We open with a retinue of evil monks who demand control of a home in Ye Olde Scotland(e). They wear ninja-red outfits (their monk robes come off like stripper cowls), wield sticks in a distinctly kung-fu like manner, and utilize invisible wires to execute menacing fancy flips. Plus they’ve got the audacity to capture the home’s residents and shove them into a barn with a caged — well, it’s something scary, judging the way everyone screams like a crazy person at the (off-camera) reveal.
We’ve already seen the setting — the aforementioned Ye Olde Scotland(e) — so the Doctor’s whimsical promises to take Rose to 1979 and show off his punk-rock self obviously won’t come to fruition. After Rose and the Doctor skip and flirt around the TARDIS console, they step out in 1879, right in the path of Queen Victoria’s retinue progressing through the countryside.
Rose’s horrid denim overall mini-dress gets excused because obviously she’s a wild “wee naked child,” a “timorous beastie” traveling in the company of the Doctor James McClellan James McCrimmon [thanks to Sarah for the correction!] of the University of Edinburgh. At least, the psychic paper so identifies the Doctor — it also tells Queen Victoria he’s been appointed her Protector by the Lord Provost.
Well, then, let’s ignore the whole tree-limb-on-the-train-tracks that got the Queen traveling by road, and head on to evil-monk-occupation land! And wait, did the Queen say something about fanciful tales of wolves? “What a lark!” the Doctor declares it is to meet Victoria, while Rose decides to launch a terrible running gag in which she tries to trick Queen Victoria into saying “we are not amused,” oh ho ho! I mean. Come on, Russell T. Davies. This episode’s all over the place with lots of weird filler.
At the monk-invaded home, the evil intruders pretend they’ve household jobs while the owner, Sir Robert, tries to nudge-nudge hint-hint the Queen that maybe she’d rather stay somewhere else when people are trying to assassinate her with tree limbs? It would be greeaaaaat if he could avoid that whole committing treason thing as well. But nope, the Empress of India thinks it’s all very rustic and charming. By the way, is there any place she can stash her super sekkrit special box that no one is to look at or touch or taunt in any way? Thanks ever so.
While the (actually harmless appearing despite his exciting rotting teeth) man-in-the-cage hushes up the lady of the house and the servants, Queen Vicky and Friends check out the huge telescope Sir Robert’s dad spent all his time and money and love on. Sir Robert’s not bitter or anything; oh, no! The Doctor declares he likes the cut of the dead dad’s jib. After checking out this massive view-finder, however, he pronounces it rubbish. Though, when Rose elbows him for rudeness, he adds it’s “very pretty!” Turns out the dad had a special folktale-based friendship with Prince Albert. They’d sit around and shoot the breeze about stars and magic and ferocious wolves that stole area childr– oh, it’s time to change for dinner? Off to your rooms, everyone, while the head evil monk glares daggers at you all.
The humorless monks brew up a bad magic stew. Rose drapes some period-appropriate dresses over herself, and discovers a maid that escaped the evil monks hiding in the wardrobe. Oh, if they can just talk to the Doctor, everything will be as right as rain, Rose promises! So of course they step out into the corridor to find the Queen’s guards unconscious from the bad magic stew, and immediately get abducted by evil monks.
At dinner, the fake!steward says Rose is just going to be all feral and eat raw things in her room instead of joining everyone at the dinner table like a proper lady. Queen Vic mentions how she likes to curl up with some good “supernatural fiction” since her husband Albert passed on. That’s the “charm of a ghost story, isn’t it? Not the scares and the chills — that’s just for children — but the hope of some contact with the great beyond,” she muses. In fact, she considers it the “creator’s greatest mystery that we’re allowed no such consolation” as communication with the deceased; “the dead stay silent.” Ahem. *coughs* Well, isn’t this is a charming dinner-party?
At the dinner table, Sir Robert ignores the warning looks from the evil monks and tells the story of your standard werewolf: howling at night, livestock ripped apart, and a boy vanishing every so often. Back in the barn, Rose asks where the hell the caged man’s from: “You’re not from earth”. “Oh, intelligence!” it croons, explaining how every generation the monks find it a new host of a human boy such as this current body: “I carved out his soul and sat in his heart.” Lovely. Really, I’m trying to muster more proper dread for this alien who acts like a werewolf. But every so often it gets a bit tiresome that “It was aliens!” explains away any seeming supernatural occurrence.
“This is a man who becomes an animal,” Sir Robert breathes out, obviously getting ready to stick his flashlight/torch under his chin to look even spookier for optimum campfire freakiness. Right, a werewolf, the Doctor says (and you have to wonder how he contained himself for the duration of the story when it’s so completely obvious that’s where we’re headed. I love lots of the Russell T. Davies episodes! But this one is a hot broth that knocks soldiers unconscious randomly sort of a mess).
But the alien in the barn doesn’t just like chomping on sheep and gobbling up the occasional kid. No, it wants to bite Queen Victoria to launch “the Empire of the Wolf.” He lunges, and everyone jumps. “There’s something of the wolf about you,” he drones to Rose, so we can have some Bad Wolf continuity.
