Because I forget stuff. Part of

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Originally posted October 24 2006 at 17:10 under General. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.


Decemberists, A live show recording grabbed from the internet archive

Torchwood (the “adult” Doctor Who spin-off—though you wouldn’t need to know that to watch it) launched Sunday on BBC 3. I’m aware some people are holding out for tomorrows BBC 2 repeat so warning spoilers are ahead. I’ll hide them after the read more link and put in some spoiler space for now.. If your reading this via a full post feed (yeh, right) you may want to stop reading now. Some of this won’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the episodes anyway!


First off it’s quite good. Not the greatest thing since, er, something really good (the obvious comparison is possibly early X-Files, though the feel is different and it’s far too early for direct comparisons anyway). It’s pretty to watch, even though I can’t quite put my finger on how. The cut shots seem deliberately cinematic and though Captain Jack standing astride the corner of the Torchwood building may be ridiculously staged it never felt out of place. Overall it has a nicer consistent look than Doctor Who. It does share some themes with it’s parent show. The hand of Russell T Davies is in obvious evidence with the just about not too forced focus on the “human element”. In Gwen we have a strong female lead acting as the “eyes of the audience”, and keeping the show grounded in “real life emotions”, much as Rose did in the resurrection of the good Doctor. It will be interesting to see if they can go smoothly from that beginning to her becoming simply another member of the team. I suspect that this might never actually happen, intentionally or not, Gwen forever being doomed to represent normality no matter how much she does or sees. I hope I’m wrong on that point. It seems unlikely anyone could work at Torchwood and not become changed by it, more dependent on those in the know than those outside the little clique.

In fact it is with Gwen and her world that I found the most problems, the most interruptions to the suspension of disbelief. Torchwood is not science fiction per se. It is science fantasy. The technology presented is supposedly alien and mysterious but in no way is it grounded in known science, like good, hard, SF is. Whilst it may be true that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic that doesn’t mean you can substitute one with the other and still have the same thing. I think this always jars me most when the “magic” technology interacts with the real technology of today. Obviously it should be able to interact (the rather groovy alien scanner able to scan in an entire book isn’t insane, nor is holding it against a monitor to read output) but it is always at this point it becomes more likely to break through and spoil the illusion by going too far…after all our heads tell us that even what we don’t understand is working to some rules and it is a thin line to cross before the made up rules become so patently silly that the you just don’t understand argument is stretched beyond credibility. The line is always thinnest when interacting with things we do understand (I refer the interested reader to the ending of The Age of Steel from Doctor Who for an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about). This is certainly a personal prejudice (partly brought on by my desire that they’d drop all the magic rubbish and spend that huge budget making a proper hard science fiction show). It is one that I can happily ignore for the enjoyment of the show though, especially when that show has the sense to know that at times its just being silly, and nod a humorous wink to the viewer (after all, it’s “so Welsh” to ask as Captain Jack points out, in a line reminiscent of Doctor Who’s wondrous “lots of planets have a north”—yes, it’s silly and not entirely thought through, it says, but just ignore that and enjoy!)

To return to the point I made some way above though, Gwen is not part of that magical world, not part of the suspend reality and just enjoy idea. She is our world and reality and the parts of the show which jolted me the most were actually the parts of that reality. Gwen would appear to be the most diligent PC ever. Having been told to go home from a scene where really all she’d be doing is standing around keeping crowds back she wanders off for a look see instead. While Torchwood may be mysterious and unusual enough to believe curiosity gets the better it’s stretching—and she’s really the only curious one? So begins something of a maniac whirlwind run round for Gwen, in which her superiors seem to care little what she’s dong or where she is when on duty. Then again, this is the police force which sends precisely two officers (one a woman) to a disturbance in a pub. She then takes to some more running around, this time mainly on her own time. Back home she has her boyfriend but, while I think he’s supposed to come across as at least caring, he really doesn’t seem to give a shit what’s going on with Gwen (does she really seem the sort who would go out and get so drunk as to not come home to bed regularly enough that he just passes it off as one of those things? Given that he doesn’t care if she does get so drunk she passes out in a stuper downstairs, is he not at all wondering why she lied about going to work rather than just saying I’m going to get pissed? Does it not upset him in the slightest? I was rather hoping the alien in the second episode would get round to him somehow to be honest). Ah well, hopefully there won’t be too many jarring clashes with “reality” of that sort to come now the whole character introduction phase is over

