Torchwood: Exit Wounds

It has become apparent over the last couple of weeks that I can’t have been paying much attention to Torchwood in early 2008. There have been so many details and plot twists that I’d completely forgotten about, which has pleasingly meant that I’ve been able to watch the stories unfold as if it were the first time. And I have to say that yes, I was duped into thinking that John was doing all this just to spite Jack. I guess it’s because I found the character so unappealing the first time round, I was prepared to believe that he’d be capable of such ridiculous behaviour.

I should have clocked something was up when the stakes were raised to ludicrous proportions – taking over the Hub and unleashing the odd Weevil is one thing, but blowing up half of Cardiff is a bit of an overreaction. Destroying a city is an expensive business, which is presumably why we never got to see any of the actual destruction, just the insides of a police station, a server room, a hospital basement and a nuclear bunker. It’s such a shame that it was all left to the imagination, because it really didn’t carry the weight and impact that something like the utter annihilation of the UK’s eleventh largest city ought to.

Then came the reveal that this wasn’t Jack’s ex doing it out of spite, but in fact it was Jack’s long lost brother doing it out of spite. Grey does admittedly have the excuse of being driven insane by torture as a prisoner of war, so this is better. But despite his ability to survive such horrors, and then to capture John, turn him into a bomb and force him to carry out his extraordinarily convoluted evil plan… he’s a fucking idiot for not realising that the ring John throws into the grave is going to end up being relevant to the plot.

Instead, he heads back to the Hub, shoots Tosh and then gets distracted by a mysterious knocking sound and runs head first into his eventual downfall. Thus proving that the inability to spot an obvious trap is a familial trait. I did like the twist of Jack having already been rescued by a previous Torchwood team, but it’s rotten luck that they didn’t set the timer for two minutes earlier, before Tosh got shot.

Yes, this is the episode that kills two ever-problematic characters with one stone. Now that their stories are complete, I can conclude that Owen did improve significantly in the second series, but not quite enough to redeem his earlier behaviour, and that while there was some fleshing out of Tosh’s character, it was still pretty thin on the ground and most of it revolved around her feelings towards Owen.

I couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or baffled by the decision to use some of Tosh’s precious final moments to resolve the question of why she was pretending to be a doctor in Aliens of London – I’m a fan of continuity tie-ups, but it felt tacked on, and it was hardly a question that was begging to be answered. Other than that, their deaths were both well realised and suitably sad, but neither character will be a huge loss to the show. There’s a reason those two don’t have shrines. (I mean, there’s no reason for Ianto’s shrine either, but more so for those two.)

So endeth the series, and indeed the first incarnation of the show’s formula, with the team 40% lighter but resolving to fight on. Which is all well and good, but meanwhile Cardiff has still been destroyed. Actual present day Cardiff, setting of many of Doctor Who adventure, completely fucked. And Jack has spent the best part of two millennia screaming and choking and dying in agony, over and over again, countless times, seemingly with little to no psychological effect. I feel like I’m far more aware the scale of the damage that’s unfolded than the show is – they barely seem to acknowledge the enormity of what’s occurred, and it makes for a flawed, but still fairly fun, finale.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6

  • Torchwood series watched: 2 of 4
  • Torchwood stories watched: 26 of 37
  • Individual Torchwood episodes watched: 26 of 41

Ahhh. I have enjoyed the second series a lot more than the first, but I’m still nevertheless extremely glad to be getting back to Doctor Who – it’s been wall to wall spin-offs and specials for so long now that the relative normality of a regular series is increasingly appealing. Even though I’m not a fan of the series in question, I’m looking forward to re-examining why.

Torchwood: Adrift

I’m extremely surprised to discover, during my customary post-viewing Googling, that this is widely regarded as one of the better episodes of the series. I don’t disagree with much of the critical response – that it’s good to explore the emotional impact of what happens to rift victims and their families, and that it was interesting to present a situation that had no easy solution – but it left me completely cold, in spite of those things.

