Ooh hang on a minute!
Apparently that Welsh Wizard of the Self-fulfilling Prophecy, Lord
Davies of Splot has declared that the "ming-mongs" won't like Something Borrowed.
I don't want to start a debate on the term "ming-mongs" by the way -
wiser heads than me have revealed it's OK to use "mong" nowadays as
long as a) it's prefixed with another word, and/or b) you have the
precedent of its use in a Victoria Wood sketch from 1987. So I wish
all those Who fan retards would just stop moaning about it. What is
the matter with these spastics? Anyway, pigeon-holing your critics in
advance has always been a great tactic, and Davies has it down to a
fine art. As far back as I can remember he's always tried to defend
anything in his shows that is vaguely unusual, tonally odd, or just
plain crap by issuing the standard jibe "the fans won't like it". Or
"it'll wind up the fans". Therefore, if you don't like it, then that's only because you are a "fan" or suitable euphemistic mot du jour. It's been instructive to see how often this
tactic has driven those old Who fans who think they are too cool for
school in a rush to embrace stuff so that they can escape being tarred
with the ming-mong brush.
It works well. This blog went into a kind of meltdown seconds after Something Borrowed
was transmitted. It's fair to say that the episode wasn't received
favourably. But even though the blog has been very even-handed in its
response to Torchwood this year, you can easily imagine someone
reading the reviews and comments and nodding sagely while stroking
his/her chin "Yes. Look at them. They're a bunch of ming-mongs." Of
course, the net result of this name-checking is to give far more
prominence to "online fandom" than it would otherwise have received or
deserved while also making Davies resemble a man who thinks he's in a Pynchon novel and surrounded by dark conspiracies. All hail to the man
for keeping his distance from the fans and not popping up on forums to
chat about his latest plans - creative people shouldn't be in thrall to
specialist groups. But this also includes not going on about them all
So I was hoping that Something Borrowed would
live down to my expectations and I could embrace my ming-mongness. Or
ming-mongitude. But I sort of liked it. Anyone with eyes in their
head already knows that Torchwood
has problems with consistency of tone, so I can't get too worked up
about the sudden lurch from existential angst to broad farce. I mean
we get a lurch from the melancholy "Why me, oh I am so sad" episodes to
"Run! Fuck! Scream! Kill! Monster!" episodes much of the time anyway so
it's a welcome change to have the opportunity for a few belly laughs.
There were admittedly an even greater than average number of stupid
things in this episode as everyone else has pointed out. I'm normally
desperate for any excuse to leave a wedding reception, even the final
of the World Indoor Bowls Tournament would cause me to make my excuses
and leave. But ball-gnawing, shape-shifting zombies? I know some
people like having a bop to Hi Ho Silver Lining
but it was stretching credulity to think that everyone would hang
around for that in the face of monsters. Although the bridesmaids
looked easy so maybe that was it. And Gwen's mad desire to go through
with the wedding might as well have cut straight to a flashing neon
sign reading "Everyone gets retconned" for the next 40 minutes. But
despite all this the episode had something going for it.
Neil put his finger on it when he commented that there are anthology series with more continuity than Torchwood. Something Borrowed
would have made an excellent, quirky episode in one of those themed
drama series that used to show up in the 1970s. The series would have
been called Conjugal Frights,
featuring a different writer each week with his/her own supernatural
take on the "happiest day of our lives". Imagine how much better this
episode would have been if you'd never seen another episode of Torchwood
before! Gwen, as a bride who is trying to maintain normality by
getting married and balancing all the weird shit in her life against
her family. Not a dozy mare who had an ill-advised fling with rat boy
before spending every episode fucking things up and putting lives in
danger. Instead of Captain Jack being a hideous weight around the
programme's neck and a wooden clot, we'd see him as an hilariously
dressed prancing fool who dazzles us with his brief cameo as the
campest monster ever. Just for once rather than be a tedious wanker,
Owen would be a tedious wanker we'd not seen before.
