...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 3891: DOCTOR WHO: Springtime for Hitler


Okay, it's Doctor Woo not Torchhoot so we're going to try to keep UP TO DATE.

But… we've been a BIT busy… writing the 50th Anniversary Special: "The All The Doctors".

Last weekend, Daddy Alex recruited the Villainous Valeyard and here's me auditioning a cast of itty-bitty heroes.

Now, all I need is for someone to buy me a Lego SUPER STAR DESTROYER for that big scene at the end…

Meanwhile, Daddy Richard can get on with doing reviews…

If I can put it like this – and without pejorative – Russell writes soap opera while Moffat writes opera.

I'm returning to the idea that Russell Davies writes "emotion" and Steven Moffat writes "plot". This week I'm thinking that actually they are both very emotional writers, but that Russell concentrates on the very small and human whereas Moffat writes on a grander, heightened, more bombastic scale.

Opera is a medium where it is routine, even conventional, to skip through time and space, conceding months of plot development to the conceit that all the big events happen in the moments that our cast are gathered on stage.

And that's how Moffat writes.

And it's a medium where the actual words that are said are less important than the cadences that are used and the patterns that they make. The rhyming is often cleverer than the meaning.

And that's how Moffat writes.

And in this specific instance, it’s Wagner.

(The Nazi uniforms kind of give it away.)

Seriously, this is a story of gods and mortals and supermen and tiny people and monsters that lurk in shadows, where the fate of worlds turns on a love story between a Valkyrie and a Time Lord. Where emotions leap from hate to love in the twinkling of a love potion or a brainwashing. Frankly, we're out of Hitler's league.

What a terrific entrance for Alex Kingston. Very much capturing the post-regenerative craziness of the Doctor (and his usual urge to check out his new appearance and try on new clothes). And if you think Moffat isn't "quoting" past regeneration stories, then rewatch the scene that "quotes" the high-speed "following the Doctor thinking" from "The Eleventh Hour" (and also "Sherlock").

We'd avoided spoilers so we were kind of blindsided by "Mels" in that we both kind of spotted it and kind of didn't: Alex tells me he was on the brink of saying "can Moffat only write one female character" when sarky gun girl suddenly regenerated into River and he went "oh"; I believe I actually did supply a "Hello Sweetie" as the corvette pulled up in front of the TARDIS, scattering Doctor, Amy and Rory before it. But then so did everyone: we were meant to say, "Oh, it's River," then be put off guard by the shock reveal that, oh, it’s not. And then oh, it is, again!

I didn't find Nina Toussaint-White's Melody as irritating as some people seem to have, mainly because she's got all of about two lines and a flashback montage before Hitler shoots the black woman and summons up the psychotic white lady. If I may channel Rory for a moment, I'm trying not to see this as a metaphor.

I'd be more interested in knowing if Amy and Rory's pasts have been rewritten by their daughter inserting herself into their timeline. Because we've never even heard of this best friend before – and Moffat is often, but not always, quite careful about setting up Chekov's timey-wimey. And Mels herself uses the "time can be rewritten" line.

It's not exactly inconsistent, but the past that we see of Amelia and Mels doesn't entirely gel with the lonely Amelia that we saw in "The Eleventh Hour" either. But then that past has already been rewritten once when the Doctor sealed the crack in Amelia's wall and so her parents and everyone she ever knew were not erased from time.

More inconsistent seemed Amelia's attitude to young Rory, given her later assertion that "my life was so boring until you fell out of the sky". Did she mean it was boring until she found a patsy to casually and half-heartedly torment? And how are we supposed to fit the Amy who thinks Rory is perfect but gay, with the Amy of "The Eleventh Hour" who is denying that he's her boyfriend?

(But then that would be like complaining that Melody/River gleefully references "The Graduate" with her "hello Benjamin" but later in her life – in "The Impossible Astronaut" – hates it when the Doctor refers to her as "Codename Mrs Robinson".)

