Ah yes. The episode where Torchwood begins. Where Rose spends an episode trying to get Queen Victoria to say she is not amused. Where there’s werewolves and it’s 2006 when the Twilight Saga is huge! Bring it, baby!
The Pre-Title Sequence
Ben: This was a bit of a different way to start an episode! Completely unlike any other episode so far in New Who, it actually reminded me a lot of BBC Merlin. I don’t think it’s explained how these identical men in orange came to be but watching them fight was pretty cool. And then we end with a mysterious unseen horror in a cage (cue the screaming, please!) It’s good stuff.
Maureen: It was very Robert Downey Jnr Sherlock Holmes, except the first film in that franchise came out 2009! Remember, Doctor Who did it first! It’s a crazy, monk-fighter-filled, out-there opening, and is the sort that can only happen on a sci-fi show like this one.
Ben: My favourite episodes of Doctor Who are the ones where the companion gets to do something of importance other than look pretty and get rescued from a state of distress.
Maureen: Superficially interrupting Ben to say that I did enjoy Rose’s hair, make-up and costume this episode. It was so early 2000s, I remember the Dolly and Girlfriend magazine ‘how to’ get bleached blonde beach-scrunched hair articles that tried to teach me to get hair looking pretty similar to stars like Billie Piper in this episode.
Ben: Right, well, this episode goes right to the top because Rose gets shit done! Not only does Rose get to make jokes at the Queen’s expense, she also bonds with one of the Help and begins her own investigations.
Maureen: I swear there is a theme with Rose! She is a better companion and character in episodes where she bonds with the help! True, Rose does get kidnapped with most of the Torchwood Institute household –
Ben: Yeah, but she also questions the werewolf, learns its’ motives, and rallies the people trapped with her in an escape attempt. Her questions were intelligent, and I absolutely loved the Bad Wolf callback. The line about Rose burning like the sun, while the werewolf needs the moon is such excellent Doctor Who.
Maureen: I really liked that quote too. I got chills.
Host: Look, inside your eyes, you’ve seen it too!
Rose: Seen what?
Host: The wolf, there’s something of the wolf about you!
Rose: I don’t know what you mean.
Host: You burnt like the sun, but all I require is the moon!
Rose really showed herself to have a back-bone this episode. She literally saw The Captain ripped to shreds by the wolf in front of her eyes, and didn’t lose her head, even as we saw (curtesy of Billie’s acting chops) that Rose was upset and probably more than a wee bit traumatised.
I also quite enjoyed Rose’s interactions with Queen Victoria and The Doctor in trying to get Queen Vic to say her infamous line. Take this exchange for example:
Rose: [after meeting Queen Victoria] I wanted to hear her say, “We are not amused.” Bet you five quid I can get her to say it.
The Doctor: Taking that bet would be an abuse of my responsibilities as a traveller in time.
Rose: Ten quid?
The Doctor: Done.
Queen Victoria: And please excuse the naked girl.
The Doctor: She’s a feral child. I bought her for sixpence in old London Town. It’s was her or the Elephant Man, so…
Rose: Thinks he’s funny but I’m so not amused.
This is one of the few times The Tenth Doctor and Rose dynamic worked for me, and I think it was down to the light-hearted humerous tone of many of their exchanges as well as the way both helped the other to get to the bottom of the episode’s mystery and save The Queen (Rose was wearing a shirt featuring a crown, after all).
Ben: I was most amused by the presence of Queen Victoria in this episode. She had quite a sensible head on her, which is a refreshing change for characters in Doctor Who. RTD portrayed her quite well as a veritable force of nature, unfazed by the circumstances she’s found herself in. I loved the old English, and her manner of speech; the actress did a stellar job. Nothing showed this better than the speech she gives at dinner about missing her husband, and how she finds tales of the supernatural comforting for it gives her the hope of being able to contact her husband.
Maureen: I loved that speech too. I tried to get it down, but missed 90% of it. It’s not on imdb or Planet Clare either which is a real shame.
Ben: I have to say, Queen Vic handles the unexpected intrusion of the supernatural into her world like a champ. Her declaration that this world where werewolves are real is not her world is not one of denial, but defiance: declaring she’d rather die than have the werewolf bite her. Of course, in the end there’s a bit of ambiguity as to whether or not the wolf did bite her before it met its’ end, but what’s the fun in a clean ending? She does have have what I see as the most sensible response to an encounter with the Doctor: she rewards them and then banishes them, wanting nothing to do with them ever again. Her final speech to the two of them was spine tingling, and foreboding as hell! Plus she got to drop some serious truth bombs on Rose and the Doctor about their attitude to dangerous situations. This is a different Queen Victoria to the one we see at the start of the episode who welcomes tales of the supernatural. She’s seen there’s a bigger, scarier world out there, a world that Great Britain needs defending from. So, she establishes Torchwood to do just that! Harriet Jones would be proud.
