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Torchwood, Series One (first part)

torchwood
Next in line of my Doctor Who rewatch is the first ever Who spinoff to run for more than an episode. Well, it's better than K9 and Company in oh so many ways...


You can tell that Torchwood is going to be all grown up; the word "fucking" is used two minutes into the first episode, Everything Changes (the only other particularly adult incident is Owen's implied drug-induced threesome). After that, it's surprisingly watchable. Eve Myles returns, this time as Gwen Cooper, policewoman, rather than Gwyneth, haunted maidservant; she has a murder mystery to solve, and actually solves it, despite the murderer's unwitting accomplice drugging her with amnesia juice (this episode is rather worryingly relaxed about non-consensual administration of drugs - see the threesome incident again).

Though of course that is not really the point; it's about her being Rose, encountering the charismatic, strangely costumed King of Adventure and joining his team. And for her and us, it is learning about Torchwood. There's Captain Jack; there's the doctor who did the autopsy on the alien pig, though she seems to be a computer geek now; there's two good-looking men and a girl who dies. Apart from the stashes of alien technology, it is quite difficult to associate this crowd with the people who shot down the Sycorax and hosted the grand battle of Cybermen versus Daleks in London. The first and last words Jack says to Gwen in the episode are "What do you think?" After the first 50 minutes, I'm not quite sure.


Watching the episodes one a day as I do meant that I had a break between Everything Changes and Day One, whereas on first watching we had the latter broadcast immediately after the former. (I should also add that while the 45-minute Who episodes fit quite nicely into my usual morning commute, the 50-minute Torchwood episodes sprawl out a bit so I either start watching while shivering in the shelter at the train station or have to save the last few minutes for lunchtime or the way home.)This is the episode with the orgasmic alien, and it's considerably weaker than I remembered. The worst bit is Owen's sheer nastiness to Gwen, and the failure of the rest of Torchwood to call him out; then the alien herself (as will be typical for Torchwood baddies) does several things that are necessary for the writer's convenience but make little sense in terms of the plot - I mean, really, sperm donors? Sarah Lloyd Gregory is great as both Carys and the orgasmic alien, but the show is still feeling its way. (One nice touch - Jack rescuing the hand rather than chasing the alien, and the variation on the Who theme playing as he does so.)


But Ghost Machine I thought was a very different matter. For the first time we have the standard Torchwood opening sequence, which makes one feel a bit more grounded. Here we had John Normington turning up as a lost evacuee from Old Who, and Roj Blake, once framed as a paedophile in the far future, being blackmailed as a rapist in our world. There was a nice feeling of a sordid but perfectly normal underworld of Cardiff society interacting uneasily with the alien phenomena of Torchwood's sphere of existence; and of course the tremendous scene with Jack teaching Gwen how to shoot. The biggest problem is that the ending is a bit of a cop-out, though again I wondered if it was a bit of a homage to Gauda Prime.


Cyberwoman is a guilty pleasure for me. I know that a lot of the plot makes little sense, I know that the skimpy costume worn by Caroline Chikezie as Lisa is sheer exploitation, I can agree that it is deeply flawed, yet I love Gareth David Lloyd's portrayal of besotted obsession turning to appalled realisation (Torchwood settling into its stride of bonkers horror, with some brilliant cinematography), and I also like the fact that for the first time it becomes clear that this Torchwood is part of the Whoniverse Torchwood. I will admit that it's not great art, yet I enjoyed it again. Quite possibly I have no taste. (I have never claimed that I do.)

And then, gosh, we have PJ Hammond contributing Small Worlds, a marvelously creepy story, with the little girl from the family of The Idiot's Lantern transported fifty years forward and 200 km westward to Cardiff, and enjoying an obsessional relationship with malignant spirits which appear to be time-travelling fairies (little Lara Philipart is pitch perfect as Jasmine). This episode makes a lot more sense than most Torchwood this season, and if anything I wish the director had made more of the fact that Jack and the team are completely defeated here (and of course it is not the last time that Jack allows a child to be sacrificed to inhuman forces).


More bonkers horror with Countrycide, where unusually apart from our lead character there is no alien or sfnal presence at all in the story (I think the last one we had like that was Black Orchid). Again, so much of the plot makes no sense at all (and the banter between the team at the campsite is pretty unfortunate) and yet I find the way it looks pretty compelling. I was gripped, even knowing what was going to happen, even knowing that (again) it is deeply flawed. The scene of Jack bursting in on the tractor to rescue everyone is pretty hilarious as well, possibly even in a good way; though the end nudges downwards with the gratuitous Gwen/Owen affair.


Where Cyberwoman was Ianto's episode, and Out Of Time will be Owen's, Greeks Bearing Gifts is Toshiko's. up to now she has been the background Asian geek girl, basically the same character Naoko Mori played in Absolutely Fabulous but with firearms; now we have her vulnerability exploited by an evil sex alien which tears people's hearts out. And we get extra bonus idea lifted from the Buffy episode Earshot, which here is only a subplot rather than the point of the episode. Danielle Denby-Ashe is excellent as Mary, and Naoko Mori finally gets something to do as Tosh.

They Keep Killing Suzie is back to bonkers horror, with an excellent return from Indira Varma as Suzie, returning from the dead to deal with her own personal demons, identifying Gwen as her supplantor in every respect and gaining revenge by leeching away her life force. It is a shame that Team Torchwood didn't take more advantage of Suzie's exceptional gift for forward planning back when she was still alive!


The whole of Torchwood is a guilty pleasure for me; I like it much more than I probably should (though it's worth remarking that audience appreciation index ratings were generally in the mid-80s), and it was great fun watching these episodes again.

Next up comes the rest of this first series, also Catherine Tate's Who debut and the Sarah Jane pilot.

< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose - Dalek | The Long Game - The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 - The Girl in the Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen - Doomsday | Everything Changes - They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes - End of Days | Smith and Jones - 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood - Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen - The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned - Adam | Reset - Exit Wounds

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
katlinel
Jan. 29th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
For me, you've hit the nail on the head about enjoying and liking Torchwood, despite its flaws and much more than it possibly deserves. But then I probably have no taste in anything either. :-)

I've always assumed that the Torchwood we encounter shooting down the Sycorax and the battle of Canary Wharf are Torchwood London, and Torchwood Cardiff is a maverick group under Harkness and his predecessors.

duck2ducks
Jan. 29th, 2013 08:21 pm (UTC)
Jack essentially tells the Doctor as much, when they meet again and Ten is clearly appalled and infuriated to find that Jack is part of Torchwood.
nimbusxl
Jan. 29th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
I find it funny sometimes to think that Torchwood was meant to be the adult spin off with all it's gore, swearing and dark tones and yet the kiddie spin off IMO turned out far more mature, while this was talking orgasm aliens, lesbian encounters and sewer mouths, Sarah Jane tackled issues such as Alzheimers, teenage deaths and parental responsibilities.
geekette8
Jan. 30th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
I really loved Torchwood despite not being a Who fan at all. It stood on its own for me.

You probably already know this, but there was a DVD extra of some variety about the music for Torchwood, and the composer said that the rhythm he used for the brilliant scene where Jack comes bursting in on the tractor was based on someone saying "Here he comes, on a bloody great tractor!" :-)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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