What was sort of unusual for Moffat was just how many answers were supplied. Most of the episode was in fact exposition, completely filling in Melody Pond's story for us. Almost completely, anyway. We know that there aren't any other regenerations between the little girl in the spacesuit and Mels and the familiar River Song.

There's a bit of a puzzle about how toddler Mels got from 1969 to the 1990s to start growing up with Amy and Rory – either a time jump is involved or, also plausible from this episode, Time Lords (or at least River) can chose to age (or even age backwards), meaning she stayed a toddler until time caught her up with her parents-to-be.

Also, it's not completely impossible that the girl in the spacesuit is a later regeneration rather than just baby Melody ten years later. That is, baby Melody could have grown up controlled by the Silence, gotten shot or otherwise killed and then regenerated who knows how many times before arriving at the spacesuit of "The Impossible Astronaut". But let's keep things simple for the moment and assume there are only the three Melodies.

We also know that she's used up all her remaining regenerations to resurrect the Doctor. In part, that may be to suggest that there's really really no chance of a post-Library River getting up again. But I suspect that it's also to rule out River giving up another regeneration again to save the Doctor from his death on the beach; it's a get out of jail card that's been played and cannot be played again.

(Let's just not get hung up on the mechanics of how Melody can poison the Doctor via his lips with something that she's wearing on her lips to which there is no antidote and not end up dead too. Put it on her lips, fine – and she has time when she nips off to examine her… jodhpurs – but she has to have an antidote in her system. At the very least she ought to find it difficult to talk with the whole of the inside of her mouth sprayed with some kind of non-permeable plastic barrier!)

In some ways the oddest thing, in an episode that was revelling in throwing odd things at us, was the way that Moffat just tossed away the mystery of who gets murdered by River. He's been teasing us with it since "The Time of Angels" but here it's delivered almost "as you know, Bob," style, as though it's exposition we're supposed to know already. It's almost as though Moffat's just given up on the mystery with an "oh, you guessed".

I suppose that it's still possible to confound us, for it not to be Melody in that Impossible Spacesuit at Lake Silencio (Lake Silencio, are you kidding? "Why, Jo, Silencio is Italian for 'Bad Wolf Bay' of course…"). Moffat will almost certainly add some of his "but it's more complicated than that" to the mix. Personally, I'm not sure that there's enough happening in the rest of this series to account for two hundred years of the Doctor's life, so in all likelihood, he's going to turn up on that beach early and bugger up whatever it is that his two hundred years older self is/was/will to have been trying to achieve.

Ah, the joys of trans-temporal tenses – and I've not got to Douglas Adams yet.

Of course, the other clue that Moffat might be offering us is that the Justice Department people identify the TARDIS with Melody Pond. As though the two go together in their databanks. Which suggests that at some point – and you know, possibly post Lake Silencio – River gets to go off in the TARDIS and have her own adventures in time and space. Simon suggests that Moffat has been mutating the series into "The River Song Show"; could he be even closer to the mark than he guesses?

But anyway, what are we to make of the time-travelling, shape-shifting robot full of cross people?

"Is it a Type 103 TARDIS, you've got there?" as the Doctor very nearly said. "No! You're actually all miniaturised inside; I'll have to make a Slitheen joke instead!"

It seems to me slightly borderline whether Steven Moffat simply has so many ideas that he can't help throwing them in or that he uses an endless stream of ingenuity to cover up that he doesn't want to have to develop any of them. They travel through time to punish bad people is a one line pitch not a story. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Why are they doing this? How are they doing this? Should they be doing this? What, in fact, are the consequences of them doing this?

(The nearest we get to consequences here is the scene with the TARDIS voice interface – has he been trying to get her to talk to him again? – where we get some acknowledgement that the Doctor feels guilty for "screwing up" the lives of Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy.)

In a story that is called "Let's Kill Hitler", the possibility that they've buggered up their own history by nabbing the Fuhrer in 1938, before that little matter of the Second World War, isn't even touched upon. Still less the ethical considerations of their actions (short of a little bit of Doctorly scorn).

And that's a shame, because there was definitely the possibility there of showing Melody the rights and wrongs, and the dangers, of messing with the timeline rather than just whispering something to her that leads her to hear the choirs of angels and turn to the light side.

