With Review 2011, The Opinion Engine 2.0, beginning here tomorrow -- and ideas are still welcome because if you don't ask it, I can't write it -- here is the last of the Torchwood review reruns for now.
TV The BBC in its infinite wisdom decided to show the final two episodes of Torchwood's Season One back to back which did neither of them any favours. They are somewhat linked together, but the upturn in quality of the first just made the second look all the poorer. As you can see the need for two reviews in one meant I went to town offering a coffee fuelled rant which resulted in one of the more entertaining comments sections at Behind The Sofa as the blog's other contributors finally went to war with the trolls with me stuck in the middle wondering what I'd said.
If you're waiting for the BBC Two repeat don't read this review. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you because it's a treat really. Everyone on Outpost Gallifrey is giving it five stars. Now for the rest of us ...
What - the fuck - was that?
It's perhaps fitting that the final episode of Torchwood, after what has, at best, been a variable season should be utter bollocks. But when the announcer beforehand suggested that there may be strong language, I really hadn't expected it to be from my own lips as I resorted to a mixture of swearing at the sheer awfulness masquerading as quality drama and laughing so hard I nearly pissed myself. After blast of comedy that was The Runaway Bride, the intricate beauty of radio Who yesterday and the joy of The Sarah Jane Adventures earlier, I might have known Torchwood would ruin this Whovian marathon like a pissed streaker knocking over Paula Radcliffe just inches away from the finishing line and a world record.
But actually, no, I should really save my enmity for the End of Days until I've dealt with Captain Jack Harkness, the first episode tonight, not the man. Because, and I'm sure this'll be a total surprise considering the opening paragraph to this review. I really quite liked it. And not just because Ianto finally got around to shooting Owen. In keeping with most of the season, of course some elements were entirely derivative, this time of anything from Back To The Future to the underrated Frequency, with a character lost in the past leaving clues to some future friend to help them escape and the well worn conceit of not being able to tell someone about their fateful future.
Where it really scored was as a character piece which developed some of the mystery of Captain Jack which has been brewing since the first series of Doctor Who. For the first time in ages he seemed to be somewhat close to his old self, compassionate without being deadly really wanting, with a Sam Beckett Quantum Leap vibe to give the man whose identity he would 'borrow' the best final night he could, and with, for once, lots of romance. Well alright it was a bit of a coincidence that he should meet his name sake in Cardiff on that night of all nights, but sometimes this kind of serendipity can work well in drama and it did here. The sudden reappearance of what looked like the basement from New Earth jarred, but the recreation of the rest of the period setting was lovely and the introduction of wartime animosity towards Tosh was surprisingly realistic.
Pleasingly, however, the contemporary scenes ran in parallel and the whole benefited from having a definable goal to work towards, the find of the equation, the opening of the rift. Considering that this was a Doctor Who spin-off tackling time travel at least it was doing something else with it, really showing the consequences of potentially being lost in time. Pity Owen though, that, even when he's doing something for best of intentions he still came across as a twat and when the bullet pierced his shoulder it really was a shame that it wasn't his head (for reasons that'll become clear below). I genuinely thought they were going to kill him off, so the only real disappointment of the episode was that he lived to snarl another day. My only real question is -- what was the missing dongle from the Rift Machine doing in a grandfather clock in some random dance hall?
Barrowman probably gave his best performance of the season and he was aided by a feisty turn from Naoko Mori revealing once more what a wasted opportunity the persistent focus on Gwen all season has been. It's just a shame that the apparent loyalty between whatever his name is and Tosh wasn't carried over to the next episode - but this is the upbeat part of review so I'm really not going there yet. Matt Rippey as the real Jack was excellent too, very touching as a man divided and for once a guest cast member who worked within the ensemble rather than overshadowing them (which is actually a good thing). Murray Melvin as the time hopping Bilis, who I'm sure will eventually be revealed to be Gary from Goodnight Sweetheart at pension age, was particularly creepy in his scenes and if I'd had a week between episodes I really think I would have been looking forward to seeing what they did with him. Thank god for that.
