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Nov 15, 2006

Photographing Fairies

Sorry for the delay - what with the Dimensions Convention, arduous train trips home and the lack of Sky+ I only caught this week’s episode of Torchwood on the BBC2 repeat tonight. Well, actually I did start to watch it at Neil’s caravan on Sunday; but after two very long days (being abused on stage by a former Doctor really takes it out of you), more laughter than it seems possible to squeeze into 48 hours and far too many G ‘n’ Ts, then I fell asleep. Awaking only at Neil’s prodding and cries of ‘Wake up, Sean, it’s the Mara!’ Blimey, for a minute there I thought he’d given up on the whole shebang and stuck ‘Kinda’ on the video instead…

And my verdict? Well, I liked it. Yes, liked it. It’s certainly not perfect - and in certain other shows which will remain nameless (okay, BSG) it would have been little more than filler in a far meatier sandwich - but considering some of the dull and / or ridiculous garbage that’s been served up these past few weeks, then this was a definite improvement. And had more ‘adult’ drama than any half-arsed concoction of horny aliens, S&M Cyber-chicks or language out of a copy of Viz could ever provide.

more ‘adult’ drama than any half-arsed concoction of horny aliens, S&M Cyber-chicks or language out of a copy of Viz could ever provide.

But then you never really expected a writer of P(eter) J. Hammond’s pedigree to pander to lowest common denominator titillation TV, did you? The one-time Sapphire and Steel scribe brings a real air of menace and mystery to ‘Small Worlds’ that has simply been absent in Torchwood up to this point. And his characteristically supernatural spin on events here allows the drama to arise naturally rather than be forced down your throat - euphemism fully intended - like one or two other episodes I could mention. There’s some very adult issues on show here - not least of which paedophilia and domestic abuse - and it’s to Hammond’s credit that these themes are analysed without the need to bang us over the heads with their importance (other Torchwood scribes, take note). Also the direction by Alice (no relation) Troughton and some of the episode’s imagery - especially the victims who suffocate on a throat-full of flower petals - is both very effective and very disturbing by turn.

The performances are likewise of a higher than usual standard - Adrienne O‘Sullivan’s Estelle being particularly touching as Jack’s doomed love of six decades past - but are still too often being spoilt by a case of over-egging the mix. With John Barrowman himself being most guilty of this, giving emotion that’s more suited to some of his West End roles rather than the far more subtle techniques required of television acting. And being an episode which features an unearthly child at the centre of its dramatic arc, it’s unfortunate to once again find the curse of adolescent angst striking when a more nuanced performer would have given the final product much more of a kick.

Worse though is that this is still a far too derivative show for something which purports to be telling fresh new stories in a mature way. From the obvious Silence of the Lambs steal (Gwen plucking petals out of a victim’s throat almost frame-for-frame with Agent Starling’s moth discovery) to the way the malignant fairies hover Reaper-like above their victims (with even an accompanying ‘Father’s Day’ style POV to ram the homage home) Torchwood seems to be living by the maxim ‘talent borrows, genius steals’; though it’s not even close to fulfilling that promise (at least, not yet). Even the flashbacks to Jack and his platoon’s horrific demise are a thinly-veiled attempt to emulate Buffy and Angel’s similarly stylised attempts to instil background in their protagonists. But then aping Whedon’s oeuvre has almost become second nature to anything carrying the RTD stamp, so why should I even be surprised anyway?

Torchwood seems to be living by the maxim ‘talent borrows, genius steals’; though it’s not even close to fulfilling that promise

Part revenge-fantasy for abused children, part examination of the whole fairy-photographing phenomena that even the likes of Conan-Doyle gave credence to, ‘Small Worlds’ is - despite its numerous faults - a breath of fresh air for a show which had started to look stale and beyond parody after just four episodes. For once there is no overt machismo or ridiculously OTT sexuality to sink any redeeming features the episode has; leaving instead an intelligent tale (mostly) well told. If Team Torchwood manage to maintain this upswing in dramatic credibility, then this show might just hit paydirt before too long. And after ‘Cyberwoman’, did any of us really believe in the possibility of that?

(The Bumper Book of Made-Up ‘Torchwood’ Facts has this to say about Small Worlds: Christopher Bailey received royalties of 50p for this episode)

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