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Dec 18, 2006

Lost Perspective

It's always very helpful when sitting down review something when one of the characters within has actually explained what's wrong with the episode.  There was Jack, sitting in the hub, looking up at Tosh and actually saying (I'm paraphrasing) "These are just three people who are lost who can't go home.  We don't have an enemy to fight this time."  As he sat there, it finally felt as though the story had ground to a hault.  I looked up at the clock and noticed that there was another twenty-minutes to go and wondered what the hell they'd be filling the following twenty minutes of screentime with.

Thing is, I was strangely upbeat going into this episode.  I told everyone here I was looking forward to it and a particularly good episode of The West Wing tonight ('Hi, Senator. Why don't you take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass. '  'She's a fine looking woman.' etc) put me in a good mood.  The episode began rather well with the lovely landing of the plane and the appearance of the three strangers in time and the explanations and then ... Asda?  Immediately it began to become apparent that episode would once again be demonstrating the legion of issues the series has had so far.  Having selected to retread one of the old, old sci-fi standard, off the shelf, plotlines, they decided to trot through all of the expected scenes without putting a new spin on any of them whatsoever.  Oh for goodness sake.

"The episode began rather well with the lovely landing of the plane and the appearance of the three strangers in time and the explanations and then ... Asda?"

I should temper this a little bit by saying that even that opening scene in the supermarket was as funny as these things usually are with the accepted standards of our time being put under the microscope of another -- the children's tv presenter on the lad mag, 'smoking kills' and the price of eggs (or in this case junk food).  Such scenes were splattered throughout the episode as Emma misunderstood the advances of the man in the club and John had to deal with the pipe smoking ban in the pub.  The problem is that after a while they become repetitious and perhaps more damagingly for Doctor Who fans not anything that doesn't happen whenever the Doctor's companion appears in another time -- that misunderstanding of new rituals for comic effect.

Throughout I wondered if there would be a twist, such as that they're all aliens or they somehow planned the time slip or that there would be a way home or that they weren't time travelers at all just faking it for some nefarious gain.  Perhaps the twist was that there was no twist in which case -- wah!  I'm sorry but narratively chaining each of them to the one regular character who was most likely to empathise with them and their plight in the hope of illuminating a regular just isn't enough.  It's all very well presenting what appears to be a grand romance about loss and sacrifice but you still need proper jeopardy, something to fight for.

"Perhaps the twist was that there was no twist in which case -- wah!"

I can absolutely see that this is supposed to be the episode about character building -- Gwen talked once again about having two lives and is seen to question her relationship to Owen; Owen on the other hand didn't seem to think anything about their relationship as he realised he actually had the capacity to fall in luurv; and Jack continued to come to terms with the fact that he too is a man out of time, as we gained some confirmation that he might have dropped through the rift and that he is indeed born in the future.  The problem is, because of what I'm going to continue to describe as the random characterisation of the series, none of this seemed like a progression -- just an emotion of the week which could change next time.  I can't simply start liking a character such as Owen when he's been so negatively written in the past, especially when he seems to have a silly walk - the whole wide shoulder thing is becoming increasingly old.

As with so many of these episodes, there was a tension too between the really great performances and the embarrassing dialogue.  Example:  No Angels' Louise Delamere sparkles away throughout the episode proving once again that she's one of the nation's hidden treasures and (I can't believe I'm typing this) actually some of the scenes with Burn Gorman had a light romantic touch.  Except there in the middle of one of the endless bed scenes, just as we're actually beginning to fall for the two of them, he gives a speech talking about how he's obsessed with her clothes, her look, what she's thinking about and oh yes, the face she makes when she cums, which strands the scene as you're simply not able to listen to anything else as you try to deal with the implications of that.  It might sound real, and I'm sure it's perfectly good pillow talk in some homes, but it kills the mood of the scene stone dead.  Was there any need for that?

"In a bizarre coincidence, all three of the time travelers (whose connection at no point had been explained) decided to make big life (or death) decision at roughly the same time."

The inability to close out an episode satisfactorily continues.  In a bizarre coincidence, all three of the time travelers (whose connection at no point had been explained) decided to make big life (or death) decision at roughly the same time.  It was almost as though they could tell that the episode was coming to a close.  Although all television dramas with multiple plotlines suffer from this issue (see nearly every episode of Boston Legal) here it jarred because with perhaps the exception of Emma none of them seemed to have a reason to make the decision right there and then.  Diane didn't fly off because she'd heard about the death of John for example which would have made sense.  And speaking of John what are we to make of Jack's decision to let him kill himself and actually sit in the car and watch?  I can't decide if I really hate Jack now.  And what are his colleagues going to make of the decision?  .  Watching the series you'd never know (although reading the website you might).  I guarantee it won't be mentioned next week.

Reading Sean's review, I wonder if I've entirely lost perspective and I'm just off looking for flaws and unable to enjoy the show for what it's purporting to be.  Whenever I write these reviews I'm always analysing the storytelling, how it fits within the overall structure of the series, the disappoinments.  Perhaps when I rewatch this I will be able to pay closer attention to the incidental pleasures -- the reappearance of Reece, Owen's charm (for once), the great performances.  But I can't sit here and lie and say that I enjoyed these fifty minutes when I spent most of them literally growning and shouting at the screen like a madman or a football fan watching their team go down five-nil in the FA Cup.

"But I can't sit here and lie and say that I enjoyed these fifty minutes when I spent most of them literally growning and shouting at the screen like a madman or a football fan watching their team go down five-nil in the FA Cup."

