Friday, 30 July 2010

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

“Hello, Dad!”

Wow. I was expecting this to be average-to-good going by my memories, which are fairly recent, after all. Stephen Greenhorn’s last effort was a bit meh, too. And yet this has just blown me away. It’s superb.

Martha’s back, which means some great character stuff for all the regulars (back to that in a bit), but also a larger TARDIS crew, which allows for what feels like an uber-traditional episode of Doctor Who. In fact the first five minutes see our heroes split up and separated from the TARDIS, and Martha’s experiences and those of the Doctor and Donna mirror each other for the early part of the episode. The Hartnell vibes couldn’t be much more blatant. And the whole thing feels very “trad Who”.

The pre-titles teaser is fab, of course, and so’s Georgia Moffat. And the Doctor’s reaction to the fact that he has a daughter leads to some superbly played scenes with Tennant and Tate. Donna as a character is fantastic here, able to take the proverbial out of the Doctor as no one else can. I still love her. Oh, and she’s the one who works out the mystery at the end. She’s great, but by now it’s becoming clear that her arc is building up to something. She can’t carry on having this much fun and being this fab without being brought down to Earth with a bump- her final comment to Martha about wanting to travel in the TARDIS forever makes it clear that something’s coming. Such is how the RTD universe works. That’s what happened with Rose back in Season 28- again, RTD repeating his own tropes, and again, not a problem at this point but it’s clear that RTD’s song will end soon.

Martha gets an interesting character arc here; initially reluctant to travel in the TARDIS because she’s aware there’s always a cost, she’s soon enjoying herself anyway (“I love this bit!”). And she proves to be brilliant, even more so than before, as symbolised by her insistence on using her medical skills to help with the dislocated shoulder of one of the Hath who’s captured her. Shades of The Smugglers there. She’s also brilliant in the way she takes the alternative route over ground to the mysterious “Source”. Shades of The Five Doctors there. And yet… only one non-redshirt dies in the whole story, and it happens on Martha’s watch as the Hath dies saving her. Martha is heartbroken; symbolically, she suffers this but Donna doesn’t, having fun down below. This is innocence versus experience; the dark side of time travel will catch up with Donna one day. It’s a good proper farewell for Martha, though. Fittingly, both of them finally address each other as “Doctor” as they part.

Jenny is an extremely cool character. Her personality is a bit superficial, perhaps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s underwritten. She’s cool; a kind of Doctor-in-training who can dance through laser beams and gets a great ending. Plus, she’s a proper Time Lady. She’s got two hearts and, er, she was loomed. Sorry.

There’s some good stuff for the Doctor, too- Tennant is particularly good here- with some interesting revelations about his having fathered children, plural. And yet… there’s something not quite right about the extreme pacifism he displays here, especially at the end. I know I keep banging on about this, but this Marathon has shown that the Doctor may feel guns cramp his style, but he’s happy to use them when absolutely necessary, or even if not, if he’s in Frontier in Space. Plus there’s the blowing stuff up, and the Venusian Aikido. All this stuff about the Doctor being an uber-pacifist only came along very late, if at all.

And yet… could that be what we’re supposed to think? The exchanges with Jenny about war, which he doesn’t entirely win, suggest it might be. Could it be that this Doctor retains some of the war-weariness from the Time War, and that this is causing him to exaggerate his pacifistic streak?

Lots of food for thought here with the development of the characters. Plus, the plot is great, proper hard sci-fi, with a good twist at the end as it’s revealed how long the war’s been going on for. There’s not a lot wrong with this one. 5/5.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

The Sontaran Stratagem

“Is that what you did to her? Turned her into a soldier?”

I like the pre-credit sequence a lot; there’s something brilliant, effective and very very zeitgeisty about the concept of killer satnav. Almost an updated version of the chair and the doll from Terror of the Autons, in fact. And it’s nice, if a little Sarah Jane Adventures-y, to have a young genius as villain; Doctor Who has another trope to add to its collection.

