Torchwood: End of Days

The nightmare is finally over. The relief is comparable to when I finished my last recon, slightly tempered by the fact that there’s more Torchwood to come within a month or so. But for now, I’m finally free, and like Bilis Manger, I spent much of the last hour willing the team to hurry up and open the rift already, just so it would be over. But actually, it wasn’t too bad – it still had the trademark Torchwood stupidity and complete lack of joy, but it was fairly exciting and suitably ramped-up for a finale.

I hit it off with this episode early on, when Jack made the point of publicly bollocking Owen for breaking the world and generally being a twat. The glimpses of the chaos outside were good, but you could tell that they didn’t have the budget to show too much. The sequence in the hospital was great, but it was just a vignette – you could have had a whole episode about how to contain an ancient disease, but it was no more significant than the Roman soldier or the spaceships over the Taj Mahal.

The meat was in the visions the team experienced, and they were pretty effective. I may not have enjoyed any of the things that were back-referenced at the time, but I liked it all being brought back and tied up. It’s one of the few times this series where it’s felt like there was a coherent plan from one episode to the next; I think the show would have benefited from being as serialised throughout as it has been for the last few episodes.

Not that everything lined up neatly, of course. When Jack got shot, I was distracted by how long it took him to come back to life; it’s previously happened in seconds, but here they had time for a whole opening-the-rift montage. Also, I don’t really see how opening the rift prevented Rhys from being killed – fair enough that the people who’d been displaced from time just pop back, but his stabbing was merely something that happened at the same time as all this rifty stuff was going on, it wasn’t part of it.

I obviously enjoyed Owen being sacked – he didn’t deserve it on this occasion, but it’s like Al Capone getting done for tax evasion. I wish that just one person other than Jack had been able to spot that the whole thing was obviously a trap – I know that they’d all had their minds messed with by Manger, but surely this is exactly the sort of thing they ought to be trained against. But no, they have to go and Torchwood it up by doing the thing that they’d been told to never do, and what’s the result? A bad one. (Abaddon).

Yes, Abaddon, who’s The Beast from The Satan Pit, but without any of the interesting philosophical debates, or any of the tension in the build up, or just anything other than being a big stompy monster. It was all dealt with in around three or four minutes, which felt like a hell of an anti-climax and kind of undermined all the stuff about how catastrophic opening the rift would be. Pretending that Jack was dead-for-real-this-time was the very definition of false jeopardy – you know the whole way through that he’s going to wake back up, so why bother getting emotionally involved?

The excitement of the very ending, when the hand starts bubbling and we hear that oh-so-familiar noise, was extremely apt and made me empathise with Jack more than anything else this series – after hanging around with the Torchwood team for so long, I can’t wait to get back to The Doctor either. The strange thing is, looking back, that it doesn’t quite tally with the start of Utopia – it’s heavily implied here, with the paper flying around and the clear indication that Jack didn’t leave via the doors, that the TARDIS landed in The Hub and picked Jack up. Which would not have been as good an opening as Jack running over and clinging to the outside of the TARDIS as it dematerialises. Honestly, they can’t even tie in with the main show properly.

RATING: 7

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 4.92

  • Torchwood series watched: 1 of 4
  • Torchwood stories watched: 13 of 37
  • Individual¬†Torchwood episodes watched: 13 of 41
Advertisements

Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness

Back to Torchwood for the first half of what was originally a double header to end the series. As we’re approaching the business end of this first run, it’s becoming a lot more serialised – there’s still always a mystery of the week, but the series arcs and overriding themes are much more pronounced than they are in proper Who. The show’s often at its least rubbish when it’s doing these long-running subplots – they’re the only bits that feel properly thought out, as the main storylines are so inconsistent.

But this had a good A-plot too, with Jack and Tosh sent back in time, and evoking memories of The Empty Child in the process. We’re also introduced to Bilis Manger, who’s so effortlessly creepy, he feels like a refugee from an old black and white serial. The twist of introducing the real Captain Jack Harkness is a good one; I remember being disappointed at the time that the explanation didn’t teach us more about our Jack, but this time round I just enjoyed getting to know the other Jack. He’s going to have some explaining to do after kissing a vanishing man in a packed dance hall in 1941.

It was nice to see Toshiko given more to do than usual – she’s never been this proactive before. She also seems to have taken on the role of Jack’s confidant, and it works because she’s just about the only one of Torchwood you can trust. As usual, I had little time for Owen’s selfish, twattish antics. Ianto, bless him, doesn’t really suit being too dramatic – it tends to make his face contort in most unnatural ways – so their scenes of constant bickering were starting to derail the episode.

