Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Is Tom Price the Angelo Muscat of Torchwood? His infrequent appearances raise more questions than answers. What is his deeply enigmatic purpose? What are these "spooky dos" of which he speaks? If his presence is there just to remind us of the police work in Cardiff that doesn't involve aliens or rifts then it certainly serves its purpose. As the Torchwood team tear around the depopulated Cardiff streets I think of PC Andy strolling around hoping in vain that someone needs to know the time, and no doubt occasionally pretending he's lost so that he can give himself directions. But why can't he be given more to do? Casualty managed to spin-off Holby City and HolbyBlue, so let's have something similar from the Torchwood stable. Perhaps Torchwood: Splot where PC Andy takes charge of a small branch office that deals entirely with the complex administration generated when processing alien technology. Certainly no one seems overly concerned with office management in the Hub. Even Ianto thinks it's beneath him since his boss has asked him out and a sociopathic time agent called him 'eye-candy'. God help them if Price Waterhouse Cooper turn up for a full audit.
Normally when watching the show my mind wanders and I worry about the local government in Bizarro Cardiff and whether it charges Torchwood the full council tax on its substantial office space, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang drove all of these thoughts away. From the funny but problematic "Bloody Torchwood!", to Captain John's comment about the Hub "You live in a sculpture - could you be any more pretentious?" via Ianto's remark about Jack being "good on roofs" it's clear that the people behind the show are trying to rid it of the crippling portentousness that dogged the first series so badly. However, as they've replaced portentousness with self-mockery, it remains to be seen if this will work throughout an entire series. I have a feeling that the inconsistency of tone seen last year could be even worse in this run, but in isolation Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was mindlessly entertaining with a cracking central performance from James Marsters. He may have just been doing his Spike thing, but he added a desperately needed touch of charisma to Cardiff's very own Scooby Gang and I felt the other actors raised their game a little in response. Either that or they'd had a lighter lunch that afternoon.
Just think how embarrassed he'll be when he tells an unsuspecting Martha that Adeola had her brain pulled out by a bloke who looked like Sonic the Hedgehog.
Alright so the plot was paper-thin but its main purpose was to reintroduce the (slightly) happier crew and set up some tantalising future storylines. The fact that John now has the DNA (ahem) of the team in his bloodstream will surely crop up later, and thanks to Gary Russell's Doctor Who: The Encyclopaedia we can hazard a guess that the name "Gray, Private" mentioned in the introduction is the same one that John dropped to give Jack a nasty dose of the subliminal flashbacks. I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for some freaked out confusion between Ianto and Martha when she arrives, as presumably Ianto will mistake her for his old workmate Adeola and look as if he's seen a ghost. Just think how embarrassed he'll be when he tells an unsuspecting Martha that Adeola had her brain pulled out by a bloke who looked like Sonic the Hedgehog. But they'll bond over it eventually.
This isn't to say that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was perfect. What particularly amused me was the cack-handed ADR work that was used to paper-up the holes in the plot. People have already pointed out the obvious bit about chopping John's arm off, but I'm convinced that Jack's line after the team have been sent back through time: "And now we'll have to avoid ourselves. Great!" was also added after the fact. I'm pleased that the programme makers feel so comfortable about patching up the inadequacies of a script in this creative way, and only wish that the same approach had been taken for Last of the Time Lords:
The Master ages the Doctor until all that remains is a tiny besuited figure.
Martha's Mum (vo): How come he's got that little suit on? It don't make sense!
Martha's Sister (vo): Martha told me that Time Lords have all their clothes tailored by Burtons of Rassilon. Burton's only ever use scalable material that matches the size of the wearer. Except for the collars. Or summat like that.
Back to the farrago.
In fact I think that the BBC should open up a weekly competition to let Torchwood viewers come up with explanations for the most obvious plotholes. The winner gets to dub the explanatory lines over the action in time for the pre-watershed repeat, and so children need never suffer the agonies induced by a nonsensical story.
I was leafing through some old DWBs the other day
I was entertained despite all this, and certainly much more than by virtually any other episode in the first series, but I still can't help feeling a little disappointed. Self-parody might be a good way of bringing critical dissenters on-side but that style could seem a bit hollow by the end of a thirteen part series especially on a channel like BBC2, and I think that ultimately Torchwood will be seen as a missed opportunity. But I was leafing through some old DWBs the other day (sad sad man) and the June 1986 issue had a very wise letter from a Doctor Who fan. "Is there really any point in continually slagging off JN-T?" was his cry, and he continued "I know 89% of fans want a new Producer but it's no use moaning about it because he's all we've got so we might as well make the most of it." The fan was Chris Chibnall, and although he somewhat undermined his case by appearing on national television six months later slagging off Trial of a Time Lord, I can sympathise with the weariness he expressed. Torchwood is indeed what we're stuck with, so let's hope the slight upturn in quality continues.