Oh, and we get a proper UNIT story, in spite of odd glimpses for the first time since Battlefield. And Martha’s back. Yay! Except that the context of both Martha and UNIT has changed. This is handled brilliantly. I love the initial meeting between her and Donna, nicely subverting both our and the Doctor’s expectation of School Reunion-style fireworks. Martha’s doing very well (“She’s engaged, you prawn!”), but clearly still damaged by her experiences. But UNIT is not what it used to be (“back in the ‘70s. Or was it the ‘80s? But it was all a lot more homespun back then”). In Fragments it was seen to be doing reprehensible things, and it’s good that this is acknowledged in the Doctor’s frosty attitude to Colonel Mace, and his initial semi-doubts about Martha. But it’s also good that the Doctor and Martha later resolve this with their little chat; just as the Doctor tries to make people better, Martha means to do this with UNIT. This works, more or less, allowing the character to keep her integrity.

Notwithstanding UNIT’s moral dodginess, though, I don’t like the implication here that the Doctor has some kind of moral objection to guns and blowing things up per se. He doesn’t. At all. Oh, he may think they cramp his style a bit, granted, but he had no qualms about using guns when necessary in Day of the Daleks or Frontier in Space for example.

Incidentally, on the theme of (yawn) UNIT dating, the Doctor’s dialogue rather tends to support my view that all UNIT stories exist in some sort of shifting time zone of quantum uncertainty. Or something. And it’s good to hear greyhounds talking to traps again.

Oh, and it’s great to see the Sontarans again, of course. Christopher Ryan is fab, as is the design, although I could do without all the “Sontar-HA!” stuff. I imagine this means we’ve been well and truly told that Sontar is the name of their planet then. It’s a particularly nice touch that they’re actually jealous that they weren’t allowed in the Time War.

Their re-introduction is well done and integrated well into the also impressive plot; the necessary exposition about the probic vent is done as a cool little action scene with a tennis racket, making the Doctor look rather cool. And once again, I notice, he presses the big red button. Plus we get a bit of body horror with the proto-Martha clone. Impressive stuff from Helen Raynor. Oh, and we also get more nostalgia as one of the soldiers shot by Staal cries “My legs! I can’t feel my legs” just as Ian did in The Daleks. Please tell me I’m not the only person who noticed that. Because it would be rather tragic if I were.

This being contemporary Earth, we also get some good stuff for Donna, as Martha urges her to not repeat her own mistakes in not telling her family where she was. But as before she’s only able to connect with Wilf and is unable to tell Sylvia. There’s something genuinely troubling in this mother / daughter relationship, and the subtle way this is handled is quite impressive; it’s clear that there are character arc things going on here. Of course, the Doctor’s abortive farewell speech to Donna, and her reaction (“Dumbo!”) is the best thing in Doctor Who ever. It’s official; from now on I not only like Donna. I bloody love her.

The Poison Sky

“Good work. For a female.”

Things are bad, so it’s out with the news reports. This time it’s Kirsty Wark who joins Trinity Wells in a nice little bit of exposition telling us what peril we’re all in. This is pretty much an all-action episode, and doesn’t have anything like the depth of the first part, although there are some nice bits. I like Donna’s understated reaction to being given a TARDIS key. Again, though, we’re reminded that RTD is starting to mine the same ground. It’s not a problem at this point, but it has the potential to become one eventually. Again we’re reminded that his song should probably end soon.

Luke, the Tobias Vaughn of this story, gets some nice moments in this episode which gives his character arc a pleasing trajectory. First there’s his speech to the students (“I’ve designed a mating programme! I’ve planned the whole thing!”) which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t go down well. Then there’s his shocked realisation that Staal was planning on betraying him all along; as Donna would say, well duuuh! And then, of course, there’s his final sacrifice.

We also get a big and rather impressive gun battle, in which Skorr has a wonderfully Sontaran reaction to being killed. No less impressively, we get a reference to “Sir Alastair”. Yay! UNIT are redeemed a little from last episode; Mace’s weapons are effective, plus we get to see Valiant again, which is cool. They and the Doctor are not quite reconciled (and shouldn’t be, considering what they did to Tosh, and no doubt others), but it’s also acknowledged, rightly I think, that the Doctor has also been guilty of rudeness and tactlessness. Still, I loved the “Are you my mummy?” I like a bit of metatextual fun, even when it’s totally gratuitous, like this.

