Sunday, July 26, 2009

Torchwood Season 3

I thought that Torchwood season one was generally bad, and that season two was downright terrible, but I've stuck with the series because it has potential. I felt that if the writers would only recognize the strengths of the premise -- and brutally stomp out all of the self-introduced weaknesses -- they'd end up with something truly great.

Usually my prayers go unanswered, but season three of Torchwood is absolutely amazing. They've darkened the tone, chucked the juvenile sexuality, trimmed off the extraneous character complications, and written within the budget. It is five episodes of perfectly-maintained suspense, anxiety, and outright horror. The aliens -- known as the "456" -- are the most terrifying creatures I've seen since...well, Alien.

In true Russell T. Davies style, however, the focus of the show -- and the REAL monsters -- are the buerocrats and functionaries who serve to represent humanity at its worst. It's bad enough that the 456 exist...what makes it TRULY bad are the petty foibles of those we expect to protect us.

If you've never watched Torchwood, go out and rent season three. Skip seasons one and two entirely; don't worry, you'll catch on quick enough. You might squirm when John Barrowman does his obligatory crying, but this time around it's kept to a tolerable level, and he really DOES have something to cry about.

PS: Actually this was very similar in tone and theme to a 1998 British mini-series called "Invasion: Earth." You might even accuse Davies of (perhaps unconsciously) copying it. Still, the particulars are different enough to make both series' distinct AND worth watching.


Unknown said...

Because I have woefully poor knowledge of any British sci-fi that isn't The Prisoner, I am unfamiliar with Torchwood. This has some sort of Dr. Who connection, yes? What's the premise?

Adam Thornton said...

The Doctor Who (rearrange the letters!) connection is that the leader of the "Torchwood Institute" (Captain Jack Harkness) was a character in the new Doctor Who series, who during the course of events found himself unable to ever die.

Meanwhile, Queen Victoria -- after an encounter with Doctor Who -- started the super-secret Torchwood Institute to study aliens, capture their technology, and eliminate alien threats. Captain Jack -- due to several unpleasant time journeys -- has ended up running the modern-day version of the institute.

That's where the Torchwood spin-off starts, and that's the premise. It follows the Torchwood employees as they deal with aliens in Cardiff (yes, Cardiff).

The problem is, in an effort to make the series "not Doctor Who" they threw in all sorts of gratuitousness which made it all look cheap. Plus Captain Jack (John Barrowman) is not a good enough actor to cope with the hackneyed soap opera elements. He's good in Doctor Who -- which he flits in and out of -- but he's bad in the show he actually STARS in.

This third season -- actually a five-part mini-series -- throws out all the bad stuff and starts fresh. You can watch it without knowing the back story, and without suffering the horribleness of seasons one and two.

Based on the huge critical appreciation of season three, a fourth season might happen...

Adam Thornton said...

If you need another good reason to watch it: season three is shockingly and uncompromisingly brutal.

Scott said...

Yeah, they've really left it wide open to become something else entirely should it get picked up for another season.

Almost too wide open, it seemed to me. It really felt like an Ending with a capital E.

And Barrowman as Jack is like an awkward puppy. Always messing up, but you can't bring yourself to get truly angry.

Syd said...

I was compelled to watch the first 2 seasons, but Torchwood is just so emo that it leaves me depressed. That doesn't stop me from watching the show, but it's really emotionally exhausting for a sci-fi series.

I'd hoped Captain Jack would be a roguish character, but the way he has to play daddy doesn't match his ridiculous swashbuckling american persona. The episode at the end of series 2 with Gray was an interesting comparison of what Captain Jack used to be and what he is now. He used to be a lot more fun, all scamming Time Lords and sleeping around the RAF.