It's a pity then that it was all for naught as, after a quick flash of the logo, the series once again plunged headlong into a vat of manure. The trailer for End of Days was quite promising with all the visitations from the past and Sarah Hughes in The Observer built my hopes up further by suggesting that 'this excellent finale shows' that the programme 'has potential'. Sarah, given that you also say that the scripts needed tightening up how can you justify this episodic mess as being 'excellent'. Were we watching the same programme?
Y'know the one were they didn't seem to have a clue how to finish the season so decided to pull a hitherto unheralded fifty-foot demon out of the ground and have it stomp all over Cardiff, which looked half amazing but made NO FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER? At least when Buffy revealed the First Evil it ran with it for a whole season and didn't just trot it out in the closing twenty minutes. We've seen surprise aliens before, but this appeared without any logical foreshadowing.
It's a shame because the episode began quite well with the cameo from Carrie Gracie from News 24 and the indications of all the timeslips across the world (the sudden appearance of The Beatles on the roof of Abby Road studio is a good thing). This created the potential for an epic battle with time, a season long story of attempting to send everyone back where it came from Invasion of the Dinosaurs style. But then Torchwood, the series and the organization, did what it always does, sits around in the hub having an argument and then interacted with the big epic happening by meeting a Roman Centurion in a police cell and a couple of extras in a hospital. Not even the sudden appearance of PC Andy, the man who is a regular in the good version of the series in my head, with his lovely acting could save the tedium. While the idea was probably to make the big, small, how boring is that?
The episode was, well episodic, so once all the stuff that was happening across the globe had been established and they'd made the ooh two visits to see what was happening in Cardiff (hardly the montage sequence in Ghostbusters is it? And we know they've seen Ghostbusters) everything finally came home to roost after yet another argument in the hub and Owen finally being kicked out (well until he sneaked back in later). This was spoilt by taking about half an hour as Owen knocked on for no readily apparent reason about retcon again. Get out of there. No one cares and this has zero to do with what is to come. This was another example of Torchwood dropping in useless exposition that would not be paid off later when it should have been consolidating the overall story of the coming apocalypse.
Meanwhile, the sudden appearance of Lisa to Ianto in the trailer was revealed to be - nothing more than a vision cooked up Buffy First Evil style by whatever lies beneath to try and get them to open the rift. Again. And for the lucky people who might have skipped every other episode there was the usual nano-flashback to explain who she is, although I wonder how many people would actually recognize her without the metal bondage gear and high heals. Same thing happened for Owen and although it was, nice, seeing these old faces again I don't think their presence was really explained or how whatever it was had read their mind.
The not unexpected visit to the caretaker's shop was marred by being apparently minutes after Owen had been kicked out of the hub and a repeat of the characterization incongruity that occurred in Countrycide after Owen and tried to dry hump Gwen up against a tree. After telling Jack what to go do with himself after kicking out her fuckbuddy, who let's be clear on this, has potentially brought about the end of the world, Gwen's in the shop cracking jokes again and joshing with whatever his real name is. What is it with this characterization? Shouldn't she still be a little bit pissed off?
As usual, there was no urgency to the scene and at no point have we being reminded of the stakes. Bilis is back, still creepy, still possibly a really interesting character. Is he a timelord? Probably not, but his sudden CGless disappearance into time was fairly interesting even if the scene lacked momentum. It's at this point then that the episode went totally off the rails as though all sense had left the writing and directing process and the story was being put together by a group of chimps playing a Torchwood Roleplaying Game.
Well alright I can see now what they were doing. Bilis gives Gwen vision of the future and the death of Reece. Gwen takes Reece to Torchwood. Bilis breaks into Torchwood and kills Reece. Cue tragic music and much emoting from poor Eve Myles, who was acting her heart out for nothing. Inevitably, this being Torchwood I assumed that they really had killed her boyfriend, it being entirely likely that he'd been pottering about in seven odd episodes, shouting now and then, so I was pretty incensed. That fact that now I'm only realising that he was murdered by Bilis to turn Gwen to the point of wanting to open the rift either means I'm very slow or it simply wasn't made very clear in the episode. Probably the former.
