13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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Oh, God. That was just... it was just... do we have to watch the rest of this series?
We really, really wanted to like Torchwood. After all, we're SF fans, and we're hoping the success of the revamped Doctor Who is going to usher in a new golden age. But if it's all going to be like Torchwood, tinfoil age is more appropriate. We were, of course, concerned that we wouldn't like Torchwood because of our loathing for the Captain Jack character in Doctor Who: it therefore says a great deal about Torchwood that we think Captain Jack is the best thing in it.
The first two episodes had their faults, and glaring faults they were too. In fact, we didn't think it would be possible to out-crap Day One. Oh, yes it is. Ghost Machine is appalling.
Whereas Day One was notable for a truly woeful alien, Ghost Machine is complete trash from the first line to the last. There are enough clichés squeezed together in one place to exceed the fire safety regulations.
There's the plot. First we thought the evacuee was about to ask Gwen if she was his mummy. Then we thought we'd been catapulted into Sapphire And Steel. Nope, it was just yet another of those plot devices which pick up emotional resonance. Although this was blindingly obvious to the audience, Jack announces it as a revelation: ditto the discoveries that Bernie's been blackmailing Morgan and that Morgan’s coming round with a sharp object. You'd think these simple, childlike plot devices wouldn't require a Mensa-level effort to follow, but just in case, every plot "twist" is carefully signalled with multiple flashbacks. Maybe this is in case we were asleep the first time, which come to think of it is an eminently sensible precaution.
Then there's the script itself, and man, is it horrific. Characters lurch from one lurid melodrama to another, saying dialogue that seems to have been assembled from a kit: "She knew what she was doing was wrong." "I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe." "Some things you’re better off not knowing" - and, of course, the ever-popular "Nooooooo!" And when it's not solid-gold cliché, it's the cheesiest stuff this side of Wensleydale. Did Jack really actually say "A million shadows of human emotion - we've just got to live with them"? Please, tell us we were hallucinating. No wonder when Jack said "The city will be awake soon. All those people. All that energy", a voice added from the sofa: "All that bullshit". Look, nobody talks like that, all right? Nobody launches into a full, frank and ever so convenient account of their evacuation memories just because someone asks about their accent. No matter how upset they are about a murder, nobody dramatically declaims that someone's mum was expecting her at nine. Even when they're trying to put the wind up the murderer, nobody says "Just the two of you. In the dark. Water dripping from the roof into the canal. Lizzie's hair all wet from the rain. Cold and crying..." That's not somebody talking. It's somebody writing things down and flogging them, inexplicably, to the BBC.
Character development's obviously meant to have been given quite a bit of attention. Unfortunately, it's either hammy, ludicrous or both. We're clearly meant to see Another Side to Owen here as he morphs from Jack-the-lad to grim vigilante, but his cold fury at Lizzie's rape and murder is pretty much shot to pieces by his using a date rape drug himself only two episodes back. Any remaining credibility is crushed by the staginess of his little speeches. We feel sorry for Burn Gorman: imagine having that ghastly clichéd knife-waving scene on your showreel.
Then there's Gwen, Jack, and Gwen and Jack. We now bitterly regret using in our review of Day One the phrase "they couldn’t be throwing in the sexual tension more obviously": needless to say, we wrote that before seeing the rifle range scene. We had to turn the volume up because we were laughing so much, and believe us, we weren't laughing with them.
Just in case we hadn't adequately grasped the point that there's trouble at mill for Gwen and her boyfriend, she takes home the alien game controller, thus making a mockery of everyone bringing their stuff back in the pilot, and starts flashing it round her flat. Amazingly, it seems that the event with the strongest emotional resonance since the place was built was her stapling his fly shut. No wonder she fancies Jack.
Ah, yes, Jack. We're devoutly thankful that he's a much more complex character than he was in Doctor Who: we're not sure it would be physically possible to survive the horror of Torchwood coupled with the horror of Original Jack. The darkness of Jack 2.0, combined with the fact that John Barrowman invariably hits it out of the park, makes the character far and away the best thing in here. In fact, thus far he's looking to be the single bright spot in the whole farrago.
Three down. We're already losing the will to live.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
So in Day One Gwen gets into serious trouble by throwing a chisel at an alien spacecraft, right? After which she promises to be more careful? So when she gets her hands on the alien tech, why the hell does she push the bloody button?
HOLD IT FIRMLY
Yes, we know Gwen said she's never used a gun before. But are we really supposed to believe that a trained police officer would be that unbelievably clueless? Only a brain-damaged cabbage would pick up a loaded gun and point it at someone - and then at the ceiling. Good grief.
KISS KISS BANG BANG
While Jack's busy groping Gwen at the rifle range, he's murmuring instructions seductively in her ear. She seems to have no trouble hearing him - but she's wearing hearing protectors!
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
So Jack doesn't sleep, eh? We bet he buys a lot of ab machines.
WHERE'S THE LIBERATOR WHEN YOU NEED IT?
It's really sad to see SF titan Gareth Thomas slumming.
I THOUGHT YOU SAID GENIUS
Tosh says that Morgan is claustrophobic, then later his record reads and she repeats that he’s agoraphobic. Just the slightest difference there...
I HAVEN'T FINISHED
Morgan’s a fat old man who can't reach a speed above a lumber - so why does Bernie just stand there instead of scarpering?
IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR SHAKESPEARE
Blood on her hands. Yes, blood. On her hands. Sigh.