The rest of the characters I thought were actually introduced quite well. Captain Jack is of course familiar from Doctor Who but I liked him more here. I felt the arrogance and self-assured leadership played better here where he really does know more than the others than when travelling around with a timelord. I enjoyed the device of showing the main characters sneaking home their alien artefact of choice; a quick shorthand note into their personality, which fleshed out Owen particularly well. The characters established, Torchwood itself still feels a little hazy. I think this is the area in which Torchwood (the show) is most relying on its heritage. Those who have watched Doctor Who will have a much better idea of what Torchwood is than those who haven’t. Of course there were other subtle references, notably the explanation for the perception distortion allowing for the back door and Captain Jack’s reference to the right sort of doctor. It wouldn’t particularly matter if those references completely slipped you by though, they’d either be throw away comments or more pseudomumbo talk. Hopefully Torchwood itself will become more established in the coming episodes (growing with the characters). As an aside it’s interesting to note this all seems to be set after (Earth time) all the Doctor Who we’ve seen. All the references to crashing spacecraft and cybermen, and the fireball crash of episode two, did rather remind me of “somebody else’s problem” (a prize to anyone who gets that reference in the comments), but more likely the human race’s amnesia is just a convenient way not to have to complicate the script by being in a reality too far from our own (ask yourself who Gwen’s prime minister is though…)

To summarise the first episode then: Here’s some mysterious unit (no, not UNIT) running around. Yes, we deal with all the alien stuff. Area 51 turns out to really be in Cardiff of all places. Would you like a job? So the second episode should have gotten us really going, launching off into the wondrous world of Torchwood. In it’s own way it did, it’s just a pity the the way was so obvious and unoriginal. As if the writers were rejoicing at being let off the post watershed leash they jumped head first into the “let’s make it adult” concept. Sex, must have sex. Sex, sex, sex. And so comes the great original idea of a sex addicted alien (sarcasm alert). Except we don’t actually get an alien because they’ve worked out in Doctor Who how to do decent swirly alien smoky stuff and it’s so much easier to do humans having sex than work out how to do it with an actual alien. This is such a predictable thing to do, and obvious reaction to being able to do more adult content, it’s almost parody that they actually still went ahead and did it! Had this been a mid-season episode it would have been predictably coming but at least wouldn’t have seemed like the self indulgent “look at us!” cry that it does now. Incidentally, where Rose meant Doctor Who drew inevitable comparisons to Buffy there are already the comparisons of Torchwood to Angel (comparisons which are undoubtedly lent weight by Captain Jack’s characteristics—I’m still unsure about his sort of Captain Scarlet routine). Perhaps it’s all part of RTD’s seeming determination to deny he’s doing science fiction, and even at times to acknowledge anything vaguely related to the genre, but maybe he should have read the plot line of the second episode of Angel (or maybe he did…)

That said episode 2 is still fun. Torchwood chasing around after a swirling gas alien trapped inside a cute girl who must have sex. If they’re trying to move away from the traditional science fiction geek audience stereotype then they still know what plays to them ;-) It sweeps along, develops a little bit, but mainly is a curtain raiser—it’s imaginable it was always planned as a double episode because if you had to wait a week you might be disappointed we don’t really get anywhere.

Which brings in the future. I’m looking forward to the next show (actually, I’m even looking forward to the repeat), so it’s good. Episode 3 might be a make or break thing though—is it all going to be nice shots of swirly gas with a rather clichéd storyline to follow, or is it going to break out its own mould and develop?

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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