The design of the Tessellector robot was nice – both the effect when it tessellated its form and the submarine-like interior – more of a sketch rather than a genuine set, admittedly, but the darkened lighting and neons made it seem like the Deep Space Nine equivalent of the Star Trek spaceship from the last Christmas special.

Hitler's office too, was rather grand which may have made it slightly more disappointing to see the Nazi restraint salon where most of the climax of the episode takes place.

Oh look, it's the Manchester Suite. Again.

In Douglas Adams, every world in the galaxy has a drink called something sounding like Gin and Tonic. In Babylon 5, every race has a dish that tastes almost exactly like Swedish meatballs. Clearly, in Doctor Who, every civilisation anywhere in time will construct something almost exactly like the Temple of Peace in Cardiff.

And speaking of Douglas Adams, of course we have the Silence as a religious movement rather than a race just like Lawrence Miles' description of "the Enemy" in the Book of the War. Although that pretty much belies everything that was going on in "The Impossible Astronaut"/"The Day of the Moon". Was Joy right and they really are all wearing Star Trek masks? Are they like an intergalactic "Scream" convention where everyone has come as Ghostface? Oh all right, and they're something to do with the ultimate question, presumably to life the universe and everything, the answer to which may or may not be 42.

Douglas' theory was that should anyone ever fully understand what the universe was for – later put explicitly as having both the ultimate question and the ultimate answer (i.e.42) – then it will immediately be destroyed and replaced with something even more confusing. And that this may already have happened. Which indeed it did in "The Big Bang".

However, in context, the question is almost certainly "Doctor Who?"

The Doctor says it himself in this episode. Just after he's drezzzzed for the occasion.

(Again, I'm serious. Remember: "River, you know my name. There's only one time I would tell you that; there's only one time I could" from "Silence in the Library.")

So, what we have in the end is an episode that gives us a lot of the answers but mostly they're answers that we've pretty much guessed already, so it wraps it up in a crazy romp that is half Terminator half Numbskulls and gets Alex Kingston to turn it up to eleven to cover any gaps. And then teases us with a tiny little bit about the other questions that the plot arc has left dangling while we clear up just who River really is and what she's going to do with that lead piping in the ballroom.

Rob Shearman – yes, he wrote "Dalek", and to be fair has a reputation for using fiction in conversation – has described his own writing as "just trying to get to the next gag", and there's a sense that Moffat may indeed be doing the same thing, stringing clever idea after clever idea as he goes. The problem is not that the gags may not work along the way – there's always another one along in a minute – but that in the end you really need to come to a punchline.

"Let's Kill Hitler" covered itself very well, but it was really much more about explaining the joke.

Next Time…Mark Gatiss hiding in a child's cupboard. It's not going to get more scary than that is it. Unless he starts doing that "acting" thing he does. We're not going to see what little boys are made of, but the Doctor will be making a house call on some "Night Terrors".


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 3868: TORCHWOOD: Madrigal Day: Escape to La la la Can't Hear You


Back in the real (ish) world, Daddy has received his conference accreditation. Apparently he's in category 1 with access to the Module. Er, that's good, isn't it?

Last time, I said Torchwood was playing join the dots between set pieces. This week, if anything, it's even more so.

Modern television presents us with unrelated events and by convention we infer links between them. We're so used to it, we're blasé. But here Torchwood is actually doing the reverse. These events follow logically from each other, but because of the blink-and-you-miss-it expository connections they appear like almost randomly unconnected incidents.

For example, it took me quite a while to realise that Dr Vera's field trip to the abandoned hospital is actually arranged by PhiCorp. It's part of her little visit to PhiCorp headquarters as set up by Jilly Kitsinger last week. It's PhiCorp who have bought the hospital and set it up as prototype for their Overflow Camps. Which, of course, is why Oswald is also brought to the scene later.

(It's also why she's away from Washington, so why she misses the outcome of the medical panel – hence her surprise that it's all finished when she gets back there next time.)