Until Ianto shot Owen in the back. Now he’s my hero, and I can finally understand why they built a shrine to him.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: Combat

Mickey The Idiot gets a go at writing an episode, which I distinctly remember watching at the time – it was Christmas Eve, and the start of a very busy period for Doctor Who and its soon-to-be-multiple spin-offs. Unfortunately, I also distinctly remembered the big twist that this is Fight Club With Weevils, and can now report that if you take the mystery away, the bones are pretty bare.

I remembered it being fairly tense and exciting by Torchwood standards, but this time round there was nothing to distract me from the toxic masculinity that permeates the script. Owen is the worst thing about this show, and all of a sudden there’s two of him. Twin wankers. It’s unfortunate, but in the time between the original broadcast and now, the Tyler Durden-lite soundbites that the estate agent spouts have been appropriated by neo-Nazis and rapists. Add to that seven years of Tory government and I have very little tolerance for privileged middle-class men whinging about how hard their lives of luxury are.

A recurring problem with this show is that everyone’s a bit of a prick. I despise Owen, so I’m not going to feel sorry for him just because he finally met a woman who he couldn’t control, and his descent into despair is a total overreaction anyway. Elsewhere, the only other character to potentially empathise with in this episode is Gwen, and I’ve got big problems with the way her character has developed.

I’ve disliked her ever since she started sleeping with Owen, and the tale of the series so far is her slide from innocent naivety to immoral selfishness. She crosses the line once and for all here, as she drugs Rhys so that she can confess what she’s done, and then becomes slightly unhinged and begs him for forgiveness. I believe it’s called the moral event horizon – once a character has acted so despicably, there’s no going back.

You can say that it’s the influence of Torchwood that’s corrupting her, and she’s inevitably going to have a good old shout at Captain Jack about this at some point. But it goes back to another point that I feel like I’ve been making virtually every time – a belligerent organisation of arseholes who ruin every life they touch is not a good thing to base a series around.

RATING: 3

Good news: Tomorrow, I don’t have to watch Torchwood. Bad news: Tomorrow, I have to watch Donna Noble.

Torchwood: Out of Time

Hey, Red Dwarf had an episode called Out of Time first, and theirs was significantly better. Nevertheless, this is probably one of the better episodes from this series, where the pattern has been almost uniformly alternating between half-decent efforts and absolute stinkers (the pretty good They Keep Killing Suzie following the sort-of-alright Greeks Bearing Gifts being the only exception). I worry that I’m being too kind to the mediocre episodes, but then I also think I might be kicking the shit ones when they’re down, so I guess it balances out.

I’ve cracked the formula for this series now. Take a sci-fi/fantasy concept that’s been done a thousand times before, and then don’t put a unique spin on it. Tell it in the most straightforward way possible, pausing only to interject a spot of swearing, sex, angst or misogyny. The wildcard is whether or not this is done with any degree of competence, and this episode was one of those that just about passed muster. It can’t be considered great in the context of the Doctor Who universe, because of the aforementioned lack of originality or ambition, but it’s fine.

It was a simple tale of three people brought forward in time from the 1950s, and the three different paths they take from there. It worked because Torchwood, as a team at least, took a back seat – nothing for them to investigate and no threat to be vanquished, so it becomes all about the guest stars and how their fate is determined by which individual team member takes a special interest in them. It’s interesting how you can tell so much about the main characters from what happens to their particular time-traveller.

Gwen’s one is the most straight-forward and broadly positive story. She has to meet Caz from Coronation Street, which is a shame for her, but then after that she gets the happy ending – leaving Cardiff. Typically, Jack’s one is the guy with all the emotional burden and the harrowing downfall. The scenes with his son were nicely handled, the scene of his Jack-assisted suicide not so much. In what was, on paper, an enjoyably morally-ambiguous bittersweet ending, I was just distracted by the fact that Jack should die too and then be resurrected, not just sit there seemingly immune to petrol fumes.

And of course Owen shags his one. Of course he fucking does. It’s a shame, because her character was by far the most interesting of the three, but all she gets to do is dance on the roof of a car park with him in his cheap suit thinking he’s James Bond. A fate far worse than death. Their affair was thankfully free of any of the overt misogyny that we often see from Owen, but I didn’t need to see quite so much of the act itself, and therefore his simian-like sex face. Or Rhys’s arse for that matter, although the joy with which he delivered his “morning glory” line was probably the highlight of the episode.

