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February 23, 2008

All together now, in no man's land

Torchwood: Reset

Reset_stu Well that was … disappointing.  No I don’t mean the episode.  That was proper television, somehow managing to do everything my series saving manifesto pleaded for, superlatives all round particular for writer J. C. Wilsher who also created one of the best cop shows ever, Between the Lines.  RTD and the gang should be out right now celebrating over a Sex on the Beach or whatever the official Upper Boat cocktail is (Cerebral Hemorrhage?).  No I was disappointed because of something entirely outside of their control.  What I mean is that I wish that once again I could be tapping away this keyboard totally stressed out by the ending.  Owen’s not dead is he?  Really?  Really?  They simply can’t do that!

At the risk of doing a Charlie Brooker and chatting around the subject for a few paragraphs before actually reviewing the episode, I’m sick to the back teeth of spoilers.  It’s not unusual for the BBC to knock out the following episode of a series on a digital channel – The Sarah Jane Adventures went to DOGville as has Spooks and Life On Mars briefly here and there.  The problem is that those of us who don’t want to watch these things with a spinning or dayglow (or both) logo in the middle of the widescreen and with the majority of the nation, are fucked when it comes to spoilers especially if we’re in the target audience for the series -- in other words people who use the internets.

At the risk of doing a Charlie Brooker and chatting around the subject for a few paragraphs before actually reviewing the episode, I’m sick to the back teeth of spoilers.

So by at least last Thursday I knew that Owen was shot and killed.  But then I noticed that even if you had managed to ignore all of the relevant blogs, dodged emails and played cold turkey from discussion board, Torchwood Magazine printed a bloody great photograph on its inside pages which is the kind of thing you’d expect from ironically named tabloids (who’ve ruined the end of the fourth series already I see) and not from the official publication which I saw in Forbidden Planet last Friday.  Doctor Who Magazine’s so ass-tight it actually delayed publication once for a whole week so as not to spoiler an episode which had been postponed due to sport but their new cousins clearly haven't a clue what they're doing.  Whoever they are.

Of course, students of the work of Mr. Whedon and Mr. Abrams and probably Mr. Hitchcock would have had some impression that Mr. Harper wasn’t long for this world, given the complete rewiring of his character to the point of making him bearable, quite tenderly agreeing to a date with Tosh, the one woman he spent much of the first series taking the piss out of.  Despite the threat of an interloper to steal the show, this was probably Owen’s best episode so far and saving the day for a change is just the kind of thing someone does in television if they’re about to contract cancer, be involved in a fatal car accident or as in this case experience a fatal gunshot wound the chest.

Assuming he really is dead, at least he’ll have Suzie to spend his television afterlife with, rutting for all eternity.  We’re yet to see the after effects (well I am anyway) but this should resonate more because we can see the kind of hole he’ll leave in the team.  Who’s going to be the flirty twat that isn’t a Captain now?  But to offer some random speculation for those of us who are watching it the slow was, really I don’t think he’s gone.  Burn Gorman’s sticking around for cadaver duty and I can’t imagine Jack’ll stand by when he can borrow Buffy’s urn of Osiris and bring the mockney MD back to the land of the living – or what passes for it in The Hub.

Burn Gorman’s sticking around for cadaver duty and I can’t imagine Jack’ll stand by when he can borrow Buffy’s urn of Osiris and bring the mockney MD back to the land of the living – or what passes for it in The Hub.

And what of the interloper?  It used to be the return of companions was the stuff of spin-off novels, spin-off audios and fan fiction – and with the exception of the eponymous Sarah-Jane Smith that’s largely been the case.  In the coming months though apparently the Tardis is going to be like some intergalactic version of the hop-on-and-off City Sightseer red bus service, with Donna Noble sticking her hand out first of all.  Martha’s back too and these episode of Torchwood are going to be setting the scene for that.  Insert here another version of my discussion about how this series can’t ever be seen as totally independent from its mother.

Whispering (because this is heresy amongst some fans), apparently there are some people who don’t like Martha and with addition murmering, are looking forward to the return of Catherine Tate.  They’re half wrong of course.  Catherine Tate is going to be brilliant and despite her initial similarities to the expected model of what a Doctor Who companion is like these days – young, born in the shadow of the bow bells – Martha developed into an indispensable, adorable figure, completely free of the cockiness which derailed Rose’s character towards the end.  Say what you like about the glowly floaty Doctor and Judeo-Christian undertones, we’re talking about someone who saved the world through the power of speech.  What’s not to like?

Say what you like about the glowly floaty Doctor and Judeo-Christian undertones, we’re talking about someone who saved the world through the power of speech.  What’s not to like?

Martha 2.0 is a useful extension of that.  Having her join UNIT (who in a slight retcon are suddenly more important than Torchwood) means that all that travelling hasn’t gone to waste and in storytelling terms gives a perfectly valid reason for her to pitch up in the Hub, a story beat which could easily have been of an order not since Worf turned up on the Enterprise for no good reason in Star Trek Insurrection (‘I was in Cardiff shopping and thought I’d look you up – ooh is that an alien?’).  She’s still a bit funny, still sweet but also exhibiting an intellect only hinted at before; if this had been Rose it’d be like Jo Grant returning from her trip up the Andies and sounding like Liz Shaw. But Martha’s a doctor, she has always been able to think on her feet and she used to learn from the Doctor all the time.

The disciples at The Church of AHistory are probably already scratching their heads though; judging by the weather patterns, the clothing, and probably the décor, this can only be about September and yet here’s Miss Jones talking like a copy of The New England Journal of Medicine.  Is she fast learner or has something gone on between SOD U LOTT and this which we haven’t been privy to?  Either way, squeevians were well served by a range of references to that earlier story, not least that Jack’s not very trusting of the folks at Whitehall these days, and a flash of the newspaper from Boomtown.  But the most significant development about Martha, apart from the new boyf, was the revelation that the time vortex has mutated her blood (did this happen to every companion, ever?) and what looked like her resurrection.  Is she in the Jack way?

All this and Jim Robinson.  It seems only right that Alan Dale, who on leaving Neighbours received one of the most undignified deaths in soap opera history (face down under a kitchen table) should go on to forge a career in Hollywood playing slimy bastards only to return here and possibly get flashbacks of Hilary Robinson tutting over Jim’s corpse (even though that was filmed in Australia).  Perhaps, since the episode had so much more to do, not least giving Martha the chance to share a scene with all of the main characters in turn – except Tosh oddly – delicious Dale didn’t have as much screen time as he deserved – but at no point did he seem like a single episode character – you don’t hire someone like Jim Dale for that kind of duty.  Like a bad penny or the Delgado Master in the Pertwee era, he’s sure to be back.

the Mayflies were essentially the Wyrrn with standards

I’ll let everyone else tease out the thematic elements – that the only real difference between the bad people in The Pharm and the good people of Torchwood is that the former steals aliens and the latter their technology.  The fact that Owen’s doodat was deus ex machina par excellence, only redeemed because it was misused throughout the episode and not simply whipped out at the end.  That the Mayflies were essentially the Wyrrn with standards and that Martha’s contact lenses were one of the best sci-fi gadgets ever though truly a missed opportunity for comedy and speaking to the kids by using txt speak on her monitor: “kEp him talkin & try 2 git yorself inside” etc.  Again I say, this was proper television and I’m delirious with anticipation for next week.

It even took time to throw in a probably coincidental reference to a Doctor Who spin-off companion.  Tens of dozens of McGann fans punched the air.

Next Week:  I don't want to know until next week. Lalalalalalalacan'thearyou.

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