And, the hospital being owned and controlled by PhiCorp, I think the repeated question: "who left this baby here?" answers itself.

Isn't the image of the self-confessed child rapist and killer holding up a baby girl just the most skin-crawling thing in the series so far, even when we've already been clued up to it by Jilly's unexpected personality swerve into repulsion at the sight of Oswald's hands?

It almost makes the Oswald plot worthwhile, although the series' obsession with him is actually more sinister than Jack turning into his stalker.

I was moved to wonder if Oswald was in fact perfectly safe in the highly contagious atmosphere of the plague ship hospital, protected from all the viruses and bacteria because he's pumped full of even more deadly poison.

(Which in turn, led me to wonder why these deadly diseases aren't being treated with high doses of poison or blasts of gamma radiation given that we've established that only humans are immortal, and not germs.)

Oswald's reaction to having his airtime stolen – "I'm not going back to that" – is a bit off though: it’s as though he's had plenty of time to get used to all the luxuries that fame and PhiCorp can give him, even though in reality it's less than twelve hours since he was getting beaten up in police custody, and his experience of luxury amounts to, er, all the fun of opening every bottle of fizzy water in the minibar.

His rival for the airwaves is, for one week only, "darling of the Tea Party" Ellis Hartley Monroe, a character with all the shading of Venice beach at noontime and all the subtlety of John Barrowman doing "flaming". She seems to have no motivation for her "Dead is Dead" campaign beyond her own political ambitions. She's a machine politician on and off the camera.

Even more bizarrely, Ellis is a small time Mayor, and clearly only has a staff of one plus her driver, yet our friendly neighbourhood conspiracy, the mysterious triangle people behind PhiCorp, have still managed to infiltrate her team. They really are everywhere!

Clearly the exigencies of having that plot arc trail to keep on following mean that more interesting aspects of the episode will be reduced to a cartoon.

And the exigencies of only having your guest stars in for one episode each mean they'll either be "dead" or never heard from again (or both!), despite that making no sense. Do you really think the Tea Party would shut up about "Dead is Dead"?

But sticking your Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann analogue in a car crusher strikes as more than a little authorial wish-fulfilment.

The triangle conspiracy's given reason – "your message is revealing our plans a little too early" – hardly seems credible given that "their plans" has to mean segregating the "dead" (which is Ellis entire agenda): something that comes to pass in the very next episode which means within days of screen time, given the scheduling of the announcement before the LA Miracle event to which Oswald is now going which Jilly tells him will take place "at the end of the week".

The gift of a longer run of episodes – as Torchwood Miracle Day has been given – ought to be the chance to explore different reactions to and perspectives on the Miracle, and a look at the politico-religious response is exactly the sort of thing that was called for. It's just not the thing we got.

(The business with Rex's father – "I don't want to live forever like this" – was much, much better. In fact the spin-off-I-want-to-see-of-the-week is Cap'n Jack and Rex's dad taking on all the low dives of Hollywood.)

Meanwhile in L.A. (with crushing literality both the other side of the country and of the plot, though you could hardly tell as the light and scenery look identical) and also following the dot-to-dots from last week, Jack Rex, Gwen and Esther are breaking in to PhiCorp to steal a server full of secrets because of the information they nicked from Jilly's office last week.

No, it makes no sense at all that the location of the secret server (not to mention the specs of the security and the name of the guys whose biometrics they need) should be in the information available to someone who turns out to be a glorified temp.

(And the sudden downgrading of Jilly's place in PhiCorp is another of the things that really disappointed me in this episode. It was as though we'd discovered the Cigarette Smoking Man was just some guy from an agency. Jilly was a mover in this series who basically made the plot happen in the last couple of episodes. And now we're told she's a nobody? Perhaps someone should have told Lauren Ambrose that she's Henchman 3 and not the Bond Villain.)

Basically, the series is reducing itself to plot coupon-ing: each set piece results in something that superficially looks like a development but might as well be a treasure hunt clue saying "go to this place, do this thing and find where you need to go next".

