Nov, 2006

Countrycide: First Glance

Damn that lead writer, Chris Chibnall… We’ve suffered his sex-crazed alien and his deranged Cyberwoman… do we really need to go through anymore? Maybe I’m tarring Chris for something the director insist on doing wrong. Maybe Chris weaves delicate and exciting stories of extra terrestrials, cyber-violation and the supernatural – and then the directors make an unqualified pigs arse out of shooting ‘em. On the other hand, perhaps Russell T has far too much faith in this man and Chris, as a result, is driving Torchwood into an early grave, utterly unsupervised.

Countrycide starts off on solid ground, building tension and a sense of the creepy unknown in all the right sorts of ways. It has all the tension that the trying-too-hard-to-be-Alien sequences from Cyberwoman never had. However, the episode rapidly slides into an odd combination of Bones and The Hills Have Eyes – set in south Wales. Oh… with a splash of The League of Gentlemen for good measure (who, after all, can resist a small portion of the Special Stuff). The team find bodies stripped to the bone in the woods, lose their cars, find an abandoned village… then Tosh and Ianto get ambushed and captured by the weirdo locals. That’s where it just loses it…

The episode provides a plotline that shifts away from the extraterrestrial and the supernatural into something downright unsavoury… and serves up not only the other kind of meat, but also a supremely unsatisfying ending. I don’t care what kind of action hero Jack might be… you’re not telling me he can wade into a room and single-handedly take everyone down without so much as a scratch.

After the exhilerating high of Small Worlds, this provided a dollop of mixed feelings, but mainly disappointment…

Null and Void

Watched Small Worlds again yesterday and noticed a new connection between Torchwood and Doctor Who continuity.

At the beginning of the episode, we get a shot of Jack standing in the foreground of his office, with his desk sitting behind him. He’s talking to Ianto, I think. Anyway, on Jack’s right (the viewing left) sits a table lamp – and hung over the rim of the lamp’s shade… a pair of 3D glasses, presumably the ones the Doctor used to view the void stuff while at Torchwood One (in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday). Doubt Ianto had the time or inclination to pick them up while rescuing his girlfriend, so seems more likely they were salvaged from Torchwood after the Doctor sealed the rift into the Void.

Neat.

Death Imminent… Oh, sorry… Never mind!

It struck me that Gwen and Peri experienced similarly dubious life-threatening assaults, in Cyberwoman and Vengeance on Varos, respectively.

In the latter, while the Varosians struggle to deal with the Doctor, they send Peri and a rebel off to undergo weird DNA regression therapy that brings out the inner animal in those treated. Peri promptly starts a steady, uncomfortable transformation into a bird – feathers and all. However, the Doctor manages to stop the process at the last moment and the significant changes simply fade away, leaving Peri weakened, confused, but ultimately unharmed. Odd, considering the maniacal scientist responsible for the experiment seemed so darn certain the procedure had gone too far to stop.

For Gwen, the impending danger came in the form of enforced cyber-conversion. The cyberwoman dispatches Owen with a slap and then forces Gwen into the cyber-convertor. Gwen screams as electricity courses through the frame and then the automated cyber-conversion module above her opens up to reveal various whirling blades and slashing scalpels. Whirl, slash, whirl, slash… the machine hangs there for an age, apparently getting no closer to Gwen from the looks of the long shots, until finally Jack manages to get Toshiko to shut down the main power. Whirl, slash, whirl, slash… whirl, stop. Considering the speed of cyber-conversion seen during the attack on Torchwood in London, this machine must have been in need of a service or something. Gwen would have been screaming for hours before the darn blades even got close to cutting her up…

Really, if you’re going to expose people to impending peril or permanent transformation into a budgie, at least make the danger seem real.

Small Worlds: First Glance

Superb! Most definitely down to Peter J Hammond (best known as the creator and writer of the classic Sapphire & Steel and some great direction (by Alice Troughton), Small Worlds just worked like no other episode of Torchwood had so far. The episode felt full to the brim with potential and characterisation – and that haunting touch that made Sapphire & Steel such a joy to watch. Captain Jack came into his own in this episode – and I felt that John Barrowman finally had the opportunity to shine.

The episode had all the right build-up, a web of threats building against a little girl – from paedophile, to angry step-father, to school bullies. Mysterious deaths ensued, while we discover an old flame of Captain Jack and find that, like the Doctor, this Time Agent seems to have been drawn back to Earth again and again. We see Jack on Earth in 1909, once again in the armed forces – perhaps he has a soft spot for uniforms and being in the company of gruff, sweaty men. Like Conner MacLeod (Highlander), it would seem that Jack has to face leaving behind those he loves, though initially he would have done this because of his exploits as a Time Agent, and only now faces the issues of apparent immortality leaving him to outlive all those he cares for.

And we have now seen that Torchwood can’t necessarily solve everything. They control a lot of alien technologies and have much knowledge to draw upon, but it’s not enough… Sometimes the aliens win. Or in this case the creatures that have co-existed with us since the dawn of mankind. I hope they might pursue this thread further – and engage in some careful quality control in future when selecting writers and directors. I’d be happy if they just forgot Torchwood and funded a new series of Sapphire & Steel instead.

Cyberwoman: First Glance

So, Cyberwoman – an hour of spot the gaff/contradiction? While I can appreciate you can love someone an awful lot, how could Ianto turn from dutiful assistant into weeping wreck willing to kill everyone for his cybernetically altered girlfriend?

Mind, Ianto’s girlfriend went through a complete sea change of personality – from the desperate woman at the beginning to murderous cyber-beast 10 minutes in. How so? Perhaps if the story had shown some visible evidence of the encrouching cyber-conversion, nanite like modification to cells or bloodstream. I’m thinking of the Borg conversions from Star Trek, where you can see physical manifestations of conversion through – or on – the skin of the individual. Here – you could see nothing more than a violent swing from one personality to another, without must explanation as to the why of it.

While the principle of the episode worked – the team against the monster in the locked confines of the Torchwood base – so much didn’t and couldn’t. The storytelling of the episode lay riddled with holes – rather like the cyberwoman 10 minutes from the end. How did Jack, who doesn’t sleep and pretty much lives in the Torchwood base, not know about the thing hidden in the basement? How come, after they shut down the power, Jack could make the cyber-conversion table swing down to release Gwen? Exactly how could Ianto’s terribly damaged cyber-girlfriend complete a brain transplant in a matter of minutes, alone and with a single cyber-conversion table? How – given in the first episode Ianto had to activate the secret door for Gwen to take the pizzas into Torchwood – did the secret door open all by itself when the pizza girl arrived near the end of the episode? Why – once she’d transferred her brain to a human body – did Ianto’s girlfriend continue to speak with a cyber-voice, given she had been quite capable to speaking normally in her cyber-body at the start of the episode? Surely the cyber-voice originated from cyber-modifications to the throat of her old body, which should not have effected the pizza girl’s voice!

And fan-geek continuity gaff! How come the alien technology Toshiko used in Episode One to scan a book by attaching it to the cover suddenly become an alien lockpicking device in Episode Four – capable of defeating any lock in 45 seconds or less? A spot of multi-functionality – or just a spot of laziness in finding another shiny piece of LED-flickering metal to use instead…

Torchwood continues to let itself down with stories that lack attention to detail and characters that lack depth. I’m not convinced the show can survive – an in the US it would probably have been cancelled already. Something like Firefly – which managed only a handful of episodes – showed so much more promise, so much more love and attention to characterisation. Russell T and his team need to do so much better to have any hope of seeing the show through to a second season…