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Jan 04, 2007

To Shanshu in Cardiff

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Torchwood is to sci-fi what Big Brother is to modern TV: one great big guilty pleasure.

There were times in this final episode when I got so caught up in the bombastic pace, the in-yer-face characterization and the punch-the-air cliff-hanger that I completely lost all awareness that I was watching one of the silliest, most non-sensical pieces of television I’ve witnessed in a long time. Forget the bad science; it’s the bad science-fiction that has proved to be Torchwood’s fitting epitaph.

In fact End of Days has all the faults of this stumbling, shambling spin-off of a show in microcosm: plotting so juvenile as to insult even the Sarah-Jane demographic; characterization so broad as to belie the idea that writer Chris Chibnall even knows any real people; and an ending which simultaneously makes you want to scream with delight and hide your head in shame at the same time. It’s a good thing I watched this sober as I may not have crawled out of the bottle again.

So, that plot then - it’s something out of the early days of the DWM comic strip, innit? Roman centurions found marching along the streets of modern Cardiff. UFOs circling the Taj Mahal - just after all those pesky Cybermen have been seen off too - and just in case we’ve forgotten how much of a reheated ready meal of a Joss Whedon show this series has been, a CGI monstrosity to top things off. I mean, when someone mentioned putting the kitchen sink into this series finale, they forgot to say leave out the aga, the twin hob and the dish-washer too.

And don’t you just know that Gwen’s hapless boyfriend Rhys’ days are numbered the minute you see the pair share a tender moment for the first time since about fifteen minutes into episode one. Subtlety has never really been Torchwood’s key strength, but there’s so much shoe-horning of elements here that you feel like sitting in front of the telly with a ballpoint and a tick-sheet. And when Ianto starts quoting the passage from Daniel - bible-quoting never being a good sign for a series trying desperately to pin some dramatic credibility to its malnourished bones - you know the apocalypse is at hand; and that Torchwood’s days are seriously numbered.

Forget the bad science; it’s the bad science-fiction that has proved to be Torchwood’s fitting epitaph

But if anything, 'End of Days' feels more like the bastard offspring of those two behemoths of modern television: Big Brother and The Apprentice. Like the former, the housemates of the Hub finally turn on the supposed leader of the group when they get the scent of revolution in the air; while the latter proves that Jack’s own brand of man-management skills come straight from the book of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ diplomacy. It would have actually been rather fun to have had a special diary room confession area put aside for each of the team to air their thoughts during the cataclysmic events of this finale. It would have made the histrionics of Nikki seem like the quiet musings of a shy and retiring librarian in comparison.

But put your brain in neutral and your critical faculties on the back burner, and there’s a lot to enjoy that you know you really shouldn’t. And like the recent Christmas excesses, you just know that you’re gonna pay for it in the New Year. Take Jack’s ‘Logopolis’ moment when he gets to deliver a few home truths to his less than welcome colleagues. Or how the barely concealed contempt that the members of this most disorganised group of world-defenders boils over into Tarantino shouting matches and gun waving turned up to eleven. But surely it should have been Ianto and not Owen who delivered the killing blow to their supercilious boss, what with the evening-out of matters that the cleaner-upper’s character has demanded ever since his girlfriend got totalled? If Torchwood had any real balls then surely the fall-out of this episode’s home-truths would have left the remaining members glad at the thought of their leader’s death; not hugging and kissing him like a returning prodigal brother following yet another resurrection. It’s this sort of flim-flam characterization that so inures people to Torchwood, not to mention that characters do things simply to serve the plot rather than because it’s what a real person would actually do.

Gwen's reaction to Rhys’ death is heart-wrending; her temporary insanity in the aftermath about the most believable thing done by anyone in this show yet

And how exactly does sealing the rift - which no-one exactly wanted opening in the first place anyway - reset all the strife that has been done? I mean, time’s not been reversed - if it had, surely no-one would remember any of this happening - and seeing as the Caretaker who murdered Rhys was himself a time-traveller, surely his actions are exempt from any deus-ex-machina-style wipe-clean anyway. And while we’re on the subject, what exactly does Abadon the Devourer suck out of Jack during their final face-off? His vortex-induced immortality? His life-force? His teeth-whitening? Or was it something that explains why Jack had such a contented expression on his face while lying on that mortuary slab..?