Oh, and Ianto’s only purpose was for a bit of light relief in a big Asda, and Tosh might as well have not been in it at all. Everything you need to know about the Torchwood team in just one episode.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Random Shoes

Apologies for the extended delay. I must admit it’s been rather pleasant not having to watch Torchwood every night. At least now that I’m back at it, the end is in sight, and it’s not long before I can go back to talking about a show I actually like. The latest line of chalk on my wall represents an episode which is the Torchwood equivalent of Love & Monsters, where the slightly annoying man-baby with unresolved parent issues and small-scale alien connections is an obsessive fanboy of Gwen Cooper, rather than The Doctor.

This is a much less realistic, and more creepy, proposition for a character. As with most Torchwood episodes, there’s the makings of a good story there somewhere, but it makes too many mistakes along the way. The portrayal of Eugene did little to placate the feeling that the man was your standard stereotypical weirdo, with no hint of nuance whatsoever, and a back story that we’ve seen a thousand times before. I didn’t like the character, and I certainly didn’t like him sleeping in Gwen’s bed without her knowledge. His mate from the video shop was a complete twat as well.

I enjoyed the slow release of information as we followed Gwen going about her business, and I did find myself getting into the mystery at times. But I could have done without quite so many patronising voice-overs about how life is short but beautiful and we should make the most of it and not abandon our children just because they fucked up a quiz in primary school. I don’t care about this man, and I don’t need to be lectured by him. This is also the reason why the sad scenes of his grief-stricken mum fell flat – if you’re going to have a one-off character as your protagonist, they need to be at Sally Sparrow’s level in order for me to feel emotional about what happens to them.

I would call it a bold experiment, except that it was less experimental than the earlier Love & Monsters, and not as good. I wasn’t left clear as to the purpose of the eye – was it the eye that caused Eugene’s memory loss? He didn’t seem to learn anything extra about his past during his ghostly Gwen-stalking, only the things he’d recently forgotten, so what’s the point in it? And how exactly was he made physical again in order to save Gwen’s life when his body had been cremated?

And did he literally just float up into the sky and out in to space afterwards, in front of all his friends and family, after they’d just come back from his funeral? Because that must have been a bit weird for them.

RATING: 4

Torchwood: They Keep Killing Suzie

OK, that was actually quite good. This is the first one so far where I’ve been fully engrossed in watching the episode, without being regularly distracted by something stupid and/or annoying to take me out of the story. The team were a lot nicer to each other than usual, more relatable, and a hell of a lot more competent, despite ending up getting locked in their own base. It was like a proper detective show, where the peril is caused by the machinations of the guest villain, rather than by the heroes being a bunch of clowns.

The villain in question was of course the former decoy team member, and it was great fun to see her getting progressively more evil as her ridiculously complicated plan unfolded. I can just about get on board with the explanation of how she pulled it all off, but I wasn’t convinced by how suddenly Torchwood figured it out – it’s a hell of a leap that Jack makes from Warden Knot reciting a poem to “Suzie spent two years training this man to unwittingly lock the Hub down”.

It’s another leap when they’re trying to override the lockdown, and Tosh suddenly suggests typing in the ISBN of a poetry book on a keyboard that’s not connected to anything. And a hell of a leap takes place when we’re told that Gwen has “minutes” to live when they’re driving in the middle of the night, and then we cut to the car pulling up in broad daylight. But hey, this is Torchwood – compared to any previous episode, these are just minor niggles.

This was the show finally doing what it promised to do – presenting an exciting sci-fi adventure that’s written for adults, tackling heavy issues like the nature of life and death, with some degree of intelligence. That’s new. Plus, it’s always good to see The Shend, playing a character I have much sympathy with – I usually react like that when I hear the word “Torchwood”. Yasmin Bannerman, who is now no longer a tree, was also on hand for the mini Red Dwarf VIII reunion.

I’ve still got no bloody idea what the hell Jack and Ianto are getting up to with that stopwatch, though.

RATING: 8

A short pause now, as I’m busy all weekend. I’m not just putting off watching more Torchwood, honest.

Torchwood: Greeks Bearing Gifts

This week on Torchwood: lesbians. I knew it would be a bad idea to watch Torchwood on International Women’s Day, but Owen wasn’t in it very much, so that was a blessing. This is the episode where we finally learn something about Tosh, and lo and behold, her entire motivation boils down to her feelings towards a man. Torchwood gonna Torchwood.

