Countrycide.



TV Dreadful. Just unspeakably bad.

I was talking to an old college friend in the week and we inevitably got onto the subject of Torchwood, a show she'd been eagerly anticipating but had unfortunately ended up missing because of work commitments. She had managed to catch the last half of Small Worlds and had but this to say. 'John Barrowman can't act can he? He was quite good in Doctor Who but (sigh) he should stick to musical theatre.'

I was about to take John's corner but then thought - well, hold on, if the only thing she could think about is the probable leading man's acting ability, then there must really be something going horribly wrong. Torchwood is a show in trouble and its difficult to really understand quite what the production team are trying to achieve. If this wasn't a Doctor Who spin-off I would probably have stopped watching by now. It says a hell of a lot that I'm now looking forward to a new episode of Robin Hood more than this.

Well, alright (sigh) the few positives. Whenever these characters have to sit down together the interaction often very appealing. The campfire scene is an example - it's about what and what isn't being said, the fact that everyone has their little secrets and the performances here were perfectly fine. The nods to previous episodes worked well and there was a real sense despite the horrifyingly clichéd teaser that this might be one of the good episodes. Oh well.

I'd also like to thank Maldak from Vengeance on Varos for making a return to the whoniverse - Owen Teale's one of the countries most underrated actors and here he was playing pure, unadulterated bastard evil very well. The initial portrayal of the antagonist was good too, on the edge of the frame, just out of eyeshot, the camera moving into the place were the viewers eyes would like to go then falling just short. The scene in which Tosh and Ianto investigate the house was fairly tense. It's an old trick to be sure, but certainly kept us guessing, right up to the horror of the twist.

And oh the horror.

She's blonde. She's talking on her mobile whilst driving. She loses the signal. There's rock music in the car. It's the middle of nowhere. It's the middle of night. She's tempted out of the car because of a body in the road. She's conveniently carrying a baseball bat. It's a trap! She runs back to the car. But hey - someone stolen the keys! She's dragged from inside! Screaming!

Things didn't begin well with a teaser that looked worse than most short student films and featured all of the horror clichés that Kevin Williamson forgot to include in the Scream series - and many that he didn't. It was hard not to bring to mind those buffer adverts that have appeared in cinemas lately, particularly the one in which the girl is miming being attacked in a car by zombies. They've included that because it's a cliché. Here was Torchwood playing it straight and without some twist at the end. She's attacked and into titles. Not even some choice dialogue or ironic music cue.

The intention was no doubt to produce a fifty-minute basement budget horror film in the style of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a British vein - something in the region of American Werewolf in London, with hints of Dog Soldiers and I'd say Dead Men's Shoes (in its execution). So why were the opening few scenes shot like an episode of Monkfish or the rural scene in Trainspotting and the rest a Withnail & I knock off? I hoped and dreamed that Captain Jack would shout 'We've come on a mission by mistake,' and that a half-pissed Michael Elphick would be living in that house with all the game hanging outside ready to give them an eel or a pheasant.

And then the real horror begins. One of the real problems with this series is the seemingly random attitude to characterization and this is no less evident than in the rather sudden and godawful affair between Gwen and Owen. Although they've had their differences since the first episode, a consonant not withstanding, the message this is sending is that if a bloke is a sexual predator and essentially forces himself on a woman that's all ok as a seduction technique.

But really why would he go for Gwen? Why would she go for him? I'm guessing that the intention is to show her becoming intoxicated by the whole alien world of Torchwood, shedding her former life in favour of the new one, but the execution is at best unsexy and at worst malicious. In that closing scene, when he puts his arms around her, what are we supposed to be feeling? Sorry for Gwen? Happy for Gwen? What?

Owen's character continues to be a real problem for the programme - why would you create a character this unsympathetic and then expect the audience to sympathise with him when bad things start to happen. The tree ramming scene, when he talks dirty to Gwen is particularly evil, since he's using his strength to overwhelm her, which as far as I can see is only a hairs breath away from rape.

It weakens Gwen's character that she would be overwhelmed in this way and is far cry from the gentle cynicism of the opening episode, were she would no doubt have kicked him in the gang goolies. There's nothing to indicate why her attitude would change and why this oil slick of a man would be worth ruining her life for. And it's particularly poor editorial work that in the very next scene Owen is dropping off exposition about the corpse as though nothing has gone on just before. 'Would you like a quip about feeling a small prick?' Well, no but that joke might have worked if we hadn't seen you being so aggressive with this woman not five minutes before.

