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Oct 28, 2006

The Pot Noodle Horns Of Nimon

Torchwood: Everything Changes

Aocj The condensed review of the episode is very simple; it sucked. The longer version, for those of you I haven't already put off, requires a bit more patience. (Cue the sound of LINDA's door slamming.) I'll be honest though; I thought it was a bad sign to begin with that the BBC didn't offer Torchwood an advance BBC1 slot like Doctor Who, Robin Hood, or other recent hits. If they thought Torchwood was viable as a drama series in its own right, why would they premiere it on the same minority digital channel that even now threatens to give us Celebrity Scissorhands?

See, I'm not even sure this is the pilot for the right series. For a show billed as being risk-taking, it actually takes no risks with the core format at all and cribs from a half-dozen past glories instead. Despite claiming that Torchwood is its own beast, RTD describes it in a nutshell as 'The X-Files meets This Life' (or That's Life, as Querry quipped shortly before being crowned Emperor of the Universe). It wants to be mature and hard-hitting, but it's not confident enough to shed the Doctor Who trappings which much of the post-watershed audience would deem childish. It wants to be racy and sexy, but at the same time embraces RTD's love of juvenile innuendo. It wants to be a deep character piece, but marries it to the action-adventure genre and gives us little time to get to know the supporting characters before it becomes crucial. I just couldn't fathom for whom this complete mishmash of styles is really aimed at. Doctor Who is a worldwide phenomenon from being truly an all-ages family show; whereas RTD wants Torchwood to become part of the cultural zeitgeist, but only if 'zeitgeist' is spelt with all eight spare tiles on a triple word score.

"RTD wants Torchwood to become part of the cultural zeitgeist, but only if 'zeitgeist' is spelt with all eight spare tiles on a triple word score"

The weaknesses of RTD's own style are writ large over the whole episode. There's a damn good reason Doctor Who has been the way it has for most of its life, and especially under Davis' tenure; the man and his staff can really evoke a sense of wonder when they try hard, and the show can (and does) get away with the most implausible and fantastic twaddle, but it's still 'real' and believable when you get caught up with the Doctor in facing the danger and feeling richer for it and having a good time in the end (School Reunion, anyone?). But Torchwood isn't about being open to the wonders of the universe, is it? It's all about being insular. It's an exclusive club, and humanity isn't invited. And without that sense of fun to keep my sense of logic in check, I just couldn't suspend my belief for more than a minute at a time when the story insisted on throwing out one absurdity after another. And I know some of you will say that I'm taking the programme too seriousy, but dammit; isn't that what a supposedly 'grown up' programme should ask you to do? The things that do not yet work, for me at least, are manifest. Like:

The so-called 'adult' drama. What cobblers. This is a mature programme, so let's have some swearing in the first ten minutes and top it with alien sex in the next episode. The new Radio Times says that after its initial punch, Torchwood is already reigning itself in. In which case, why the hell do it at all if it isn't just a cheap hook for the viewers? If you're going to be smutty, at least be consistantly smutty. Bad marks straight from the off.

Torchwood itself. The least secure 'security agency' in the history of the world, ever. Alien artifacts go missing or are lifted from the base right under Jack's nose, making "Nothing leaves the base without my permission" in episode two EASILY the most ridiculous line of the series so far. Torchwood London had its own office complex, legions of staff, billions in R&D funding and its own private millitia. You're NOT trying to tell me that Torchwood Cardiff, an organization above the government and answerable to nobody with the same remit and practises, is staffed by a mere five people? Particularly how often the staff crack up or are killed in action and have to be replaced, as the morgue scene seems to imply? Of course limited numbers does mean more secrecy, and after Doomsday the organization isn't going to want to stick its head above the parapet for a while - the Doctor pretty well saw to that. But in that case, WHY DOES THE WHOLE OF CARDIFF RECOGNISE TORCHWOOD BY NAME?? Has Planet Earth been taken over by goldfish? Which brings us to...

The simply atrocious retconning. Apparantly, it has. So The Christmas Invasion didn't make a shit's worth of difference after all and humanity is as blind to the possibilities of 'other' lifeforms as ever (Very uplifting message there, I don't think). Yeah? What about the fucking DALEKS? What about the ghosts that were lollygagging around for MONTHS? What the ENTIRE WORLD being overrun by Cybermen in an episode which YOU WROTE, RUSSEL!? 'Terrorism' my ARSE. Jesus wept, this planet doesn't deserve saving; I think that severed hand will have company soon when the Doctor slits his own wrists.

The characters. With one single exception, I hated them. And when I didn't hate them, they made no impression on me whatsoever. Special mention has to go to Owen Harper; if this was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, he'd be the stoner idiot with Casey Kasem's voice. Punch. Punchpunchpunchpunchpunch. PUNCH. Strangle.

