Directed By: Euros Lyn
Written By: Russell T. Davies
Starring: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Pauline Collins, Tom Rob Smith ...
Running Time: 45 min
Air Date: 22/04/2006
To be honest, I'm not sure how they pulled this one off. They attempted a Doctor Who revival in the nineties, but it was heavily americanised and very unpopular among fans. This new version, however, has recieved a thumbs-up even from most hard-core Doctor Who fans, and also from the British general public. Neither of those groups are particularly easy to please.
While attempting to travel back to the seventies, the Doctor and Rose accidentally end up in nineteenth-century Scotland and come across Queen Victoria ("1979, 1879, same difference ..."). Using his psychic paper, the Doctor identifies himself an assigned bodyguard to the Queen, who is headed to stay the night at the 'Torchwood Estate'. However, a multitude of murderous monks (heh) have taken control of the estate, and they intend to assassinate the queen using a terrifying supernatural force. The Doctor takes on the beast in question, but his actions may end up unleashing something far, far worse ...
The new Doctor Who is generally a lot darker than previous versions, using horror elements almost as much as sci-fi elements in some episodes. This has come through in the shows marketing especially, since they had to warn viewers of such content given its early evening time-slot. So it's really no surprise that they decided to do a werewolf episode ... as the director of the episode noted, "It's very British ... that whole Hammer Horror, Oliver Reed thing." The new special effects have also been a major selling point of the show, and this episode features an impressive CG werewolf, which surprisingly ends up looking just as convincing as the one in the mega-budget 'Van Helsing'.
It all comes across very well, a genuine sense of fear and dread being present in the episode, as well as a lot of humour, though of course its not as horrific as they might have liked to make it -- that would require a later time-slot, and exclude family audiences. There are places where it feels cut together like a TV commercial, but given the general quality of British television that's to be expected. And it does make for good trailers. The ultimate message of the episode boils down to what seems to be the recuring theme of this new season, xenophobia. I'm fairly confident in saying that this is the best stand-alone werewolf episode of any TV show. Nothing else even comes close.
Fantastic! The special effects team here have overcome the limitations of working on television and they've created a very impressive CG werewolf. This show has come a long way since the days of the Daleks, that's all I can say. Pit a Dalek against this werewolf and you'd see nothing but shreds of cardboard flying everywhere and an electronic voice saying "Exterminate ... exterminate ..." growing quieter and quieter as its drowned out by fearsome growling. Hey, now that would have been a neat episode ...
After we've seen ninja monks versus Scottish landowners, the werewolf in question is just the icing on the cake. In the 'Torchwood Estate' area of Scotland, there have been rumours of a werewolf about for years, along with suspicious disappearance of sheep, and sometimes a child (one in each generation). Queen Victoria, being very interested in ghost stories, is captivated by the idea. We don't find out for sure though, until well into the episode. The Doctor and Rose, being the experienced time-and-space travellers that they are, know right away that the werewolf is not supernatural as such -- it's just an alien (the Doctor describes it has a "lupine-wavelength haemovariform"). So, nothing weird there.
The children that go missing in every generation are, in fact, taken by the brethren (the ninja monks), for the purposes of the alien/werewolf being that crash-landed on Earth in 1540 and who they now worship as a god (at one point, one of the monks chants "Lupus Fortus Est, Lupus Deus Est", meaning "Wolf is Strength, Wolf is God"). The being wants to bite the queen, so that his spirit can pass into her blood and so would begin "The Empire of the Wolf". This particular werewolf has a strong dislike of miseltoe, which is a first for me. The single method of destruction is also quite interesting, a nice twist on the whole concept. I won't give it away, but rest assured it doesn't involve silver bullets, although they are mentioned by the Doctor as an effective weapon.
The werewolf is a fairly standard biped, although it is seen bounding along speedily on all fours in some shots. There are a number of blue wolf-POV shots as the werewolf systemically picks off everyone in the estate. Despite the fact it looks pretty damn good, it isn't given a lot of screen-time, just brief shots -- which is an effective method for making it look even better. We get the impression that the wolf is dangerous and powerful, even though no real gore is shown. Tom Rob Smith, the actor playing the wolf in human form, gives an especially creepy and effective performance. The single CG transformation scene is extremely impressive, and the werewolf both in design and execution is superb. Good stuff!