Does everyone in Cardiff know about aliens? I forget exactly where the current series stands chronologically in the Doctor Who universe, and although I could look it up in my newly acquired copy of the amazing AHistory my doctor has advised me to avoid anything too anally-retentive in case it starts off my old trouble again. Maybe we're past the point where everyone in the country/world knows about aliens which would explain a lot about the way Torchwood operates. It would particularly help me to understand why the police decided to call for Torchwood in the first place. Their official line "Bit weird this one. Might be one of yours." begs a lot of questions. For one thing does "might be one of yours" mean "there could be aliens involved" or does it mean "this is just the kind of thing that fits Torchwood's incredibly vague remit although I don't even know what their remit is - they just turn up occasionally"? Either way, just exactly how is the crime scene weird in the first place? One burglar has been killed, another messily defenestrated and the murder weapon is missing. But since the murder weapon could have been thrown out of the window or hidden just about anywhere it seems a bit previous to get the Mod Squad on the case. Like some others on this blog I fear for the middle of the season when Torchwood get called in for a "mysterious" case involving schoolkids nicking a suspect alien substance (Space Dust) from the corner shop. Pity the child who pulls out his liquorice pipe too soon while the trigger-happy boys and girls from the Hub ("we only kill when we have to") are on the scene.
But if you view the Torchwood team as just a bunch of jumped-up coppers then the rest of the episode starts to make a kind of twisted sense. The over-the-top interrogation of Beth by Jack is just him playing bad cop to wet Gwen's good cop. The cheeky (or in Ianto's case embarrassing) banter between bouts of torture is not all that far removed from 1970s and 1980s police interrogation techniques. Jack's relish when he informs Beth that there'll be no lawyers, no phone calls and no charges (and presumably no recording of the interview) was "explained" when he then goes and has a good laugh about his scariness with Ianto. It's hard to know whether that makes it better or worse, but for any repressed bully-boys watching it must have got the evening off to a flying start. If there were signs of moral qualms from anyone in the team then I could begin to give the script some credit, but apart from Gwen (who doesn't count since she just provides a cop-out for the others by feeling sad every time the moral barometer reads "Questionable") they just stand around making jokes about heads exploding or they simply follow orders. The fact that Beth is a deadly killer alien doesn't ultimately make any difference. Even Jack Bauer is genuinely disturbed by his actions although he feels they are justifiable, and his life is pretty much destroyed by the cumulative affect of his activities. And that's 24 for goodness sake - even that has more insight into the morally grey areas than Torchwood and Ianto's merry quips. Maybe their minds are clouded by all the stuff they drink from the ornate decanters in the meeting room.
Despite all of this there were some good things in James Moran's script and I'd be interested in knowing how much of Ianto's banter and associated levity was in the first draft. Beth's plight was well-drawn and Nikki Amuka-Bird (who was rather good in Five Days) put in a solid performance even though her mannerisms made it too obvious from the start that she was an alien. Her bedside conversation with Mike early in the episode foreshadowed later events when he joked "Lies lies, why so many lies?", and there were plenty of scenes (such as the murder of the council leader) that showed the potential of the episode.
But I was puzzled by things as well. Was there a real explanation of why Beth could resist alien control and switch her powers on and off? Info-dump dialogue about transmitters and that she was "off the network' didn't really do it for me. And I'm afraid Mike's demise in a very literal demonstration of that old adage "you always hurt the one you love" made me laugh more than anything else. I can imagine the whole scene as a public information film, but instead of "don't run with scissors" it's "don't cuddle when you have an alien stabby arm". Although there were still a few good explosions to come I started to lose interest in the episode after this. The storming of the coal mine was so boring that it didn't even make me laugh, especially as the action kept cutting between a man with a pointy arm tapping his PIN into a device and Jack taking part in a driving exercise for Top Gear. Apparently he completed the course in 1:36 and only knocked over three traffic cones before getting skewered like a kebab. However, I perked up when Beth decided to enact a little homily at the end.
