« DVD Glory Awaits | Main | Jilted John »

January 17, 2008

Hottie and the Blowfish

Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Kiss1 I think my reaction to the first series of Torchwood was best summed up by that pensioner in the opening scene of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, ‘Bloody Torchwood’.  It might have had its fans, yet in general it was ill conceived, inconsistently written, variably acted, annoyingly directed, and week in and out embarrassed the franchise in a way which creator Russell T Davies implied would be enough to have it shut down.  Certainly, reviewing the thing week in and out became an act of narcissism, best summed up by sitting up until half two on a cold New Year’s Day slating the final episode, something which on reflection looks like an act of insanity.  I haven’t been able to watch that first series since it was broadcast, letting it slowly disappear into the mists of my brain like one of those nightmares about being naked on the bus to work, which you try to forget but keeps nagging at you particularly when you are on the bus to work.

Yet here I am at midnight doing it all again, and you know what?  It’s a pleasure.  Tonight’s season premiere (as the yanks call them) was really, really good.  Seemingly taking on board some of the criticisms which greeted the first thirteen, this was a far more confident affair, offering a tighter script, more coherently stylish direction and far greater chemistry within the cast and on top of that, after a few initial collywobbles, thoroughly compelling.  Seriously, it’s the business.  During the 1990s, the Wednesday at Nine slot was hallowed territory, usually owned by Channel 4 who dropped everything from e.r. to American Gothic in there (to be followed by reruns of the previous year's series of Friends).  With the advent of Heroes last year it seemed BBC Two had noticed the beauty of the hour (middle of the week, not worth going out) and on the basis of that, following it up with Torchwood is a genius decision.

Crucially the portentous opening voiceover which confused the issue in the first series (brilliantly made fun of in a deleted scene from The Last of the Timelords) has been removed (replaced on this occasion by the exposition blowfish’s labelling of the crew).

Admittedly storywise, the reappearance of someone from a character’s past to break up the existing equilibrium is an old tv cliché (even the new series has done it at least twice); but here it was a perfectly valid way of relaunching the series, providing new viewers with a way into whatever the premise of the series is.  Crucially the portentous opening voiceover which confused the issue in the first series (brilliantly made fun of in a deleted scene from The Last of the Timelords) has been removed (replaced on this occasion by the exposition blowfish’s labelling of the crew).  Torchwood’s mission is now more clearly defined as being covert defenders of the Cardiff area, chasing after, yes, whatever intergalactic flotsum and jetsum drops in from the sky or through the rift.  That seems like a fairly noble cause and distinct enough from what UNIT tends to do (are they C-19 though?).

The big double-cross is also the usual outcome of these things, but again this was done earlier enough into the episode that it wasn’t all about that – plus given the characterisation it wasn’t too much of a surprise.  A less assured script would have attempted to make this returning figure entirely sympathetic so that their betrayal would be a shock.  Captain John throwing a mugger from a building hardly did that and at no point where we led to believe that he was a reformed character.  Part of the fun was in simply waiting to see exactly when he’d hit poison, punch or shoot someone.  Sight unseen I would never have labeled this a Chris Chibnall script so he’s clearly upped his game on last year’s closing farrago and realised that the key to the series is acknowledging its ludicrousness instead of trying to portray events as totally earth shattering and very, very important.  Indeed.  It’s also not afraid to drop in a few references for the genre crowd (‘drink-now’ and ‘Help me Obi-Wan Kinobi’ indeed).

Sight unseen I would never have labeled this a Chris Chibnall script so he’s clearly upped his game on last year’s closing farrago and realised that the key to the series is acknowledging its ludicrousness instead of trying to portray events as totally earth shattering and very, very important.  Indeed.

Kiss2 At the epicentre of the bubble bursting was guest star James Marsters, reprising many of his charismatic tricks and accent from the pre-souled Spike who’d steal whole episodes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.  Even his initial meeting with past-Boe Captain Jack mirrored William The Bloody’s reunion with Angel in that series’ episode School Hard.  This is a distinct character however, a glorious creation, genuinely scary in places because he simply doesn’t care but also curiously likeable in ways with John Simm’s Master never could quite manage – more of the Delgado Master actually.  But with a youthful vigour and the adolescent capacity to be dumbfounded – his reaction to see Jack alive and well was, as Julie Gardener would put it, amazing.  Isn’t it a pity that none of the team are fans of the old PC game Worms; surely on the basis of evidence, the exploding poodle will do the trick?

More importantly his appearance reminds us that despite his Utopian revelations, we really don’t know that much about Captain Jack’s past – he’s still as much of a mystery to us as to the Torchwood team.  Some would see that as the re-engaging of one of the less useful elements of the first series, except here it was much better handled, especially since Jack hasn’t reverted back to type – he’s the fun-loving version who bounced out of the last series of Doctor Who – it really is more fun when he’s around. Who is he bereft of then?  A wife?  Husband?  Child?  Something else?  And what has the Captain doing between leaving the Doctor and Martha, during the day, and turning up that in the nick of time at that house?  John Barrowman did seem to up his game throughout though, clearly enjoying this new sparing partner.

But all of the actors are far more comfortable with one another and their characters - although PC Andy was always great (yet is still underused).  Steps have been taken between series to make the team a far more likeable prospect and some of the group scenes, particularly the one in the back of the taxi suggest that someone’s been taking notes from the likes of Firefly and even Star Trek, that viewers like to spend time with friends rather than enemies pretending to be a team, especially when they're getting an equal share of the action.  Eve Myles is still the most versatile and authoritative of the four, but Naoko Mori given the chance proves she can be a bit amusing and Gareth David-Lloyd has also been given a funny bone transplant – look he’s even underplaying the humour!  Burn Gorman still has that slightly annoying walk though.

Naoko Mori given the chance proves she can be a bit amusing and Gareth David-Lloyd has also been given a funny bone transplant – look he’s even underplaying the humour!

Kiss3 Some elements still came a bit unstuck.  The constant wip-pans also have potential to seem awfully dated and the music was desperately  annoying in places oscillating between the kind of musak that’s the stock in trade during old school Neighbours and a kind of techno which graced the disastrous recreation of Ibiza featured in Big Finish’s The Rapture.  Blur’s Song 2 has been ruined by overuse in car commercials and movie fight sequences (even Charlie’s Angels for goodness sake) so it seemed like a bit of a cliché playing over the lover’s tiff in the bar (perhaps inspired by a similar scene of destruction in the underrated assassin film Mr & Mrs Smith which cleverly borrowed Charles Wright’s Express Yourself instead).  Plus, just how secret is Torchwood anyway, given that a pensioner knows who the hell they are?

Somewhere along the line the production team have remembered the vital ingredient which makes Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures work so well usually – if nothing else, you have to be entertaining.  It was witty, exciting, touching without being maudlin and mostly giving off the appearance of being effortless (even though pre-show interviews demonstrated that this wasn’t the case) and enough to make me want to go back and rewatch the first series just to see if it actually was as awful as it appeared.  A very high benchmark then, but the throw-forward that concluded the episode only increased my excitement – Captain John’s not gone yet, there are giant insects, marauding Weevil, Richard Briers, Jim Robinson and the return of Martha Jones (both of whom it seems will have the accompanying soundtrack they deserve).  On the basis of this, I’m wondering if a return appearance from Abaddon wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Then again, perhaps not.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834516a1969e200e55066d95a8834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hottie and the Blowfish:

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Comments