A lot of the reviews talk about how this is a great example of sci-fi and what the genre can do, which leads me to ponder how weird it is that I don’t consider myself a sci-fi fan particularly, despite my two favourite programmes (Red Dwarf and Doctor Who) being sci-fi. But I fell in love with those two shows on the strength of other elements – character comedy and the brilliance of the lead character, respectively – the sci-fi was almost incidental.

So while I obviously have an affinity with and fondness for the genre, I need something extra on top if I’m going to really enjoy it. With Doctor Who and associated programming, I’m often in it for the characters, the way they work together and how they love and care for each other. Therefore, an episode which is essentially a complicated cycle of people being complete dicks to each other is going to struggle to get me going.

I don’t like Jack keeping secrets from the rest of the team – I thought they’d got past that with this series. He’s supposed to be all-knowing, compassionate, always-in-the-right Doctor substitute that we gravitate towards – how are we supposed to do that if we can’t trust him? We’re told that Gwen and Andy are great mates, but she’s horrible to him throughout, and he can’t stop making digs about her husband. Speaking of whom, seeing a man scream “I fucking hate you sometimes” in his wife’s face is not a pleasant image.

We were supposed to be on Rhys’s side during that argument, as he points out that nothing’s more important than everyday people’s everyday lives, but The Doctor he ain’t, and the point he’s making gets muddled when he says that Gwen’s work doesn’t matter. What Torchwood do is important, and he doesn’t get that Gwen is sacrificing her own everyday life for the sake of everyone else’s. He comes across as a selfish manbaby, petulantly complaining that his woman isn’t giving him 100% of her attention.

Gwen’s self-sacrifice is about doing what’s best for the greater good, which feels like it should be the theme of the episode, but the dots are never quite joined up. Jack is keeping the victims hidden away from their loved ones so that they don’t have to witness their suffering, and their memories of them are preserved. That’s great, and I can see why that’s the right thing to do, but why exactly does he have to keep it a secret from the team? Why doesn’t he just explain his reasoning to Gwen, rather than allowing her to bring Ruth Jones to the island to see her mutilated son screaming for 20 hours a day? He’s ruined that woman’s life just so that he can say “told you so”.

RATING: 5

Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

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.

RATING: 6

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

Torchwood: Day One

Firstly, calling the *second* episode Day One is stupid. Secondly, so is absolutely everything else about this story. It’s the first contribution to Who canon of Chris Chibnall, and his stewardship of this series is the primary reason why I’m deeply concerned about what’s going to become of the main show next year. Not everything RTD and Moffat have ever done has been brilliant, but nothing they’ve done has ever been as bad as Torchwood.

Today’s episode: some sex. Fairly horrible, unappealing, Welsh sex, centered around a girl who looks slightly too young for that sort of carry on, but that could just be me getting older. I don’t like to second-guess the intentions of creatives, but having the second episode – the one that establishes the future tone and format – of your new “adult” sci-fi series be about a sex monster, who feeds off “orgasmic energy”, feels like a deliberate shock tactic. If the aim was to make it feel as different as possible to Doctor Who then job done, but you’ve got to ask yourself whether it’s a good idea to define a show as being not the incredibly accomplished and popular series that provided your entire audience.

As with last time, the problem is the childish attitude towards the supposedly grown-up elements, and this detracts from what could have been, on a very basic level, an interesting story about the struggle between the girl and the alien, the team’s skewed priorities and Gwen’s attempts to give them some perspective. That’s what I want from a more adult-oriented version of Doctor Who – taking the time to unpick important, complicated issues in a way that would go over the kids’ heads, not showing a flashback to a bouncer having a wank over CCTV footage.

For an episode that went out of its way to involve salacious sex scenes, it tried to have its cake and shag it in the sequence where Carys (filmed in what will be forever known in my house as Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Cam) is bombarded with sexual imagery, but the point it’s trying to make about society is dull, trite and over-egged. The real problem is scumbags like Owen Harper, easily the worst regular character ever to appear in anything Who-related. Just a disgusting, sleazy, misogynist wanker with no redeeming features in evidence so far – I wasn’t counting the revolting, women-hating things he said and did, but I will from now on, and deduct points from my rating accordingly.

