BBC2/BBCHD - 13th February 2007 - 9.00pm
"I don't look like a rodent, do I?"
Ok, let's get the comparisons out of the way...yes, it rips off the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' episode 'Conundrum' and 'Superstar' from 'Buffy'. Anyone with a mere passing interest in cult telly will have spotted that.
And it doesn't matter because the same ideas get recycled through most SF and fantasy shows at some point and what is important is that if 'Torchwood' is going to use these ideas that it does it with a bit of cleverness and conviction. In 'Adam, this is hampered by uneven performances and gimmicky direction. Which is a shame as this idea, of an impostor hiding in plain sight as a member of the team and readjusting all their memories in order to survive, is pretty robust. In this instance, though, Cath Tregenna's script only manages to develop this in an ellipitical half-hearted fashion. To ensure that Adam seemingly fits into the format the producers could have had actor Bryan Dick do the voice-over and have put the actor's name in the opening credits alongside the rest just for starters in their attempt to catch the viewers off guard.
There are a couple of problems here and some of them are inevitable as a result of the episode's format and storyline. As soon as we're in on the concept that Adam is an alien memory thief then it is a very safe bet to assume that the second act of the episode will be about how the whole thing is resolved and 'Torchwood' status quo is again achieved. So, whilst the dramatic potential of Tosh becoming a sexy, cynical Owen, Owen turning into a geek, Jack exposing his childhood and Ianto becoming a mass murderer is exciting we are nevertheless just simply given one big prick tease of an episode. Yes, we get revelations about each of the character's psychological hang-ups (Tosh is lonely, Owen has parental issues, Gwen is in love with Jack etc)but the rest of the interior journeys they all go on are created and manipulated by Adam and the impression here is that much of them are forced upon the victim rather than being lodged in their subconscious. So, out come the ubiquitous amnesia pills and everyone can forget their brief alternate lives. But the writer leaves a flaw in the mix - no one asks Rhys to swallow the pill. Rhys will no doubt be freaked out by Gwen's sudden return to her usual state of being Welsh harridan of the week and he will also be asking what happened to their new team member Adam. Did the writer simply forget about Rhys?
Despite the fact that the amnesia pills eventually appear, the best scenes are certainly Ianto's 'retconning' as a murderer and Tosh's surge of sexual confidence. Both actors are very good here and the episode gives Gareth David-Lloyd a chance to shine. But, sadly, it's a cul-de-sac of character development in the end and I suspect that very little of it will be picked up by other writers in later episodes. John Barrowman swings between overplaying and phoning in a performance and unless there is some further significance in the traumas of Jack's childhood, then again the scenes on the Boeshane Peninsula are mere titillation for 'Doctor Who' fans. I suspect Captain John's revelation of Gray's existence will pay dividends in the finale. The worst casualty here is Bryan Dick. His scenery chewing must have left Upper Boat with a massive repair bill to the Hub. His playing needed to be far subtler than this and at one point I thought he was going to twirl an imaginary moustache. Slice of ham, anyone? And it isn't at all clear what exactly he does with Jack's memories at the end. By the conclusion, I was feeling as confused as John Barrowman with the box of sand throwing up all sorts of questions about the validity of Adam's manipulated memories.
What saves the episode is the scene where Jack gets his team to slough off their new skins and put back on their old clothes. Despite the round table revelations, it is at last a hint that somehow we might finally get to like some of these people and that Jack does actually care about each of them. It had the right tone for once and wasn't overplayed by any of the leads and clearly stated that, yes, warts and all, these guys are 'Torchwood' and you either love 'em or hate 'em.
And what was with the twitchy cameras? Pointless bits of focus pulling cropped up with abandon throughout this. It's a drama not a bloody documentary. In something like 'Battlestar Galactica' it's acceptable because for the exterior sequences the impression is that there is a documentary film maker capturing all the space battles and losing focus and whip pans are all part of the language of reportage. 'Torchwood' isn't reportage. This hints at a director who isn't confident about the material and has taken to fiddling with it visually in order to make it interesting. In the end it adds a distracting surface to the episode.
It's better than last week's episode by a degree. But the tone is still ping-ponging all over the place, performances seem to crash and burn on a regular basis and writers keep bunging in long scenes of exposition and leave sub-plots hanging in the air. Someone needs to sort it out...
Previous episode reviews:
To The Last Man
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
- 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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