I just keep hearing that opening introduction: 

"Torchwood. Outside the government, beyond the police. Tracking down alien life on earth and arming the human race against the future. The 21st century is when everything changes... and you've gotta be ready."

And wondering when we're actually going to get to see that series.  That series sounds great.

Comments

It seems like everyone has a different opinion on each episode. And everyone seems to have had one "superb" episode. To me it was mostly a uniform shade of sub-average.

My father and I had the same thoughts when Jack said that 30 minutes in. I think this episode certainly had in spades what I think you've been (unfairly) accusing it of all series - directionlessness. I'm just hoping for Torchwood back next week, cus this was shite.

Dan -- something I thought of later after I'd posted the review was that it felt as though the opening and closing had been written separately and then the writer filled in the gap between the two. It just seemed to draaag especially over fifty minutes. Plus what was with the crazy editing juxtaposition between John killing himself and the sex -- what are we supposed to make of that emotionally?

I think this the episode that really killed it for me. I think your analysis nails it in respect of random characterisation, lack of new ideas and poor pacing. Honestly, if I'm going to watch a show about those caught out of their own time, then I think Antiques Roadshow has more pacing and suspense.

Why don't they drop the pretence at any SFnal credibility and rename the show "Pwlling"?

Well, i thought it was excellent. Best since 'Small Worlds'. Maybe the best of the series overall. If you want daft sci-fi and silly monsters you have 'Greeks Bearing Gifts' and 'Cyberwoman' to watch. Give me a character-driven drama like this any day. John being reunited with his son who had Alzheimer's is one of the most moving scenes in the history of the Whoniverse, and even if it takes some swallowing that the gorgeous Diane would fall for Zippy, those scenes were effective. A couple of caveats though. The plane disappeared in 1953, right? But wasn't the Stanley Matthews final (which john talked about) in 1954? Any footy fans confirm this? And did we REALLY need to see Gwen's boyfriend's arsecrack?

Be character driven, absolutely. But I don't see any of the writers creating a consistent character emotional arc that lasts for more than 40 minutes. Week to week, they may as well be writing for a different set of characters. The actual story is totally hackneyed. There is a course that can be steered between soap-opera and daft monsters.

Stu, Jack didn't just sit there and watch John Ellis die - he kept him company while he did it; as only he alone could do.

I viewed it as a man who is now apparently incapable of death - but knows what it's like - helping a man who is about to die live the final moments of his life. Controversial? Maybe. Very, very moving? Absolutely.

But John wasn't close to death -- he was simply killing himself because he couldn't handle losing everything he knew. I understood that Jack was keeping him company as he commited suicide and that we're supposed to wonder what's leading Jack, a man who shot at a Dalek until he ran out of bullets to defend the Doctor to suddenly allowing a man to kill himself without taking every action he can to stop him. There were many ways that Jack could have tried to convince John to want to live but he didn't take them.

I suppose I just expect more from my heroes or even anti-heroes. It's a very odd kind of compassion.

Spiritually John WAS dead; so in a sense Jack was helping him in the only way he could. I don't want to get into the whole 'is suicide ever the way out?' debate, but here I think the fact that Jack (who now appears as bereft of hope in life as John is) keeps a man who has no reason for living company while he dies incredibly moving. And it even redeems Jack in a way, as surely if he had no humanity left then he would have just left him to get on with it.

I can see your problems with this episode, Stu - as ever you put them across very well - it's just that for me Torchwood last night finally became compelling viewing. And I think the fact that some of the issues it threw up (rather like this one) are being debated - rather than the usual tired old complaints about the poor characterisation or bad plotting - suggests that some sort of corner has been turned.

Sean -- actually now I can see your point that is moving, at least in concept.

As I said in my review I'm hoping that when I rewatch the season in the new year I'll be able to enjoy it more and hopefully not overanalyse everything which I appear to be doing. I'm probably expecting far too much from the thing.

Noel Clarke's episode is next week and then the finale and I'm really hoping to be surprised.

Yeah I thought this was a terrible episode. I stopped watching at 29 minutes in: Gwen said "nowadays people have sex without love" or something and I reached for the remote.

Give me sex crazed alien gases any day!

>The plane disappeared in 1953, right? But wasn't the Stanley Matthews final (which john talked about) in 1954? Any footy fans confirm this?

No it was in 1953. The famous Matthews '53 FA Cup Final. And why do you need footy fans? Google will tell you this - it is your friend. There's much to quibble with regarding Torchwood, but not a well-known FA Cup final date which is only unknown by people who waste electrons quibbling when they could just look it up before commenting.

Well this weeks episode just left me cold.From the way they introduced the 3 guest stars to them trying to make me have sympathy for Owen.

They really seem to have lost the plot as a few people have said at one point the charcters literally have to explain whats going on to justify the writing.

Next weeks doesnt look that great, I just wish RTD had been more honest when the show started and said its going to be 95% This Life and 5%X-files.

Except that if it had been "This Life", it would have been decently written.

Well, if Mr J. Ahearne had written it, that is.

[sigh]

I thought this episode was superb, one of the best yet. Torchwood is going from strength to strength, for me at least.

I have yet to see an episode of Torchwood that I have disliked unlike another show I could mention.

It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea but I do begin to wonder what people were expecting from Torchwood, because I am sure that nothing could be as good as what is probably most Doctor Who fans idea of a perfect Doctor Who spin-off.

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