You can beat, shoot, criticise and lambast us. But we keep coming back, stronger every time. As long as at least 3 million viewers tune in that is…
Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Maybe it’s because I work in a Post Office that I have such an affinity with pensioners, but in this case ‘Bloody Torchwood’ pretty much sums up my feelings to a tee. I really, really wanna like this show but it keeps letting me down time after time after time. Maybe it’s the unreasonable expectation. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen all this done a thousand times before (and usually better). Or maybe it’s because kicking this hybrid runt of sci-fi and ‘adult’ drama has become about as passe as suggesting that Russell T Davies is the embodiment of perfect show-runner who can’t write a decent script even with a gun to his head. Either way, I’m long past caring. So perhaps that means I’m gonna enjoy this sophomore series more than it has any right to be.
Enough already with the well-worn criticisms of Torchwood season one, which we’ve all listed in variously amusing and insightful ways on the previous incarnation of this blog. Instead let’s take a look at what Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang got right for a change. Gone is the self-importance, barely noticeable is the ludicrously over the top swearing for no reason other than this is how Chris Chibnall really thinks adult people talk, and almost palatable is the constant shoe-horning of ‘Go, Go, Go’ style dramatic arsing about for want of building any real drama. It’s still there, sure, but I think even Chibnall and the cast have reached the point now of realising just how bloody ludicrous this all sounds. Sorry for the gratuitous swearing there, by the way.
‘Bloody Torchwood’ pretty much sums up my feelings to a tee
And in its place? Well, not a lot sadly. There’s an undeniable pleasure to watching Torchwood that still makes having a go at it strangely guilt-empowering; the style and the swagger is all there to see, suggesting in any other circumstances a series that has come out of its tricky debut year with all the confidence and assuredness that hit ratings and a loyal fan-base would make you expect. But at the same time you really think you should be watching something more worthwhile, something more enobling and - dare I say it - something more profound. Maybe I’m missing the point (for which I apologise) but I kinda expect my sci-fi drama to be a bit more than running around for grown-ups in these post-Buffy days of emotional empowerment. I mean, new Who (as we are wont to call it, it seems) sure has its moments of lump-in-the-throat profundity these days, so why can’t this? Is it really too much to expect a show that is nominally aimed at the ‘adult’ demographic to be a bit more, er, adult?
But I guess what Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang does best is what all season-openers should do; reintroduce the show to the hardcore whilst opening the door to anyone who didn’t get tempted to come in first time round. Forget the plot - the McGuffin of having Torchwood running around sans credibility, looking for some half-arsed alien artefacts on behalf of someone they’ve just met is really just an excuse for some post-Jack Oprah-therapy; wherein we learn that Team Torchwood are so much stronger, so much better for having their leader flounce off for a trip to the year One Trillion. Which leaves ol’ Captain Ubiquitous in something of a dilemma, torn between his loyalty to his alien-chasing friends and the past that keeps pulling him back (and if this ain’t a recurring theme of Season 2 then I’ll eat my weevil). Sure, by episode’s end Jack’s made his choice, of sorts (though the fact he’s still about as coy as a particularly secretive KGB agent doesn’t bode well for the team sharing anecdotes with him about the 51st Century) but that tantalising mention of ‘Grey’ and the fact that guest star James Marsters looks set to make at least one return appearance pretty much nails the fact that Torchwood is still going to be a case of us and them. Though who exactly falls into which camp could easily change from week to week.
Is it really too much to expect a show that is nominally aimed at the ‘adult’ demographic to be a bit more, er, adult?
