...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Day 2600: TOYCHWUD (Three Ls and an H) Double Bill: Adam


Torchwood has been doing PRETTY WELL* this year, proving that it deserves the "Heroes" slot on BBC2. Here is Daddy Richard's latest review:

This was a Valentine's Day episode to really mess with your head. Very much the hallmark of the excellent Catherine Tregana, writer of most of the actually good episodes of Torchwood season one.

The "stranger who everyone thinks has been part of the team all along" is an old old cliché in science fiction. What was good here was the way that that was used playfully to toy with the emerging Torchwood and Doctor Who mythologies.

On one superficial level, that means using old bits of Doctor Who in new ways: Adam is explicitly a refugee from the Void, the dark place between universes that the Doctor calls "hell" in "Army of Ghosts". He exists through memory, reminiscent of the hollow Eternals ("Enlightenment") who have also been linked to the Void, but also very like Lawrence Miles' conceptual entities the Celestis, who were also cast into the Void between universes (in "The Taking of Planet Five").

But then, it also means exploring Jack's undisclosed back-story. Knowing that he's going to live for five billion years, turn into a "big ol' head" and die saving New New York, backwards becomes more interesting to explore anyway, and we see young Jack on his Star Wars-esque home turf. Or indeed sand. Rather beautiful it was too – even more so when you see "Torchwood Declassified" and learn that it's all extrapolated from the back wall of a bar in Cardiff. Classic BBC Wales. It's a little strange to meet Jack's parents – not quite so bizarre as meeting Davros' mother in "I, Davros"; not quite [A: not anywhere near] so crass as having her called "Calcula" – and his little brother Gray. It's a pleasantly subtle way of clueing us in on the back-story from what presages to be this season's arc, if "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is any clue. And, for all that it leads to some slightly stilted dialogue, it was good that the creators had the smarts to avoid anyone calling young "Jack" by name.

But where this really twists the mythos (and plays with your head) is by taking the existing relationships that we are familiar with and ripping them apart: Gwen forgets her love of Rhys; Toshiko and Owen swap roles in their little dynamic; and – and it's Adam's undoing – Jack and Ianto's trust and love is all that is set against Adam's destruction of Ianto's personality. It is deeply disturbing to see all of these relationships that we have come to value broken and out of shape because of Adam, and even knowing that it'll all come right – because this is TV and it just will – even knowing, it is still unpleasant and warped. That's good, because it challenges the complacent assumptions of just watching the show, and because it is asking the big question: as Rhys asks, would Gwen love him if she started from here?

The acting, of course, is what makes this work, and it's honours all round, but especially Gareth David-Lloyd for screaming his guts out as Ianto goes though the wringer and to Kai Owen as long-suffering Rhys. It's an episode that could only work now that he knows about Torchwood, and knows who to pin the blame on straight away: hello Jack. John Barrowman is great – okay, a little too much of the messiah again, when he's taking away his team's memories, but plenty of the naughty boy too. His trust in Ianto, even over the alien tech he has at his disposal, and his ruthlessness to Adam at the end were powerful moments.

Next time… BBC3 pinches back first dibs as we see our first lady of Doctor Who cross over to the dark side of medical experimentation. Welcome Miss Martha Jones. Get ready for "Reset".

*PRETTY WELL means overnight ratings floating around the 3 million mark at the top of BBC2's most watched programmes of the week:

Week 1 (16th January) 3.7 million

Week 2 (23rd January) 3.4 million

Week 3 (30th January) 3.2 million

Week 4 (6th February) 2.9 million

Week 5 (13th February) 3.3 million

Week 6 (20th February) 2.8 million… hang on, see Daddy's next review!

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