Inside, we learn Sir Robert’s father claimed he communed with the beast. The Monastery in the Glenn opposed his father’s investigations, and Sir Robert assumed they thought them ungodly. But instead, Sir Robert suspects they “turned from god and worshipped the wolf.” Just in case that last bit was unclear, the head monk’s at the window chanting, “Lupus Deus Est!” apparently summoning or celebrating the immanent transformation of the alien-wolf. Gosh, sorry for all the treason, what with reluctantly abetting an assassination plan, Sir Robert offers. But they’ve got his wife (never mind all the servants about to die as well). “What’s the meaning of this?” Victoria demands, and “Where’s Rose?” the Doctor panics, bolting from the room with Sir Robert.
“Don’t look” at the alien (who by now has shed his cloak and started to break out of the cage in wolfie form). Rose instructs her fellow prisoners. I do love how good Rose is in a crisis — she comes up with the best plan she can, shouting instructions to pull at the chains the monks have shackled them to so they can loosen the bolt from the wall.
“Where the hell have you been?” she snaps when the Doctor rushes in. “Beautiful,” the Doctor marvels at the transformed werewolf. Luckily the werewolf decides to chuck a broken piece of crate at him to break the spell (and the werewolf does seem to have a mesmerizing power, though the episode doesn’t really suss that out). Everyone runs, and the Doctor uses the Sonic Screwdriver to lock in the wolf.
Queen Victoria pulls out the eensiest purse pistol to show the head evil monk that she’s not a Your Majesty one trifles with!
She shoots and rushes off, while everyone else in the episode’s cast shrieks and runs hither and yon from the galloping CGI-werewolf. There’s an utterly pointless wolf POV lurking about and searching in black-and-white. When the actual Steward declares a few rifle shots have surely killed the wolf and struts out to collect the carcass, he’s immediately yanked up by the ceiling-clinging wolfie and eaten.
Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s gone to grab the McGuffin Box of Special Specialness, concealing it on her person as her Captain declares he’ll sacrifice himself to the werewolf to buy everyone else three more seconds of shriek-y running. “A noble sentiment, my Sir Walter Raleigh,” Victoria intones as the Doctor tries to hustle her along in “a vigorous jog, good for the health!” so she won’t get caught in the wolf’s biting range.
There’s more running. More running, and more panicking. And more wolf POV black-and-white shots. I guess the Captain’s sacrifice helped them gain a nanosecond? The wolf hops around threateningly (run run run, panic panic panic), while the Doctor, Sir Robert, Rose, and the Queen barricade themselves inside the library. I swear, if you ever think the Doctor might come and fetch you for a bit of time traveling, you’d do well to bone up on your barricading skills. They’re so often necessary!
Finally we get a lovely horror shot — the Doctor listens at the door, while just on the other side, the Wolf pauses, breathing lightly. Very nice. They hear him move away, and Sir Robert remembers just in time, whoops, there’s another door the wolf could break down! Know your own house, dude! Or at least spend a bit more time in its library. Remember kids: Books are cool — check ’em out! They rush to pile more furniture in front of that (Advanced Barricading).
Oddly, the werewolf still doesn’t try especially hard to break in. “What’s stopping it?” Rose asks, and good on you Rose, because obviously there is something stopping it. All you Tennant fangirls get a moment to shriek in delight because, hello, Doctor tongue! He licks the wood, realizing mistletoe oil’s been worked into it like varnish. “How clever was your dad, I love it!” he exclaims happily.
Clearly the werewolf’s warded off with mistletoe — out in the kitchens, the lady of the house and her maids figure out the same thing when they spot the Ninja Monks wreathed in mistletoe. They set to brewing up some werewolf-burning mistletoe stew. In the library, Rose and the Doctor have a little “Werewolf!” “I know!” moment of giddy exultation at finding themselves immersed in the common horror genre.
The Queen looks disapproving while Sir Robert apologizes for all this bother. He did try to warn her off, though; didn’t any of them notice something amiss with his staff? “Well, they were bald, athletic,” the Doctor points out. “Your wife’s away; I just thought you were happy.” I love how he breezily assumed “the wife’s away, and now I’ll throw a bit Scottish orgy with my manly manservants!” situation. He’s really a live and let live kind of guy.
The Queen bursts out, “I’ll not have it!” Any of it: the Doctor’s pretenses (his accent’s changed from Scottish to Doctor-ish), the wolf, all this elaborate assassination attempts (seriously, they had to plan for Queen Victoria to visit exactly as the moon was out? I think this has been a plan spanning several monarchies in the making). “This is not my world,” she announces.
So what the hell can they do now, Sir Robert points out. “Your father got all the brains,” the Doctor retorts. “Books, we’re in a library! Best weapons in the world! Arm yourself.” He sets his spectacles on his nose again (it’s such a funny little affectation for Ten to need reading glasses) and they all turn pages frantically.
