5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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When Captain Jack first appeared in The Empty Child, we loathed him with a passion. We danced with joy when he died, and we groaned when we heard he was coming back to Doctor Who. Imagine our joy when we discovered that he was also getting his own series.
So, Torchwood. Big, scary, dirty SF for grown-ups. Or that’s the idea. So how does the first episode stack up?
Well, we want to be fair. The first episode of anything has a lot to do in setting up the situation and the characters, so it may not be as engaging as later episodes. On the other hand, many of our favourite series, including one about a certain time-travelling gentleman, managed to hook us without a blink in Episode One. Whatever. Overall, we were pretty lukewarm at the end of Everything Changes.
Part of it’s the giant infodump. Did we really have to have all of it spilled into our laps at the get-go? Maybe telling us in later episodes about the time-space rift, or everyone’s jobs, or some of the alien stuff would have made the thing less tiresomely explainy.
Then there’s the awful, awful seen-it-all-beforeness. The CSI-alike opening, swiftly followed by the oh-so-cool Torchwood gang tromping towards camera in a Buffy/Angel steal so blatant it’s practically parody, didn’t bode well. And it doesn’t get any better. The secret underground headquarters with the entrance through a shop. The questing newcomer who stammers out questions as the old hands coolly flick alien tech about. The amnesia pill (we can’t believe we’re writing that). It’s SF completely by the numbers. Do we care about Torchwood? No. Are we excited about their mission? Nuh-uh. All it got out of us was a collective shrug. The only time it caught fire even slightly was when the local content managed to poke its nose over the generic-SF parapet: “CSI Cardiff: I’d like to see that. They’d be measuring the velocity of a kebab.”
So since we don’t care at all about their yawny old battles on the front line of alien defence, Torchwood is going to stand or fall for us on its characters. How’s it doing so far?
The central character is, of course, our beloved Captain Jack. Now the reason we hated Captain Jack in Doctor Who was that he was a Mary Sue, all shiny action hero with nary a single flaw. Sickening. That’s not good enough for a central character (It’s not great for a supporting one, either), so to make the good Captain a bit more (snigger) human, he now comes equipped with a regulation Dark Side. Wasting no time, we get to see this right at the beginning when he’s pestering a corpse for tales of the land beyond: seems he’s got a wee bit of a complex where death’s concerned. This, it transpires, more generally takes the form of standing moodily on the edges of tall buildings. We get it. He is Troubled. He is Lost. He has a Dark Secret.
Eventually we find out what the Dark Secret is. He’s doomed to wander the universe without rest, never to lay down this burdensome… burden we call life. Doesn’t sound all that terrible to us, to be honest, but OK. It’s certainly a step up from Mr Perfect. We also like his uncaringness about helping out the police, even if he does repent by the end. All in all, he’s a lot darker here than he was in Doctor Who, which is a considerable relief. As before, the ever-gorgeous John Barrowman doesn’t put a foot wrong. He’s a lot better than the material.
The audience stand-in character, Gwen, is a total success. Although the role’s a cliché, she’s nice, brave and down-to-earth, and we’re happy to spend time with her. As for the others, they’re pretty much ciphers thus far, but as far as we can make out, Ianto is sweet, Owen is a creep and Toshiko appears to have no discernable personality whatsoever. The other character is Cardiff itself: freed of the obligation to pretend to be London, it’s revelling in all those Cardiff-mon-amour aerial shots and the lingering shots of the Millennium Centre. Works nicely.
And the plot? Well, this is about setup, and as a result the plot, like the baddie, is completely disposable. Someone who cares so much about resurrecting everybody can’t see the irony of going round killing them? Meh. Done to death. As is the lengthy chat over the pointed gun, complete with explanation of exactly how the evil plans were carried out. How come so many villains need an audience?
Not a great start. We’ll see.
GQ, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Braces and a belt? Ugh, quel fashion mistake. Please tell us he’s not supposed to be a snappy dresser.
The fact that Jack keeps the Doctor’s hand in a jar falls decidedly into the realm of Too Much Information.
THAT AUDIENCE THING AGAIN
It’s all very well for the plot and all, but why in God’s name would the Torchwood bunch go through the elaborate explanations to Gwen when they know they’re going to wipe her memory?
WE DIDN’T SAY PERIPHERALS GENIUS
Toshiko is a computer genius? Argh. Not only is this a stonking cliché, but by the rapture on her face when her alien remote control magically produces A Tale Of Two Cities on her computer screen, she hasn’t ever heard of a scanner.
WE’RE WORKING ON IT
Jack never does answer the question of how people don’t fall in. We guess Russell T Davies couldn’t work it out either.
THEY’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT
“So. You catch aliens.” “Yes, I do”. And then discuss it. In a pub. We hope he’s got a good supply of those amnesia pills.
“And a dash of retcon”? We have no words.
THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SCREEN
Excuse us for being retro, but what’s with all the desperate race through Cardiff to get to her computer? Hasn’t she got a police notebook? With, like, a pen? It’d be pretty difficult wiping that, unless Torchwood has the world’s longest eraser.
We don’t think there’s much we can say about the date rape drug being played for laughs that isn’t pretty obvious. To say we’re disappointed is putting it mildly.
And for absolutely no reason, Jack and Gwen are standing on top of another building! Bonkers.