BBC2/BBCHD - 16th January 2007 - 9.00pm
'Bloody Torchwood!' Never a truer word was said. She had it right that little old lady at the pedestrian crossing.
I felt there were some problems with Series 1 last year. It suffered from having an unlikeable 'team' of characters, a grumpy Captain Jack and a propensity for adolescent fumblings with sex and gore. It often felt as if the series was being made for 14 year old boys to watch in their bedrooms and not for the so called adult audience it claimed it was aimed at.
So I have some expectations for the return of the series. And on the whole this was an entertaining, if slightly unspectacular, opening episode. The impression I got was an often attempted, none too subtle, remount of the format with several 'stating the bleeding obvious' bits of exposition where various antagonists and protagonists pause and fill in the back story for any new viewer who has been living under a stone the last eighteen months. Hence, the blowfish alien with its ' you're the scientist, you're the doctor...' and Gwen in the back of the cab and her 'he's our boss and we don't know anything about him' lines. I can understand the need to try and do this for those BBC2 viewers new to this game but it's often done with all the charisma of an autocue. There are much better, understated scenes later in the episode which do a far better job, especially the scene in the Hub with Jack and Gwen and the office scene with Ianto and Jack.
However, the emergence of Captain John from the rift did add a healthy dose of humour to the proceedings. James Marsters steals the entire episode from Jack's 'dolly birds' with his cheek bones, double entendres and merry quips, unfortunately making them all look like the bunch of bumbling kids that Series 1 tried so hard to prevent. Seeming like he stepped out of Adam And The Ants' 'Stand & Deliver' video, Marsters sociopath provides a great foil for Barrowman and the cat and mouse game they both play ensures the episode is entertaining. There isn't much plot to speak of beyond a 'Hustle' type con that reminds us of Jack's original raison d'etre when he was introduced back in 2005 and Jack's indestructiblity is the final trump card in a game which sees John take out all of the Torchwood staff without as much as lifting a well plucked eyebrow or manicured fingernail.
It may be undemanding as a first episode and the attempt to explain the backstory maybe too painfully self-aware but it does at least signal an attempt to make the cast of characters work as a group you could actually get to like. Some of that self-awareness is clearly acknowledging some of the pitfalls the series fell into last year and some good steps are taken here to show the group working together, even if in the end they're still rubbish at it. The production team are at least saying to us that they know Torchwood are a bit crap at their jobs and we're going to run with that. This faliblity is a pleasant change from the sturm und drang of Series 1 where the angst was simply getting in the way of any actual good drama. The lovely bit where Jack observes them all pulling together shows this very well and helps towards establishing some plausibility into their crazy lives and jobs. Eve Myles now successfully pitches Gwen as the leader, pulling the ragged bunch together and even challenging Jack's authority a bit here. And it's good to see Gareth David-Lloyd doing much more than fetching pizza and coffee and getting involved in the team investigations. I did like the scene where Jack asks him out on a date and thought David-Lloyd played that rather well with a mix of outward nonchalance and inner screaming from the rooftops happiness. Burn Gorman gives us a more adjusted Owen and even though it was again very obvious where they were planning to take his and Tosh's relationship it was still a very welcome change from the snarling anti-socialism of Series 1. They may still be a daft old bunch but at least now it looks like we might actually get to like them which is, apart from Marsters show stealing turn, the major development here.
The visual motifs - dark streets, aerial shots, rooftop scenes - are still intact and Murray Gold puts in a sublimely understated score. It looks quite stunning in HD and there's a nice sense of fluid camera moves and pacy direction from Ashley Way. I have high hopes for the rest of the series judging by some of the pleasant changes here. This opener is no great shakes, admittedly, but it is entertaining, funny and is at least unlike anything else on television. Now, with that out of the way can we please get back to being dark, scary and funny again?
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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- Thierry Attard's Double Feature
- from the north...
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