When I was a kid I would occasionally watch something like Ironside, and (as Police Squad! parodied so well) it would often end with the protagonists standing around explaining what I'd just seen with my own eyes, and helpfully tieing up any loose ends they thought I'd been too thick to pick up on. If you were lucky they'd also add some sugared little homily or po-faced observation about contemporary morality. Freeze frame - roll credits. Not all American shows did this, but plenty were offenders, and on the whole equivalent popular UK dramas of the time did almost anything to avoid the saccharine and insulting approach I've mentioned. Shows like Public Eye, Callan, Spindoe, Z-Cars and even stuff like Hadleigh and The Brothers were perhaps a tad theatrical, but they didn't spoon feed and assume the worst of the viewer. They treated people like grown-ups in fact. So why on earth am I here in 2008 watching Sleeper end with Gwen and the team reiterating the significance of the action I've just watched? ""She wanted you to shoot her. She used her last shred of humanity to do this." Yes Gwen I know that. The clue was in the scene, with you saying "Don't shoot it's a trick she won't hurt me", and the bit about using her last shred if humanity was evident in her actions. It could have only been more on-the-nose if Gwen had hauled out the OED and read out the full definition of each word in the sentence. But then Jack and Owen are on hand to further throttle any potential emotion out of the scene by piping up "We couldn't take the risk. She must have known that." "Yes she did. She was trying to make it easy for us." Just when I thought they couldn't possibly make it any easier for me they brought out the strings and the slow overhead shot, followed by Jack doing a pirate voice for Gwen in the kind of office coda scene that went out with Starsky and Hutch. It was painful to behold, and although Torchwood believes that the 21st Century is when everything changes, as far as television drama is concerned it's definitely stuck in the second half of the twentieth.
As the saying goes, nothing good in life lasts forever. So when it comes to Torchwood’s brief splutterings of entertainment and drama coming to a swift (not to mention inevitable) end, you can hardly feign surprise at nature following its due course.
Which, as always, is an observation tainted by no small measure of regret. For twenty minutes Sleeper was everything you’d expect of a good thriller series: tense, mysterious, well-acted (guest star Nikki Ammuka-Bird is perhaps the sole element that doesn’t drop the ball) and above all ‘adult’ in a way that Torchwood has only flattered to be at best. As something of a dark take on Paul Cornell’s ‘Human Nature’, it pretty much ticks all the boxes as far as quality is concerned. James Moran’s debut script has a lot going for it, not least of which a nice balance between Torchwood’s attempts to solve a mystery and help a very confused young woman and Jack’s continuing hardline approach to any alien threat that takes a seat on his patch. Like I say, for twenty minutes I was well and truly gripped.
But then (sigh) it all goes predictably tits-up. Logic is replaced by shouted exposition, homages (for that read ‘rip-offs’) of pretty much every notable sci-fi show or movie of the past twenty-five years take the place of any originality, and we’re left with little more than textbook Torchwood race-against-time bollocks that makes you shake your head in despair as to how quickly this show can screw up a good premise in record time and with minimum effort. Somehow they even find time for a tacked-on coda just in case we didn’t get the nature vs. nurture subtext the first time round.
if this is what Chibnall and co. consider to be character development then give me one-dimensional cretins with hard-ons any day
Seriously, Beth deserved better than this - Ammuka-Bird is clearly a quality actress, gong from freaked-out innocent one minute to cold and ruthless killer the next. And she absolutely out-acts everyone else on the screen just by proving the less-is-more maxim true once again. Of the rest, we’re back in Season 1 territory again folks, just this time with some totally inappropriate attempts for laughs. I mean, what has Ianto been doing between spending his time playing stopwatch with Jack and cataloguing all the useless gizmos that get dumped through the rift - taking stand-up lessons off Les Dennis? The feeble attempts at humour to undercut the tension in this episode are arguably some of the worst seen this side of self-parody; and if this is what Chibnall and co. consider to be character development then give me one-dimensional cretins with hard-ons any day.
And you really don’t want me to go through all the (ahem) inspirations on show, do you? (Cough) Terminator 2 (Cough) besides, we’ve got cult fave The Hidden (alien force subverts average citizens), A History of Violence (ordinary Joe responds to armed attack with hitherto unknown killing prowess) and - God help me - even Torchwood’s own bete-noire of last year Cyberwoman. ‘Cept this time not even Ianto can bring himself to cry real baby tears over Beth’s doomed destiny. Inevitably Gwen gets to bond with the poor bitch before Torchwood leave her lying in a pool of her own blood, but like Chibnall’s masterpiece of last term all this ‘one small shard of humanity’ guff will leave you about as moved as a catatonic patient in a sensory depravation tank.
