BBCHD - 4th April 2008 - 9.00pm
'Because you're breaking my heart...'
Torchwood...Torchwood...Torchwood, what are we going to do with you? Save for the last 15 minutes that finale was rather underwhelming. I'll talk about the ending in a moment but first let's just look at what on earth went wrong.
OK. Captain John tells Jack right at the start of the season, remember in 'Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang' that he'd found Gray. We then learn about Gray later in 'Adam'. And that's it. That's all the development that Gray gets until the finale. Jack letting go of Gray's hand is the motivation for not only the bombs in the previous episodes but also for the explosions in Cardiff, the Weevils, the Hoix and the deaths of Owen and Tosh? Chris Chibnall is taking the piss. The wicked brother comes back to punish his sibling. I'd feel it was a good idea if indeed it had been given any dramatic credence in the rest of the series. His imprisonment by creatures is mentioned but we never see it so we never really connect with his pathology. It's a weak basis for a finale. And this is then compounded by poor casting and an actor who simply failed to lift the character off the page. No chemistry between Gray and Jack and no real sense of Gray's sociopathy leaves this with no sense of threat. And Jack forgives him like the big wet fop that he is. It would have been more dramatic for him to kill Gray instead of popping him in the freezer. After all, he's destroyed most of Cardiff, used Captain John and killed two of Jack's colleagues...just because his big brother let go of his ickle handy-wandy!
OK. You have serious rift activity, blow up most of Cardiff and let loose a mass of Weevils. Sorry, not on this budget it seems. Again, big dramatic events that are poorly played out on screen. Where are the traffic jams, the fleeing crowds, the panic? Just a brief shot of burning buildings, some sirens and a scene in a police station where Gwen tries to rally the troops with a stirring speech. Over ambitious to the point where it is just on-screen rhetoric. It betrays the golden rule of telly - show, don't tell! Great to see the Hoix back and love the no nonsense despatch of the reaper figures by Ianto and Tosh but they are too very brief interludes in a game of smoke and mirrors. The nuclear power plant run by an external server? The lack of basic science and research just shows an arrogant disregard for an intelligent audience. Even I know that a power plant would have fail-safes and contingencies to prevent meltdowns. Golden rule of writing - do the bloody research!
And the very confusing bit about Jack crossing his own timeline? Sorry, run that by me again? So he gets exhumed by Victorian Torchwood and, for a man buried for nearly 2000 years, he looks remarkably well preserved, his clothes haven't decayed and he seems psychologically unscathed. Then he is frozen so he doesn't meet himself. So there are two Jacks are there? What sheer nonsense. Another vague idea, very Buffy-esque, with no real thought gone into it. Nice to see more of Victorian Torchwood but the whole Jack dead, Jack alive burial feels like one more silly idea too many. Penance, indeed!
Welcome back to Captain John, played impeccably by James Marsters, who at least manages to convey a man under duress, hating what he's forced to do, and finally coming good in the end. I say dump John Barrowman, whose acting this year has resembled something hanging in a butcher's window, and replace him with Marsters. Jack has, I'm afraid, become a dull old sod.
The real saviour of this episode is Naoko Mori. She turned in a stupendous performance as Tosh. The whole of her death scene and the two hander with Owen was very well done, deeply affecting and very emotionally real. My main gripe is that as this played out I wondered where everyone had got to - did Gwen, Jack, Ianto and John just bugger off for a fag break? - and that gave it an artificiality that lessened its impact. But I will so miss Naoko and the Toshiko character and she rescued this rather risible affair and elevated it to proper drama. Burn almost made me like Owen too but ever since they made him a zombie I just knew it wasn't sustainable. It was a likely outcome that he would finally die. But a very sad ending for both characters.
A terribly flawed last episode, full of thin, puffed up ideas, epic events of little or no dramatic consequences that struggled to imply a massive canvas, a vengeful sibling about as threatening as a plank of wood in the end, that boiled down to the deaths of Tosh and Owen. 'Torchwood' is so accident prone as a series and this second year has been an improvement but it's still producing only a handful of good episodes. My vote would go to 'Reset' as the best of the lot, followed closely by 'To The Last Man', 'Dead Man Walking' and 'Adrift'. It needs a better show runner and hopefully Chris Chibnall's replacement will be able to fix some of the remaining problems. Make it scary and make it real.
Previous episode reviews:
From Out Of The Rain
A Day In The Death
Dead Man Walking
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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