The Doctor’s willingness to sacrifice his own life because he has to offer the Sontarans a chance he knows they’ll never take- this Doctor’s guiding ethical principle, it seems, the flip side of “No second chances”, is wonderful. And so’s the aftermath, as Martha takes his arm and Donna slaps him. But soon they’re off again, this time with an unwilling passenger.

Well, that was the epitome of what we used to call trad Who, albeit with some good character work, mostly in the first part. A good 3/5.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

“The circle must be broken.”

Bit hard to know what to say about this one, really. It’s sort of… average. Not that it doesn’t have lots of things going for it, of course; there’s Ood, Tim McInnerny, and the still great chemistry between Tate and Tennant. And I love the scene with the claw. It’s just that it’s all a bit… “meh”, as I’m told the young folks say. Even the dialogue hardly sparkles at all, unusually for the RTD years, hence the desperate choice of quotation above.

There’s a bit of political subtext (What? You noticed?), but it doesn’t really go anywhere beyond “Slavery is bad, mmmkay?” and a bit of superficial dialogue about culling cows during outbreaks of foot and mouth. Even the whole “Who do you think makes your clothes?” thing rather comes across as fence-sitting in the execution. Otherwise there’s little that particularly stands out about the plot, good or bad. I had to raise a smile when the lovely Solana betrayed our heroes, though; by the laws of the programme she’s signed her own death warrant.

There’s lots of good Doctor / Donna stuff though. Again we get the “We’re not married”, again we get Donna experiencing both the wonder and the horror of the universe. And Donna’s turnaround from despair at the Ood’s singing and wanting to go home to euphoria and enthusiasm again echoes last week very well. Their mutual character development is being very well handled.

There’s another mention of the bees disappearing, I notice, confirming its significance, and another pleasing reference to the show’s early days as the Sense-Sphere gets a name check. This story pretty much confirms the likely exploitation of the planet by humans after our original TARDISeers left, incidentally, but then it was clear at the time that this was bound to happen. Oh, and this is 4126, so RTD is sticking to his habit of often setting the future stories in defined periods, including the year Five Billion and the 42nd century.

The ending’s a bit odd- the Doctor and Donna have been rather passive throughout the episode, so what’s Ood Sigma thanking them for? We finish on an ominous note, though, as the Doctor is told “I think your song must end soon.” 3/5.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii

“You must excuse my friend. She’s from Barcelona.”

It’s ancient Rome again. Gosh, how nostalgic. Particularly as we get an oblique reference to a certain incident with a magnifying glass. But then again, token aliens apart this is very much in the tradition of those early historicals from days gone by. You could almost say it’s a remake of The Aztecs. It’s a stretch, yes, but not that much of one. Our heroes even get briefly separated from the Ship- er, TARDIS, just like old times. Although I’ll grant you that Donna and Barbara do have slightly different personalities.

Oh, look at that young actress playing the sneaky priestess in the teaser. I understand she’s called Karen Gillan. There’s no particular reason I mention that, of course.

Anyway, this is brilliant, even if it doesn’t quite manage to explore the ethics and issues of interference in historical events as it seems to promise. For a start it looks great; from the sets to the Pyroviles, surely the finest CGI creations yet seen with their superb design, right down to the Roman helmets. And the script, from James Moran, is brilliant. We get some lovely subverting of tropes here- I love Donna’s “You have got to be kidding me!” when about to be sacrificed; this sort of thing never happened in The Stones of Blood. Catherine Tate is particularly brilliant here, and already has nigh-perfect chemistry with David Tennant. I love the Spartacus stuff, and their mutual insistence that they’re definitely not married.

On the subject of the Pyroviles, incidentally; I notice that’s the second implied missing planet in as many weeks. They’re getting their season arcs started early these days.

