Sunday, September 30, 2007

“Ianto, I need to hear those beautiful Welsh vowels!”: Torchwood

I wish I could say that ‘Cyberwoman’ represents Torchwood’s lowest moment, and that it’s all uphill from here. In fact the next episode is even worse than this one, for the simple reason that it is incredibly dull whereas ‘Cyberwoman’ is, at least, somewhat entertaining. It’s the first episode to base the action entirely inside the Torchwood Hub, a wise move as the set is sleekly designed and perfect for staging stand-offs. It (sort of) brings back a favourite Doctor Who villain, while at the same time putting a more adult spin on it. Unlike the last couple episodes, it’s an action thriller rather than a sci-fi soap. All of this, in theory, sounds great.

The execution is stupendously, insultingly atrocious. Writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall fails to capture the horror or intensity this premise could have produced. Despite Jack’s freaking out and Owen stressing how “deadly serious” it all is, there’s never any sense of danger on a grand scale. The Cyberwoman herself (Caroline Chikezie), an attempt at adding another layer to the Cyberman mythology, fails miserably. First of all, she looks ridiculous. Secondly, Chikezie is okay as human Lisa but terrible at playing evil. Most importantly, Chibnall’s adult spin on the character constitutes a half-hearted effort at a Cyber who is half human, half machine. Except the whole appeal of the Cybermen was always that they were formers humans who had lost all their emotion and respect for life. If Chibnall had even vaguely committed to the suggestion of reforming a Cyber-human hybrid, this story might have gained some weight. But soon enough Lisa has become a 100% killing machine, reducing the earlier suggestions of her human side to mere stopgap.

So, you might argue, why not just judge ‘Cyberwoman’ as a slice of entertainment and nothing more? Okay, but in that case I could do without all of Ianto’s whining and blubbering, all of Jack’s “This is a fight to the death” dramatics, and most of all the poorly executed final scenes. Everything in the main part of the Hub is serviceable at best (Lisa being taken down by the pterodactyl) and pathetic at worst (all that endless running about!). The eventual conclusion has Lisa transfer herself to another body which then gets shot up by the team. By then we’ve stopped caring. Chibnall should instead have concluded the Cyberwoman portion of the story earlier, and spent more time establishing why exactly Jack lets Ianto stay at Torchwood. Considering Ianto punches him in the face and basically threatens to kill him, it’s a decision that seemingly makes little sense and should have been expanded on.

At least we get, in the final scene, a moment which tells us some more about Jack’s character. He confesses that for a second during the crisis, he thought it possible that he might finally die, and at that moment “felt so alive”. As ‘Utopia’ (the third season Doctor Who episode that explains Jack’s story) has already aired in America, viewers who watch both already understand what Jack means by this. Either way, it’s a revealing line that is well-played by John Barrowman and shows how much Torchwood could benefit from more focus on Jack’s internal rumblings.

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