Which brings us not very neatly to the main reason for staying tuned to this after the first ten minutes. Okay, so the act might be a good ten years old now but you’ve gotta admit that nobody - but nobody - quite steals a scene like the former Captain Peroxide of the Buffyverse himself. The hair may be a little more conservative, the face not quite as fresh as it once was (though those cheekbones could still give a certain Blue Peter presenter a run for her money) but James Marsters still exudes the kind of quietly confident swagger and shit-eating smugness that made Spike arguably the highlight of Joss Whedon’s career. Anyone else still trotting out their old stage act of the last decade would probably fall flat on their face, but Marsters’ turn as Jack’s fellow time agent Captain John (still noticeably British here despite there being no real need) brings back warm memories of David Boreanaz looking miserable and out-shone on Angel’s final year. The western-style stand-off in which John and Jack go from snogging bags of testosterone to preening cock-fighters (innuendo fully intended) is arguably the adrenalistic high-point of the episode (soundtracked, rather appropriately, to Blur’s ‘Song 2’…or should that be ‘Woo-WHO’?). It’s guilty pleasures like this that actually make you want to stop worrying and love Torchwood instead.
All of which goes to highlight just how dull the rest of Torchwood are. Was the premise of this show really ‘Five go in search of some character development’ as - besides maybe Ianto - everyone is still trotting out their thinly-written characters of Season 1. Yeah, okay, so the bitching might have been toned down and there’s just (but only just) a suggestion that they might actually have started liking each other nowadays, but these are still the broadly-drawn stereotypes of yore: the nerdy and emotionally-repressed brains, the cock-sure but vulnerable medic, the girl next door who’s still trying to balance fighting aliens with a home-life of engagement rings and full English breakfasts (on which point, just how long can they keep poor Rhys dumb to what job Gwen’s really doing?). And of course their immortal leader, shorn it seems of the unnecessary and frankly annoying angst of season one to become…what, exactly? Perhaps given Marsters’ presence it’s unfair at this early stage in proceedings to judge Captain Jack and Barrowman too harshly on the basis of this opener. But there had better be some decent background to his frankly far too sketchy past on show in Season 2 else there’ll be hell to pay (and no, I don’t mean how he somehow loses all his limbs and torso and ends up as a giant face in a jar either…)
you’ve gotta admit that nobody - but nobody - quite steals a scene like the former Captain Peroxide of the Buffyverse himself
So is there hope still for Torchwood? Yes, I believe there is (whilst guardedly crossing my fingers). As others have already pointed out, it seems to be taking itself a lot less seriously this year (but in a good way) and I think we’d all agree that a team that plays together, stays together will be nothing but a good direction for the frankly laughably hostile set-up of Season 1 to take (though whether having such unsubtle metaphors as Gwen’s cure coming as a result of combined DNA from the other members of Torchwood each week is somewhat debatable).
Still, the 21st Century is when everything changes. And you’ve gotta be ready. Let’s just hope that the Chibnall Wizard and co finally are…
Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Refreshed from their recent sojourn in the Himalayas - where they probably ended up molesting a Yeti - Team Torchwood are back in Cardiff and hot on the heels (well, fins) of a coke-addled blowfish in a stolen sports car. The look on Gwen's face (see right) says it all really: "Yeah, we know this is a bit shit, but what can you do?"
And so begins a pre-titles sequence that neatly encapsulates almost everything that was wrong with season 1 of Torchwood in one bite-sized chunk: there's the SUV that looks like a taxi on New Years Eve; there's a scene with the team yelling at each other with their guns held aloft; there's a bit where Ianto looks like he might cry; there's some blood and gore on the floor; oh, and there's the villain spouting character notes instead of dialogue.
To paraphrase the Brigadier, "Oh, for f**k's sake, here we go again."
Despite the fact that my wife was chomping at the bit about Grand Designs being on t'other side, I somehow persuaded her to stick with it. I missed the bit when the team confronted Jack about his sabbatical on the parent show because we were too busy screaming at each other. However, by the end of the episode we both sported huge, stupid grins on our faces. That's right, I am happy to report that Torchwood is no longer a gritty, angst-ridden, portentous drama with the odd monster in it. Oh, sweet Chibnall, no! Now it's a situation comedy with car chases and the odd monster in it! And it doesn't get much more entertaining than that.
About as useful as Andrew Cartmel on a DVD commentary...
James Marsters didn't just steal the show, he held it to ransom. He even managed to over-shadow John Barrowman and that's no mean feat. Of course, the effortless charm and confidence Marsters exudes is almost certainly down to the fact that he's playing the same character that he played on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for several years. Look, it's Spike dressed as Adam Ant on the roof of a car park in Cardiff! At first, I thought I was watching CCTV footage from a UK convention that had got out of hand, but once I got over the initial disappointment that this wasn't Captain Will (just think of the innuendos they could have mined from that), I felt like I was out for a pint with an old friend. And given that Buffy and Angel have been off our screens for so very long now (I'm practically welling up just thinking about it) it's impossible not to embrace the return of such an iconic and fun character into our living rooms.
