Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Torchwood Season Two

Captain Jack must surely be the first square jawed all-american bisexual spacejock to have hit TV screens anywhere. He certainly made a big impact way back in season one of the new Dr Who, so hopes were high for the spin-off series, Torchwood. Now, like many Who fans I really wanted to like Torchwood and I gave the first season a lot of slack. It got points for transforming an ostensible John Barrowman vehicle into a showcase for Eve Myles (Gwen), so yay for Russell T Davies there. And I suppose it earned a few marks for attempting to be an adult-oriented sci-fi drama. But that was about it. Torchwood fell short because it was poorly acted, derivative, hastily written, and generally, not that great. For example, take its pretensions to "maturity"; if you want to explore adult themes with an adult audience, you have to do better than a bit of swearing, a bit of shagging, and showing Owen's bum. Battlestar Galactica has shown it is possible to do the gritty and compulsive sci-fi schtick, without ripping off Buffy and Angel.

Does the first episode bode well for the new season? Have producers and writers taken press and fan criticism on board? Are there signs it's striking out into original and daring territory? And was it much cop? Actually, to all these I say yes, I was pleasantly surprised. To quickly recap, the episode begins with a Jack-less Torchwood team tearing around Cardiff after a giant goldfish. There's a hostage situation, guns are drawn, and Jack appears from nowhere to give the fish a bullet assisted lobotomy. Nice. There's a bit of tension back at base over Jack's recent trip to the end of the universe with the Doctor, and a touch of awkwardness when Gwen reveals she's gotten engaged to her long suffering boyfriend. Tsk, missed a trick there, Jack!

In the mean time Captain John Hawk (James Marsters) steps out of the hellgate time rift and summons Jack to meet him at a bar. They hook up, have a snog and a scrap, and then John reveals Cardiff is in terrible danger. Three radiation cluster bombs are busily decaying away and when the half life runs out, the Welsh capital will get a Nagasaki-style makeover. Alas, it turns out the bombs are nothing of the sort. John uses the team to hunt down the canisters and then takes them out. Toshi gets slapped about, Owen shot, Ianto menaced, while poor Gwen falls for the old paralysing lip gloss trick. Oh, and Jack pulls off a novel new yogic move courtesy of a 20 storey fall and a broken back ...

Back at base, the team confront John, he gets stuck with a limpet bomb, there's a bit of a kerfuffle involving Gwen, handcuffs, and injections, and he disappears back through the time rift. Job done.

Well, the episode is a lot better than this very rough outline suggests. The usual Torchwood tropes were in (boy/boy snogging, and, erm, more boy/boy snogging), Gwen got plenty of screen time, but Mr Marsters stole the show. He had the best lines and the Loki-like spark of dark mischievousness playing about him was missing from the other characters. Hold on a minute, haven't we seen him play a similar role somewhere before?

The trailer for the rest of the season looks quite promising. It hints that there may just be a fully realised story arc about alien insects or something. Please let it be better than last season's attack of the soul-sucking Play-Doh demon.

I'm sure there must be other interesting things that could be said about tonight's episode about the snogging (strange how two blokes in a passionate clinch had to be followed straight away by a scrap), changing power dynamics in the group hierarchy with Jack's sudden reappearance, the developing Jack/Ianto, Owen/Toshi love angles, & etc.

If you saw it, what did you think?


Anonymous said...

It was very good, although not 100% convincing. The first season was very hit-and-miss; this one looks like it'll be a bit more structured, which should improve consistency. I'll always have a soft spot for the show because I lived in Cardiff for three years and I'm glad it's being shown as the vibrant city it is rather than rehashing the old sheep/coal mining/rugby stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

haha ive been sitting here for 30 mins trying to think of an important subject to blog about. maybe prison over-crowding, the effects of exploitation in film or possibly an effective strategy for the protection of sex dont worry about it ! just watch some pap on the box and make it sound like a subject of crucial importance.....looking for some torchwood fans for your stats phil??


Phil said...

