Thursday, 12 August 2010

Torchwood – A Season Review

Torchwood – A Season Review

When Russell T. Davies is good, he’s very good. When he’s bad – and Doctor Who fans will neither forget nor forgive Love & Monsters very quickly – he’s appallingly bad. Unfortunately, Torchwood – itself an anagram of Doctor Who – falls into the bad category. The series, staring John Barrowman and Eve Myles, has real problems right from the start, ranging from an inability to decide what the show is to a number of production and logic glitches. If the fictional Torchwood Institute was intended to be the new UNIT, it has failed badly.

But enough doom and gloom – its Doctor Who, right?

Well, no. We were introduced to the Torchwood Institute in the second season of the relaunched Doctor Who, starting with David Tennent’s very first episode, where the massive space alien battleship – commanded by creatures that bear more than a passing reassemblence to Klingons – was blown away by an alien-designed death ray, fired by something called Torchwood. The name follows the Doctor through history until the 2-parter Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, which took the Doctor directly into the heart of Torchwood One. A show based around the charmingly eccentric Yvonne Hartman might have worked, but as Yvonne Hartman was turned into a cyberman in the second part, that was clearly impossible. Instead, the action moves to Cardiff, scene of several encounters with the Doctor, and the lead role is taken by Captain Jack Harkness, who was introduced to us inThe Empty Child.

Now, I’ll be blunt; I never liked Jack. He was an ass, basically, and I was expecting him to suffer the same fate as that instantly forgettable character from Dalek who rode in the TARDIS for one episode. Like Mickey – although Mickey at least managed to redeem himself – Jack simply threw the Rose-Doctor relationship out of phase. As we know, Jack was left behind on the Game Station when the Doctor regenerated – and since somehow found his way to Cardiff and Torchwood Three, where the action takes place. The Doctor might be mentioned, but he takes no role at all in Season One of Torchwood. The characters have to stand or fall on their own merits.

I could go through Torchwood episode by episode, but I’m only going to touch on a few episodes. We are introduced to Jack and his crew in the first show, which takes on a very X-Files style, almost Men in Black; Gwen tries to track down Jack and his merry men. Although there are a few twists, the show is basically predictable – and episode two puts the team into conflict with a sex-demanding alien entity. Anyone see a problem here? It gets worse; the team encounter a cyber-woman (no, not Hartman), cannibals (this show starts off surprisingly well, but hits the ground as soon as the dramatic ending flops), fairies (actually, this one isn’t bad; bit creepy, but not bad), time-lost travellers, a lesbian alien (WTF?) and a demon. In between, the most dysfunctional team on TV argue, cheat, fight, threaten one another with weapons, sleep together, cheat on each other, have massive gaysexual orgies…

Torchwood is a show that cannot decide what it is supposed to be. Davis’s insistence that all members of the show are bisexual just creates even more confusion. Torchwood lacks the instant chemistry between Mulder and Scully from their first few seasons – and the logical inconsistencies start grating pretty quickly. Mulder and Scully were two individuals, part of the FBI; in its first appearance, Torchwood was on the same size and scale as the Stargate team. In Everything Changes, Torchwood is living in a sewer and seems to have no discipline at all. Jack is a bastard, Owen is a stereotype tough-guy, Ianto is the eternal straight man (who later ends up sleeping with Jack), Tosh (ok, she’s hot) is a nerd and Gwen…well, she just comes across as stupid and naive.

Perhaps I’m being harsh.

But, speaking as a Doctor Who fan, Torchwood is just not in the same league.

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