And that's the really big difference: Torchwood is suddenly a lot of fun. The team actually look like they'd rather hug each other than shag or shoot each other (the inevitable Tosh/Owen coupling even hints at something romantic rather than pornographic) and you get the sense that the team must have bonded on their trip to Tibet. Ianto looks like he's got a grip on more than just his stopwatch (even if he's still just as useful as Andrew Cartmel on a DVD commentary), and if Gwen can just rein in the misty-eyed doe-eyed nonsense then this could be the start of a beautiful friendship; funnily enough I couldn't remember any sexual tension between Gwen and Jack in the first season, what with her boffing Owen and coming so hard she forgot that she was married to a Paul Cornell look-a-like.
Just cut his f**king arm off!!!
However, while great chunks of this episode are intentionally funny - sometimes riotously so - there's still plenty of unintentional hilarity, just for old time's sake. The one thing we can confirm for sure is that if you get shot in the gut in the Doctor Who universe, all you need to do is find some aspirin and you'll be fine (see Voyage of the Damned for more on this). Just witness poor Owen Harper (an increasingly bizarre amalgam of Terrance and Philip from South Park, Marc Warren and a constipated chimp) who can't quite work out if he's mortally wounded, slightly grazed or just a bit poorly. But full marks to Burn Gorman for trying to remember the extent of his condition as he limped inexplicably from scene to scene, even if the script writer didn't.
Something else Chris Chibnall seems to have overlooked is the unavoidable fact that 99% of all sentient life watching this programme will all be thinking the same thing five minutes from the end: "Just cut his f**king arm off!". If you managed to stop shouting this at your telly you might have caught Tosh mumble something in an ADR booth about how that'll set the bomb off, but that clearly makes no sense at all. How would cutting off an arm stop a bomb stuck to somebody's chest?
Sadly, as soon as the bomb shows up the plot falls apart: why did the woman bother to scatter the bomb across time and space (and Wales) if she wanted to exact revenge on the man who killed her? Why make it so damn hard? And why place so many innocent people at risk? The cow!
And that ending, when the rift exploded and day turned to night, made me feel far more exhilarated than I had any right to be. I honestly believed that they'd been spat out onto an exotic parallel world, or the far future, and this was going to be two-parter with more Captain Hart shenanigans. Sadly it wasn't to be, and aside from a throwaway gag about the team having to avoid themselves (and all those bodies falling out of the sky), I can't work out for the life of me why they even bothered with a "twist" ending. Perhaps they ran out of daylight after the stunt men had set up the pneumatic catapult?
There's a kid-friendly pre-watershed version still to come. That'll make for a fascinating 15 minutes.
Many of the episode's more, shall we say overt leanings towards the realm of slash-fiction (almost as old-school as Blur) were a little too embarrassing for my sensibilities, but I can't watch Hollyoaks in polite company. Did we really need thinly veiled references to Jack's back-passage? What's next? Some playful banter about Gwen's front bottom? And what's the deal with John fancying a piece of that poodle? Is this the start of the programme's hitherto hidden bestiality agenda? It's hard to believe there's a kid-friendly pre-watershed version of this still to come. That'll make for a fascinating 15 minutes.
The really interesting things in this episode are all left unsaid. We're reminded that Jack used to be a con-man and there's a definite riff on Angel as John solemnly informs Gwen that we don't really know the good Captain at all. Could this tie-into Jack's mysterious "gap year" that hasn't been alluded to since The Doctor Dances? And then there's that enigmatic flashback to some hands being wrenched apart (but given what we've seen so far they were probably just separated on the dance floor of a gay nightclub). What could it all mean? Is this really an attempt at a ...gasp!... story arc?
I really enjoyed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I can see serious potential in this show for the very first time and the 'Coming Soon' trailer really grabbed me by the balls: giant wasp death, Richard Briers, an incredibly impressive Children of Men-style explosion on a high street and - best of all - even more Marsters. All we need now is for PC Andy to be given his own show and we'll be sorted; mark my words, he could be the new Juliet Bravo.
This year's fashion vogue
For the Time Agent with style:
Red is the new black.
Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Oh he is cruel and heartless
To chuck me for Gwendoline,
Just cos he's better lookin' than me,
Just cos he's cool and trendy,
But I know he's a moron,
The Captain is a moron!