And speaking of following the trail of breadcrumbs, we come to the world's luckiest cliché on legs, the assassin hired by the triangle people (why a triangle? Do the Mysterons have a copyright on the circles?).

Cliché? Have you seen him? Alex was unsure whether it was worse that he stands right in front of Gwen on Venice beach and snaps photos of her with a long lens, or that she doesn't notice. And then his dialogue goes all X-Files-esque – yes, it's that John Shiban – and then he gets himself shot just before he can reveal that the Thirty Nine Steps… arrgh!

And Lucky? Yes, because there he is working alone and of all the people he could pick to stake out, he chooses Esther's sister.

Because Esther, it turns out, has done a bad thing. She went to see her sister – the one we established "couldn't cope" back in episode three – and gosh dobbed her in to social services. The penalty for this betrayal is to get a good shouting at from Rex.

"What if you were followed!" bellows Rex. Bellows the man who has just driven them two thousand six hundred and eighty-eight miles across America and not noticed that he was being followed all that way. Demands the man who last night dropped by (and committed a felony breaking and entering while there) the residence of his father who we know is on the CIA's database. What if it was you who was followed, Rexy boy?

Rex of course is happy to bang on about PhiCorp's conspiracy on the phone to Dr V, but gets all coy about revealing his location. As though it's not easier to track him by his cell phone's signal than it is to break in on his call.

And then he complains that the rest of them are a bunch of amateurs.

To be fair, Gwen does then top this by taking her mobile on a mission, leaving it on and in fact answering it all while breaking into PhiCorp's secure computer suite. And then, since she's not actually paying attention, encouraging her husband to have her father sent to a concentration camp. Dressing Eve Myles up as Audrey Hepburn does not excuse this kind of thing.

The actual caper parts of the episode were pretty good, if you can excuse an American accent so bad that the actor is compelled to apologise in character for it and so long as you can get past the way Gwen's contact lenses are becoming the Torchwood sonic screwdriver.

This actually made for the best performance being… the one from John Barrowman. Which is probably saying something. His action moments went well, and – hooray, someone remembered Jack is omnisexual, not just gay – a lovely double-take at Gwen's boobs. Plus nice batting down of Rex's mild case of homophobia, replying to "Do you make everyone gay?" with a completely casual "that's the plan".

There's a moment where Jack returns to the loading bay and finds the building guys strangled in the back of his van. And the guy very obviously blinks. Ha ha oops, I thought. And then realised: of course; it's deliberate. No one can die (as we're told twice an episode) so he's strangled but still alive.

And speaking of mistakes that aren't, people have complained about Rex getting into the secure suite after all the fuss that was made of needing Mr Frumkin's biodata – or failing that bits of his person – to get in, but clearly the assassin left the door propped open as part of his lure to get Jack back in.

What does puzzle me is how did Jack get back upstairs without having to yomp up the stairwell too – 'cos if Jack can still use the service lift now that the fire brigade are on their way then why can't Rex? Or did Esther just send him up all those stairs as revenge for making her cry?

(And call me old fashioned, but I'd prefer it if my IT team rather than my security consultant had access to my server room. PhiCorp don't even seem to have taken the elementary precaution of having the secure suite lockdown if the guy who is key to getting in takes a sick day. Frumkin really was asking for it.)

What's becoming clearer is that "Torchwood: Miracle Day" isn't actually bad so much as it's just sloppy. It's not an original observation, I know, but the shorter five-hours-over-five-days form brought pace and focus to "Children of Earth"; "Miracle Day", by contrast, is just almost literally all over the place.

These last three episodes – "Rendition", "Dead of Night" and "Escape to L.A." – could easily have been compressed into the space of a single hour by trimming out a lot of the repetitive find clue go to next clue shtick. Where are we at the end of "Escape to L.A."? Torchwood have just stolen the secret computer data from PhiCorp… exactly where we were at the end of "Dead of Night".

And frankly, even though the next episode is vastly better, "Categories of Life" and "The Middle Men" could and should have been done in half the time as well.

