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Nov 20, 2006

Cannibal Holocaust

Dreadful.  Just unspeakably bad.

I was talking to an old college friend in the week and we inevitably got onto the subject of Torchwood, a show she'd been eagerly anticipating but had unfortunately ended up missing because of work commitments.  She had managed to catch the last half of Small Worlds and had but this to say.  'John Barrowman can't act can he?  He was quite good in Doctor Who but (sigh) he should stick to musical theatre'.

I was about to take John's corner but then thought - well, hold on, if the only thing she could think about is the probable leading man's acting ability, then there must really be something going horribly wrong.  Torchwood is a show in trouble and its difficult to really understand quite what the production team are trying to achieve.  If this wasn't a Doctor Who spin-off I would probably have stopped watching by now.  It says a hell of a lot that I'm now looking forward to a new episode of Robin Hood more than this.

Well, alright (sigh) the few positives.  Whenever these characters have to sit down together the interaction often very appealing.  The campfire scene is an example - it's about what and what isn't being said, the fact that everyone has their little secrets and the performances here were perfectly fine.  The nods to previous episodes worked well and there was a real sense despite the horrifyingly clichéd teaser that this might be one of the good episodes.  Oh well. 

I'd also like to thank Maldak from Vengeance on Varos for making a return to the whoniverse - Owen Teale's one of the countries most underrated actors and here he was playing pure, unadulterated bastard evil very well.  The initial portrayal of the antagonist was good too, on the edge of the frame, just out of eyeshot, the camera moving into the place were the viewers eyes would like to go then falling just short.  The scene in which Tosh and Ianto investigate the house was fairly tense.  It's an old trick to be sure, but certainly kept us guessing, right up to the horror of the twist.  And oh the horror.

She's blonde.  She's talking on her mobile whilst driving.  She loses the signal.  There's rock music in the car.  It's the middle of nowhere.  It's the middle of night.  She's tempted out of the car because of a body in the road.  She's conveniently carrying a baseball bat.  It's a trap!  She runs back to the car.  But hey - someone stolen the keys!  She's dragged from inside!  Screaming!

Things didn't begin well with a teaser that looked worse than most short student films and featured all of the horror clichés that Kevin Williamson forgot to include in the Scream series - and many that he didn't.  It was hard not to bring to mind those buffer adverts that are   appearing in cinemas lately, particularly the one in which the girl is miming being attacked in a car by zombies.  They've included that because it's a cliché.  Here was Torchwood playing it straight and without some twist at the end.  She's attacked and into titles.  Not even some choice dialogue or ironic music cue.

The intention was no doubt to produce a fifty-minute basement budget horror film in the style of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a British vein - something in the region of American Werewolf in London, with hints of Dog Soldiers and I'd say Dead Men's Shoes (in its execution).  So why were the opening few scenes shot like an episode of Monkfish or the rural scene in Trainspotting and the rest a Withnail & I knock off?  I hoped and dreamed that Captain Jack would shout 'We've come on a mission by mistake,' and that a half-pissed Michael Elphick would be living in that house with all the game hanging outside ready to give them an eel or a pheasant.

And then the real horror begins.  One of the real problems with this series is the seemingly random attitude to characterization and this is no less evident than in the rather sudden and godawful affair between Gwen and Owen.  Although they've had their differences since the first episode, a consonant  not withstanding, the message this is sending is that if a bloke is a sexual predator and essentially forces himself on a woman that's all ok as a seduction technique. 

But really why would he go for Gwen?  Why would she go for him?  I'm guessing that the intention is to show her becoming intoxicated by the whole alien world of Torchwood, shedding her former life in favour of the new one, but the execution is at best unsexy and at worst malicious.  In that closing scene, when he puts his arms around her, what are we supposed to be feeling?  Sorry for Gwen? Happy for Gwen?  What?

Owen's character continues to be a real problem for the programme - why would you create a character this unsympathetic and then expect the audience to sympathise with him when bad things start to happen.  The tree ramming scene, when he talks dirty to Gwen is particularly evil, since he's using his strength to overwhelm her, which as far as I can see is only a hairs breath away from rape.

