Did we like it?
After a first series that oscillated between piquant grizzled sci-fi banquets and wading knee-deep through the slurried sewers of rancid drama, we’re not going to laud this with any definitive sense of joy, but this opener was very, very good and noticeably much slicker and better paced than what has come before. Some problems, however, haven’t been ironed out.
What was good about it?
• The best thing about the story was Captain John Hart (James Marsters) who, even though he played a cold-blooded murderer, was much like Tom Hardy’s showing as Bill Sikes in the recent adaptation of Oliver Twist – an alluring and magnetic screen presence.
• He started by dropping a mugger to his splattery death from the top of a car park, and managed to do so with both grace and élan, before trying to clear a cattle market nightclub of its less desirable denizens.
• But the most gripping scenes were those when he and Jack jousted. We can even forgive the nightclub-wrecking fight they had for no obvious reason at all (other than to have a snog after making up). On their past careers as time agents, Jack protested, “I worked my way up through the ranks!” to which John retorted, “I bet the ranks were very grateful.” And then John mocked the slightly puerile “team name” of Torchwood.
• While as Jack accompanied John through the street level entrance to the Torchwood base Jack informed his former comrade, “This is the entrance for tourists.” “I can remember the last time you said that,” quipped John. All quite end-of-the-pier stuff, but made funny by the precise, sarcastic timbre of Marsters’ delivery.
• However, the best line was near the end after John had been captured and was being forced into a villain’s exposition: “Open it!” demanded the resurrected Jack about the device they had been searching for. “Not even a ‘please’? Don’t your manners get brought back to life, too?”
• But Marsters’ real achievement was giving enough depth to Captain John’s character, despite him being as ostensibly profound as T4’s Steve Jones, to disclose that finding the diamond might not be the true reason for asking Jack for help. As he bumped off the Torchwood team one by one, he did so with the gruelling sadism of a psychotic, spurned yet compassionate lover; taking out his rage of Jack’s rejection on his former lover’s new ‘family’ and eventually ‘murdering’ Jack after a final rejection by pushing him from the top of an office block.
• Similarly Eve Myles managed to communicate Gwen Cooper’s affection for Jack by opting to go on the recovery mission with the dangerous Captain John not only, as she said, to glean more details about his true intentions, but also to grill him for secrets about Jack’s murky past.
• The alien blowfish playing The Prodigy remix of Method Man’s brilliant Release Yo’ Delf on his car stereo shortly before his execution became a convenient prop for Jack to announce his return to the fray.
• The obscure screen saver on the screens in the office visited by Jack and Ianto might be a clue for the new series of Doctor Who.
What was bad about it?
• Perhaps it was in order to devote as much screen time as possible to the enigmatic Captain John, but the plot was thin and superficial enough to model for Karl Lagerfeld – it even concerned the (futile) pursuit of a priceless diamond, the epitomising emblem of human worthlessness.
• Essentially, it was just a wild goose chase set by John to get his hands on the four parts of a device that would locate the diamond, only there was no diamond really as the assembled device transformed into a bomb that clamped on to his chest and threatened to explode. Another black hole in the plot was the need for a countdown, why wasn’t the bomb triggered to go off immediately?
• The overdose of salacious dialogue, which if injected into the bloodstream would ultimately cause plumes of enervating phallus-shaped black smoke to curl from the ears. The worst instance in this episode was the focus on the machismo bickering between Jack and John over the size of their time agent wrist straps – this adolescent adversarial scenario was fought out between both the Doctor and Jack and the Master and the Doctor over the size of the sonic screwdriver or equivalent in Doctor Who, and it wasn’t funny then.
• Instead of sprinkling the whole episode with this excremental seasoning, why not have a two minute feature of Jack rutting with an alien humanoid rhino to drain whoever is in charge’s needless obsession with light-hearted licentiousness without tainting the plot. Better still, why not exile such dialogue to an extra on the cataclysmically inevitable ‘DVD Box Set’ – the new unisex penis extension for simpering gimps – where acolytes of those legalised cardboard extortion in a box can play the gratuitous scenes to their heart’s content.
• Jack’s immortality. Dramatic music aspired to sweep you up like a frenzied tornado as John pushed Jack from the roof of the office, but any tension was killed about two-and-half years ago (or millions of years in the future) when Rose brought Jack back to life for a near eternity. Imperilling the other members of Torchwood is a facile substitute as while not every drama can be as expendable with their protagonists as say Blake’s 7, Taggart, Spooks or Cracker, there is always the threat that they might be killed whereas such a plot device is nullified here.