It’s nice to finally see some traditional style Sibylline priestesses in Doctor Who (well, I suppose there’s The Brain of Morbius, even down to the clothing). They’re one of the great archetypes of the classical world, familiar to me from the likes of I Clavdivs and various historical novels by the likes of Gore Vidal, Marguerite Yourcenar etc etc and rather pleasingly the history of the Sibylline prophecies is so vague that writers can do as they like with them. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of men in the Classical world acting as augurs (entrails excepted), great character though this Lucius is. I’d assumed Apollo preferred inhabiting the larynxes of women. No doubt some bizarre fetish. These gods, eh?

The fact we have augury allows our characters from earth’s past to know things about our heroes, of course. The word “Gallifrey” is suitably shocking to hear. And most interesting of all of course is “Daughter of London, there is something on your back.”

Oh, and the entire family at the centre of the episode are brilliant. It’s rather admirable how these characters are made to anchor everything together so it all fits inside forty-five minutes, something which feels quite astounding considering all the stuff that’s packed into this episode. The entire family pretty much had me at “Positions!” but Peter Capaldi in particular is great. But then, he is Peter Capaldi, so it’s only to be expected.

Still, there’s a problem with this episode. Sort of. Because even this is great in terms of character and drama in the way it’s used- which is, after all, the main thing. But the whole “explanation” of why some historic events doesn’t really work. We may now know for the first time about “fixed points in time” but this doesn’t actually tell us anything we didn’t already know back in Season One, as this is just another form of words for telling us that the Doctor can alter some historical events and not others. We knew that.

It says a lot for the excellence of the writing and characterisation here because the scenes between the Doctor and Donna arguing over whether to save people or not work superbly, even though they don’t really work. I particularly love the way this further develops the “lonely god” theme of the Doctor’s occasional aloof arrogance and (as the Doctor admits at the end) that he needs Donna to stop him. That’s why the final scene is so brilliant; the Doctor ends up not being a lonely god as he has Donna there with him. I hope that libation is ginger beer.

But… is it actually impossible for the Doctor to interfere or does he not want to? If the former, why doesn’t he just say so? If the latter, it’s hard to conclude that he isn’t just being an utter shit. And surely, this being a fixed point in time, the Pyroviles should be no more able to alter history than the Doctor. None of it works. And yet it’s great drama. It’s so brilliant that the two of them press the button together.

So, even though there’s a massive and fundamental flaw here the story still gets a 5/5 anyway for being so damned great. One other quibble, though; shouldn’t this be placed a bit later in the season? This is Donna’s first proper full trip in the TARDIS. It should really have been something a bit less heavy and more fun for her.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Doctor Who: Partners in Crime

“You’re not mating with me, sunshine!”

Ooh, new theme music! And no pre-titles sequence; it seems we’re relaunching the show again, and once again we’re doing so by focusing on the new(ish) companion. It’s a tried and tested formula, and it works well here, but all the same its noticeable that RTD is repeating his tricks and tropes. This isn’t in any way a problem at this stage, and it’s an unavoidable consequence for any writer, even a great one such as RTD, who writes so many episodes of a series. For the first time we’re made to realise that this production team have been around a while and probably shouldn’t stick around for that much longer. None of which means that this episode, or indeed the series at this point, are anything other than great.

This is a textbook example of a “fluffy” RTD episode, I suppose- again, repetition of tricks and tropes- but such a perfectly crafted one. Compared to, say, New Earth, this is perfection. The parallel opening narratives, with both the Doctor and Donna investigating this week’s threat, are perfectly written and staged for comic effect. And the scene at the windows is the funniest thing in Doctor Who ever.

The baddies, Miss Foster and the Adipose, are quite rightly relegated to the background a little so that the episode can focus on Donna, but personally I love the little things. Susan Hampshire is quite deliciously villainous, too.

But this all about Donna. Happily, we’ve already been introduced to the character, so we need waste no time on establishing the character and we can get straight into some quite nuanced character stuff; I love the way the scene is shot where Sylvia is nagging Donna in the background (“No one’s gonna come along with a magic wand and make your life better”), and the way this is immediately followed by a contrasting scene with Wilf. Both Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins are superb, something which no doubt I’ll soon be taking for granted.