We also got an infodump courtesy of the daughter from off of My Family, who was pretty decent in the admittedly reductive role of the murderous seductress. It’s an entertaining enough story, if insubstantial, which is I word I find myself saying a lot recently. I actually quite enjoyed it at times; the thought-reading was interesting and well realised, and Naoko Mori is good enough to carry the extra burden of being in the spotlight, even if her character isn’t.

Tosh was so much in focus, and has been so peripheral so far, that it feels like a bottle episode, or like in the black and white days when one of the leads would go on holiday for a week or two. We barely see anything of Jack – he’s back in his habit of standing moodily on rooftops, then he just comes down at the end to save the day. Unfortunately, when he does turn up, he reels off a story about a transgendered friend of his that is at best insensitive and at worst grossly offensive. He equates Tosh’s behaviour under the influence of a malevolent alien to someone coming out as trans, and implies that both are a bad thing, something to be mistrusted.

Like Rose’s use of “gay” as a pejorative, it feels like something that wouldn’t happen today, even though it’s only been a relatively short amount of time. It’s also astonishing how strange and jarring it is when Mary sparks up a fag in a pub and a cafe. It’s been less than a decade since the smoking ban, but it’s enough to make this show feel like a product of the past. Also, Tosh makes a reference to John Hurt, by name, which is something else that wouldn’t happen today, as it’s too complicated to explain his existence in the Who universe. File it alongside Eastenders and Blue Peter.

I did enjoy this episode, despite the above problems and the continued unpleasantness with Gwen and Owen. But I think that my reaction to these episodes is being affected by what I’m comparing them to; the one after a stinker always seems half decent, because it’s being judged against the lowest possible benchmark.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Countrycide

Urgh. Even the name of this episode makes me shudder. This is shit, I don’t want to be writing a Torchwood blog. I don’t want to even watch Torchwood any more. Bring back the recons, at least then I could imagine some good television taking place. On the plus side, I remember this episode being the absolute nadir, so it might ease up from now on. It strikes me that so far, the very worst episodes have been the ones written by Chibnall. This does not bode well.

Owen is absolutely at his worst whenever Chibnall’s in charge, and he’s absolutely nauseating here. The gang’s little team-building game of revealing the last person you snogged was always doomed to fail with him around, and the mess that it descends into just highlights what a dysfunctional bunch of horrible people Torchwood are.

This is then followed by a moment so nauseating, it’s stuck with me for over a decade, absolutely word for word, despite only ever seeing it once before tonight. I’m not even going to say it, but you know which bit I mean. The only thing worse than that line from Owen is the fact that it fucking worked. I simply don’t buy that an otherwise smart and self-respecting woman like Gwen would find that scumbag so irresistible.

It makes her just as horrible as the rest of them. Rhys has so far been portrayed as nothing but nice, doting and understanding; a normal show would have portrayed him as oafish, controlling or unpleasant, so that the lead character is justified in ditching him for someone else. Not Torchwood, with its golden rule that absolutely nobody in the team is allowed to be remotely likeable.

Isolated moments of stupidity like this dominate my memory of the episode, because the rest of it is not a great deal of cop, and it doesn’t even try to hide the contrivances at the heart of the plot. It’s not enough that the SUV gets nicked because that prick Owen left the keys in the ignition, but when they discover it’s been parked at a nearby village, they point out that this is obviously a trap… and then they start walking towards the trap. Rather than, say, walking to somewhere with phone signal and calling in reinforcements.

There’s some tense and creepy moments to be found when they get to the village, but very little substance. The twist that the real monsters were people all along would be interesting were it not so predictable and well-worn, although the disturbing performance from the lead cannibal was quite good. The snag is that the show is effectively saying that Owen’s prejudices against countryfolk were right all along, which isn’t a great message.

Plus, of course, it ends with Captain Jack driving a tractor into a house, then leaping out and shooting a dozen people in about ten seconds, like he’s Bruce Campbell or something. I laughed, and I don’t think I was supposed to. Pathetic episode, pathetic series, pathetic writer. I’m a bit fed up with Torchwood.

RATING: 2

Torchwood: Small Worlds

This week on Torchwood, the sensible grown-up version of the silly childish programme: fairies. But also: paedophiles, just to mix it up. Proper bottom-of-the-garden fairies and a proper hanging-around-a-primary-school paedophile. But don’t worry, the fairies kill the paedophile by stuffing his mouth full of rose petals, and everyone else lives happily ever after.

