a scene in the film Amelie towards the end (when she's listening out for the appearance of potential boyfriend Nino) but that's irrelevant so I'll move one).

Who else was amazed at the sophistication of the wolf>  In Doctor Who Confidential afterwards, it was revealed that he was filmed on set Andy Serkis-style and then rendered in by The Mill as per Gollum.  This is probably the best all cg character there's been on television and lifted the bar fairly high for future engagements.  Having seen a fair few werewolf films in the past (and the single card carrying member of the American Werewolf in Paris Appreciation Society) I was simply amazed by the transformation -- yes it looked computerised, yes it broke the 'don't show too much rule', but I was convinced.  The fur was so good you could almost reach out and touch it.

Also.  The Doctor introducing himself as James McCrimmon.  Nice.  The Host suggesting that Rose has something of the wolf in her -- about blazing like the sun.  My favourite reference was also the most obscure.  That the Doctor was trained in Edinburgh by Dr Bell -- who as anyone saw the BBC's Murder Rooms series will know employed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creator of Sherlock Holmes as a clerk, which must have been a nod to The Hound of the Baskervilles to which the episode must of a slight debt.  He was also Queen Victoria's personal surgeon.  Although it messes up continuity all over the shop because I thought Holmes was a also character in the Who universe (see the Andy Lanes's Virgin New Adventure All Consuming Fire).  I'm thinking about this too much aren't I?

If Russ and the gang can pull a romp like this off what were they doing with last week's episode?  Ok.  So that's last time I'll mention it.  From this night on Saturday nights are still in safe hands.  And I can relax.


the grin is back.

god job russell.

I'm sorry Stu, I love your posts but what drugs are you on? The direction was fantastic, admittedly, but the script was poorly paced, the wolf, when it was a whole shot and not the much better fast cuts, looked like all CGI - rubbish. And as for the wife, she was 2D and those bits where RTD tries to give the thing some emotional depth by having them kiss goodbye just doesn't work without any time to get to know the characters.

Again, sorry, but this was another bad episode. More to come in my review.

Eucolyptus? Also: high on life. IMHO, the script was perfectly paced and pitched. That was a brilliant opening twenty minutes setting everything up perfectly for the final twenty. The wife's another great example of creating and running with a character and give her heart in very little screen time (see also that officer who defended Rose on the stairs in 'Dalek') -- I especially liked the moment when she took charge of the staff and worked through what how to defend her house and husband. As for the monster -- it's the old yardstick -- rubbish in comparison to? It's an (admittedly larger than usual) tv budget but really that wolf was excellent. The Mill approach to these things seems to be painterly -- creating something which fits into the design of the series which doesn't necessarily mean it has to be realistic. Also, it's a werewolf so it's not like they trying to recreate something which exists anyway. I really don't know how you can say it was a bad episode but hey, let's not start a flame war. I look forward to reading your review.

Oooh I forgot to mention Murray Gold's score which impressed through not being intrusive and actually increasing the suspense. Pip, pip.

Hear hear, Murray Gold did much better this time around, that was the first thing I noticed.

As for Holmes, he joins the club of "are they/aren't they" characters that might or might not be real in Who-continuity. Just do what I do and blame it on the Faction Paradox.

Now, I owe you an apology Stu, and what drugs was I on last night? Following a repeat viewing, it's brilliant! It has to be good story that actually improves with attention.

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