Thursday, 4 February 2010

Torchwood: Everything Changes

“That is so Welsh.”

“What is?”

“I show you something fantastic, you find fault.”

I remember reading RTD (I think it was him) saying in an interview somewhere that he loves the way Torchwood makes Cardiff look like LA, and it’s so true! The very first thing you notice is how fantastic the city looks, how very similar its presentation is to the treatment of LA in Angel. There’s even a similar style of directing (jump cuts, dissolves within a single short scene) which works very well and instantly distinguishes the programme from its parent.

We get a nice short establishing scene with PC Gwen and PC Andy (Tom Price is great), the arrival of the mysterious Torchwood, their Torchwoodmobile, and the line “It’s a fucking disgrace”, just to tell us we’re not watching Doctor Who any more. Then it’s the big scene with the glove and resurrection, seen by Gwen as well as us viewers. Watching it now this scene is actually quite deep, examining quite deeply the implications of what would happen if someone were to be brought back to life, knowing they’d be dead again in two minutes. The dead man has established he didn’t see his killer; what to talk about for the next thirty seconds? It’s quite profound, even before we get to the “Oh my God, there’s nothing!” climax. And then, of course, we get the quip about the last corpse screaming for an ambulance for two minutes just to counterpoint it all with humour. It’s moments like this that remind me what an awesome writer RTD is.

After this rather perturbing sight, we get to see the contrast with Gwen’s home life, and her rather lovely relationship with Rhys, a thoroughly nice bloke. We get the first of several montages showing us Gwen’s life, incorporating a rather amusing line about a CSI: Cardiff from PC Andy. Then we arrive at the hospital, where Gwen sees a glimpse of Jack, and the pace slows down again. It’s a nice little example of the direction style and the narrative driving each other.

I love the way that neither Gwen nor the porter are bothered about the Weevil at first, both of them assuming it to be a bloke in a rubber mask in the sort of self-referential moment that I’m a right sucker for. But this only adds to the shock as the blood starts coming. And the following scenes emphasise both Gwen’s ordinariness in her reactions and her unusual tenacity in tracking down Torchwood.

Our first sight of the hub and our introduction to the team (Owen comes off best with his “I’m a twat”) give us another big scene. It’s all so much more effective because it happens through Gwen’s eyes. I’d actually forgotten the pterodactyl, incredibly. Oh, and it’s great to see Captain Jack again, the same as ever, in this episode at least…

The explanations come: the Weevils are aliens inhabiting the city’s sewers, but of late they’ve become more confident about coming to the surface and attacking people. But they’re not from a spaceship; they’re here because of the rift. And the vertical exit from Torchwood is directly underneath it, its perception filter probably caused by a chameleon circuit reacting with the rift! Although, it has to be said, this does rather sound a bit like a Somebody Else’s Problem Field from Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything. Then again, that originally started out as Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen so what goes around comes around.

Gwen and Jack proceed to have a very interesting conversation in a very horrible-looking bar, the sort of place that trendy urbanites like to think of as “classy”. I would use other words personally. Plus, they’re drinking lager. Ugh. The campaign for compulsory real ale in all drinking establishments starts here.

Of course, we then get the scenes with various members of Torchwood taking alien stuff home for personal use. And then we come to the one thing I remember being discussed a lot at the time: is Owen a rapist? I would say quite clearly no; crucially he uses the spray on himself, not the woman. But even if it’s not rape it’s still a dodgy thing to do for a number of reasons and not really the sort of thing one of the heroes should be shown doing in a first episode.

Oh, and this is where we first hear all the stuff about “The 21st century is when it all changes, and you’ve got to be ready,” and “separate from the Government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations”. And we’re told that this is Torchwood Three: Torchwood One was in Canary Wharf; Torchwood Two is a “very strange man” in Glasgow, and Torchwood Four (wonder where that was?) has gone missing. Oh, and Torchwood aren’t interested in catching the killer, just testing the glove. Not that Gwen will remember any of this, as her lager contained “a touch of denial and a dash of retcon”. I’m sure it would have improved the taste. Let’s face it, anything would.

Gwen’s attempts to remember are cruelly dashed by Ianto wiping her files, and Jack is now free to stand precariously on the roofs of architecturally striking buildings looking cool, without the worry of being discovered. But Gwen’s made of sterner stuff, and she soon finds herself opposite Suzie having a gun pointed at her. Indira Varma is fantastic here and the character really comes alive in the combination of script and performance. It’s genuinely shocking when she shoots herself. Suzie’s words about getting “all the Weevils and bollocks and shit” really pack a punch, as does her powerlessness at having to flee from the job she loved. The climax, of Suzie shooting Jack only for him to get back up, is great, although I seem to recall predicting it at the time. Only Gwen, Suzie’s replacement, knows of Jack’s immortality habit for the moment.

Brilliant, great drama with depth, humour and character. 5/5. So far, at least, Jack is his old self and all the characters are getting stuff to do- can this last, he asked rhetorically? More worryingly, these episodes seem to be 50 minutes long, which might scupper my plan to do two episodes most weekdays!

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