I've not yet seen "Immortal Sins" but assuming that has enough shocks and revelations to make an episode four, then you only need a conclusion and you've got a "Miracle Day" that would be "Children of Earth" length. So when you're asked for another five episodes, you write 'em a new story, not try to pad out your existing one to twice its natural life cycle.

Next Time… If anybody out there can hear this… just ignore what I said last time I recorded one of these doomsday tapes. Yes, sorry about that.

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then there's always the iPlayer!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 3861: TORCHWOOD: Monocle Day: Dead of Night


So… the plot, as they say, thins…

At the end of all this, do we actually know any more about what is going on?

We kind of knew about PhiCorp before, even if not so blatantly in-your-face, from Jilly Kitsinger's calling card. And we kind of knew the Miracle was turning a bit bad. So all we're left with here is a string to tie it all together. We're playing join the dots this week, as our little band discover their connection to, well, the rest of the plot. The surprising thing about this is how clunky it is.

Rather than everything seguing nicely at the climax, as happened last week, this time we are following a trail of breadcrumbs.

It's all a bit "here's a thing and here's a thing and oo here's a thing…" string together by tenuous connections and coincidences.

So the meandering story leads us from the guy who was trying to set up Esther and Rex – Dennis Nedry and his magic red telephone – to the TARDIS-gag warehouse – bigger on the inside – that tells us that EvilCorp sorry PhiCorp are behind it via the staggering coincidence of Rex's "not a professional relationship" just happening to be Dr Vera who is being seduced by devilish Jilly of, you guessed it, Pfizer sorry PhiCorp and so she can take them to the villains secret-base-cum-plush-conference-centre where Gwen can do the grand old cliché of post Mission: Impossible/post-Spooks espionage drama – i.e. nick the computer records by downloading their entire mainframe onto one memory stick – while, surprise surprise, Oswald Danes turns up to complete the circle.

It's as though the production team have decided that the story should hang on the set pieces and any old flim-flam will do in between rather than hanging the story on the plot and having the set pieces be the flashy moments that keep upping the game.

Hanging off of all this we get a succession of wet character moments set to varying levels of cringe-inducing. The most gratuitous being Captain Jack's "I'm off to do the sex scene now," moment. (Obviously you choose your own value for "wet".)

I do wonder if that isn't a big distraction, getting everyone hot and bothered about the intercutting – or in the case of the BBC, just cutting – of the gay and straight sex scenes so we're supposed fall into the "oh it's just Torchwood smut agenda again" trap and all the while blind-siding us with that moment where Vera just happens to have access to the next level of the plot.

And incidentally, Vera only tells Rex that she's got an invite to the PhiCorp shindig after he tells her the whole plot so far. This is Rex "do not even try and contact your family" Matheson casually blurting out all the secrets he's discovered to a civilian. With whom he's just had sex. Yeah, he's definitely Torchwood material.

Or maybe it's that PhiCorp's painkillers may be non-narcotic and non-addictive but instead make everyone spout exposition at any given moment. (In which case Gwen is probably on them too, if her opening speech or rather string of factoids, which no amount of flouncing around handing out phones or doing business with masks can disguise, is anything to go by.)

I love Vera, though. She seems to be the only person in this show who's actually putting a real character into her acting. Compare her performance to Mekhi Phifer as Rex's "I'm pissed cos I'm impaled" shtick or Barrowman's angsty "we're good aren't we?" whine or Eve Myles schizoid "Look how hard I am… ooh a baby!" behaviour or that thing that can only be described as "that thing that Bill Pullman is doing" and tell me I'm wrong. And I'll come to Esther in a minute.

Having said all that: does Vera actually sleep at all? Because she seems to do a double shift at the emergency room, nip down to the Capitol for time on the Miracle Panel, spend the night boffing Rex and then time for a shower before she's off back to the hospital. Her downtime appears to consist of sharing a cigarette with Jilly.

(And then Jilly – did I mention she's the devil? – teleports back to Atlanta, Georgia to arrive at exactly the moment that Oswald is dumped on the pavement after being beaten up by the cops. I mean, how can she possibly arrive with such perfect timing? If we're ascribing super-powers to her, Alex suggests she might have set up the whole business with the police assault just to put Oswald there at her feet.)