Random characterization continued with Ianto who conveniently becomes the jibbering wreck of the group, caving at the first sign of danger as Tosh looks for a way to escape from the room they've somehow found themselves trapped in. Ianto's gone from being the a version of Batman's Alfred to here suggesting that one of his colleagues is different and lives off the danger - what and you don't? How did this man get hired to work in this top secret organization? How did any of them? And why, in god's name, in the middle of a scene like that are they having a shouting match about their job as though they've never had a discussion about anything before? And don't get started on the gunplay.

Although it's possibly refreshing to have real human beings instead of machines, it doesn't half make you wonder which pool Torchwood were recruiting from and why anyone would think it's a good idea to have them investigating anything if they're going to panic at the first sign of trouble. It might have made sense if they'd established that he'd never been out in the field before before, oh no, sorry forgot. Any series, even in this genre needs to have a scintilla of realism or believability, and having a major character whose been established as having seen a fair few unsavory things breaking down like that is just inconsistent as is his sudden snap back into lucidity later when he headbutts Maldak. Again I refer to Spooks (particular the close of Season Three - I'll explain later) as an example of how this can be done realistically.

The episode is also riddled with clichéd action beats. There's the unspeakable horror one: Tosh spies something grizzly in the fridge. We don't get to see it so that we tense up and start guessing. She tells Ianto not to look. But of course he's going to look so that we can see it too because the scene is playing from his point of view and the audiences narrative information is restricted to him. He opens the fridge and ugh! There's the young boy's body being pulled out from under the hero's noses. Tosh bound running through the wood away from Maldak tripping over so she can get caught. The Mexican stand-off doing service once again. There's the repeated 'surprise' with an apparent guardian angel - the middle age woman, the policeman, turning out to be the enemy.

Oh and good god and the Captain Jack Bauer scene totally invalidating the last five episodes of Season One of the Doctor Who and guff from Confidential about how in being with the Doctor, Jack has changed. Oh really? So what's happened in between to turn him into this psychopath? Given that, this was one of the scenes that I'd use to dispute the idea that Barrowman can't act. He can do angry torture very well, his eyes revealing some evil, his perfect dental work suggesting that far from nubbling a wound he'd probably bite into you to get an answer. It's a shame that they cut elsewhere before his captor reveals the story, his disappearance from the narrative signaling his obvious reappearance later to save the day with another action beat cliché - breaking through the wall in the van and kneecapping everyone.

Speaking of eating people. Wah? Hey, it's not aliens. It's nothing to do with the rift. It's the local villagers having the decadal human meat harvest. And for anyone expecting some alien influence to be at play? No it actually it's just humans with shots guns, a killer instinct and a hankering for the special stuff picking off travellers. Another troubling aspect of the episode as it wilfully confirmed the city-dwellers stereotype of country folk and Welsh country folk in particular, another cliché which was also a problem for The X-Files about the countryside being filled with hicks who view passing tourists as lunch.

'Only in the bloody countryside.' Owen puts it as though the whole state of affairs is perfectly normal and serial killers and cannibals can't and don't inhabit his city - granted it's the asshole saying this but no one steps in to disagree. Again this is probably supposed to be homage to those horror films but it's disappointing that it lacks a mechanism to turn the cliché on its head. Playing it straight in this way made the whole affair extraordinarily dated. And what was with the dialogue towards the tail end of the episode. 'I've seen things you wouldn't believe.' Is that supposed to be a clever homage?

I hate to use the word godawful again but that ending. That voice over. The regretful. The montage sequence of betrayal. The moody look out of the windows (although the reflections of the window frames which boxed Gwen in were attractive). The very slow line reading. 'And - I - can't - shaaare - them - with - anyone.' 'You can now.' The chest. The sideways kissing turning into a shag. Aaaah! Oddly enough it actually looked like the room I stayed in when I visited Cardiff. It looked to me like The Big Sleep, an office block that's been turned into a hotel - it's reasonably priced too and as you can see has great views.

Next week: 'It wouldn't be the first time I've been a rebound shag.' Or: Tosh finally gets her character development episode. And she's a lesbian. You layered that in well, guys.

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