Okaaayy, so in 1549, there was an “almighty fire” that burned in a pit — like a meteor, or you know, a space ship containing a “lupine wavelength haemovariform.” It crashed near the Glen of Saint Catherine’s monastery, so for three hundred years, the monks have helped the last survivor live in host after host. With the Industrial Revolution of the Victorian Age, the monks have finally played their hand, the Doctor realizes.
The Queen resolves to destroy herself rather than let the creature infect her, but first she wants the Doctor to “find a place of safekeeping for something far older and more precious than myself.” The Doctor scolds it’s hardly the time to worry about valuables, but then he and the others are suitably impressed when the Queen hefts out the Koh-I-Noor diamond.
It’s said whoever owns it “must surely die,” the Queen tells them gloomily (while the Doctor points out that’s true of anything if you own it long enough). Her trip to Scotland is part of an annual pilgrimage to cut the stone further; she’s following her husband’s dissatisfaction with its “not quite right” shine since he died with it still “unfinished.”
Hang on a mo, the Doctor says, scratching his head, pulling at his hair a bit as he puts the pieces together. The diamond isn’t the only unfinished thing in this household: there’s Sir Robert’s father’s research. They’re connected, the Doctor understands in a kind of manic fury of rapid thinking; it’s not just that they’re trapped with the werewolf in the house, but Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father devised their own “trap inside the trap” to thwart the wolf.
Hello, the werewolf seems to say jauntily as he stands atop the skylight, cracking the glass and falling into the library! When Rose nearly gets caught in its path, the lady of the house hurls her Mistletoe Mayhem Consommé at him, burning him and halting him briefly. The Doctor rushes Rose and the Queen to the Observatory; Sir Robert elects to wait outside to “find your time, sir,” sacrificing himself so the Doctor can put Prince Albert’s plan into effect.
“I committed treason for you,” Sir Robert shouts as the wolf approaches. “But now my wife will remember me with honor!” And again, I guess he saves the Doctor and everyone a few nanoseconds. But I feel like his wife would have been happier if he had just lived instead of getting chomped up with honor oozing out of him.
Sir Robert’s father’s “telescope” doesn’t work because it’s not a telescope, the Doctor hurriedly explains to Rose as he fits the Koh-I-Noor diamond into it and prepares to power it with moonlight. When the werewolf breaks down the door, he menaces the Queen, but it’s not long before the Doctor cranks up the power and focuses the laser of light through the diamond. It stops the wolf in his tracks, holding him aloft in an outlined crucifixion pose in his human form. “Make it brighter, let me go,” the alien spirit declares — which is weird, because it seemed damn excited earlier about that whole Empire of the Wolf thing.
With a last howl and a shift into its werewolf form, the alien is dissipated by the concentrated beam of moonlight. “Did it bite you?” the Doctor asks, realizing the Queen is bleeding. She claims a splinter of wood scraped her when they ran. “It’s nothing,” she insists, refusing to let the Doctor examine the cut.
After dubbing the Doctor “Sir Doctor of TARDIS” and Rose “Dame Rose of the Powell Estate”, Queen Victoria finally fulfills Rose’s needling and prompting and declares “I am not amused!” before banishing the Doctor. She doesn’t know exactly where he’s from, the Queen tells Doctor and Rose in a heated undertone. 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.” “Now leave my world, and never return,” she declares.
After Rose and the Doctor get dropped off in a field, they head for the TARDIS. The Doctor muses how Victoria’s hemophilia, a hereditary disease, seemed to come from nowhere. Maybe it’s a “euphemism” for a royal infection that started with the alien-wolf bite. If “a single wolf cell could take hundreds of years to mature,” the Doctor posits, it might be ready by early 21st century. Um. Yeah, I don’t get this bit of science it either, but this whole plot is so elaborate and ludicrous — I mean, Prince Albert got the diamond cut down every year and prepared with his wacky pal just in case the Queen happened travel through that exact house at the precise time the monks were ready to unleash Full Tilt Full Moon Wolf Empire madness? Okay, sure, why not?
“Oh my god, they’re werewolves!” Rose shrieks about the Royal Family as she follows the Doctor (they do like to hunt! And they love bloodsports! And they’re so private! And “mind you, Princess Ann,” as Rose points out).
Back at the estate, the Queen assures the lady of the household that though they can’t speak of these events in public, “your husband’s sacrifice, the ingenuity of his father, they will live on.” She understands now that Great Britain “has enemies beyond imagination,” and they need an institute to defend its borders, “to investigate these strange happenings and fight them.” Aha, it’s the Torchwood Institute after the house name, which is only revealed now.
It’s fascinating we’re prepared here to view Torchwood as a tool of the State. In fact, it’s figured in direct opposition to the renegade Doctor. If he ever returns, Queen Victoria promises, “He should beware, because Torchwood will be waiting.” It’s actually the most ominous bit in this mis-fire of a horror episode. But never mind the randomly-ninja monks (seriously, what purpose did that serve??), the Mistletoe Bouillabaisse, and haphazardly sacrificed Captains and Sir Roberts, because ooooh-weee-wooo-oooh! I’ll be back to recap a favorite, DW 2.03, “School Reunion” tomorrow!