Meanwhile, Esther, who last week broke out of CIA headquarters in a stolen car, has to be taught basic spy-craft by Mr Grumpy von Spill-de-Beans. Doesn't this make you wonder: (a) how rubbish are we supposed to believe the CIA are (see also, Rex breaks into CIA chief Friedkin's house and, what, one police car is despatched?!); and (b) whether Jack only recruits Torchwood agents from the pool of people who've never even seen Spooks?

I'm struggling – I think a lot of people are – to justify the inclusion of the terminally extended "you say potato/I say sidewalk" English versus American-Englishisms gag. All I can think is that this is Esther's naïve attempt to ingratiate herself with her exciting new pals.

Is Esther in fact being written as somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum? Or at least "TV Asperger's".

We've previously had dialogue to state that she is a good CIA observer because she doesn't connect to the stories she's monitoring (although that's not really supported by any evidence). And we know that what she's good at is line by line analysis of the internet. We also see her entering telephone numbers into her new phone from memory – at least until Rex bawls her out for it. Plus there's the "family history" with her admitting that her older sister has trouble coping.

(And that's without looking into the slightly weird pseudo-mother/daughter thing that Gwen and Esther seem to be building.)

Or maybe Jane Espensen is just using leftover bits of the Buffy/Dawn relationship from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

And then we have the "big reveal" of the evil company who knew the Miracle was coming (i.e. probably engineered it). Can I just say "yawn"?

Making the human race immortal to increase the profits from your range of painkillers is… well, it seems an awful lot of effort. Most companies would just adulterate the feedstock. This isn't really "banality of evil"; this is just banal.

And is there any company in fantasy television that isn't evil?

Is there some kind of insane Libertarian/Communist crossover that requires all companies to be bad? The critique from the left that they exploit the workers; from the right that they are nasty collectives? Or is it just that almost everybody works for a company, and knows it can be a soul-destroying drudge. Or at least everyone has had experience of one of them, especially the big faceless ones be they utility supplier or burger chain, and will have experienced the frustration of banging your head against the corporate wall.

And yet Russell Davis is a man who says that anyone taking money away from the British Broadcasting Corporation is "savage and evil".

(And would that be more savage and evil or less savage and evil than an illegal invasion resulting in institutionalised torture and hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, Russ?)

Time to check your cliché at the door, I think.

Anyway, the episode concludes with the discovery of the people behind the people behind the Miracle, namely the mysterious triangle folk aka World's Cheapest Playstation.

I realised who they ought to be, of course. They ought to be Torchwood.

You know, the real Torchwood, the Torchwood who, after the debacle with the Cybermen, went underground and have been letting everyone think that Jack's hopeless little band of helpers are "Torchwood". Because they've been around for ages, they're "everywhere" and they would explain why the word "Torchwood" got broadcast to the CIA at the very second the Miracle occurred.

(And because I've always said Torchwood should be the enemies of this series, not the heroes.)

Sadly, they'll probably turn out to be Yartek Leader of the Alien Voord. With a big stick.

Finally, did "the Soulless" actually mean anything or did they just seem like a cool idea at the time?

Oh, and why didn't Jack tell Brad the Barman he had an "excellent bottom"? Cos he did have.

Next time… I bet no one has ever tried to do "Mission: Impossible" with a big gayer as the star before… what? And then we lose all contact with reality as the Tea Party try to muscle in. At least we can stop even pretending to shoot in Washington when we "Escape to L.A."

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then there's always the iPlayer!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 3854: TORCHWOOD: Miniscule Day: Rendition


Okay, episode two of the US-ified Torchhoot and it's got better.

This felt properly structured: three separate storyline that interweave before all coming together for the climax at Dulles Airport. Jack, Gwen and newboy arsehole Rex, aboard a tight little bottle show; fluffy mouse Esther caught in a re-run of every government conspiracy drama ever; and Dr Vera doing the science (fiction) bit.