But perhaps the worst aspect of Sleeper is how it all degenerates into some sort of Greatest Hits package of season one. Jack’s strong-arm tactics - torturing his ‘patient’ until she finally admits to being a homicidal alien - was particularly resonant of the first year’s more detached and less compassionate Captain (so it looks as though that trip to One Trillion hasn’t quite ironed out all the angst creases just yet) and I think we’ve had quite enough of race-against-time guff that sees Torchwood save the day just in the nick of time (on which note, nuclear warheads? Under Cardiff?? Seriously???)
And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it looks as though there’s gonna be a sequel later in the season
Still it wasn’t without its (albeit unintentionally) moments of hilarity. The mild-mannered business bloke who goes psycho in the midst of boring his other half to death about that day’s trading; the paramedic who looks just like rugger legend Lawrence D’Allaglio; and Gwen reluctantly admitting to Beth that they may, um, perhaps, er, now and again have killed the odd alien when left with no choice. Not to mention the sight of Torchwood breaking into a hospital ward and pulling out a grieving woman before the medics even have time to minister to her fatally stabbed husband.
But even these bits are tempered by others that make you just want to put your head through the TV screen. Jack can now survive mortal wounds rather than just dying and coming back to life from them (since when?); the rugby-playing paramedic who nicks a petrol tanker just to ram home the Terminator homage further still; and - last but by no means least - Owen’s suggestion of a three-way gang-bang with Tosh and Ianto just as the world’s about to end. I mean, get over these behind-the-bike-shed attempts at juvenile humour, will ya?
And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it looks as though there’s gonna be a sequel later in the season. The only consolation is that it couldn’t end up any worse than this.
Next Time: more World War II shenanigans with lovers across time - must be a Catherine Treganna script (no, it’s Helen 'I bet there’s a DNA solution in there somewhere' Raynor instead)
James Moran's stab at
Orgasms and giant fruit
Clones a parson's nose.
Picture a story about an artificial construct forced to do inhuman things against its will, that craves an emotional bond with ordinary people, that just wants to pursue an ordinary menial existence and provokes genuine sadness when destroyed. A thought-provoking story with exciting action and profundities on what it means to be a human being, encapsulated into a tidy little entertainment package, easily digestible in the space of about fifty minutes.
Sounds good, eh? That's because it's Doctor Who and The Giant Robot by Terrence Dicks, and it's positively sublime compared to the sub-Terminator pablum we've got this week instead.
Sleeper is an unfortunate turkey, and it's mainly down to a lousy script that wastes no time in settling into a mogadonic slump. You remember when Douglas Adams tried to distance himself from his gap year script-editing Doctor Who with the excuse that he couldn't find new writers who had any grasp of what the show was about? This is what he meant; Sleeper views like James Moran skimmed through the series bible, picked up on the broad strokes from the first couple of pages, nodded 'no sweat', and spent the rest of the day re-reading Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage before perfunctorily dashing off the first draft. You can see what Moran is trying to do; but as with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang last week there is one primary factor around which enjoyment of the episode is largely reliant upon - in this case, Beth's plight and coming to terms with not being human - and if that doesn't work it all falls down like a deck of cards.
"A weak time-wasting whodunnit with the husband and wife"
Because otherwise there's so little substance on offer in the whole first half before the plot finally gets going, that the camera typically has to suddenly cut away from the main 'action'; not to create any sense of tension or mystery (and certainly not to leave any implied violence or bloodshed to our imaginations), but simply to avoid any revelations that might leave the episode high and dry with half the running time still to fill. So having been introduced via a burglary in the teaser, instead of the all-important attention-grabbing audience hook, we're left to stare vacantly at an overturned lamp overdubbed with sounds of rumpus, with no indication at all about who is being attacked by whom, and nothing of any relevance to the programme we happen to be watching, just so they can waste a further time after the titles playing a weak 'whodunnit' with the husband and wife. Ooooooh, aren't you just on the edge of your seat? Craaaaaaaaaaaaaap.
