TV Having not read this review of Torchwood's Cyberwoman for a few years, I'm surprised to see it isn't quite as positive as I remember. It's more of an "Torchwood is what it is" affair though you can already detect a sense of disappointment that it isn't what we all thought it was going to be. Just look at that costume. Is that what all female cyberpeople are like underneath their armour?
Now of course the episode is nothing but laughable and up there with Doctor Who's Timelash and Star Trek's Spock's Brain as one of the worst disasters of fantasy television ever, saved only by the cyberwoman vs. pterodactyl scene. One of, because Torchwood still hadn't scraped the bottom of the barrel.
What an odd series. After last week's wierdly structured and bizarrely directed episode I really feared that this was a duck, a bungle, a six hundred and fifty minute mistake being played out tortuously over thirteen weeks. But tonight's episode lived up to the promise of the opening episode, delivering enough shocks, surprises and thrills to just about scrub out the memory of last week's misstep. Still open to question however, is whether the series would be essential viewing were it not for the Doctor Who connection and the mystery of the hand applications.
Not that it began well, with what can best be described as a distracting homage to the teaser for the Firefly episode Bushwacked with all the basketball and the time rift pulling some really, really cheesy metal music from the 1980s to accompany the reveal of the cyberwoman. And that costume! On the one hand, it was obviously designed to look completely outrageous and disconcertingly sexy, but in the context of the episode it really, really jarred and must have been a real pain for actress Caroline Chikezie (late of As, If and Footballer's Wives) who should be congratulated for being able to produce a credible performance beneath the silliness.
This was the classic base-under-siege that the mother series has always done so well, although it also owed some debt to the works of John Carpenter and Ridley Scott. It still, understandably, continues to look like a much cheaper series than Doctor Who, and the re-use of the CG for the cyber-converter was a shame although the pterodactyl looked good. It's a risk to run a bottle episode this early in the run, but as I think I've said in earlier reviews this is not a show about original ideas and why should that matter if it's also entertaining? So what too if they're trotting out the usual debates about what 'tis to be human as though it hasn't already been looked at ad-nausea on Star Trek.
Hold on -- sorry, I think that sentence gatecrashed from the negative review the evil version of me is writing in the Bad Torchwood dimension. Where was I? Oh ...
The real key on this occasion was of course that as well as simply battling the alien presence to the death, Torchwood was fighting with itself and the implications of that death. This was a pleasingly streamlined story, free of the flab that's been dogging the series. Developing the narrative in near real time helped enormously, and although we're yet to see writer Chris Chibnall tackle Doctor Who, it's almost as though he'd seen what worked there and transferred it here.
Some might criticise that again we're supposed to be surprised by the manic secrecy of a character we've had little time to get to know, but the performances really went some way to filling in the blanks -- John Barrowman's disappointment clashing with David-Lloyd's desperation. Given this more dramatic material, the cast either toned down or keyed up their work accordingly and for the first time there was real chemistry and urgency. For some reason the lack of overall characterisation seemed less important and actually worked to the episode's advantage -- Ianto points out that Jack (and we) didn't know about this because no one's bothered to ask.
[Good lord, according to the wikipedia Gareth David-Lloyd is currently dating Sara Lloyd Gregory who played Carys in Day One, and he actually essayed the role of Yanto Jones in RTD's Mine All Mine.]
Will the pterodactyl fight another day? As an internal security system, a giant dinosaur is certainly novel and one of the key decisions in this series seems to be to run with the idea of incongruous juxtapositions. The show is unapologetically serving up B-movie material (and in this case with a manga tinge) within a serial format and there's really nothing wrong with that if it's done with these winning sensibilities. The problem last week was that the underlying sense of ludicrousness was taken far too seriously, whereas here the madness was instead being played straight and it worked very well. A balance too was struck between the larger than life dialogue of the opener and something far more realistic -- and the fall out from Suzie suicide finally bit as it wasn't clear if Jack really would shoot Ianto in the head (or vice versa).
What is becoming abundantly clear is that Torchwood, possibly because of the alien influence have a very different sense of morality considering that they're the good guys. In those closing moments, who did they kill? Even though Lisa had swapped her mind into the body of Annie the pizza girl, which is monstrous act, wasn't she fully human? Even though she still suggested upgrading wasn't that just psychological conditioning which could have been reversed? Didn't she, despite the new outward appearance, deserve a second chance? And how can anyone trust Ianto now -- is it wise not to kick him out of The Hub -- or is this a better the devil you know call?
[Incidentally, Annie actress Bethan Walker is on Twitter.]
Does the episode prove that Torchwood has legs after all? I'm still scratching my head. In a sense, this wasn't an episode that displayed all of the apparent promise of seeing a full blooded sci-fi story on the streets of Cardiff. How it scored instead was that despite being a direct sequel to a Doctor Who episode, it still managed to have its own tone and style and a sense of story that could and would not have worked at seven o'clock on a Saturday. Although the debate about whether that's a good thing still rages, and it's really difficult not to talk about the series without referring back to (and I'll say it again) the mother series, it's still quite exciting to see that material being produced without exceptions being made for the sake of the kids.
PS. According the IMDb, Cyberwoman is one of Bethan's only screen credits but she's recently been working at Shakespeare's Globe, which is excellent. Well done you.]