Strange how the preview clips cut out the phrase 'bloody Torchwood', but not the full-on mano-a-mano tonsil tennis.
Most big sci-fi shows start the year with a 'last season' reprise; Torchwood doesn't, so we'll make do with this instead. (Ahem.) One of the big conceptual problems of last season that munged up at least the first half was, the programme simply couldn't decide whether it was supposed a big-event show full of Really Wild Things, or a small-event 'people' one, the kind of television that RTD writes really, really well and clearly intended this show to be a lot closer to (watch Sarah Jane Adventures for the proof). There's never going to be enough money to splash out on the first style every week anyway (the effects budget for season one was one-third that of Doctor Who, a statistic that would have had you spitting coffee in 1989), and Chris Chibnall's stewardship didn't have the patience to give either type time to develop separately before jamming the two together into so much melodramatic mush - and thereby taking so much longer for Torchwood to feel like it's going anywhere than it otherwise would have anyway.
By now as well you simply have to face facts; the City Of Taff travelogue doesn't have the photogenic gloss for ZOMG world-shattering drama every Wednesday. There's no reason why the Rift contrivance shouldn't open up in Cardiff, it's as likely as anywhere else. But there is a reason Batman fights crime in Gotham City and not Podunk, Connecticut. (This is the single biggest disappointment of the script; the Rift is still there, and still active. Eh?? I thought it sealed up at the finale of End Of Days and put everything 'right' in order for the series to open up a bit beyond its suburban confinement. Or did the Time Lord exile option prove managably cheaper instead? That's not the Rift spitting out alien shit, it's the ghost of Malcolm Hulke.)
Oh, and the characters were rubbish. Piffling little point, I know; we wouldn't get any real intimacy or depth until Catherine Treganna came along and gave the series a good shake, and even then it took her two attempts to cut through all the grotesque baggage.
Oh look, here comes another Chris Chibnall script inspired by a lurid film genre. Who'd have thunk it?
Chris Chibnall's method of addressing these concerns is predictably, childishly obvious: he laughs at them. Unfortunately he was so busy sticking his fingers in his ears and going 'la-la-la' during season one to notice he's now a year out of date; the majority of us here stopped laughing very early on and just got wound up instead. And I don't think the man mainly responsible for season one turning out madder than Britney Spears in a kindergarten is in a very good position to play it for yocks unless he can also demonstrate he's learned a few new tricks in the meantime. But oh look, here comes another Chibnall script inspired by a lurid film genre. Who'd have thunk it?
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may be a step up from his previous dirges, but it still isn't very good. Alright, it's kind of funny in the first five minutes, and his storytelling logic holds together a bit better than he normally manages (it's about as good there as 42 was if that isn't damning with faint praise, though I liked that one enough to wildly overhype it on the day), but at the end it left little less of the unpleasant taste in my mouth. For a start, Chris Chibnall still doesn't quite have a grip on this thing called 'consequence' yet. You'd think there's be some town gossip later about the sociopath in a fruity Napoleonic mish-mash. Or "fish is driving car, how can this be?". Is Torchwood down to retconning the entire Cardiff water supply now, or do they for giggles purposefully leave behind old biddies as witnesses, to wind up in a nursing home ten minutes later? And while the Retcon drug is very handy in removing awkward memories of freaky alien shit that a sane mind would be only too pleased to forget, it's probably less effective against the physical trauma of being shot by one. "BuuuhhhhHOLYSHIT, WHEREDIDTHISFUCKINGBULLETWOUNDCOMEFROM??" This is nothing new for Torchwood of course; consider Small Worlds, in which a troubled young mother watches her husband spontaneously choke to death during a neighbourhood party, and her daughter taken away from her in front of her face. How does Retcon cover that sort of eventuality? But again, none of this is ever dealt with or addressed on Chibnall's watch, not even in jest. Bleah.
As for the creation of Captain John Hart... well, he'd fare rather better in his own show to be frank. Jack's role as a former Time Agent you can rationalise as a one-off maverick. But now there's a second such character who's actually worse; a pair who worked together and bonded long enough to develop a past. So surely the question must be, what kind of military-style organisation hires people like this who make such an utter public mockery of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy? Relaxed attitudes don't count for much when it infringes on the job to this degree. No wonder the organization's gone kaput.
