13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
Want us to let you know when we post a new review? Click here to join our mailing list.
Satan is skating to work. Pigs are flapping past. Chris Chibnall wrote one of the best Torchwood episodes we've ever seen.
We know! We can't believe it either!
It's not perfect, obviously, so let's get the bad bits out of the way first. Alas, the whole thing hinges on a stupidity: Jack inexplicably keeping his little holiday camp to himself. Huh? He doesn't think the info that people can zip through the rift and come popping back in isn't important for his colleagues? And if it's so vital that it's hush-hush, how come Ianto knows? Pillow talk?
Lucky for Gwen that Ianto does know, however, because she's thicker than a congealed lump of porridge in this. Not only does she need Ianto's little clue to put her on the right track, it takes her approximately forever and a half to figure out what's going on once she reaches the island. Doinnggg!
And as for the island thing, where do we start? Jack tells the staff the patients are failed experiments, does he? And then he lobotomises them, right? That's the only explanation we can think of for them swallowing such a load of guff. Who in their right mind, when confronted by a private island prison hospital stuffed with nutters, wouldn't call Social Services and the police, and not in that order? And how come nobody's noticed staff and supplies arriving on a regular basis to a supposedly deserted island?
Oh, yeah - and why the hell does Jack, after being instantly persuaded by Gwen to let Nikki see Jonah, not tell her about the screaming? Sick in ways she couldn't imagine? Trust us, "he screams for twenty hours a day" doesn't exactly require Tolkien-level imagination skills to visualise. Wasn't there a better way to keep the secrets from the audience without making Jack look - again - like a complete bastard?
And despite all that, it's still really, really good.
The thing we hate the most about much of Torchwood is the utter lack of reality. Yeah, we know - pterodactyls, time rifts, aliens and stuff, but that's even more reason why the rest of it should feel as real as possible. Usually, though, it falls a long way short. With the honourable exception of Rhys, the characters never seem like real people, and they don't interact with each other in any realistic way either. And that's what Adrift gets right in spades.
First of all, OMG PC Andy. We've always loved this character with a burning and abiding passion, and Adrift is his finest hour. (So far. Can we keep him? Pleeeeeeze?) Not only funny, but utterly real, and as a result Gwen finally edges into 3D as well. Her discovering how different she's become since working for Torchwood could be melodramatic, but it isn't: it's completely convincing.
And as a result, her scenes with Rhys, which are always a highlight anyway, have real power. We think "You know, sometimes I fucking hate you" might be our favourite Torchwood line ever: contrary to what most TV drama tells you, relationships aren't all either candlelit baths or dramatic affairs. There's getting the shopping in, and buying a birthday present for your mother-in-law, and trying to agree on which movie to see, any of which can result in you wondering what you ever saw in this intellect-challenged troglodyte. Then you get past that and get on with it. That's real life. And that's why Rhys sometimes hating Gwen rings so true, and why them both compromising and meeting each other halfway rings true as well. At last.
And the missing persons story is also genuinely emotional: again, it would have been so easy (for Torchwood) to make it schmaltzy, but instead they do a pretty good job of reeling it in so that it's pathos, not melodrama, that shines through. Nikki searching crowd footage is a particularly nice touch. And the rapidly-filling meeting ("What the Welsh will do for a drink" one cynic amongst us remarked, and yes, she has lived in Cardiff) does a much more striking job of conveying the grief of all those people than any amount of sobbing and wailing about the missing would have managed.
As for the question of whether Nikki's better off not knowing about Jonah's fate, that's a thread which seems to us to be agreeably subtly handled. Yes, Nikki turns on Gwen for being the instrument of her finding out what happened to Jonah, and Gwen takes that to heart and stops trying to reunite people, but you can't take that at face value.
For a start, it's a lot easier to admire the colour of the grass from the other side of the fence. It's all very well saying you'd rather know when you don't know what it is you'd be knowing, and conversely, Nikki in deciding that knowing is worse is seeing only the hope she felt and forgetting all the negatives. The sad truth is that either option is horrific in its own particular way.
Moreover, although Nikki says she'd rather not know, the subtext is that she's not right about that. She might be distraught about Jonah's fate, but it's clear from her actions in clearing out his room, chucking out her videotapes of crowd scenes and crying that knowing has at last allowed her to grieve and move her life on. The obvious thing to do when Nikki said she'd rather not know would be for Gwen to offer to retcon her. It would also have been the crass thing to do, which would have ridden roughshod over the complexities of the situation, and we're really glad they didn't do it.
Yes, it's got problems. But it has reality, and pathos, and PC Andy, and it's genuinely involving. We love it.
HELLO HELLO IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK
We don't want to go back through old episodes due to our fear of retraumatisation, but don't they already know the rift can suck up as well as spit out? Isn't that what happened to Diane? They didn't find the plane wreckage anywhere, did they? And doesn't Jack at some point threaten to throw someone back through the rift?
Obviously the lab sound effects are done by people who've never used a computer: all those wrrzwyz zwoog noises in the searchy bits would drive anybody (and their officemates) mad.
ANYTHING BUT CORRIE
Exactly why does Gwen have to do this stuff at night, anyway? She could have saved the big confrontation with Jack for working hours and avoided pissing Rhys off altogether.
NO WONDER IANTO LOOKS EMBARRASSED
Of course, it wouldn't be Torchwood without them flinging in some gratuitous sex. And that's the wincably least believable bit in the whole thing. Who goes round braying about naked hide and seek? Honestly.
IF ONLY I WAS WITH BUPA
"I wanted them looked after. I set this place up." Thanks, Jack, but it's horrible! We think they'd be better off thrown onto the dubious mercy of the NHS than stuck down a cave. Do they really have to be squirrelled away on an island? They're not going anywhere, and nobody would believe them if they claimed to be who they really are anyway.
JUST ONE PROBLEM
The twenty-hour scream is an incredible idea - so simple, avoiding arcane space diseases, yet so devastating.
OR MAYBE THEY'RE JUST A PRELUDE TO NAKED HIDE AND SEEK
Maybe we're reading too much into this, but it seems to us as if the candles Gwen lights for her dinner with Rhys are also a remembrance for the missing.
LIKE A VIRGIN
It's maddening that Gwen refuses to recommend PC Andy for Torchwood, but on the whole it's probably for the best. We really don't want to see him all corrupted and straining to be cool and spouting bollocks like the others, do we?