To be fair, Moran does give the humanity angle a good try in painting Beth as the viewer identification figure, as out of all the major characters only she really shares our complete ignorance of what's going on (and everyone else's foreknowledge gets really irritating later). But whereas a stronger, more assertive everyman bad-guy figure like Michael Douglas in Falling Down might have made a big difference, Beth's helplessness and lack of control only servers to make supposed-hero Jack's Gitmo treatment of her to confirm the answers he seems to already know, but isn't bothering to tell us yet, that much more unpleasant to watch. It's back to the unheroic alienation - no pun intended - where Torchwood can pull whatever crap they deem necessary on anyone they target a hazard, and never have to answer for it; only it's even more pronounced now due to the willing acquiescence of proper law authorities to fobbed off, just because they can't be bothered any more either. Gwen at least tries to bring some normality back to the proceedings, but she's still a far cry from the Gwen Cooper created by Russell T Davis who had a flying monkey's to give about civil liberties; she doesn't have a mission anyway, as the production team have finally found a musician capable of out-irritating the Murray with that sodding omnipresent 'cry now' violin in the background. And the good cop/bad cop routine? Give me a break.
Honestly, there's more meat to be had so far in an episode of Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen. Speaking of which; while I'm all for Ianto coming out of his shell a bit and developing an actual sense of fun, it is really necessary to turn him into Porpy the sidekick? "Aaaaaaaaand Ianto, his zany buddy, speaking all taffy, acting all slutty, guaranteed to get the good lines.... Ianto!" But just like last week, the wet Welshman still managed to leave the most positive impression on me, and after season one it doesn't get much more schadenfreude-ironic than that.
'Aaaaaaaaand Ianto, his zany buddy, speaking all taffy, acting all slutty, guaranteed to get the good lines.... Ianto!'
Once Beth goes under the no-not-the-mind-probe, the electric jolt wakes up Colin Teague who's nodded off with most of the rest of us. Making up for lost time, he directs as if to confirm through his visual style that the edited-out podcast gags about recreational stimulants were actually true, and yet it still manages to remain utterly dull. For such story linearity, the editing is an absolute mess and leaps about confusingly all over the place, even when it isn't a Zabriski Point montage of explosions, shock-effect violence, rag doll physics and flashy graphic inserts. We get some classic moments of unintentional hilarity with the pram and with Gwen's ever-reliable 'stabbing Gareth Thomas' face. And lurching the camera everywhere during a location tracking shot is not dynamic; it just makes the cameraman look like Norman Wisdom.
And nothing the aliens do makes any sense. What's the rest of the 'they're already here' invasion spearhead supposed to be doing while the mighty (and expendable) advance guard of four are softening up Cardiff's - sorry, Earth's - defences? Sloping off for a quick fag? The aliens are completely invulnerable biological Guyver superweapons, until the plot suddenly requires them not to be and turns their forcefields off with the flick of a switch, not having any other way to write out the two suicide bombers who otherwise could have walked out of their respective explosions without so much as a scratch. Even if they weren't using time-delay explosives that stupidly give a dangerous opponent time to get away, let alone themselves.
In writing the invaders as omniscient intel-gathering super spies, the script also thinks it can get away with throwing any old bollocks at us as a statement of true fact without any regard to rhyme or reason. Because, well, the aliens know and accept it, so it must be true. This week's ridiculous Cardiff plot contrivance: the military keeps a stock of decommissioned nuclear warheads in a bunker under the city. But no need to panic, the bunker codes are in the care of an ambiguously-defined council figure, so it's all perfectly safe. Or something. Sorry, what? When did they put UNIT in charge of national security? Why not stick a Thunderbolt missile and a Keller Machine in there while you're at it? And why has Jack, in charge of a group supposedly more influential than the government, not kicked up an almighty strop fit before that there's a f**king great potential doomsday weapon buried under his doorstep?
When did they put UNIT in charge of national security? Why not stick a Thunderbolt missile and a Keller Machine in the nuclear bunker while you're at it?
