Oh, yippee. I’m about to spend another fortnight on a guided tour of Cardiff’s rooftops. Yes, Torchwood is back, but is it any better? My memory says that there was indeed an improvement for Series 2, but that it was still prone to occasional bouts of stupidity and unpleasantness. In fairness, the show now seems to be acknowledging the element of ridiculousness at its heart, with the old woman who mutters about “bloody Torchwood” as they pursue a giant blowfish driving a sports car.
This pre-titles sequence, and indeed the episode as a whole, seemed designed to re-establish the idiosyncrasies of the series for new viewers, while also reassuring old ones that there’s been some development. Jack appears to have returned from his sabbatical in a much better mood than before, and even resembles the Doctor Who character of the same name at times. I hope this is permanent, although the foreshadowing about mysterious fellow Time Agents seems to suggest that he’ll have plenty to be miserable about as the series goes on.
There’s an attempt to nail down the characteristics of the rest of the team too, which is more than can be said for the entirety of the first series. The time they spent without Jack has allowed room for a spot of character development to take place, and they all seem a lot more confident and assured than they were last time. Ianto has a certain swagger about him suddenly, and Gwen’s engagement has presumably put a stop to her nauseating infidelity – it looks like she’s going back to being the caring, empathetic one, or so we’re told.
The other two characters have always been trickier, and it’s telling that when the blowfish goes through them all one by one, Tosh is defined by her coldness. But she did seem to be a little cheekier than before, and less prone to blend into the background, in the admittedly short amount of time we saw her. With Owen, they now seem to be painting him as some tortured anti-hero, absolving him of blame for his past actions, which I’m willing to accept on the condition that he stops being such a prick from now on.
In this episode, he was able to leave the borderline sexual assaults to Captain John, who was like Captain Jack, but as cool as Captain Jack thinks he is. I wasn’t a fan – this will be blasphemy to many, but I’ve never seen much Buffy, and so the James Marsters factor isn’t enough to distract me from the dickishness of many of the character’s moves, and the accent that seemed to travel between various parts of England.
Despite the slightly refreshed and improved team, and the palpable promise of a new beginning, the plot still relied on the team’s incompetence. Jack knows that John is a con man, and let’s not forget that he’s a con man himself – it takes too much of a suspension of disbelief to accept that the entire team would fall for such an obvious trap. Again. Until Torchwood gets past the necessity for its stories to be driven by its characters’ shortcomings, it will never be great, but in the meantime, this is an improvement on the first series, just about.