On the plus side, Gwen is more likeable than I remembered, and she makes a much better companion figure than Jack makes a Doctor figure. He’s The Doctor but without the moral code or the real know-how, and he compensates for these shortcomings with self-conscious aloofness and a superficial air of mystery. But the problem is that while he’s an enigma to the other characters, he’s not to us – we know he’s a former Time Agent from the 51st Century, that he’s pansexual rather than gay, and that he can’t die because Rose Tyler fixed him with the time vortex, so what is there to keep us interested in him?

It all boils down to Torchwood establishing itself as a fairly conventional and formulaic police procedural, which is a fairly substantial step down from Doctor Who‘s format of “the show that can go anywhere and do anything”. I’m determined to try and enjoy it for what it is, but it’s hard when the show’s so dumb. Why do they have those big blue blinking lights up the side of their van? Why?

RATING: 3

Torchwood: Everything Changes

Oh, Torchwood, there you are, with your big silly SUV and your big silly shots of people standing on tall buildings for no reason whatsoever. I remember being full of hope prior to the launch, and a big group of us wound up at mine to watch it at the end of a rather boozey weekend. It was a double bill, but having rewatched the first episode tonight, the last thing I want to do is watch another.

My memory is that Series 1 is pretty much an unmitigated disaster, then there’s a handful of good episodes in Series 2, Children of Earth is surprisingly fantastic, and I didn’t even get to the end of Miracle Day. I’m determined to keep an open mind though, and to try and reap some enjoyment out of it even if it does turn out to be, as I suspect, a load of complete shit.

That said, let me talk about what’s wrong with it. It’s very self-consciously “adult”, but it misunderstands what that should entail. It’s not enough to just pepper in some incongruous swearing and make everyone bisexual – it’s like a teenage fantasy of adulthood. The CSI bloke at the beginning suddenly dropping the fuck-bomb seemed to be a statement of intent, and it is, just not in the way they were aiming for.

The Torchwood team are simply not very good people, are they? There’s nobody questioning the morality of bringing a murder victim back to life for two minutes of constant abject terror. Later, they appear to be just hiding in the cordoned-off area of the hospital while Gwen chats to the Weevil, and they don’t think to intervene until that poor porter has been brutally killed.

By far the worst of the bunch is Owen, who’s a weird octagon-faced little robot man, whose chosen alien superpower is Red Dwarf‘s sexual magnetism virus, but when he uses it, it’s essentially a date rape drug. The similar connotations of Jack slipping a retcon pill into Gwen’s drink seemingly didn’t occur either. And yes, the obvious way around that particular problem would be to just write things down with a pen and paper, so that the tea boy (God rest his soul) can’t delete it with his big delete button.

There’s so much stupidity on show that I was indeed reasonably entertained. The cut to the aforementioned shots of Jack on a big building made me laugh almost as much as I cried yesterday. I’d forgotten about his line earlier, when Gwen asked him about the missing WWII soldier: “Well, that couldn’t be me… could it?”, delivered like every parody of The Twilight Zone you’ve ever seen. Hilarious.

Then there’s the infamous (amongst my friends, anyway) line from Susie: “Weevils and bollocks and shit.” Oh my! This is only the second time I’ve ever seen it, but I remember it as clear as day. As laughable as it is, I now realise that Susie’s speech about how there must be beautiful things out there, but all you ever get with Torchwood is all the shit stuff, kind of undermines the entire series, right there in the climax to the first episode. Well done, everyone.

I must admit that the twist of killing someone off after they’ve been billed as a series regular is a stroke of genius. It’s just a shame that Susie’s presence wasn’t the only aspect of the pre-launch hype that proved to be misleading.

RATING: 5