Sadly though I can't expunge my memories of previous episodes. But
Nerys Hughes helps! I'll confess that for about six months when I was
seven or eight I had a bit of a thing for Sandra in The Liver Birds.
Looking back at the very early episodes shown endlessly on satellite
channels I can see that I had good taste. So my early fondness for
Nerys was first strengthened by her appearance in Kinda, weakened by The District Nurse,
and obliterated by discovering the joys of Half Man Half Biscuit at
university. But her use in this episode brought all that affection
back, and the Evil Dead version of Nerys was a masterstroke. The
mistaken identity scene “But if that's Rhys's mum, then who's
that outside?” was genuinely funny, as was Rhys's confrontation with
her in the stable. It was amusing to see Nerys on Torchwood Declassified
saying solemnly that as an actor you shouldn't send these roles up,
especially as her "Come to mamma!" made Jacobi's
"I...am...the...MAAASSSTTEEEERRRR!" look thoughtfully understated. I
had such a glow from Nerys that I managed to overlook the presence of
Colette Brown, an actor who used to irritate the hell out of me by
being whiny in great shows like Our Friends in the North and Ultraviolet.
A Welsh version of The Invaders, but without the
stiff little fingers
Of course from then on it was downhill with evil Nerys being blasted by
a poor quip from Captain Jack before a bad case of retconning
ironically reminded me of all the things that annoy me about
Torchwood. But on the whole this was an object lesson in how to
salvage the show. Play up the incongruous humour, and feature more
normal people reacting to crazy events before Torchwood arrive in
force. In fact, just slim down the Torchwood team to Gwen and A.N.Other and
ditch Jack. Each episode should concentrate on weird things happening
to normal people before the mini-Torchwood team ride in to the rescue.
And no retconning. A Welsh version of The Invaders, but without the
stiff little fingers. I can see that knocking University Challenge off its perch for good. Most weeks. Up yours Paxman!
the Roneo duplicator
you, I see that according to Russ in the latest SFX, in a few years
time we'll look back on this internet stuff and laugh "It's a form of
communication that was never meant to happen". So I'm going into
training for 2020 when I'll be shouting at Damon and Neil to crank up
the Roneo duplicator as we rush to send out our daily blog updates by
post. And it'll cost a fortune to deliver podcasts via a national
network of town criers so we better have another appeal. But at least
the ming-mongs will still be there.
Torchwood has given us its fair share of hilarious moments: that chav blowing up Cardiff's Telecoms, Owen swing dancing with Death and Ianto crying throughout Cyberwoman immediately spring to mind. But nothing could prepare me for John Barrowman's turn as the campest monster in the history of science fiction. Just watch him as he sniffs Owen's lifeless corpse and then flounces out of the room like a vampiric transvestite (maybe that's why they're called Nostrovites?). Comedy gold or car crash TV? The jury is still out.
Your reaction to this episode will probably depend on how you handle Gwen's decision to go through with the wedding after being impregnated by a shape-shifting alien. If Gwen's attempts to marry Rhys had been continually thwarted at each and every turn then you could just about buy into her insane desire to stroll down the aisle like that; not to mention having to put all her friends and family through the inevitable "I lost the baby during the honeymoon" conversation a few days later. But under the circumstances, she's either possessed by an alien hive mind or she's f**king lost it. So why didn't anyone point this out to her as they tied her to a table with some leather straps (I'm sure Ianto's got some knocking about somewhere).
Gwen is either possessed by an alien hive mind or she's f**king lost it...
I envy Phil Ford. If you've ever tried to sketch out a plot for a script then you'll almost certainly be familiar with that soul-crushing feeling you get when something that you consider to be utterly fantastic can't possibly work in the context of the story itself. Phil's first obstacle must have been: "how can Gwen have a hen party (or any friends outside Torchwood, for that matter) when she won't be able to explain to them how she became nine months pregnant in less than nine hours?". That would have been enough to stop any rational person in their tracks. But not our Phil. "To hell with it!" he says. "I'll just have them say they were too pissed to notice!" Now that takes balls of steel.