Donna’s character has had to change, of course. It’s subtle, but this is no longer the, er, abrasive Donna of The Runaway Bride. Instead we get a good look at a character who has been changed by her experiences with the Doctor- an ongoing theme of the series, of course- after several months have passed. It’s great to see her investigating Adipose Industries on her own initiative, and doing such a fine job of it too. I love the tense scene in the ladies’ loo. Dammit, there’s no way of putting that last sentence which doesn’t sound wrong.

The chat at the end between the Doctor and Donna is extremely revealing; the Doctor is full of guilt at how he mistreated Martha, refusing to acknowledge her feelings for him and doing a lot of damage to her family. But it’s made clear that his relationship with Donna is going to be different. And I’m looking forward to it. This is Donna Mark 2, retooled for permanent TARDISeer status. And she’s great.

Oh yes, and that scene at the end packs quite a punch. It’s a great statement of intent for the coming season. And what was that about the bees disappearing?

Yes, this is all pretty much done to a template which is very familiar by now. But it’s done superbly. There's one thing that dates it a bit, though, even though this was only two years ago. "It's not like the 1980s," says Sylvia. "No on's unemployed these days, except you!5/5.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Torchwood: Exit Wounds

“I’m gonna rage my way to oblivion! Why? Give me one good bloody reason why I shouldn’t. One good reason why I shouldn’t keep screaming.”

“Because you’re breaking my heart.”

Yes, that line up there made even stony hearted old me cry. And that takes some doing, I can tell you. The deaths of Tosh and Owen are brilliantly done, brilliantly acted and a real tribute to the characters. It’s just a shame that the season finale as a whole is just so…meh. See? I’m the sort of hip young thing who says “meh” all the time, I am.

The first few minutes, with John apparently wreaking havoc, are such fun. I love “their” song. What’s happened to James Marsters’ British accent though? He seems to be struggling with the vowels here. Still, he oozes charisma and is great so it’s not a huge problem. These scenes are enormous fun.

Unfortunately, things start to go wrong once Jack gets sent back to 27AD, and that, given the generally assumed birth date of you-know-who, is a particularly groan-inducing year in which to set a load of pretentious Christ symbolism in which Jack willingly undergoes some severe physical punishment. In fact, as soon as the caption with the year on it came up I groaned. For a caption just saying what the year is to provoke that reaction is quite an achievement.

Yes, as much hinted, Gray is back. And being played very badly. I had to raise an eyebrow during the burial scene, mind: we had a British actor doing an unconvincing American accent and an American actor doing an unconvincing British accent to carry the scene between them.

Aside from the pretentious Christ symbolism and the bad acting from Lachlan Nieboer, though, things are quite good. The stakes are fairly high and everyone gets something to do, even if it is a little convenient that there should be an emergency at the police station for Gwen, one at the hospital (with a Hoix!) for Owen and one at the Server Centre for Tosh. There are some nice touches throughout all this: Gwen once again showing what a great leader she is, Rhys’ pep talk (“You’re a bloody hero, Gwen!”), the dynamic between Rhys and PC Andy, which is particularly fun to see after what we learned in Adrift.

But then the shocks start coming. Tosh is shot! Captain Jack does a Tennant and says “I forgive you”. I think this is the point where I seriously started wondering whether this episode should be in the Guinness Book of Records for the most blatant example of the viewer being bludgeoned over the head with pretentious Christian allegories known to humanity. Even Bad Lieutenant wasn’t this bad.

Still, we get some nice scenes of Torchwood 1901, including a glimpse of one of our friends from last episode. Plus, Tosh is shot. And proceeds to be a hero, calmly guiding Owen through his own brave tasks even though she’s slowly bleeding to death. And the moments after they both realise Owen is definitely going to die are… wow. All their words are so loaded with multiple meanings, especially Owen’s “I’m really sorry”. And he even tells Tosh that “We missed each other. It was my fault. I didn’t… I didn’t notice until it was too late.” In the end, he dies calmly. Tosh dies in Jack’s arms, Gwen starts to cry and so do I, dammit.

And then Jack goes and spoils it all with his “It was my penance.” Aaargh!