Maureen: I know right!?! Harriet and Queen Vic actually have a lot in common as characters who lead Britain. Nice comparison. I loved the bit where she pulled out a gun, Sally Lockhart style, and tells her enemies, ‘the correct form of address is Your Majesty.’ It was very last-stand Harriet Jonesy. I also enjoyed her telling Rose and The Doctor off as she banished them. It was about time someone pointed out to those two they were living a suicide wish.
Queen Victoria: You may think on this also: that I am not amused. Not remotely amused. And henceforth, I banish you.
The Doctor: I’m sorry?
Queen Victoria: I have rewarded you, Sir Doctor. And now you’re exiled from this empire, never to return. I don’t know what you are, the two of you, or where you’re from. But I know that you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death. And I will not allow it. You will leave these shores and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good. And how much longer you may survive this terrible life. Now leave my world. And never return.
Ben: We see again in this episode that The Doctor just cannot drive the TARDIS to save his life, but on the bright side David Tennant gets to use his Scottish accent, which was excellent.
Maureen: He also got to be informed by Rose that he was a big, old punk with a hint of rockabilly which did make me snort-laugh. David Tennant did speak so fast when he spoke to Queen Vic he lost me once or twice, but it’s a minor quibble. This episode, for me, was the first time Ten felt like The Doctor. Aside: it also helped that Tennant looked kind of young and… whispers… hot this episode.
Ben: Hit the decks everyone! Inkashlings just admitted Ten is hot! Anyway, for the first half of the episode he really only does general Doctoring, asking leading questions and generally having a fun time. But once the werewolf appears the fun really starts. I loved the parallel storylines in this episode. As one party (e.g. Rose) is learning about the werewolf and it’s motives by coming face to face with it, so too is the Doctor, but in another scene with Queen Vic. This is repeated in the discovery of the mistletoe. It was a great little trick of storytelling that meant everyone got some great moments of action and reaction. But I digress, back to the story at hand! The Doctor, upon learning the story of the jewel Her Majesty carries, has his Eureka moment of the episode. However, I found his resolution was a bit dumb. Sir Robert’s father and Queen Victoria’s husband, having foreseen this day would come, cut the jewel down to use it as a prism through which to focus moonlight into a weapon to destroy the werewolf? And in the end the jewel doesn’t even fit into the telescope that’s not a telescope, the Doctor just throws it into the moonlight the telescope has beamed onto the floor? And the jewel somehow focuses such a strong beam of moonlight that it physically pushes the werewolf up against the wall? And surely Prince Albert and The Doctor should have filled Queen Victoria in on this little plan of theirs, too. It’s just polite to let the person you’re using as bait in your trap know what’s going on.
Maureen: I wasn’t bothered by the silliness of the plot resolution. It was all very Hound of the Baskervilles atmostpheric and that suited me just fine. I was there for the character drama, not a sensible plot. But also, I’m a bit of a sucker for cursed jewel penny dreadful-esque stories and late night Victorian era hauntings. Finally, the resolution was very Classic era Who with everyone contributing to the werewolf’s defeat. And using books!!!
The Doctor: Books! Best weapons in the world!
The Alien/s of the Week
Ben: I loved this Doctor Who twist on the tale of the werewolf, of an alien life form that inhabits human bodies and moves between them with a bite. The scene between the human form and Rose had great tension, and I particularly enjoyed the scene at dinner of Sir Robert relaying the myth of the wolf that haunts the region. Paired with the head of the religious order doing his Latin chanting in the background it really did remind me of the scene in The Empty Child episodes with the typewriter. It’s a good horror scene, for sure.
RTD really leaned into showing how lethal this werewolf is, with the imperviousness to bullets and the way it cut through Sir Robert and his men like a hot knife through butter, the threat was very real. I did, however, find the scene in the study somewhat redundant; we already knew of the comet and the monastery from the myth Sir Robert relayed at dinner, and of the werewolf’s motives from Rose, so this confirmation felt a bit unnecessary. I had some issues with the special effects used on the werewolf, but I did appreciate they tried to go for a less-is-more approach with it killing people. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way it was defeated, but honestly the rest was so good I can mostly forgive it. Overall, I really enjoyed what they did with the werewolf, but I would have maybe liked to see a bit more about the religious order that formed up around it. Maybe something for a future episode to explore?
Maureen: I do agree with you there, Ben. I was a bit confused about the role of the monks in the story, why they’d formed and when. Otherwise, I didn’t have a problem with the werewolf SFX. It was 2006 and the less-is-more approach meant you didn’t see much of it. The scene with The Captain eaten was actually rather Penny Dreadful before Penny Dreadful existed.
Ben: I thoroughly enjoyed this romp of a Doctor Who episode. It started off strong and kept up the good work right through the episode. I enjoyed the reinvention of the myth of the werewolf, I loved Queen Victoria, and I loved that Rose and the other’s got substantial moments to themselves this episode. I had a few issues with the special effects and such, but nothing I can’t forgive. I’m giving it a 9/10.
Maureen: I loved this episode too. I mean, I am a sucker for period piece Who, but even putting that aside there was a lot to love. It was definitely an ensemble episode with some great performances from David Tennant, Billie Piper and the lady playing Queen Victoria. I’m also giving this 9/10 inky stars.