It weakens Gwen's character that she would be overwhelmed in this way and is far cry from the gentle cynicism of the opening episode, were she would no doubt have kicked him in the gang goolies.  There's nothing to indicate why her attitude would change and why this oil slick of a man would be worth screwing up her life for.  And it's particularly poor editorial work that in the very next scene Owen is dropping off exposition about the corpse as though nothing has gone on just before.  'Would like a quip about feeling a small prick?'  Well, no but that joke might have worked if we hadn't seen you being so aggressive with this woman not five minutes before.

Random characterization continued with Ianto who conveniently becomes the jibbering wreck of the group, caving at the first sign of danger as Tosh looks for a way to escape from the room they've somehow found themselves trapped in.  Ianto's gone from being the a version of Batman's Alfred to here suggesting that one of his colleagues is different and lives off the danger - what and you don't?  How did this man get hired to work in this top secret organization?  How did any of them?  And why, in god's name, in the middle of a scene like that are they having a shouting match about their job as though they've never had a discussion about anything before?  And don't get started on the gunplay.

Although it's possibly refreshing to have real human beings instead of machines, it doesn't half make you wonder which pool Torchwood were recruiting from and why anyone would think it's a good idea to have them investigating anything if they're going to panic at the first sign of trouble.  It might have made sense if they'd established that he'd never been out in the field before before, oh no, sorry forgot.  Any series, even in this genre needs to have a scintilla of realism or believability, and having a major character whose been established as having seen a fair few unsavory things breaking down like that is just inconsistent as is his sudden snap back into lucidity later when he headbutts  Maldak.  Again I refer to Spooks (particular the close of Season Three - I'll explain later) as an example of how this can be done realistically.

The episode is also riddled with clichéd action beats.  There's the unspeakable horror one:  Tosh spies something grizzly in the fridge.  We don't get to see it so that we tense up and start guessing.  She tells Ianto not to look.  But of course he's going to look so that we can see it too because the scene is playing from his point of view and the audiences narrative information is restricted to him.  He opens the fridge and ugh!  There's the young boy's body being pulled out from under the hero's noses.  Tosh bound running through the wood away from Maldak tripping over so she can get caught.  The Mexican stand-off doing service once again.  There's the repeated 'surprise' with an apparent guardian angel - the middle age woman, the policeman, turning out to be the enemy.

Oh and good god and the Captain Jack Bauer scene totally invalidating the last five episodes of Season One of the Doctor Who and guff from Confidential about how in being with the Doctor, Jack has changed.  Oh really?  So what's happened in between to turn him into this psychopath?  Given that, this was one of the scenes that I'd use to dispute the idea that Barrowman can't act.  He can do angry torture very well, his eyes revealing some evil, his perfect dental work suggesting that far from nubbling a wound he'd probably bite into you to get an answer.  It's a shame that they cut elsewhere before his captor reveals the story, his disappearance from the narrative signaling his obvious reappearance later to save the day with another action beat cliché - breaking through the wall in the van and kneecapping everyone.

Speaking of eating people.  Wah?  Hey, it's not aliens.  It's nothing to do with the rift.  It's the local villagers having the decadal human meat harvest.  And for anyone expecting some alien influence to be at play?  No it actually it's just humans with shots guns, a killer instinct and a hankering for the special stuff picking off travelers.  Another troubling aspect of the episode as it willfully confirmed the city-dwellers stereotype of country folk and Welsh country folk in particular, another cliché which was also a problem for The X-Files about the countryside being filled with hicks who view passing tourists as lunch.

'Only in the bloody countryside.'  Owen puts it as though the whole state of affairs is perfectly normal and serial killers and cannibals can't and don't inhabit his city - granted it's the asshole saying this but no one steps in to disagree.  Again this is probably supposed to be homage to those horror films but its disappointing that it lacks a mechanism to turn the cliché on its head.  Playing it straight in this way made the whole affair extraordinarily dated.  And what was with the dialogue towards the tail end of the episode.  'I've seen things you wouldn't believe.'  Is that supposed to be a clever homage?

I hate to use the word godawful again but that ending.  That voice over.  The regretful.  The montage sequence of betrayal.  The moody look out of the windows (although the reflections of the window frames which boxed Gwen in were attractive).  The very slow line reading.    'And - I - can't - shaaare - them - with - anyone.'  'You can now.'  The chest.  The sideways kissing turning into a shag.  Aaaah!  Oddly enough it actually looked like the room I stayed in when I visited Cardiff.  It looked to me like The Big Sleep, an office block that's been turned into a hotel - it's reasonably priced too and as you can see has great views.