By the time Beth got to her rather half-arsed 'noble' self-sacrifice, there was no earthly reason left to keep me watching except to see whether they really would wheel out the obvious Nigel Kneale ending old enough to have clunked through the Rift with the plane from Out Of Time, and have Beth's resurgent humanity take the rest of the invasion threat down with her. It was almost a disappointment that they didn't.
Oh well, at least they managed to serve up a genuine surprise in the closing trailer for next week; it's the one with the 1918 WWI pilot. No, the surprise isn't the plot; it's that Helen Raynor wrote it instead of Catherine Treganna, who would have made it three-for-three with episodes about time-displaced aviators.
Where's Peter Grimwade when you need him?
Lately I’ve been watching the first season of The X-Files and been reminded about just how good that series was at the beginning before the mythology overwhelmed the narrative to the point that it became apparent that no one had any idea where it was going and behind the scenes shenanigans led to the breaking up of the central couple. There’s something pleasingly generic about the treatment of the spooky dos as Mulder and Scully are called to a place were something weird may be happening, the find out what it is, deal with it and then leave with a hint that some issues have been left hanging. Although it’s clearly plot driven the best moments are perhaps the most mundane, when the FBI agents are sitting around in offices and cars debating the supernatural and rational, with Scully not completely disregarding the former and Mulder realising that what he’s saying isn’t within a country kilometre of the latter.
On the basis of Sleeper, one of the lessons learned in this new series of Torchwood it’s that you can dare to be mundane if the story demands (so no random snogging then, which disappointed Guardianista Anna Pickard, who live-blogged the episode). In the previous series there was a certain desperation each week that at no point should nothing actually be happening. Whenever there was a lazy lull in the story it would be filled with some shipping, dry rutting against a tree or that bloody stupid gun training montage. In this episode, amid the pyrotechnics and Terminator and Total Recall influences some of the best scenes happened when people just sat around talking about the situation and what it means to be human and in love.
Whenever there was a lull in the story it would be filled with some snogging, dry rutting against a tree or that bloody stupid gun training montage.
Prime examples were the two-ways between Gwen and Beth in which some attempt was made to deal with the unrealistic using a modicum of realism. Comparisons can be made with John Smith’s dilemma in Doctor Who's The Family of Blood but on that occasion he was making a supreme sacrifice to save everyone and here the sleeper operative didn’t have a choice of utility and Nikki Amuka-Bird’s portrayal of this inevitability was bracing. Not that there weren't a few scares -- the brain scan scene was nothing less than a technological exorcism, the sudden emergence of the sleeper operative and Beth’s complete change of character utterly chilling. It's carefully striking a balance between the two and although it's easy to criticize the scenes around the hospital bed involving Beth and her husband for their soapy dialogue, they're required for us to understand what the character is trying to live for, even if we didn't learn all that much more about her.
Some of the few good incidents last year occurred when fantasy elements more usually seen in a futuristic or US setting turned up on the streets of the Welsh capital; what Torchwood is an expansion of that moment in The Unquiet Dead were the timelord says ‘Cardiff’ so indignantly as to wonder how anything supernatural or exciting could possibly happen there. Not unlike the film Hot Fuzz, James Moran’s script was essentially experimenting to see what this kind of action would look like on the streets and outskirts of this ciry. It’s simply not usual to see a young mother in that mode standing on that block paving turn into suicide bomber with quite that much intensity, her pram heading off towards traffic Ghostbusters II-style. The Yeti has very much emigrated from the bog in Tooting Beck to a nice set of public lavs on Queen Street.
The Yeti has very much emigrated from the bog in Tooting Beck to a nice set of public lavs on Queen Street.
The script was also careful to give everyone a moment of charm; Owen’s drifted from being utter twat to lovable rogue quite successfully and as someone at TV Cream’s noted in their previews Ianto seems to have swallowed a joke book between seasons (and an inappropriate one at that), although actually it’s more like a complete change of character – witness the exploding chair moment which is a far cry from the winging we endured during Countrycide. It’s still a pleasure to see Tosh being given something to do other than look vulnerable and Gwen? Well, Gwen’s Gwen, growing in confidence and fretting less about what Torchwood is doing to her – she’s embraced the darkness and is all the better for it. Jack’s about the only character who lacks consistency; back to his Who ways last week, in Sleeper he seemed to dip towards his old mood swings but perhaps with a touch more humanity.