Very good in parts, then, especially towards the end. But the Christ stuff and a badly acted villain drag it down to a 3/5.

As for the season as a whole, it averages exactly 4/5 from me, an improvement from the first.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Torchwood: Fragments

“The 21st century, Jack. Everything’s going to change. And we’re not ready.”

It’s the penultimate episode, the calm before the storm; time to do something a bit quirky while running on the spot arc-wise. What better than a Secret Origins episode? Rather a good one, too; the framing device is a bit by-the-numbers but that’s all it needs to be, and it works.

Jack first, and at last we get to meet the Torchwood lesbians. My vague memory of the season had me believing we’d see them sooner, but better late than never. Almost as cool as seeing them, mind, is that caption: 1,392 deaths earlier. And about a century ago, very close to the turn of the century judging by the words of the tarot girl (so we do see her again!). Jack has spent the past six months or so getting drunk in dodgy bars and telling all and sundry about the Doctor. And Torchwood, just twenty years after the events of Tooth and Claw, are naturally interested.

We see his recruitment (and another blowfish, which is cool, as is the fact that it behaves just as “ours” did back at the start of the season, even “joyriding a horse and carriage”…), but at this stage he’s just a paid hireling, a long way from feeling any real sense of responsibility. Flashing forward to New Year’s Eve 1999, though, this changes. Torchwood’s leader, “Alex”, has used an alien artefact to see the future (foreshadowing Jack’s later wariness of such artefacts?). He sees that in the upcoming century his team will be forced to precede every mission with a trite little opening catchphrase. Naturally, he wishes to spare the team this terrible fate and kills them all, as you do. His last deed before offing himself is to bequeath Torchwood to Jack. How nice.

Next, it’s Tosh. Er, remember what she said back in Countrycide about never having been in a cell before? You know, that story which was written by Chris Chibnall, just like this one? Well, er, that’s not quite correct. It seems that she was in fact arrested by UNIT and imprisoned for life without trial until Jack intervened. Now, I have a big problem with this. It’s clearly supposed to be all topical and War on Terror and all that and to be asking what it thinks are thought-provoking questions on the balance between liberty and civil liberties. But no; locking people up without trial and the arbitrary waiving of habeas corpus are very bad things, full stop. There’s no moral ambiguity here; the rights and wrongs are perfectly clear. There needs to be a very good reason for any kind of step in this direction to be justified, and we’ve been given absolutely no such reason whatsoever. And as far as I’m concerned the involvement of UNIT here makes them the bad guys. Jack manages to avoid this implication, as he seems to have no control over any of this and there’s no suggestion he in any way approves, but this whole section left a bad taste in my mouth. And it didn’t tell us much that was interesting about Tosh, either.

It’s Myfanwy next, everyone’s favourite reptilian member of Torchwood- it’s all gone a bit Primeval. Well, plus a bit of Ianto. A bit brief, this, but it nicely establishes Ianto’s tenacity, and shows us a bit of retrospective sexual tension between him and Jack. Also, we learn that Ianto is able to wait outside for Jack to emerge at an undetermined time and hand him a cup of coffee which is somehow the perfect temperature. Now that’s talent.

Over to Owen, who in the present has conveniently not suffered any injuries as these won’t be able to heal. Oh, and isn’t it fortunate that the only person to have been killed in the explosion was Jack. Anyway, Owen’s story is the most affecting and the most effective, helped yet again by some outstanding acting from Burn Gorman. His situation is horrible- first seeing his young fiancĂ©e apparently succumbing to ridiculously early onset Alzheimer’s, then seeing the truth of the situation (a worm-like alien dangling out of Katie’s head), and finally thinking he’s undergoing a breakdown as it’s all covered up. This is all very good drama, although the concept of a well-adjusted Owen prior to the trauma doesn’t quite fit with our impressions of his childhood from Adam. Owen’s reaction to seeing Jack in the cemetery- repeatedly punching him- is good, as is the line about becoming a doctor because saving just one life would make his own worthwhile, only to then find himself swamped by the never-ending stream of lives demanding to be saved. Jack’s reasons for recruiting him are a bit of a stretch, but just about work.