But somehow - somehow - amidst all this panto-style running around there is (that word again) a heart to 'End of Days' that makes you want to forgive Torchwood all its inumerable foibles and give it a nice warm mug of cocoa. And alone amidst a sea of snarling, bitching stereotypes, Eve Myles finally shows some of the acting credentials that got her noticed by the boffins at BBC Wales in the first place. Her reaction to Rhys’ death is heart-wrending; her temporary insanity in the aftermath about the most believable thing done by anyone in this show yet; and it’s only spoilt by the fact that - having against hope got the love of her life back - she only goes and abandons him again to go and sit with Corpse Jack.

Go on, admit it. Tell me you didn’t feel just a tiny thrill when the sound of the TARDIS engines whisked Jack off...

Ah yes, Jack. Like a certain vampire-with-a-soul before him, Jack gets to fulfil his prophecy and regain his humanity by sacrificing himself to save the whole world. At least, that’s what I’m reading into what happened in those admittedly confusing final moments. Redemption or resurrection, you choose for yourself. But whether it be Gwen’s love or something else that once again brings him back from the grave, you feel that particular issue will be left for Season Two to decide. But knowing this show, there’s about as much chance of that as Torchwood having two consecutively bullet-proof episodes.

Which leaves us with just that cliff-hanger. Go on, admit it. Tell me you didn’t feel just a tiny thrill when the sound of the TARDIS engines whisked Jack off to Doctor Who and God knows what convoluted explanation to his ongoing story arc. Personally I just knew from the moment that the Doctor’s severed hand - a plot point only us die-hard aficionados will have even taken any notice of, remember - started shaking around like a trapped animal that RTD just couldn’t help himself from tying his two love-children inextricably together. No doubt putting the whole debate regarding the morality of having an adult series so dependant on the viewership of a children’s show firmly back on the front burner.

I guess you’ll just have to humour me for this; but as one of Torchwood’s biggest latter-day apologists, I loved 'End of Days' despite all the reasons I shouldn’t have. And if you think I’m mad for doing so then I guess - like the employees of that particular organisation - we all end up alone sometimes.

(Cough) Roll on Season Two! (Cough)

('The Torchwood Book of Made-Up Facts' has this to say about End of Days: devotees of this show are now collectively known as ‘Jack’s f**k buddies’)

Comments

Great review, and you're probably right. When I sit down and rewatch the season, now that I know what I'm in for I'll probably enjoy it more, even with all of its faults!

I think you'll find that title has already been done. http://tachyontv.typepad.com/waiting_for_christopher/2006/11/to_shanshu_in_c_1.html

And I added a welsh stereotype to the end. Teehee!

Oh, good review by the way. Although I don't see the heart to it that you do. I see an artificial respirator with "As good as Joss Whedon, really!" etched onto the side.

Sorry James, but as the saying goes 'Talent borrows...'

I KNEW I saw that title before somewhere...still, it's good for a laugh.

I think you're right. Torchwood WASN'T great. But as long as you don't read too much into it, it was fun.

As for who shot Jack, I didn't think Ianto for a moment. Ianto's a good guy, and normally very loyal. I think the whole Lisa thing just hit him where it really hurt.

As for Gwen, Something I've known for a while, but renamed a few years back to "The Willow Effect." Real people are UGLY when they cry. Gwen was downright HIDEOUS post-Rhys. She literally gave me that embarassed feeling I get when someone is breaking down a few feet from you. And that's with the subwoofer off.

Roll on, indeed!

Well this is the thing. Whenever Torchwood is bad, more often than not it's comic-book bad; whereas the mediocre episodes are just no fun at all. And even the fan feedback suggests that most of them don't watch the show for the quality of scripts. Most of the episodes have not been planned out for the right reasons, and at the end of the day trash is still trash and I'm obligated to say so. Why praise a show for its shitty scripting when it'll only encourage them to keep going in the same vein?

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