You will notice, dear heart, that one has posted regularly on TV programmes from the very beginning of this blog. Besides, what are workers the length and breadth of Britain more likely going to be talking about today? Labour's complaint that 80 Tory MPs have been caught with their snouts in the trough? The death of French Trot leader, Pierre Lambert? Or Torchwood? Next time The Socialist features a TV or film review, I'll do my Disgusted of Stoke-on-Trent bit and demand to know why there aren't yet more stories about why life is shit.

Anonymous said...

haha following on from the 'vital statistics' discusion, when i think it was you who advised me to start heated discussions using 'comments'...i wanted to see how easy it would be to get a rise out of my brother phil... it wasnt hard :-)

however if i decided to cntinue ths wee polemic, it would go a little something like this -

My intention was not to question the content or its effect on the working class(which im sure we'll agree is set to be considerable). i was simply highlighting the link between recent 'vital statistics' posts and your own admission of 'stalinist targets' for the new year and an article which as far as i can see fails to bring out any of the political points. i.e the cuts and privatisation of parts of the BBC, impacting on torchwood like everything else, highlighting the temporary character of torchwoods 'better' season......etc etc

cheers phil that was fun!
wow now i really feel part of british left!

splinteredsunrise said...

Dear god, is everybody blogging Torchwood? Does this tell us something about the left?

I was going to toss a coin between Lambert and the Serbian elections, but the lazy option won out.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

"Dear god, is everybody blogging Torchwood? Does this tell us something about the left?
I was going to toss a coin between Lambert and the Serbian elections, but the lazy option won out."

wheras i'm even lazier, I'm just publishing various bits of pieces i've written over christmas - i've still got one on the prisons crisis to go up, although it's pre-government trying to remove the right to strike from prison officers.

as for torchwood, i wasn't impressed with the episodes i watched of the first season so i haven;t really bothered with it - well that and having several essays to do (one about which i may post up extensively features lenin's the state and revolution)

Louisefeminista said...

It was terrible, but as I said in my post on the matter, just snogging Spike aka Cap'n John makes you weak at the knees and paralyses you.

I woulda been only tooooo happy to take on grumpy Gwen's role. Well, someone has to do the smooching...and I am happy to smooch.

Duncan said...

I'm a massive Doctor Who fan, even the old stuff with the Blue Peter style 'here's one I made earlier' special effects, but I can't get into Torchwood.

What's so special about it? As splinteredsunrise says, everyones blogging it.

Phil said...

It's not difficult to get a rise out of me on t'internet, or anyone else for that matter. As I'm sure you'll find out in due course.

What I wanted to do in this piece, as I usually try and do in any TV-related piece, is bring out some of the cultural codes and meanings that pervade all programmes: to see whether there's stuff in there that challenges (bourgeois) common sense, or confirms it, as well as passing judgement on entertainment value (as all reviewers do). A particularly excellent example of this is Jim Jay's reflections on I Am Legend, which you can see here and the discussion earlier on this blog here. I hoped that maybe some of the things I flagged up could act as talking points for a bit of a discussion.

For instance, for all its urban Welsh glamour(!?) aren't Torchwood really a glorified bunch of supercharged immigration officers? Do they not run round Cardiff hunting down illegals and holding them indefinitely in detention, or forcibly deporting them? Does Torchwood reinforce the idea of the dangerous, mysterious foreigners lurking at the margins of society, quietly plotting to attack us, invade us, brainwash us, etc?

Re: stats strategy, well, I'd long planned to blog about Torchwood anyway, and will probably do so when Dr Who comes back too. So stats weren't really a consideration. There's only one sure way to building a regular readership, and that's by blogging frequently and trying to make sure what you're saying is interesting and thought provoking.

Re: Splinters and Duncan, perhaps you could post on why so many lefty bloggers feel the need to write about Torchwood. Are Tory and other establishment bloggers as infatuated?

Frank Partisan said...

I posted more at the previous post.

I like the old Dr. Who. I don't watch TV.