• You would imagine that there would have been some mention of the recent assassination of the US president by Mr Saxon in the previous series of Doctor Who, even if they had been sent abroad by Saxon on a fake mission.
• In Torchwood, nobody walks they either stride or run and do so with such bubbling machismo that it’s a surprise they don’t leave a sticky trail of testosterone in their wake.
• The sci-fi get-out clause of winding back time to before the relevant calamity when too much damage has been caused to the stable environment in which they reside was used yet again, slowly eroding even the distended credulity we reserve for silly sci-fi shows after such as device was employed in the last episode of the first series of Torchwood and the finale of the last series of Doctor Who.
Torchwood, BBC3, Sunday 22 October 2006
Did we like it?
The precocious offspring of an eccentric genius, showing inherited traits of wild imagination but still occasionally stumbling as it tries to toddle on its own two feet.
What was good about it?
• The first episode ticked off all the common elements of an opener as naïve policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was inducted into the shadowy Torchwood Institute (well, the Cardiff branch at least).
• And Gwen’s character was carefully written to show her as a menial policewoman, making the tea for superiors, while her boyfriend is the solid but dull type who is instantly disposable should she ever succumb to the aura of Captain Jack. And her compassion contrasts sharply with the Torchwood agents whom she recognises have lost some of their humanity by being shut away in a bunker with no lives outside of hunting down extra-terrestrials.
• Gwen’s presence also means that Torchwood’s boffins have to tone down their technical jargon to a level understandable to viewers who are au fait with “reversing the quantum flux generators”.
• The rest of Torchwood are balanced nicely, too. John Barrowman is effortlessly charismatic as Captain Jack Harkness and shows little sign that the burden of being a central role rather than a subsidiary has lessened his quixotic charm. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is the biological expert whose intemperate recklessness clashes with Gwen’s more staid pragmatism, while Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) seems to be a little bit plain but no doubt has some ludicrously fabricated backstory of how aliens killed her parents and she is thus motivated to understand them better.
• The lumbering hospital porter who was an obvious sacrificial lamb at the altar of shocking gore, as the Weevil tore out his throat.
• The sweeping panoramic shots of Cardiff that showed the more naturalistic coastal areas during the day and contrasted them with the bustling metropolis nocturnal vistas. The Cardiff tourist board will be as thankful as they were when a similar stunt was pulled for the first series of Doctor Who.
• A jagged streak of black humour runs delightfully along Torchwood’s spine. Sometimes it’s a bit corny, such as when the clubber was vaporised at the moment of sexual climax (“He came and went,” quipped Jack), and sometimes it’s a nudge and wink to the Carry On… films, shown when Carys seduced the men in the sperm donor waiting room, but it was always amusing nevertheless.
What was bad about it?
• An advantage of a family drama over an adult orientated one is that the scriptwriters are forced to concoct more ingenious ideas given the narrower parameters must work between. Torchwood seemed a little too determined to distance itself from Doctor Who and, in the same way a teenager sets out to spite and enrage their parents, and indulged in rather too much ‘mature content’ resulting in a rather lazy idea of a sex-crazed, possessed young woman.
• The Doctor Who universe was inserted with atypical clumsiness. As Gwen’s submersion in the world of Torchwood and aliens needed to be from the perspective essentially of a viewer untainted by knowledge of Daleks et al, all the evidence of alien presence in Doctor Who (the Cybermen and the Christmas Invasion) had to be summarily dismissed from Gwen’s psyche. And this was achieved through her boyfriend’s rather unconvincing explanation that both were induced by “mass hallucinations”.
• As with much sci-fi, many of the ideas were recycled (but as Doctor Who was the origin of most modern TV sci-fi, Torchwood may only be taking back what is rightfully its own). The sexual magnetism spray, for instance, was from Red Dwarf, and the whole concept of episode two of a gaseous alien possessing a teenager in order to suck out orgasmic energy from its victims was a direct pilfering of an Outer Limits story.
• Captain Jack not being able to die, as a consequence of Rose bringing him back to life in Doctor Who, is a very bad idea (unless he lost that ability when he breathed life into the possessed Carys).