Monday, September 17, 2007

“Strictly speaking, throttling the staff is my job”: Torchwood

In my review of Torchwood’s first episode last week, I made it pretty clear (perhaps a little too clear, considering that episode was pretty good) that a decline in quality was on the horizon. Well, that decline begins depressingly early with Torchwood’s second episode, ‘Day One’. As will become the norm with Torchwood throughout the season, the interactions between the team are entertaining enough, but the lame and unimaginative villain drags the story way down.

Where last week’s ‘Everything Changes’ was primarily concerned with exposition and introducing the characters, ‘Day One’ is when Torchwood begins to establish itself as a more adult show. At least, that’s what it’s trying to do. Except the idea of a ‘sex monster’ isn’t so much mature as it is a teenage wet dream (and a pretty pathetic one, at that). Writer Chris Chibnall can’t seem to decide whether to play the concept seriously or just as mindless entertainment, so he goes the absolute worst route and tries to do both. Thus we get a weird combination of over-the-top sex scenes and dramatic confrontations about the sufferings of a possessed girl. Sorry, but you can’t have a character shagging people to death and simultaneously stage concerned arguments about her fate. Equally, while Gwen’s berating of the Torchwood team for “forgetting what it means to be human” is a fair point, it becomes tiresome fairly quickly.

Thankfully, there are some great scenes mixed in with all the silliness. I liked that the monster first escapes because of Gwen cockily trying to toss a tool to Owen and missing – human touches like this are what any sci-fi show needs, but few have. I also enjoyed the various interactions between the Torchwood team: Owen and Toshiko pressing Gwen for information about the mysterious Jack, the team watching Gwen on the cameras as she makes out with the possessed girl, and Gwen’s realisation that she's the only one at Torchwood who has a life. Jack’s extreme worry over his severed hand being damaged establishes a nice little mystery, and his reaction when it smashes is one of the character’s most vulnerable moments.

Sadly, it all leads up to one of the stupidest scenes I’ve seen in a long while – the team storm into a fertility clinic, only to discover little piles of dust that used to be people in every room. Played even a little bit tongue-in-cheek this could be fine, but it’s staged so gravely (right down to Gwen’s reaction, “God, how many more?”) that you can’t help cringing on behalf of whoever thought this was a good idea. Maybe I’m taking it more seriously than it was intended, but with such earnest performances and pulsating strings, what other way is there to see it?


Dan Owen said...

Torchwood is really weak. There are probably two good episodes in this season, maybe four entertaining ones, and the rest is just all over the place. There are moments to enjoy here and there, while the premise itself is fun (if totally unoriginal).

Perhaps what irritates most viewers is that (like all the Star Trek spin-offs), you find yourself watching just for injokes. Or blatant copying, like the upcoming "Cyberwoman" episode!

Torchwood foreshadows a few things to come in Doctor Who season 3, but that won't work for American viewers -- DW season 3 is about to finish! Fortunately, next week's Who can be enjoyed without much Torchwood knowledge.

Joey Sims said...

It's funny, because the overarching mystery of Torchwood season one is Jack's mysterious past, but the upcoming episode of Who is going to answer all those questions. The scheduling is just so weird.