Torchwood: Adam

New rule for the Who universe: if you find yourself teamed up with someone called Adam, you’re best off not trusting them. I love the idea behind this episode, and it’s well seeded with glimpses of Adam turning up in a slightly altered pre-titles. It’s the kind of premise that could pan out in any number of ways, and this episode chooses to use it to explore what’s fundamental to each of the main characters, and turn them on their heads. As this is Torchwood, the results are mixed.

Perhaps the most successful strand is Gwen and Rhys, which is surprising considering past form. Crucially, he came out of it pretty well, and it was an opportunity to clarify what they see in each other, and what they mean to each other – Gwen can often do with a reminder of what’s important, and the stall seems to be firmly set out that theirs is now a happy, stable, positive relationship. Finally.

What Adam does to Ianto is deeply disturbing, but again a fascinating idea. It’s well-written, but it’s slightly marred by the fact that I can’t take Ianto’s big crying face seriously after the ridiculousness of Cyberwoman. I quite like him when he’s the slightly sarcastic tea boy, and also when he’s being a useful member of the team, but I think they resort to putting him through intense emotional distress a little too often, and I struggle to avoid finding it comical.

The same goes for whenever John Barrowman tries to be super serious. Those flashbacks to the Boeshane Peninsula are supposed to be scary melodrama, but it’s just hilarious to see the adult Captain Jack – another one whose face is a size or two too big – steaming around in there, shouting for his daddy. He has never been the most convincing leading man, but it’s getting a bit embarrassing now, and it’s detrimental to the show. He’s really poor here.

Then, as I so often find myself saying, there’s the other two. The two whose personalities are constantly being rewritten all the time anyway, so it was always going to be tricky to explore such inconsistent characters. Owen just switches from an alpha male to a geek, via the medium of a cardigan and glasses, which is mind-numbingly unoriginal. Tosh gets to be confident and sexy once more, but Adam forcing her into a sexual relationship with him made me uncomfortable; it’s tantamount to rape, which is something that the show didn’t see fit to comment upon.

But the further issue with what they did with these two is that when it’s all fixed at the end, they go back to normal – Tosh is timid and self-conscious, and Owen is cocky and a bit of a prick towards her. How is this better?

Mind you, I did find the ending interesting – the team wake up with no memory of the last two days, and all the records have been wiped, including one of their diaries. It could have been the starting point of a whole other story, where Tosh discovers that someone’s finished her jigsaw, Owen and Ianto get broken feet, and there’s a gravestone dedicated to the memory of the memory of Adam Smith.

RATING: 5

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Torchwood: Meat

Oh, the huge manatee. Strangely, this was not dissimilar to last week’s Doctor Who, with its giant alien space whale whose cries startled my cats. But rather than humans using its shit for fuel, this one was being butchered alive, which is an altogether more disturbing prospect. I’m glad to say the standard of the special effects have improved in the intervening years, as the only thing less convincing in this episode was John Barrowman trying to do serious acting.

This one felt like a little bit of a misstep after the steady improvement so far. Rhys and Gwen’s relationship took centre stage, which is rarely a good thing. I quite enjoyed having him as part of the team temporarily, and I hope that his newfound knowledge of Torchwood will lead to a new, less annoying relationship dynamic. Their arguments are so unpleasant that they’re like nails down a blackboard to me, and all they do is remind me of how terribly Gwen has treated him thus far. Her affair with Owen was somewhat of an elephant in the room whenever him and Rhys were on screen together, and the ending is undercut when you remember that she’s happily retconned him before, when it suited her.

So while it’s an intriguing development, it’s not quite there yet. They’re clearly trying to make Rhys less of a mug this time round – the presence of aliens in Cardiff really shouldn’t be that shocking to him considering all the extra-terrestrial activity that’s happened in Britain over the last few years, and he must be the last person to Cardiff to have heard of Torchwood. When he was following Gwen in his car, flabbergasted at everything he saw, he reminded me of Truman Burbank finally starting to figure everything out.

Meanwhile, I’m absolutely not on board with Tosh lusting after Owen again all of a sudden. It’s threatening to undo all the good work that’s been done to move the characters along, with Tosh reverting to type after the events of the last episode being particularly galling. While Owen is still nowhere near as twattish as he used to be, there were flashes of the old him when he had to act like a complete oaf, ignorant to her advances.

And once again there’s a plot that, to at least some extent, relies on the stupidity of the characters. The team themselves are off the hook for once, but the baddies are complete idiots. They find Rhys loitering around the premises, so they bring him in, show him around and tell him everything. They’ve got the brains to capture an alien species, keep it sedated and set up an elaborate meat processing and distribution system, but they don’t have the sense to keep it schtum.

One aspect that did seem to continue Torchwood’s slow stumble towards maturity was the insistence on using stun guns instead of real ones, and the determination not to turn the situation into a bloodbath. It seemed like they were deliberately distancing themselves from the likes of Countrycide, and with good reason. In-universe, perhaps Jack’s new found pacifism, along with the value he places on the creature’s life, are a result of his recent reunion with The Doctor – when you travel with him, he makes sure you know what’s important and what’s right.