Constable Cooper. Never mind the dubious physionomy or the accented gabble of Scrabble tiles pouring out of her mouth. In WPC Cooper, I think I've been presented with possibly the worst-trained rozzer ever presented as a main character to a dramatic audience and viewers of The Bill. I thought police officers were expected to be alert in spotting potential emergencies through suspicious behaviour. So even if the Weevil was a bloke in a mask, a good constable should surely have radioed in on the pretty fair assumption that there was a nutter loose in a hospital, instead of just blithely gimbling up to it like a cretin. Jack and crew were having a bloody good laugh at how useless she was (or at least no threat to the organization that they couldn't provide themselves) as they strung her along during the pizza delivery routine. And Gwen, you're part of Torchwood now; could you knock off the 'you can't do that' shtick please? Two episodes in and "It's against civil liberties!" is already getting old.

"If this was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Owen Harper would be the stoner idiot with Casey Kasem's voice"

Captain Jack. Don't get me wrong; Jack is still the most loveable creation to have come out of the entire new series of Who to date, John Barrowman loves the role and throws his all into it. But this show is all wrong for him because Jack exhibits the same brand of larger-than-life Doctor Who whimsy. Torchwood is all small potatoes to the man, as it would be to a Time Agent from the future whose whole previous character has been to stick two fingers up at responsibility and go along for the ride. More to the point, Jack is the only one having any real fun, which only heightens how bloody miserable the rest of the show is. I lost count of how many times I had to suppress a snigger at the continual 'Captain Jack' namedropping. "I need a police search for a Captain Jack Harkness." Yeah, and have a look for Major Tom while you're at it, love. How far does Jack's invulnerability go? If you can't kill him, could you still incapacitate him by cutting his arms and legs off? Even if they eventually grow back it would deprive him of a quick tug for a while, which is as fitting a punishment as anyone could think of for the man.

Private lives. Yes, what of them? Gwen is still relatively normal, so give her credit for still having a life and being torn between two sets of duties. But Owen's shown himself to be an even bigger arsehole than anyone on the base gives him credit for, Jack doesn't even have an official existence (and shouldn't), while the others so far have been complete nonentities. And if they have issues outside of work that Jack ought to be told about, God knows how it's going to affect the team as an effective working unit. Which has the potential for some good future drama, but otherwise seems a little superflous to me if it's going to interrupt or slow down the main episode as the behind the scenes weepiness certainly seemed to in Day One.

Hype and bullshit. When a show has to lie to its audience through its own publicity before even being transmitted, it's either had far too much hype or the writing will be complete toss, or in the case of Suzie Costello, both. I don't like being treated like an idiot, OK? I also hate spoiler-filled videogame 'strategy guides' which you know every other sod on the planet will have read even if you don't. The Radio Times may have been only one cog in the great publicity machine - Torchwood this, Torchwood that, the Torchwood of Rassilon - but without it, much of the episode doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Would the average viewer, for example, know that was the Doctor's hand in the jar? How do you expect to sell the series overseas without the same hype machine explaining things the episode doesn't bother to? The American audience will probably sneer at the 'psychopath Suzie' twist just as other blog members here have done, even with the Radio Times in tow.

"Could you incapacitate Jack by cutting his arms and legs off? Even if they eventually grow back it would still deprive him of a quick tug for a while"

The murder weapon. So Suzie gets drunk with magic glove power and has to kill people in order to save them, the classic paradox of all foreign policy strategists of the last fifty years. I can accept that. But instead of something incongruous and less traceable like a knife or a gun to use, she opts for the unwieldy great distinctive pointy alien thing from her own workplace, which they ought to be able to spot was missing and which the police are able to construct a computer-generated replica of, just so the script can leave a resonating image in Gwen's mind to break the amnesia. And then Suzie shoots herself. Boo hoo, everyone feel sorry for the serial killer. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck off.

By the way, did anyone else think the 'invisible lift' was more like a Somebody Else's Problem field than a chameleon circuit?

Nope, didn't work. Sorry. But this is only the pilot episode, right? Even though the pilot is the critical episode a series should get right. But it can still improve. Can't it?

Torchwood: Day One

Abtd By the thumbing of my prick, something ghastly this way sticks...

Look, it was just bloody awful, OK? The premise was ludicrous (orgasmic energy, indeed), the writing threatened at times to overturn the continuity of the previous episode, the 'sex without love is empty' message is a vacuuous cliche that Woody Allen's 'Sleeper' had done much better and funnier thirty-odd years ago, the emotiveness was wretched (I swear I'll kick Murray in the balls next time he foists his 'cry now' music at us), and just like Suzie last week, we were expected to feel sympathy for the monster.