Captain John is also a walking Greek chorus. As a villain, he's hopelessly weakened by his own mocking cynicism about these naive dolts, that we can all see and agree with to be entirely right. That Torchwood got on so well as a functioning unit without Jack should be a good joke, but close to a dozen misfires wherein the true facts speak for themselves have already neutered it. (And how long was Jack gone for, anyway? If it's only a few days as SOD U LOTT suggests, then that's more like it if Gwen's this close to going to pieces already.) However private and mysterious Jack keeps himself, is there anybody alive who wouldn't think a jealous rival who turns up out of nowhere and holds a gun to his head, wouldn't try and drive a wedge between Jack and his team? There is never any point at which John doesn't look like he's going to get clean away with everything unless he slips on a banana skin of his own, which he does - twice - through things he couldn't possibly have known or done anything about. There isn't even any credible reason why John shouldn't simply be frisked and chained naked to a lamppost, while the gang traipses off to find the 'bombs' with their magic Rift-detectors or - more plausibly if these things are supposed to be radioactive - Geiger counters.
She is a slut, he thinks he's tough, she is a bitch, he is a puff
That this isn't good drama is one thing, but it's not much of a narrative either when events are presented to us so predictably and vocally in between one-liners. John knows all the rules well in advance. Don't let him kiss you, Jack warns Gwen; John repeats the warning a scant moment later, so of course she's going to let him kiss her instead of taping his hands behind his back and applying a gag to his mouth. (Gwen offering to flirt as a distraction is so, so wrong). Jack and John's macho posturing has to dominate the screen, so naturally all the others get relegated to their usual cipher-like selves, existing solely to proffer feedlines or quips for the endless succession of gay slang and ribald jokes; otherwise, she is a slut, he thinks he's tough, she is a bitch, he is a puff. (Though amusingly it's Ianto who comes out best out of the second tier, simply because his public office-boy persona with no self-confidence really is that shallow on the surface with hidden depths concealed underneath, however badly it's been handled before. And he's useful for a change.) And just in case you're liable to forget the risible Face Of Boe denouement or the number of times he brings it up, Jack's invincibility comes into play for the sake of a cheap stunt shot, and saves the day as it has several times before. Yawwwwn... The worst line of the episode: "we always come back, stronger than before" (Burn Gorman always seems to get these oh-so-natural Chibnall lines for some unfathomable reason). No, it's only because by some miracle you haven't blown yourselves right up yet; what doesn't kill you makes you plonker.
Back up a minute though. This supposed to be self-parody, right? So none of the above should matter if the script was leading somewhere; or at least be more vaguely amusing than season seven of The X-Files. But nooooooooo, it has to degenerate into another typically farcical Chibnall ending we've had thrown up at us way too many times since 2005. Please, please, for the love of God, once and for all just FUCK OFF with the Evolution Of The Daleks DNA bullshit. If DNA splicing is so bleedin' magical, then why does this show create nothing with it but the same low-rent Andy Wachowski / Quentin Tarantino hybrid everyone else did bloody ages ago, instead of a real director? Next time, could the reset switch take us back to 1999 so we can give The Matrix a bloody good kicking, thereby ensuring that those dated camera swooshes are never ever inflicted upon us again? And Song 2 by Blur? Whaaaat?? Are you trying to rub it in by making us think of every BBC trailer from the end of last decade instead?
'We always come back, stronger than before.' No, it's only because by some miracle you haven't blown yourselves right up yet
The worst part of it is, this is the installment that's supposed to set the tone for the entire season. So even if fans get the joke, there are still a lot of casuals and less-enchanted viewers to account for, some of which may have tuned in to episode one just to give Torchwood the benefit of the doubt on the offchance that things could be different this time - so going out of your way to reaffirm their worst fears by thumbing your nose at them through a piscine soliloquay, is categorically not a good idea if you want them all back next week. And maybe I'm just jaundiced by this point, but as far as I could tell only a fan or an apologist could fail to be disheartened by the trailer that pretty well promises more of the same. I thought there was supposed to be a story-arc going on this time? So everything changes in the 21st century, does it? Not a hope in hell; it looks like the same freakshow, the same running around the same Cardiff streets, the same bad naked gun porn, the same Armageddon doom-mongering that by itself means about as much as a man with a sandwich board prclaiming THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH. And shouting. Lots and lots and lots of shouting. Yeah yeah, it's not fair.
Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
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.
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!
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.
Behind the Sofa is a collaborative blog dedicated to the long-running British SciFi show 'Doctor Who' and its spin-offs. Intended for mature readers only.