But Phil has special dispensation. He can do anything he likes in this episode because you don't need continuity or consequences when you've got a SUV full of drugs.
I have to ask the question again: just how selective is the amnesia you get from taking a retcon pill? Do the wedding guests remember anything? Like the fact that Rhys and Gwen are even married? Or that poor Mervyn got his nob ripped off? Do you think they scraped his remains off the carpet before or after all the slow dancing? And what happened before Torchwood drugged the shit out the place? Are you seriously telling me that no one called the police? Or the press? Or the Welsh branch of the f**king Ghostbusters??? Would you have stayed on for the disco after witnessing what looked suspiciously like a zombie outbreak in the middle of the nuptials? I'd be in ASDA stocking up on baked beans before they'd even got past the prawn cocktails.
No one called the police? Or the press? Or the f**king Ghostbusters???
It all comes down to whether you want Torchwood to be a show about blowfishes driving sports cars or turgid metaphysical treatises about the existential nature of memory and death. I don't know about you lot but I'll happily take Terry and June meets The Evil Dead any day of the week. At least it's fun to watch. And you have to admit that it's a brave show that dares to liberally mix Brian Rix farce with the birth of Jesus and a splattering of Sam Raimi. Or is it stupidity? At least for the first time in a very long time nobody was talking about committing suicide, nobody cried in an unconvincing manner and Owen returned to the periphary once again. What a blessed relief.
Whether Something Borrowed is "so bad it's good" or "purposefully silly" or just plain old "terrible" is still open to debate. It's hard to see how this episode fits into the grand scheme of things (I've seen more internal continuity in most anthology series) but if they set out to make a bonkers mad parody of Torchwood then they succeeded - with nobs on (poor, poor Mervyn).
I just hope that next week's installment is as silly, self-effacing and audacious as this. Anything's better than the impotent stabs at profundity and angst we've been subjected to so far. The campaign to make Phil Ford next season's showrunner starts here...
Nerys Hughes swaps a Big pink rubber snake for a More edible one.
Torchwood: Something Borrowed
Excerpts from The Torchwood Agent's Survival Guide, Section 3487d: Alien Parthenogenesis
1. When out in the field hunting aliens in secret, be sure to wave your gun around everywhere you go. Nobody will ever pay attention.
2. Alien ova are transmitted via a bite on the wrist. They will then travel through the bloodstream to your uterus. This happens because they're alien.
3. The laws of conservation of mass and energy do not apply to shapeshifters. This happens because they're alien.
4. All aliens are in the employ of witches, specifically Flanella from Chorlton and the Wheelies, Grotbags from Emu's Pink Windmill, and her out of Harry Potter who likes to ban fun.
5. In the event of co-worker impregnation, holding them down and applying an anaesthetic should never ever be considered.
6. Should you yourself undergo alien infestation, be advised that pregnancy will turn your entire family by proxy into drooling vegetables. On no account let any reasoned argument postpone your wedding day; whatever your boyfriend has gone through in the past will be worse than how you going down the aisle having swallowed a basketball is going to make him look, or the sudden disappearance of said basketball the next day. If feeling particularly altruistic, place the guests in as much needless danger as humanly possible; this is supposed to be a day they'll never forget (see section 16).
7. The host pregantee acting as bait to draw out the alien intent on ripping her open should be left unguarded at all times.
8. Making the fruitiest male member of the team choose your wedding dress is mandatory and never gets old. For best results, find one that makes the bride look fat in it even after the egg is removed.
9. All call signs and code words should be disguised as Welsh innuendo.
10. Never tell your underlings what anyone else is doing without ample scope for comic misunderstanding.
11. The penis is the most edible part of the human body. (NB: pregnant persons may wish to skip this section.)
12. In the event of a brutal murder, on no account call the authorities or inform the hotel staff; their valuable time will be far too occupied with menial daily duties to be present.
