With Random Shoes we somehow seem to change gear for a couple of stories which are not so much about Torchwood as about other people being affected by Torchwood. It is a little odd to have this story and Love and Monsters so close to each other, and perhaps the two could have been brought into closer dialogue - there's a feeling of trying to pull off the same trick again in terms of the experimental double-banked format, though there are some very important differences: Eugene Jones dies and his mother and his romantic interest both live (whereas Elton Pope lives, but his mother dies and his romantic interest is turned into a paving slab), and where Love and Monsters is more about fandom as seen from the inside, Random Shoes is more the experience of fans in conflict both with the mundane world and with the objects of their own interest. Also I have to say that I find Random Shoes the more effective drama of the two; the mystery of Eugene's death has an unexpected, plausible and surprisingly mundane answer, and I confess I had something in my eye in the final moments. Good for Paul Chequer who carries it as Eugene.
Out of Time is my favourite Torchwood episode from this season. It's not just Louise Delamere's performance as Diane, though that certainly helps; it's also that this feels like a real sf story, for once, and the dilemmas of the three stranded travellers from 1952 - and their different solutions - are compelling, and throw a new light on Jack's character as time-travelling immortal and also on Owen as he moves on from his implausible fling with Gwen to a much more believable entanglement with Diane. Mark Lewis Jones is also good as John Ellis, and his choice devastatingly plausible. Not so sure about Emma, though it gives Eve Myles some nice "am-I-turning-into-my-mother" moments as Gwen and also tells us more about her relationship with Rhys. Once again I found I had something in my eye at the end.
There's a trivia question that starts by listing Victor Pemberton, Glyn Jones, Mark Gatiss... And then someone buzzes in to say that Noel Clarke has both appeared in Doctor Who and written a TV story for the franchise, the only regular cast member to do so (though of course Colin Baker has written several short stories and a comic, Ian Marter wrote novelisations and a spinoff novel, and Big Finish allows us to invoke others such as Nick Briggs, Barnaby Edwards, and rather surprisingly Ingrid Pitt).Combat is a solid enough piece about Owen exploring his masculinity and taking out his grief at losing Diane (and I suppose at ending his fling with Gwen) by beating up weevils. I wasn't completely sure about Alex Hassell who had to carry a lot of the story as Mark, but he seemed to acquire some depth before the end, and the whole thing is directed well and looks appropriately good or sordid, depending. It's not a terribly advanced topic, but this is Torchwood after all.
And, because we are doing these in original broadcast order, we suddenly switch from Torchwood to a couple of episodes from the two other main BBC Whovian shows. Luckily for my schedule, these two hour-long stories fitted into my weekend, rather than having to be chopped into different parts of the commute.
As it happens I wrote a very long piece about The Runaway Bride shortly after it was broadcast, and I stand by most of what I said there. In particular, I am pleased that I spotted Donna as one of the great Doctor Who creations; watching again, there are many moments from Catherine Tate that shine, whether she is being jilted bride, kidnap victim, or fellow adventurer. And it is good that she spots the Doctor's darker side and calls him on it, up to and including her detecting his lie when he says he will come for Christmas dinner just as soon as he's checked something in the Tardis. (I also love the way that she is the first companion to see the inside of the Ship before the outside.) We did not know when first watching that this was to be the first of many single-episode stories with one-off companions. That format will never be where Who's heart is, but this is a good first attempt. (And of course Donna turned out not to be a one-shot after all.)
Three Whoniverse stories were broadcast for the first time on 1 January 2007, which is a record. 1 January is also the anniversary of the last appearance of the Meddling Monk (1966), the first TV Daleks in colour (1972), the first appearance of Leela (1977), and the regeneration of David Tennant into Matt Smith (2010). But none of the three broadcast on 1/1/7 were Doctor Who per se; we were treated to the first of The Sarah Jane Adventures in the afternoon and then the two final parts of the first Torchwood season late at night. This time I took three days over it. I think I would recommend dedicated rewatchers to do it all in one go; that way one is sufficiently worn down to be less perturbed by the awfulness of the closing episode of the three.
The first episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, Invasion of the Bane, gets 2007 off to an excellent start. Yasmin Paige is excellent as the audience identification figure, getting to know the neighbour who gets such weird visitors; it's nice to see Elisabeth Sladen back, and to hear John Leeson (again) and Alexander Armstrong (for the first time); the CGI monster is absolutely superb, one of the best realised aliens in the whole of the Whoniverse, and the scene of it clambering all over the domestic cosines of Sarah's house is a brilliant illustration of Jon Pertwee's line about the effectiveness of a Yeti on a loo in Tooting Bec. Kelsey was clearly being written out from quite an early stage of scripting; she's actually quite an unpleasant character. More on Luke when I get to the first season. It's a much stronger start than Torchwood had.
I know that Captain Jack Harkness as an episode is a fan favourite. I think a lot of it is well done - in particular Murray Melvin as Bilis Manger, and the spectacle of Toshiko trying to send Blink-like messages through the decades. The cast do emotional intensity well as ever. But the romance of the Jack Harknesses is treated with extraordinary gravity for what is basically a one-night stand, and Owen's breach of the Rift is painfully contrived in execution (and in plot terms both makes a mockery of Tosh's heroic communication efforts and provides a partial excuse for the nonsense which is to follow). It looks good, and sounds good, but I find it a bit lacking. (Note the "Vote Saxon" posters.)
Doing these write-ups, I often find myself noting that stories are not as bad as I remembered, End of Days is far far worse than I remembered, and it is no exaggeration to say that the high point of the episode is Rhys's arse, less than 90 seconds in. It is generally well acted (with a couple of slips - I am sure Eve Myles is on the edge of giggles in several scenes, and there are some breathing corpses) and generally well directed (with a couple of slips - Bilis's rather obviously collapsible knife, Rhys's horizontal viewpoint the wrong way round) but it doesn't compensate for the awfulness of the script and the incoherence of the plot. This really is terrible stuff, from the Torchwood team's sensitive and professional approach to human resources management, to the mispronounced Latin of the shouty time travelling soldier, to Gwen's disturbing treatment of Rhys, to the ludicrous CGI monster, to the arbitrary killing off of Rhys and Jack with no emotional impact on us viewers because we just know they'll be resurrected, to Jack being brought to life by Gwen's wuv... I am trying to think of a worse written story in the whole of Who. The Twin Dilemma, perhaps, or The Dominators, or The Celestial Toymaker, or the misogynist stories never made for TV (but unwisely produced by Big Finish in recent years). And where I can partially forgive Cyberwoman and Countrycide because they have at least got comprehensible plots and are interesting to look at, End of Days lacks even those redeeming features. RTD-era Who habitually fumbled its grand finales, and - with some hefty competition - this is the worst case of that phenomenon.
Well, the first season of Torchwood has its ups and downs, but most of the latter stories (with one crashing exception) are actually decent efforts, with the peaks good enough to show that it had potential for more. It is notable that most of the better episodes were written by women. (Audience ratings were consistently more positive than the fannish consensus, or even my more charitable views, which indicates that the show was delivering on some metrics anyway.) The rewatch mix is greatly improved by the Donna Noble and Sarah Jane episodes.
OK, it's the Doctor and Martha next. That will be fun.
< 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