TV Of all the actors who might have been cast as Tim Rice, the almost similarly named Tom Price wouldn't have been my first guess, but there he was in last night in BBC Four's Holy Flying Circus in a perfectly observed performance, wordlessly failing to properly referee the epic exchange between one third of the Pythons and Malcolm Muggeridge on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. All of which was fine. But did anyone else shout "It's PC Andy!" when he first appeared on screen. Because however rubbish much of Torchwood is, Andy has been one of its best creations.
As I notice below in this old review, Andy doesn't appear in Small Worlds, but that's the least of its crimes. As you can see, after giving Cyberwoman a mixed response, this is when the wheels really came off and whatever hopes I might have had for the series were driven straight into and sunk in Cardiff Bay. As you can see, I was even concerned about what effect it might have on series three of Doctor Who but since that brought us Blink and Martha Jones amongst other things, it just probably demonstrated that Russell T Davies, as he'd admit himself later, wasn't paying enough attention to what this sister series was doing.
Another dispiriting fifty minutes in the company of Torchwood. I mean I've been largely positive about the series up until now, but this was a mess, and everything you could fear that show might descend into being. I really, really left tonight's episode afraid for the safety of Season Three of Doctor Who. They're different series, to be sure, but the same production team were happy to see tonight's drama broadcast as is despite the litany of problems. Why is it for every very cool moment, there's some bit of dialogue, or acting, or direction that makes you want to throw a pillow at the screen?
The positives first. Captain Jack's mystery is developing nicely and the revelation that he was knocking around on the planet in the very early 1900s was a nice surprise and beautifully ambiguous in relation to whether those scenes happened before or after The Doctor Dances. The flashback scene was shot well too, and it wasn't made completely clear whose side he was on in the war. My impression is that they didn't and that in fact he was romancing the old fairy woman before he went travelling in the Tardis and looked her up when he reappeared on Earth just recently. Otherwise we're in Highlander/Angel/Eighth Doctor Earth-arc territory, which wouldn't be such a bad thing as confusing -- were two of them knocking around during World War Two? The touching scenes between Jack and his old girlfriend helped to fill out this background -- he obviously loved her very much.
It was a good premise too, building upon the famous hoax pictures, fairies being some elemental shadows looking for children to join with them. In fact one of the highlights were the exposition scenes in which those photos were debunked again and the nature of the beasts was revealed even if 'evil since the dawn of time' seems a bit incongruous in a series that was supposed to be priding itself on its reliance on the gritty urban landscape and crap which haunts those street. You can see the actual pictures and the camera that took them at the National Museum for Film, Television and Photography in Bradford and the facts mentioned here were completely correct. For all of his cleverness, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was seduced by the children's story. The eventual monsters were very pretty, perfectly painterly like those fairies, almost the product of some late Victorian painted picture book.
Shame it was dogged by some extraordinarily listless storytelling and poor structuring. As with The Ghost Machine, the teaser was good and the first few scenes in which Jack looked up an old friend were sweet (although would Gwen really have been that rude in the talk about the fairies with all the eye-rolling? Surely that's more like Owen behaviour? This inconsistency of character from episode to episode is really irritating). The chase through through Cardiff Market and the flower petals were pleasingly gruesome (even if that imagery wasn't satisfactorily explained).
Beyond that once and again, we were treated to the girl being threatened, the timeless ones using the weather to defend her, Torchwood noticing the weather fluctuation and then chasing it up. It was a bit like watching an episode of Treasure Hunt, without Wincy Willis, the magenta jumpsuits or cross looking pensioners in stately homes on a coach trip.
This isn't necessarily just a problem with Mr. P J Hammond's work. All of the episodes have suffered from this repetition of action in one form or another, almost as though no one can get a grip of those extra five minutes which have been added to Doctor Who's usual running time. They've also suffered from moments of threat going on far too long, the cutting back, over and over to something which has already been established, like the kids in peril in the wind, or the spooky monsters looking at our heroes from above. This stylistic holdover from the parent series and seems out of place in the 'adult' world.
Time which could better be spent charting Jack's passage through history or providing Tosh with some character development outside of an upcoming episode that will no doubt include all of her character development or giving the characters a believable social life was instead used in the company of a vast range of characters that were no doubt supposed to be normal but were instead, well, boring. The strategy of the series is for largely than life characters to brush up against the realistic, but that's no reason for the so-called 'real people' to have nothing in the way of interesting characterisation, or anything to make you actually care if they lived or died. Compare and contrast the sinister lump of a step-father here with any of Gwen's colleagues from the first episode and there are some massive inconsistencies at play. Normal doesn't have to mean dull. Look at Spooks.
In this vein, were we supposed to care for Jasmine, the little girl? The Chosen One (and really, people, you're invoking Buffyology here?) needed to either be a sweetheart, someone the audience could really get behind, or The Omen's Damien in a dress. She was neither, and although the opening near abduction scene was winceful and said lump probably deserved to die for hitting the poor lamb, she was largely left standing around grinning as the elementals snuffed out her enemies. The resolution was troubling too -- Jack essentially advocated that offering up the odd small child for sacrifice was perfectly fair if it kept the 'aliens' at bay. Err, right. And you're expecting us to like Captain Jack after this? I mean his story doesn't really resolve itself. Perhaps if they'd spinned it into something related to him trying and failing to be The Doctor but ... oh no ... this is all we've got time for ...
On the subject of characters, a continuing annoyance is the non-reappearance of Gwen's police partner from the first episode. By making the police's participation irrelevant, they've lost one of the characters who could have been a secret weapon throughout -- he was the source of the oft quoted CSI: Kebab joke and his good humour would have provided much needed levity, particularly in a story like this. Why not make him the person who picked up the mad childcatcher at Cardiff Market? Recurring characters are a good thing.
But this was an episode filled with mini-irritations. The close-up of the name of the street in which the Chosen One lives as though this was supposed to be a big important plot point. The over reliance on that music cue which ends loudly and abruptly to signal 'ooh sinister'. The caption on the flashback even though Jack's voiceover was actually telling us the time and place. Oh and Jack holding back vital information about the enemy they were fighting to create false tension and fake climaxes when he reveals some piece of information, even though most of it was probably jibberish. UNIT syndrome strikes the van too -- they're a secret organisation (outside the government etc) so we'll have the name of it carved in the side -- did anyone else find it's sliding appearance into shot retina searingly irritating? And hey, why not the Mara? What's to say the Krotons didn't have a hand in it also?
[Well alright that reference was nice, and PJ might not have included it as a direct Doctor Who reference, but you can imagine Russell squealing with glee when he read it).
It takes me no pleasure in writing this, since obviously everyone involved had the best of intentions and it makes me look like the judges who lambasted Carol Smilie on Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday (I mean do they want Emma Bunton to win or what?). The cast were doing their best with the material and some of the direction was OK. But there are ongoing issues with the series, a kind of unsurety of tone and writing which is making it very difficult to watch, amplifying the faults rather than the successes. Fundamentally, the question must be -- was it scary? And unfortunately on this occasion, I'm sorry, no it wasn't. At least not in the way that was intended.
PS That Strictly reference dates this doesn't it? In the event Mark Ramprakash was victorious. Smilie was last seen punditing about the programme on The Alan Titchmarsh Show and advertising the Postcode Lottery.