13. Should you encounter anyone who appeared in the old series of Doctor Who, shoot them first at once (CF: every other section of the book).
14. If the handgun with a fifty-shot clip is already taken, bring along a Nintendo Superscope for backup.
15. Sensitive medical equipment does not need to be operated by trained medical personnel. This is helpful to know if your medical officer is a c**t.
16. If against the odds the big day turns out a success after all, remove the memories of the event from all the staff and guests, thus annulling the marriage because nobody present can verify it, so you can do it all over again.
17. You are not Ronnie Corbett, and No Sex Please, We're British is less funny now than when critics panned it in 1971.
18. Employing the same plot devices over and over again does not constitute a story arc.
19. When hiring Gary Russell as script editor, be sure to set aside enough money to keep him on for just two episodes before handing back to one of your trained monkeys.
20. In the event of a comission falling into the hands of the man who made New Captain Scarlet borderline ADHD-unwatchable, declare a state of emergency and break the glass canister containing a back issue of Viz. Distract him by cutting all the panels out and letting him rearrange them in any order. As an additional damage-limitation exercise, use this as your script.
“You’all'right Sharon? You look at bit … out of sorts …” “Oooh hello Michael. I was just trying to decide what to give William for his tea tonight.” “Well I’ve got this nice cut. There’s isn’t much left mind. Problem with the supplier.” “What is it?” ”Not sure but it was going out of the door, I’d say like hot cakes but the baker’s down the road .. huh huh huh … but it’s special stuff.” “Ok. I’ll take a couple of steaks. I might treat myself.” “Right. So tell me, how was the wedding?” “Wedding?” ”Oh I thought your daughter Gwen and Rhys were getting married yesterday.” ”Yesterday?” “It must have been a good one if you can’t remember, hah.” “What day is it?” “It’s Sunday.” “But you’re open.” “Everyone’s open on a Sunday these days.” “I’ve lost a day.” “Really good one. Howze this?” “Fine. But no Michael. I just remember waking up with a splitting headache this morning.” “Oh.” “What is it Michael?” ”I had that nice Trina Thomas in earlier and I asked her about the wedding too, making small talk, y’know, and she said she couldn’t remember the nuptials either. I just put it down ‘err being, y’know. Then Kyffin said that Banana Boat’s gone missing and it makes you wonder. Sharon, are you alright dear?” “I think I’d better go home and talk to Bill. See you…” ”Right …. Sharon! You forgot your meat! ... Hello, what can I get for you?”
“Oooh hello Sharon. What did they have at the butchers? I’m in the mood for a steak tonight.” “Oooh William. Could you sit down for a minute, there’s something I need to tell you.” “I am sitting.” “Right. Um, I’ll sit too.” “This is cosy.” “Do you remember what we did yesterday?” ”What’s wrong?” ”How should I put this. Gwen and Rhys were married yesterday.” “Yes. I know, I was there.” “You were?” ”Yes. And you were too.” “Oooh my head.” “Well never forget that wedding day in a hurry. Gwen was pregnant with an alien! She did look lovely in that dress despite the bump. The whole day could have just been about that. The mother pretended to be Brenda and nearly killed you. We found out Gwen was working for some kind of organisation that chases aliens for a living and she’d been bitten by one of them but it was all alright in the end because that creepy American bloke shot her and Rhys managed to kill the alien baby inside Gwen using some kind of alien machine they just happened to have lying around, which is surprising considering he usually gets confused by the microwave. “All of that happened?” “Yes. About the only good thing about it was meeting that nice Tosh-girl, she was sassy.” “Michael!” “Sorry. Do you remember now?” ”I do. I don’t know how but … so Banana Boat?” “Yes, poor lad. But considering what he was like and all the things that are apparently living in Cardiff I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.” “Gwen and Rhys’ll be one their honeymoon. I’ll give them a ring when they get back.” "It all sort of explained why she'd not been in touch lately." “Um. Oooh, I left the meat -- whatever it was -- in the butchers. I’ll cook you a ham and cheese omelette.”