You see you really have to wonder what goes on in the tone meetings when Owen just wonders back into the hub, the gang standing over the corpse of Reece and Tosh grins like she's just won the lottery, whilst and let's make this again quite clear, the world is ending and it's his fault. At least this led into the best part of the episode when John Doe launched into a list of everything the team has done wrong all series and pays off everything I've been saying. It wasn't quite the meta-joke I was expecting but at least it showed that he was aware of the mistakes the other characters had made, bravely underlining the fact that this is the series that has no likeable characters whatsoever. It's a misfortune then that, well alright let's call him Jack for now, received the gun shot to the head as this bunch of jerks showed the loyalty we've loved to see from them all these episodes.
Now I have to admit to the next section of the episode being something of a blur. I remember cheering when the hub was blown up Liberator style, seeing them run for their lives, suddenly deciding that Jack is still their leader when they need him, dragging his body outside. And Bilis talking in tongues and bringing out the re-rendering of the beast from The Satan Pit, something else buried in the Earth that is being unearthed this festive season. He was the Son of the Beast apparently. Of all the mother series monsters to make an appearance I hadn't expected that.
Disappointingly no attempt was made to suggest that all of the characters wierd behaviour in the previous twelve episodes was a result of his influence, just this one, and after that I was laughing at it too much to remember much else apart from seeing John Barrowman, so great on Loose Women and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the man who could have been Will with Grace, having to sit in some gravel being oppressed by a giant shadow. Is Jack dead? Is this going to be the cliffhanger?
Err no. Two reasons. Firstly we know Jack's back in Doctor Who Season Three in, Utopia, an episode written by Steven Moffat*. Secondly, because there are ten minutes of the episode remaining. Of Gwen sitting around at his bedside waiting for him to rejuvenate. You mean there wasn't another ten minutes of cool time tripping goodness at the opening of the story because of this? This scene might have worked if we still thought about any of these characters sympathetically but, and this is the reason I've been so detailed in my description of their actions, they've been so random in their behviour for the whole episode, let alone series that we just don't care.
I spent half of it wondering how killing the beast meant that time became a do-over, fixing the hib and everything else. It was like watching the final episode of that season of Dallas in which Pam woke up and Bobby stepped out of the shower, the bomb explosion in an office that took out both JR and Sue Ellen simply part of a wacky dream reseting everything that had gone before much like the re imagining of the timeline that went on here s0 that everybody lives. The other half was taken up with a wait for the inevitable, a final blast of lethargy in a series that has been filled with it. Seeing Jack stand and forgive his teammates was nice, but you just know that they're not going to be any different next series ...
Then in the final moments, Jack's whisked away by the sound of the Tardis. It says a lot that this sound can still be quite stirring and that you can imagine that the Doctor and Martha are already on board, enjoying their adventures. Perhaps we'll eventually find out why they decided to select that moment to pick up Jack and not when Cardiff was being menaced by a giant beastie and the Earth was being destroyed by giant cracks in time. Perhaps there will be an episode of that series that will explain all of the plotholes in this episode but I doubt it. But it says a lot about Torchwood that it didn't end with its own internal cliffhanger and one that will instead be explained in a mother series entirely. If only I'd watched the film End of Days. At least that has the unlikely sight of Miriam Margolese in a fist fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I appreciate this has all been very harsh and sarcastic and fueled by too much caffeine and I'll probably regret some of it in the morning, particularly the bit about the chimps but Torchwood has largely been a massive disappointment and it simply makes no sense to me that the same production team behind Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures can turn out something this crude and apparently be very pleased with it. As this review/rant has demonstrated I have a tendency to over analyze everything which could be why I tend to focus on narrative flaws at the expense of what is often quite fluid direction, remarkable lighting design, editing and music. If anything Captain Jack Harkness pointed to there still being potential in the series, but End of Days was no way to do anything. And I do wish I could be one of the people on Outpost Gallifrey giving it five stars, but I'm not, I'm the grinch and that's that. Perhaps on the level of a television comic book it works. I just expect a bit more from something calling itself adult drama.
I'm going to bed.
PS * Yes indeed. Thank the internet for that particular false rumour.