Until the fairies kill an old woman that Captain Jack’s trying to bone, then a little girl orders her step-dad killed because he mended a fence, so Captain Jack decides to sacrifices the little girl to the fairies, much to the chagrin of the poor woman who’s just lost her husband and her daughter within the space of two minutes. It’s a moral dilemma that would later be explored with great success in Children of Earth – the question of whether to sacrifice innocent life in order to save everyone else – but it all happens far too quickly here to examine each option in any meaningful way. We don’t get a chance to feel the threat, so Jack’s actions seem rash and heartless.

But do you know what? I didn’t hate this episode. The sections exploring Jack’s past work well because we’re finally seeing glimpses of his life that we didn’t already know about – just how many wars has he fought and possibly died in? The story of him and Estelle was actually quite touching, if you can forgive John Barrowman’s flaws as a serious actor, which I just about can. I still think Jack works far better as a wise-cracking sidekick than as a leading man, but here at least he was written well for the first time this series.

I was a bit dismissive of the fairies at first, but it all sort of clicked for me when Jack mentioned The Mara – it reminded me that I accepted a supernatural creature that can control reality when Doctor Who did it, so I gave them the benefit of doubt from then on. Afterwards, I read that Jack was talking about the Mara from Scandinavian mythology, not the one from Snakedance, so feck it anyway.

So yeah, the best episode so far – nothing special, and it would probably be one of the weaker Who episodes in your average series, but I didn’t hate it and it didn’t irritate me, and that’s as good as you can hope for at this stage. Plus, Owen was barely in it, so he didn’t get chance to do any of his trademark misogyny. Still no idea who Tosh is, or if she has any individual character traits whatsoever, btw.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Cyberwoman

Well, I have been complaining recently that Cybermen are more effective when they’re converted from real humans bit-by-bit, and that they’d moved too far away from the body horror aspect of the originals. I also said that I wanted Torchwood to take more time to explore complicated moral issues that are too dark for Doctor Who, so this episode should be right up my street. There’s only one problem: it was bollocks.

I mean, fucking hell. I remember being so, so angry about this on first broadcast. It makes an absolute joke out of the Cybermen, in the most Torchwood way possible. Apparently, the Cyber conversion process works by building a metal bra and knickers first, and leaving plenty of bare stomach and leg exposed to fill in later. What the hell is wrong with people who look at a classic concept like Cybermen and think “it’s good, but let’s do a sexy version”. It’s like a porn parody.

If you manage to ignore the travesty that they’re making of Davis and Pedlar’s work, there are some thrills to be had from the generic infiltrated-base action, but they’re few and far between. What’s supposed to hold the episode together is the emotional trauma that Ianto’s going through, but given that this is only the fourth episode, that falls completely flat. He gains a personality somewhere along the line, but so far he’s been in it for a total of about five minutes across three episodes. He’s literally just the tea boy at this stage, so why should I sympathise with him when he’s betrayed his team and endangered the entire universe?

And apart from anything else, how the fuck has Ianto managed to keep this to himself the whole time anyway? We were told last time that Jack lives and sleeps in the Hub, which leaves very little opportunity for the requisite sneaking about. When he deletes CCTV footage, it comes up with a big message saying “FOOTAGE DELETED”, and Tosh is able to retrieve the file within seconds once she notices. So how has nobody noticed any of this before?

We’re never clear what exactly is going on with Lisa either. Are her Cyberman tendencies taking over her human brain against her will, or is she full-on Cyberman all along and just pretends to be human-like to manipulate Ianto? Some clarification might have helped the moral dilemma at the heart of the story to have more impact – how are we supposed to pass judgement on whether Jack or Ianto are in the right when we have insufficient data?

It’s all hanging together by a thread, which is something I perhaps wouldn’t notice so much if I was being entertained. I admit to being amused at the sight of the Cyberwoman punching a pterodactyl in the face, but that’s about it. I don’t really see how Ianto can snap back in to the comedy butler role after this – the episode doesn’t give us any reason to believe there’s a way back from this debacle, for him or for this godforsaken series.

Owen Watch: A needless moan about women drivers, direct from the 1970s, and somewhat more seriously, sexually assaulting Gwen when the pair of them were hiding in a mortuary drawer. Unnecessary and uncomfortable.

RATING: 2