We finish with a bit of a teaser for next week; it’s Captain John and Gray. How very exciting!

A little uneven overall, but there’s some very good stuff here, especially concerning Jack and Owen. 4/5.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Torchwood: Adrift

“Do you know what’s happened to you, Gwen? You’ve become hard.”

Back to traditional Torchwood values now; a Gwen episode, and the return of Sinister Torchwood. It feels odd after our varied diet of recent episodes, but then this is our first Chris Chibnall script for ages, which might be a factor.

We begin with a disappearance of a redshirt civilian, which symbolically happens on a bridge. This seems like the sort of thing which should really be some sort of trope, but I can’t think of any actual examples so it probably isn’t. Anyway, this leads us to the rest of the first two thirds of the episode, which plotwise consists of Gwen investigating a load of mysterious disappearances caused by the Rift alongside hints of a dirty Torchwood cover-up. There’s some nice character stuff to hang upon this, too; I like the development of Gwen and Andy here. They’re exes; that explains a lot. Also well done is the row between Gwen and Rhys (and their making up at the end- aaah!) and our first hint that a baby may eventually be on the cards.

Aside from a nicely light-hearted bit of shagging between Jack and Ianto (popular with many, I’m sure!), the regulars take a bit of a back seat to Gwen, who gets some good development in this episode. Once again we see how damn good she is as an investigator, and she’s been in Torchwood long enough for Andy’s accusations to hit home. Andy knows what he’s doing, of course; Gwen can see the truth of this and throws herself into the investigation to reconnect with her human side. Interestingly, as things turn out, this is the wrong thing to do. The conclusion, interestingly, seems to vindicate Jack’s cover-up, a nice reversal of what usually happens in such situations in TV science fiction. It’s not very X-Files at all.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of niggles with the plot; how come people taken by the Rift are eventually returned? How does that work then? And I somehow suspect that screaming for twenty hours out of every twenty-four is not a recognised psychiatric symptom. But the emotional beats feel right, and this is a nice little character piece for Gwen, and her personal supporting cast of Rhys and Andy. A decent 3/5.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Torchwood: From Out of the Rain

“Make her cry. I want to drink her tears.”

Objectively this should be a great episode; effective and fascinating concept, real atmosphere, great direction, Julian Bleach. But I find myself being, not underwhelmed, but… whelmed by it. There’s nothing wrong with this; it just feels a bit by the numbers.

Partly this is because we have a standalone monster-of-the-week story here, one which doesn’t develop any characters or plot threads at all. That makes it an oddity in this season. So too does the more or less exclusive focus on the baddies to drive the plot, rather than allow it to be partly driven by character stuff. It’s a perfectly fine piece of sci-fi drama, but this just doesn’t feel like Torchwood. In fact, not that I’ll push this too far as I’ve only seem the first one-and-a-half “assignments” of said programme, this feels a lot more like Sapphire and Steel than P.J. Hammond’s previous Small Worlds did, and with the much faster pace it feels like a rushed version- the character of Pearl, for example, was left frustratingly undefined. And perhaps there’s also a little too much of Steven Moffat in the use of recorded images as a threat, even by this point.

And I’m getting a bit tired of all these meaningless random nuggets from Jack’s past which show no sign of fitting into any larger pattern.

Still, for what it was, I liked it. I imagine the combination of Julian Bleach’s performance and the eeriness of the footage would have scared the wits out of any little ‘uns watching. I love the strangeness of it all; it was absolutely the right thing to not explain who the Night Travellers were or how they were able to do what they did. The concept of saving someone’s breath in a flask is inspired, as is the mostly downbeat ending, with the team only managing to save a single child. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what they failed to do in Hammond’s last script.

Not that I necessarily want to read too much subtext into this, but I like the idea of the travelling entertainers using film, which would eventually mean their downfall, as a means of survival. More eyebrow-raising, to someone who was watching reconstructed versions of missing Doctor Who episodes a year and a bit ago, is the implication that we should burn any old film cans we have in our attic!

So, great concept and great execution, but by this point monster-of-the-week stuff like this is no longer what this show is about. 3/5.