TV Now that Torchwood's Miracle Day is finally over I sense a void so I've decided to run some of my old Behind The Sofa reviews of the first series. As you'll see I began in positive mood then too. Oh well ...
It's Wednesday 18th October at 9:40 pm and I've just returned from Manchester and a High Def preview of Torchwood. Although I'm sure in the next four days the web will be awash with spoilers I've decided to write this review now and blast it through the time rift into the future. Because really after the ending of Everything Changes it would be like telling a four year old that there isn't a Father Christmas and there's a seventy percent chance they'll spend most of their life working in an office. It wouldn't be fair or right. The screening was (I think) a success -- everyone laughed in the right places and gasped in others although I can't tell who were fans, I suspect a fair amount where from the Torchwood.tv blog.
But really, again I say, that climax. Not since Lisa Faulkner found the wrong end of a deep fat fryer in Spooks has something been so unexpected. 24? Yes, stock in trade, it'd be wrong if someone didn't die horrifically at the close of an hour. But here? Suzie even enjoyed gallery pictures at the official website and appeared on the cover of Radio Times, and warranting a profile which on reflection looks somewhat threadbare in comparison to the others but which I originally put down to the overall veil of secrecy which has hung over the project (until tonight).
I wonder how many people in the audience, like me, wondered when it would be revealed as an initiation trick to test Gwen's mettle, even the bullet to Jack's head. Which cleverly provided a second twist - so when Rose brought him back to life she also (inadvertently?) made him unkillable (Can he still age? Is he actually immortal? How old is he now?). Does this by implication mean the Rose too cannot die since she too was exposed to the time vortex? Does this mean that Indira Varma's IMDb page is wrong - or will there be some great resurrection later in the series?
But I'm getting ahead of myself, more speculation later. Really this is the most enjoyable fifty minutes I've spent in a cinema this year. Blown up to the size of a house, the episode looked amazing, better than some films in fact. Funny, thrilling, hilarious, gripping, Torchwood is probably everything I wished some episodes of Season Two of Doctor Who had been. This looks like the work of a group of people who are finally getting to make the kind of show they've wanted to make. Nothing is misjudged, with even the sex, violence and swearing fitting within context.
I don't think Cardiff has looked this good and as promised, the city is presented in all of its potential glory - and yet with Weevils, the dark underbelly, the sewers. Did I mention it was funny? Lines that got a laugh in the screening 'Just a pterodactyl', 'Well if this'll make it easier.' 'That's harassment.' 'Walked here. I bloody walked' 'All that CSI bollocks. I'd like to see CSI Cardiff - they'd be measuring the velocity of a kebab.' 'You Welsh. Someone shows you something extraordinary and you criticize it.'
As an opening episode, this was perfectly structured. The drawing of a newby into a fantastic realm, has quite rightly been described as nothing new, but here it worked beautifully because Gwen's natural curiosity drew into the 'inner circle' rather than through some kidnapping or mistake. Also, unlike Rose, the 'real world' seemed perfectly realistic, well realistic in a television sense in that it looked like an expensive episode of The Bill, which meant the fantasy she was being diving into really was different. Her initial interaction with the Weevil was natural - no such thing as aliens so it has to be a guy in a mask, right? One of the lovely threads which ran through the episode which perfectly retconned why almost everyone seems to forget big spaceships and robot troops is the creation of something even more unlikely but which somehow fits within our realistic expectations.
Perhaps most impressively, Russell T decided to take time to carefully set up the world of the series rather than running half-cocked through some forgettable plotline of the week hoping that the viewer will keep up. Here, the story was Torchwood, or rather Gwen's discovery of it and that was more than enough for the running time. Some might criticize the seemingly endless shots of items in the hub, they were obviously fascinating, particular the hand which was revealed in Radio Times to be the one that The Doctor lost in The Christmas Invasion (wonder where it landed). The other character introductions were perfectly pitched too, each receiving a moment that defined their character - the highlight obviously being Owen's experimentation with the love potion. Do Toshiko and Jack both know that the other has met the Doctor - I do hope they have that scene together, although given that Jack's reluctant to talk about the time lord I'm not sure it'll happen soon.
And what of Captain Jack? As befits the mood of the piece, John Barrowman has tuned down his performance slightly and whereas during his brief spell on Doctor Who he didn't seem like someone who could fit in any reality, he works very well here. Anyone else notice that he's now given to Doctorish speeches? But he's still funny. Pregnant? Really? As I left the screening I heard two guys talking about what they'd seen and one said to the other 'It was alright I suppose, but they should have shown Captain Jack arriving through the rift…' NO. NO. NO. Don't waste the mystery, don't reveal everything straight away, and if you do reveal anything, make sure that it simply creates other questions.
For example, does Jack know all about the Sycorax and Cybermen because he was in the country then? Did he know The Doctor was around? Why didn't he contact him? Is he still pissed about being left behind in the future? How much does he know about the setting up of Torchwood? Does any of this actually matter? Contrast this with Robin Hood, in which we already know everything we need to know about the lead character. The series isn't rejecting established mythology but it is having fun with it - like the cloaking effect left behind by the appearance of the TARDIS in Cardiff bay during Boomtown. I do hope that is a cyber lady in the trailers.
But there wasn't a weak link in the cast, everyone fitting very well into their characters. Obviously Eve Myles had the most screen time here, and thankfully she was mesmerizing able to leap tall acting buildings in a single bound, presenting tragedy and comedy with equal measure, something that wasn't reflected in The Unquiet Dead (although I'd still love there to be some kind of connection between those two characters). Some of the biggest laughs in the screening came from Myles moments, including the way she lifted her head from the keyboard after the insomnia pill. That hair.
The bloke I ended up sitting next to in the screening, was very quick at the close of the episode to note that 'someone had been watching Angel' and its true that throughout elements of other genre series could be seen. The brooding moments on top of buildings taken from helicopters were similar to Wim Wender's Wings of Desire (and its blah US remake City of Angels) and the now unkillable Jack is very Angel-like (although it doesn't seem to be bothering him too much, but then he can see the sun). But none of this matters. Buffy looked like the work of someone who had absorbed years worth of horror films since it managed to be influenced by most of them during its seven years.
What's important here is whether it's entertaining, and oh good lord, yes it is.
PS I was perhaps over-giddy. The Owen phermone scene is morally ambiguous at best. But I think the reviews that followed more than made up for that ...