But the best thing about the episode? Mary from Corrie is in it. She’s amazing, and seeing her flirting with Captain Jack was a joy.

RATING: 5

Torchwood: To The Last Man

The rehabilitation of Torchwood continues, to the extent that I actually enjoyed this one. I’m as shocked as anyone that the best episode of the series so far is the one that’s Tosh-centric. But this is a different Tosh to the one we’ve seen before; far more assertive and less cagey than she was last time she fell in love with the subject of a case. She’s very much a blank canvas for whatever the plot requires, and I still don’t feel like I really know who she is, but there’s an improvement there if this is how she’ll be from now on.

The team still treat her like the old Tosh to some extent – she’s always felt like an outsider that they all secretly pity, and this was evidenced by the patronising way they treated her when she set off for her date with Tommy. But their gentle courtship was nice to watch unfold – if this was the first series, we’d have skipped all that stuff and gone straight to the sex, and it would have been much more gratuitous. Thinking about it, I can’t recall anything in this episode that was unsuitable for pre-watershed, and yet it felt no less grown up.

Another thing that would have been very different last time round was Owen’s attitude towards Tosh and Tommy’s relationship – it’s hard to imagine Series 1 Owen showing genuine concern for Tosh’s happiness, or indeed about anyone but himself. He’s changed so much that he’s a completely different character, and he fucking needed it. I know where it’s all heading, of course; he needed to be softened so that the audience would give a shit when he died, but the side effect is that the show is so much better for no longer having a relentlessly stone-hearted misogynist as a main character.

But you can’t have everything with this show, and the plot was, appropriately, a load of old tosh. All the ingredients were right – the glimpses of an old Torchwood team, a tommy called Tommy who looked like a young Steve Coogan, Moffat-esque attempts at complicated timey-wimey stuff – but it somehow didn’t come together well. The team were passengers in the story, with all the decisions having been made for them, and all the actions that moved it along being provided by a series of plot devices. The set up kind of deserved better.

Still, the focus was on the characters and their emotions, and it did that element very well – better than any previous episode, in fact. Of course, Doctor Who can do both simultaneously, so that should be the standard to match, but considering just how badly off the tone was last time, I’m more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt now that I don’t automatically hate everyone and everything on the screen. I’m actually starting to not despise Torchwood.

RATING: 8

Torchwood: Sleeper

One of the main rules of the first series of Torchwood was that every time there’s an episode isn’t absolutely terrible, it must be followed by one that is. This pattern has been broken for Series 2, which has now delivered back-to-back “not too bad actually” episodes, although neither of them have eclipsed any of the better efforts from the first run. The bar is not particularly high, but at least they’re comfortably clearing it now.

There is of course the inherent problem that the protagonists behave in quite a monstrous way at times. It’s easy to forget that Torchwood was originally introduced as a big bad enemy for The Doctor, and there’s always a nagging doubt, like David Mitchell noticing the skull motif on his uniform, that you’re on the side of the baddies. The way they treat poor Beth is pretty disgusting; worse still is their justification of “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about”, like you’d read in the Daily Mail after every freedom-restricting Tory policy of the last seven years.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, because there is a legitimate threat that Torchwood are duty bound to neutralise, but I guess it’s a question of attitude. Jack seemed stuck between his two personas this time round, callous and heartless while he was torturing Beth (another uncomfortable moment for a liberal viewer), but wise-cracking and humourously cocky at other times. And at least these days, when Owen suggests a inter-team threesome, it’s treated as a joke. In Series 1, they’d have actually done it.

That’s a key difference between the series actually – the salacious stuff has been toned down, which allows more screen time to be spent on actually exploring the more complicated aspects of the story. There was some interesting stuff about what it means to be human, although, true to form, there wasn’t quite enough of that to reach any satisfying conclusions before it started becoming more action-packed towards the end.

The other sleeper cells were interesting for various reasons. I was distracted by one of them having a baby in a pram, moments after Beth touches upon the fact that undercover aliens can’t reproduce with humans. The way the first guy snaps his wife’s neck is shocking, as is his later stabbing spree. By the time he reaches the army base, someone must have watched Terminator 2 during the development process. And I’m pretty sure having such a big explosion next to a nuclear weapons store is not particularly healthy.

And another thing, stop getting Jack’s death thing wrong. He’s supposed to die and then come back to life, but sometimes they forget and simply make him impervious to death instead. Here, he gets skewered by an alien’s knife-arm, looks slightly pained, and then just unskewers himself and carries on.

So yeah, decent enough episode, but there’s still plenty of slightly daft things to distract me from it. But despite the tone of these first two reviews, I am feeling a lot more positive towards the show this time round. I’m not dreading the next episode any more, like I was at times during Series 1. It’s probably only going to take one stinker to change that, but it’s been a solid and entertaining start, even though it’s still nowhere near the level of actual Doctor Who.

RATING: 6

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 theĀ 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
  • IndividualĀ Torchwood episodes watched: 13 of 41

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