September 19, 2007

The Story of Torchwood

In all honesty, my mood has not been that great - having had to run my aunt to the emergency room (back problems) on Sunday, dealing with assorted stresses and annoyances (including Blogger glitches, glitches, and some of you out in the blogosphere - expect some tersely written e-mails in the near future. I won't call people out publicly), so blogging has gone to the end of the to-do list.

That is said because I was probably not in the greatest frame of mind to check out the first two episodes of Torchwood. In short, I was not sure I wanted to check out Torchwood, having heard some unflattering and not-very-complimentary things about it. So I sat to watch the pilot - "Everything Changes", and "Day One", and have to say....I was pleasantly surprised. Calling it a "Doctor Who for adults" is kind of insulting; it's more of a stylish, X-Files type of show, creating an automatic aura of mystery and providing a refreshing change.

Of course, that means one of the major networks will 1) try to "Americanize" the show, or 2) do a cheap knock-0ff...which would be the ultimate compliment. Even though some aspects of the show were spoiled (for me) in series three of Doctor Who, knowing those spoilers actually adds to enjoying the show.

The show gets off to a slightly wonky start with "Everything Changes", as Gwen - a member of the Cardiff police force - finds herself getting entangled and involved with the mysterious Torchwood Institute, led by the enigmatic, not-so-happy-go-lucky Captain Jack Harkness. Unfortunately, this Russell T. Davies episode reveals too many of his weaknesses - it views like a pastiche of "Rose"; moments that should seem poignant end up silly (the "estrogen in the rain" speech at the beginning), and at least one moment seems like a total send-up (the scene with Owen and the alien pheromone spray at the bar). However, there is enough of an interest, especially with John Barrowman playing Harkness as a darker character - and as a man of mystery - that makes it a good kick-off for the series. I only wish that this had been written a bit longer - the episode feels like there are some "missing" scenes. The supporting cast provides much more than just scenery - there's a palpable sense of back story in the performances. And I like the take with Torchwood as being almost "above the law" - if U.N.I.T. is the Joe Friday of the DW universe, Torchwood is its Eliot Ness, struggling not to become what it beholds as it deals with extraterrestrial affairs on Earth.

Although the first episode is somewhat awkward, "Day One" - written by Chris Chibnall - works on several levels. Focusing on a girl taken over by an alien gas addicted to orgasmic energy, it also serves as a metaphor - for burgeoning post-adolescent sexuality, for the loneliness that comes after a romantic breakup, and ultimately, for being able to find one's humanity. Gwen becomes more than just, say, the typical Doctor Who companion - Harkness, in fact, dares her to "...remind us...what it means to be human in the twenty-first century." And by this time, the show's sense of humor - snarky, ironic, and quite witty - kicks in, providing some hard-earned levity. In short, I wish this had been the second hour of a two-hour pilot with "Everything Changes"...but that's just me. Even the sexuality of the show serves as a counterpoint - when the gas-inhabited girl begins to kiss Gwen, she hesitates and breaks off, realizing that she "needs a man" - in that moment, we see the bewilderment of someone so focused on being loved, that even a moment of clarity seems painful. I only bring this up because one of the criticisms of Torchwood has been the rampant focus on characters' sexuality.

Personally, Torchwood has a very healthy attitude, given its first two episodes. Contrast this with director Paul Verhoeven,, who seems to demonstrate an almost adolescent misogyny in several of his films. This is the way sexuality on television should be portrayed - not to exploit, or for stereotypical purposes, but to reveal character and connection. For Gwen, having a boyfriend is not just a typical dramatic device - it allows her a degree of connection that the Torchwood team does not. Jack's willingness to engage with anything that's "charming" shows his lack of connectedness with others. (And by "engage", I mean "snog").

If you've seen the entire series, please feel free to suggest which episodes to watch - I have heard that quality dips in the middle. But for something this good, I'm willing to take my chances.

Now playing: THE CLASH - lose this skin
via FoxyTunes


Lefty said...

Boy I hope I don't receive a tersly worded email. I wouldn't know what to do with it.

Ben Varkentine said...

"Ghost Machine" and especially "Random Shoes" are the best.

"They Keep Killing Suzie," "Out Of Time" and "Captain Jack Harkeness" are good but not great.

As for the rest..."quality dips in the middle" is an understatement as far as I'm concerned (but I didn't like the first episodes much either)

I love Captain Jack when he's on Doctor Who--he's lovely there. Unfortunately Torchwood, as it progresses, turns out to be to Doctor Who as Buffy S6 & 7 are to that show's other seasons.

Lots of gratuitious violence and moral dwarf characters "hardened" to the point of being stiff as boards.

The whole thing's questionable in theory and thoroughly unworkable in practice.

But these are, of course, just my opinions.

Siskoid said...

By #4 (Cyberwoman) it's gonna seem like the show's a terrible bust, but keep watching. The last half gets really good.

I love me that Gwen!

doppelganger said...

Don't get your hopes up for the finale though....