Most of the problems you might find if you were looking for them were production based. The opening, meaningless voiceover is back with the royal ‘we’ve’ replaced with ‘Torchwood’ although it’s not clear which is the most comforting in terms of world saving. Now and then the editing seemed to cross the work of the actors, cutting to a reaction shot just as the important line was being spoken – most significantly during the scene were Gwen was reassuring Beth in the prison cells.
The opening, meaningless voiceover is back with the royal ‘we’ve’ replaced with ‘Torchwood’ although it’s not clear which is the most comforting in terms of world saving.
Colin Teague also betrayed his uncomfortable approach to action scenes and the same interesting use of camera angles we saw in SOD & LOTT, and though the explosion in the building, all done in one shot was suitably shocking, the assault on the ‘secret’ nuclear base was just waiting for Mat Irvine to shout at in much the same way has he does on the recent dvd commentary for Warriors of the Deep. Clearly it's tricky to do these things on a budget but this needed to be rather more visceral and I’m sure when HAVOC were choreographing the action you had more of a sense of the futility of war. Or something.
Overall then, Sleeper was another entertaining chapter in the lives of the men and women of Torchwood. I yelped and giggled like a baby. As with early X-Files, the story wasn’t completely resolved and there is the threat of more to come from these alien terrorists and well done to the production team for at least trying to be allegorical. This is the second week running when you get the sense of a much larger story being built, or a momentum developing, of story elements being planned out in advance. For all the similarities with other stories about aliens infiltrating society, it was still shocking to see these random people become killing machines and wouldn't it be rather fun to see pitched battles between them and the Weevils?
At some point it's going to have to stop apologizing for some of the excesses of the first year
It just has to be oh so very careful with the tone and to make sure that it’s not trying to be too flashy for its own sake and taking self parody to the point of rendering the whole exercise pointless. At some point it's going to have to stop apologising for some of the excesses of the first year (to paraphrase Owen – ‘It’s the end of the world, let’s all have sex’) and forge forward with its own confidence and then I might be able to write a review which doesn't spend its time looking for places in which its improved. Next week’s episode already looks like another stab at the ‘person out of time’ story which was done at least twice last year but this time it should be rather sweeter and with tighter plotting. At least Tosh isn’t likely to say anything too naughty to her annual shot at a boyf …
Sleeper has, at its heart, a really good idea. Okay, so it's Paul Cornell's idea but it's still a bloody good one. Sadly, whereas Human Nature was beautiful, profound and scary, Torchwood takes the central concept and mercilessly subjects it to the aesthetics of Cyberwoman, the cheap thrills of The Terminator and the car-crash comedy of Thank God You're Here. Something had to give.
So, what exactly is Ianto's job these days? Last season he was in charge of clearing away the half-eaten pizza, moping up Owen's dribble and hiding the monsters, and now he's suddenly Team Torchwood's resident stand-up comedian. It's just a shame that he has the comedy timing of a potato. Compare his woeful delivery of entirely inappropriate witticisms during moments of crisis with Xander in Buffy or Jayne in Firefly; these were vibrant characters who could liven up even the dullest bouts of exposition with some well aimed sarcasm. Ianto's bon mots are so laboured and trite the show grinds to a halt whenever he lobs one from his perpetually startled gob. The "phone's don't work" routine was bloody excruciating. And you could see that all over the screen.
Ianto has the comedy timing of a potato.
Exactly how xenophobic is Captain Jack? Irritatingly, he's back to being the morally ambiguous, arm crossing, fascistic post-watershed Jack. He shouts. He pouts. He tortures people for being just that little bit different. What?? Pre-watershed Jack wanted to shag extraterrestrials, post-watershed Jack now wants to pop a cap in their ass. Where the hell did that come from? Didn't hanging out with the Doctor teach him anything?!