Basically the episode was Soft Light with shagging, and you know it's not good news when the second part of a new series makes you think of much better early X-Files episodes. And even leaving aside the horrid voyeurism of the first ten minutes (we could have done without the CCTV man getting his rocks off, though that's one climax that redefines 'killing the moment'), the much-vaunted sex scene was embarrassing and looked and felt absolutely dead. There was probably more titlation to be had in the Z-grade porno Abducted By The Daleks.

The Humper Book Of Made-Up Torchwood Fucts has this to say about Day One: sadly, the amusing scene where they try to reconstitute the bodies using the dehydrater/rehydrater machine from the 1960s Batman movie was cut before transmission.

Comments

Well, other commenters on here surely know it by now, but I agree with you completely. Without dragging Doctor Who into it, I'd say that Torchwood exposes just how shaky the dramatic principles of RTD, Murray, and the other nepotistic club members actually are. At least no one can say, "ten million people disagree with you!" about it this time.

I think that's probably the best-written negative review I've read on the subject - just the thing to cheer me up early in the morning (hey, it's a Saturday). Can't say I agree though...

*Somebody Else's Problem field than a chameleon circuit?*

Yup.

DNA's lawyers obviously not paying attention.

You say orgasmic energy is ridiculous (and in real science it is) but you must have heard of Wilhelm Reich's theories on the subject. If only they'd once referred to the energy as Orgone (and if it had been blue) I would have appreciated the conspiracy-head psudoscience cross-referencing.

Blimey. That's got to be one of the most brutal trashings I've read on here...and this is on a blog that's already reviewed an episode of Twin Dilemma.

I STILL haven't seen it yet, taped it on the BBC2 Wednesday showing. I've really got to a take a look at this myself, the reaction has been so extreme it's facinating.

Christ! How the hell do you follow *that*???!!!

"If they thought Torchwood was viable as a drama series in its own right, why would they premiere it on the same minority digital channel that even now threatens to give us Celebrity Scissorhands?" You've missed the point totally Dave. Doctor Who and it's offshoots (Torchwood, Confidential, Tardisodes etc. etc.)are a very powerful weapon in Auntie's masterplan to move viewers over to digital television / internet distribution in the next few years. Don't forget, the big analogue switch-off is coming sooner than you think, and the BBC, in Doctor Who, have a natural brand name to move people over to the new world of broadcasting. Those who criticise the Tardisodes, Confidentials, red-button commentaries etc. as overkill don't realise that they all serve a valuable purpose in pushing the digital / interactive services for the Beeb. Do you think it's a coincidence that so many episodes of New-Who (Rose, The Christmas Invasion, Aliens of London, Rise of the Cybermen, Love & Monsters) heavily feature either the internet or mobile downloads? In Fear Her, for no reason at all, Chloe's mum shows her a live web stream of the BBC's olympic coverage, and in Doomsday the Doctor even tells Rose to 'press the red button!' for goodness' sake! So it's only natural, and not a sign of lack of faith in the pproject, that Auntie is premiering Torchwood digitally. And, of course, it's paid off handsomely with record ratings for a digital channel.

That review was so far the opposite of my own opinion I began to question the nature of my place in the universe. At one point the walls of my room began to swim. Seriously though, I'll be watching tomorrow night to check whether all of my critical faculties have disappeared, if positve vapours were actually being released through the speakers on my tv set or if actually it is really as good as I suspect. I liked Charlie Brooker's review in The Guide today -- so bonkers that it's like nothing else on tv and that can only be a good thing.

Polerizing isnt the word!

I loved it for the record.

Was it not Voltaire who said 'I disagree with your opinion but will defend to the death your right to express it'?

Torchwood is definitely the most bipolar slice of sci-fi television since Love & Monsters. I think we're pretty much all agreed that so far it's been resoundingly ludicrous to some degree, and whether we like it or not depends on how much you're prepared to ignore that. Besides, it would be bloody BORING if we all agreed on everything.

Seriously, it's great that people are enjoying it even if I haven't so far. I haven't given up on the show entirely as I'm sure individual episodes can still be fantastic if the right script comes along. Tastes just happen to vary a lot - incidentally, I rather liked The Celestial Toymaker which definitely puts me in the minority on that one. :)


Yeah, but I think he's wrong.

:P

I don't think it's that polarizing at all; I personally can't be bothered to either love it or hate it.

Best I can manage is : Meh, s'okay.

It was also Voltaire who said "Screw the Okampa, I want to go home."

Whether or not it was the same Voltaire is debatable, though..

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