 

Next week:  'It wouldn't be the first time I've been a rebound shag.'  Or:  Tosh finally gets her character development episode.  And she's a lesbian.  You layered that in well, guys.

Comments

Jinkies! The Scooby-Doo comparisons just keep coming....

That's why she's been quiet these past five weeks; she's been too embarrassed to open her mouth.

That's 2 bad reviews from Stuart in a row now. I think Torchwood has officially had it. I didn't even watch TW last night (and I supposedly run this blog) as I was too busy watching Chicken Royale instead (another yawnathon). I don't even think I can bring myself to keep watching this show anymore... not even for the unintentional laughs.

It might seem that one of the reasons for Who 2006 being so uneven is revealed with the unfolding of the Torchwood story.

RTD has spread himself too thin, and the rubbish in TW is feeding back into DW.

Oh, that's two reasons.

And a fanatical devotion to the Pope.

I didn't expect that, Alex.


I hardly think another gloomy opinion will be needed here about this episode, but I'd have to chime in and say I was pretty disappointed at best.

When they trot off to find the SUV...

...and hey, never mind the "security systems", this bunch of doughnuts can't even lock the doors or remember to take the keys out of the ignition? It's not even a technologically-advanced alien, just some random yokel able to nick their van...

...anyway, they reach the village and what happens? They don't all continue off towards the SUV, oh no, Jack splits them up and decides to have a nose around instead. Why did he bother? Curiousity has its place but they were only there to get the SUV back. Instead they go bang a few doors in. Then Ianto and Tosh do exactly the same thing, having a nose about because It's In The Script.

That's just one bit. And I'd consider myself to be a fairly mellow guy, I can't whip up several paragraphs of rage and disdain in the lyrical way some people here can, so I can only imagine the kind of vitriol that can be aimed at Zippy doing the old romantic "smack you against a tree" routine, the lack once again of anything alien for Torchwood to deal with, the grab-bad of (bad) horror cliches and so on...

Still, one thing - personally speaking, the "decent-crap-decent-crap-decent-crap" pattern is continuing, so maybe Episode 7 will be worthwhile (closely followed by an awful Episode 8 of course).

Hey, it's like the old Star Trek movies in reverse with this series, the odd-numbered ones are better! Small Worlds wasn't perfect, but it did at least show signs of an imagination at work, Countrycide was just derivative and plain nasty, 'Doctor Who-stel' if you like. Poor stuff.

With all the blood, gore and Zippy/Gwen's hormones all over the place, it just felt a bit...sordid and tacky. Felt like one of those cheap Z-grade slasher movies that make you want to have a damn good bath afterwards. I managed to get through it alright, but it's not something I'd particularly want to watch again.

There's a great Round Table review of the 1967 version of Casino Royale (just went up this past week in time for the new film) at The Agony Booth. In it, they explain how the movie was such a chaotic big-budget mess because five directors were each given their own segment to do, each written by a different person with spontaneous contributions from cast and crew dropped in with reckless abandon; fresh staff and actors would come in or drop out partway through the project (including one of the stars) and nobody had the first fucking clue what anyone else was doing, let alone how to patch it together properly or have it make the slightest bit of sense.

It seemed a strangely familiar scenario somehow....

http://www.agonybooth.com/casino%5Froyale/

Funny that, I'm a regular visitor to Agony Booth and its forums too. Some fine funny reviews there.

Still, one thing - personally speaking, the "decent-crap-decent-crap-decent-crap" pattern is continuing, so maybe Episode 7 will be worthwhile (closely followed by an awful Episode 8 of course). -DamonD

All the three crap episodes were written by Chris Chibnall and with no more from him until the finale, the trend might be broken.


Really? I didn't know that...not a good run for Mr. Chibnall.

Yeah... I'm dreading his Doctor Who episode.

A half-cyber half-women invades a small Welsh village and tries to have sex with everyone. Then eats them.

It's a winner!

Only after enjoying some hilarious burger comedy, of course.

Hi, I've lurked around and read some reviews but this is the first episode where I agree SO much with every line of yours that I had to post.

Blimey, it was bad! When the main writer for a show is the shit one, you have to be concerned, haven't you?

Ahh hell, I've only just remembered about the trailer for Episode 7...Tosh finally gets some character, yay! And she's a lesbian, yawn!

It's only a trailer, but it looks like that'll blow my above "odd episodes decent" theory out of the water.

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