I was genuinely shocked by this turn of events. Jack didn't consider for one moment that even if Beth was an alien she might have been a nice one who was simply protecting herself. She/it could have been an alien refugee on the run from the Bannermen, or she could have been taken over by a alien and still have been human on the inside. Maybe, just maybe, she desperately needed Torchwood's help, expertise and understanding? But no, she's automatically branded as a threat. I could buy this if Beth had violently murdered some innocent bystanders but she killed a couple of burglars who were, or at least it appeared to me, about to rape her. Torchwood's solution? Torture the bitch. Nice.
And who's word do they have to go on in the first place? That's right, the would-be thieving rapist! Seems they are far more trustworthy than those bloody aliens. What would Jack have done with Chloe Webber? Stuck her head in a bucket of piss until she spilled the beans about the Isolus?
Even Gwen, the closest the episode gets to providing us with an alternative, albeit doe-eyed viewpoint, happily leads Beth to her deep freeze prison (like
Guantameo Bay, only colder), and how many times do you think 'Cure
Beth' would have cropped up on Torchwood's Team Meeting agenda if their
cack-handed elastoplast solution had worked?
The role of the police is a bit suspect here, too. They are very quick to call in Torchwood, whether it's a bona fide "Spooky Do" or not. Perhaps they can't be arsed with the sodding paperwork? I'm currently engrossed in the second season of The Wire and much of its labyrinthine plot revolves around different police departments desperately trying to offload unsolved murder cases into one another's laps so they avoid the aggravation of trying to solve them. Perhaps the same thing is going on here? "Oh, this murder looks a bit too complicated for us. Let's just call in bloody Torchwood; PC Andy's gran has the number of their secret base on speed-dial'.
Torchwood's solution? Torture the bitch.
When the alien's plan for world domination kicked into gear with the strategic murder of the local council leader (Cardiff's last, best hope apparently) I was shocked. The brutality depicted during that relentless stabbing was horrific, and the fact that the violence was being perpetrated by what was ostensibly an "ordinary bloke" hinted at the potential this episode had for tragedy and paranoia. Still, the explosions were great, weren't they?
What isn't shocking is this week's big twist. "We're already here!" No shit, Sherlock. We worked that out fifteen minutes ago when three Arminators were activated! Including that chav with a pram! What kind of covert intelligence were the aliens trying to gather from her anyway? The ability to claim child benefit? The skills required to snipe on Ebay for Burberry accessories? It can't be an entirely random choice to infiltrate chav-land - the cell is pretty low on numbers and yet they still manage to infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to locate and access a top-secret nuclear missile site that just happens to be hidden in Cardiff (buried beneath what looks suspiciously like an old Carpet Warehouse), so why bother with the plebs? And how come the alien chav can have kids if they don't share the same biology as us? Or was it a fake alien baby sent to take out all the nurseries when the revolution came? Still, at least Torchwood finally managed to insinuate that it had killed a poor, defenseless baby (unless of course it was an alien bastard). This was truly shocking when Battlestar Galactica did it five years ago. Only they did it with with real emotions instead of comedy sound effects.
And all of this guff implies they'll be back again before the season is out. Whoppee-f**kin-do.
It's back to the morally ambiguous, arm crossing, fascistic post-watershed Jack...
The final assault on the Carpet Warehouse depot looked like a mid-90s fan video to me. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't shake this nagging feeling that what I was watching was actually a couple of teenagers who had persuaded their dad to run around the local industrial estate with a papier mache sword stuck on his arm, while their mum yelled something off-camera about how she'll never get those stains out. I know the BBC have their own YouTube channel but this is ridiculous.
And finally, Beth's redemption was as underwhelming as it was predictable. I still don't understand how she managed to turn her humanity on-and-off like that, and I don't really care either. Nikki Amuka-Bird's stilted performance didn't really endear me to her character, and while I initially put this down to her being an alien, Mr. Grainger seemed entirely normal before he went completely mental. Maybe this is why Torchwood couldn't work out that Beth was bluffing when she pretended to be a bad ass at the end: all of her dialogue had an improbable edge to it.
And so, in one fell swoop, Team Torchwood are back to being a bunch of unlikable, amateurish dickheads. Next week it's time travelling war veterans. Some things never change.
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.