Sunday, December 10, 2006

What's the Story with Torchwood?

I had high hopes for the "Torchwood" TV series. A spin-off featuring Captain Jack Harkness, a character who shone so brightly during the first season of the revived Doctor Who? A crime/mystery drama with ramped-up sex and violence? Lots of actors and actresses with those exotic Welsh accents?

Sadly Torchwood arrives with a millstone already around its neck; not only is it suffering from conflicting aims of being both SIMILAR to Doctor Who (to keep the fans) but still very DIFFERENT from Doctor Who (to appease those of us looking for something a bit grittier)...it's also suffering from the continued presence of Russell T. Davies. The man's brilliant, but let's just say that somebody needs to put a leash on him. And on David Tenant too, incidentally.

Anyway, I watched the first two episodes of "Torchwood" and was bitterly disappointed. John Barrowman just isn't a strong enough actor to carry Captain Jack beyond brave/hunky/funny sidekick. The "Torchwood" base of operations looks too much like a Scooby Doo hideout (c'mon guys, a GIANT FAKE-LOOKING GEAR for a doorway?). The sex-and-violence seems awkwardly inserted, as though we were watching a children's script re-written so that everybody has at least one bisexual encounter an episode...just 'cause! It DOES look like a children's program, and tends to be even more childish that anything in the first season of the new Who.

But tonight I decided to give the third episode a try. And while it's still sloppy and amateur, and while I still cringe hearing Captain Jack wax philosophical, I have to say it's beginning to draw me in. Maybe this is the blessing/curse of a Russell T. Davies project: you need to watch at least three episodes before you realize you're actually starting to CARE. I thought Eccleston was a goof until "Dalek."

What's more, this episode has the first Torchwood scene that's managed to genuinely surprise and shock me, and which shows that Eve Myles can really act when she's given a proper scene to act IN. Oh, the blood.

So if anybody out there turned off after the second episode (and I know at least one person who turned off halfway through the FIRST), I encourage you to at least stick it out for a few more. Maybe they'll end up sucking horribly, but I see glimmers of potential genius in the background...

11 comments:

Eli said...

Oho, but now you're in for... oh, I can't bring myself to even say it. As soon as I saw the title I went "Oh dear God, no". And it obligingly lived down to my expectations.

On the plus side, Eve Myles is quite endearing (one of my favorite moments is still her faltering attempt at interrogation - "That's what you lot do... aliens") if not exactly believable as a cop. And goofy giant gear aside, I thought the set was kinda cool.

On the minus side, RTD (and presumably head writer Chris Chibnall) have this terrible case of spectacular-itis. Everything must be the Biggest Episode Ever, packed with blood, sex, and guns. It's as if they don't trust the stories and characters to carry the day.

...oh wait.

I could go on and on. But maybe there'll be a really good one somewhere in the series... we can only hope. I've snagged the whole series to date, but haven't found the strength to watch past #5 yet.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Oh, sigh! Well, I have to keep my upbeat attitude about this because I do REALLY WANT to like it. The idea's so good! How could they screw it up?

I agree that they do seem to want to fill the episodes with spectacles, which is a particularly bad idea with their tiny budget. More than anything else I find the Spectacular Sex angle tiring.

I guess my outlook is that, having seen episode three, I now at least care about three characters: Owen, Gwen, and the scientist who -- long ago -- got frightened by a bipedal pig.

Give me strength!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

YAAAARGH! Dinosaur attack! :)

Cheesy, confused, and utterly unrealistic...but I enjoyed "Cyberwoman."

Actually I hated it until Gwen's cel phone went off inside the forensics cabinet. Then they did a Frankenstein's Monster to clinch the deal. Then Captain Jack and Gwen had a halfway touching, well-written, and well-acted scene in the aftermath.

So I was embarassed for the first 35 minutes -- umm, sure, keep zooming in on the Japenese guy's mutilated face, and on the Cyberwoman's bare belly -- but I thought the last 10 kicked butt. Even if Captain Jack sending what's-his-name on a solo mission to kill his own girlfriend, and their eventual extermination of Pizza-Head seemed like poorly-worked "huh???" plot twists.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

As an afterthought I think I know how they could rescue this series: stop trying to be meaningful and deep and touching, and just have more YAAAAARGH! Dinosaur attack!

Eli said...

I think what "Cyberwoman" pointed out to me was that they really, really have the most dysfunctional team ever. They can't keep a secret, except from each other. I think the creators wanted so badly to mess with everyone's expectations that they stuck in all those plot twists within the first few episodes. Threw away all their dramatic trumps too early, as it were.

But dive into the mindless eye candy and out the other side? I suppose I could see that working...

VanillaJ said...

Alright, guys. You know what? DEADwood, not Torchwood. I mean, I have nerd-like loyalties to stuff too, but this stuff sound too tired to bother. Deadwood is an awesome HBO series based in the American gold rush period, but really, that's just the back drop for the drama that unfolds in a lawless society. So! You have character developement, human nature, power struggles both personal & political, and the sex is always relavent because the miners had nothing to spend their fortunes on but whores and booze. The mining town attracts Chinese immigrants, drifters, businessmen, nationalists, anarchists... you get the drift. Just say no to bad script writing, and pore some time into the always satisfying Deadwood series.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

But does Deadwood have a pterodactyl? Do those miners have Doctor Who's pickled forearm in a jar? Do they have Welsh accents? (Actually they probably do, being miners).

And hey, there are Chinese people in Torchwood too. Well at least one.

You're right about several things, Vanilla: I do have a nerd-like loyalty to Torchwood, and I'm sure Deadwood is good (and far superior).

But I'll still watch Torchwood. And cry.

Eli said...

(Psst. Japanese.)

I've braved the next few, and I'm finding that they're either getting better or my tolerance is increasing. Not sure. I'll have to post my thoughts when the series wraps up.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Well you'll have a chance to evaluate the next series too, if necessary, because they announced yesterday that they're moving to BBC Two with another series.

Yes, I know what you mean...I just watched "Small World" and even though I still find it hard to believe that Jack's a sensitive guy, the family dynamics around "the chosen one" were incredible. "No wonder your dad left you, he probably knew what was coming."

Muffy St. Bernard said...

(In previous comment, replace "series" with "season")

alienvoord said...

If you don't like Torchwood, well fair enough. But how can you not like the new Doctor Who?