…although I'm probably alone in hoping for the spin-off from a spin-off of "Danny and Greta's Giant Wacky Flying Rendition Wagon" where each week on route to Gitmo they have to do a "Blue Peter make" out of bits from the plane in order to save the lucky hostage/overcome the terrorists/kill all those mother-ing snakes.

This week also introduces us to the devilishly perky charms Julie Kitsinger (Lauren Ambrose). Future episodes (yes, I'm writing this from "the future") will make less of her, showing her to be a small cog in the larger Phicorp wheel, and in trying to humanise her by revealing her revulsion at her child-killer client Oswald Danes will in fact diminish her.

Here, she is basically the Devil.

She says as much in her exchange with Oswald: "If the Devil walked the Earth he'd need representation". Oswald pegs her at a glance, though: "If the Devil walked the Earth, he'd be in PR."

She's a very "Bedazzled" kind of Devil (I'm afraid I mean the actually-not-that-bad Brendan Fraser/Liz Hurley remake rather than the superior Pete'n'Dud original), with very obvious red coat and lipstick. And she smokes! It's the sure-fire sign of TV evil, more certain than a "666" tattoo. The only surprise is that she doesn't cause the ciggie she bums of Dr Vera to spontaneously ignite.

Her ability to be in the right place at the right moment is uncanny bordering on TV cliché. She "just happens" to catch Oswald's performance on the morning chat show (though to be fair, so do, apparently, the entire staff of the CIA information gathering desk in Langley) and then "just happens" (again) to be in the right room to hear Dr Vera take charge of the crisis and happens to have a supply of the very pain killers that Dr Vera needs to take to Rex at the airport (yes, it's Jilly's "free samples" that Dr V hands over to Rex – which is why he recognises them in Phicorp's X-Files brand warehouse next week).

She also appears to get from meeting Oswald in L.A. across America to meet Dr Vera in Washington in less time than it takes Rex to render Jack and Gwen across the Atlantic.

Okay, Oswald is probably still in Kentucky where they tried to execute him, but it's more fun to think Missy K can teleport.

Anyway, what this episode does is be a rather good early episode of "Torchwood: the ongoing series". If it feels really odd, it's perhaps because it's pitched as episode two of a ten-part thriller and develops precisely no plot at all. All the separate stories are about establishing our characters strengths: Jack gets to play the Doctor with his morphic fields and space gizmo (yes, yes, it's the Vortex manipulator but it plays McGuffin for this ep – odd how he doesn't just grab Gwen and teleport away once he's got it back); Gwen is all over taking control in a crisis; Vera is pretty good at seeing the big picture, whether it's rewriting the rules of triage or working out what a call for more anti-biotics actually means and the consequences for the planet; and Esther can outsmart Dennis Nedry.

Oh, I'm sorry, that last one was unkind; I should have said "Esther is quite good at 'spy stuff'," but the "escape from the CIA" sequences are so derivative, it's just a relief that Alexa Havins and Wayne Knight have the charisma to carry them. And to be fair to Knight, the scared years-of-pressure out-of-his-depth nervousness of his "CIA Director Brian Friedkin" is quite different to the panicked suddenly-it's-all-gone-wrong out-of-his-depth nervousness of his classic Jurassic Park villain. Friekin is almost… resigned to his having to commit treachery. It's a smaller role than Peter Capaldi's "Mr Frobisher" in "Children of Earth" but in the same mould, and as well done. Plus we get the first sight of his "special red telephone" and its triangle symbol.

But to return to my point about this as an episode of a series rather than a serial, series one of Torchwood would have benefitted enormously from a second episode like this (rather than that one by Chibnall about the gaseous alien that makes you shag till you explode – see also, all of his work on "Camelot").

This is about bedding in the characters and the situation, reiterating points from the first episode to make sure that the audience begin to bond with these people and their predicament, something that series one never did and might in part explain its floundering nature veering from hit to miss and back.

Also the plane trip is a metaphorical journey that transitions Rex and Esther (yes, I know she's not actually on the plane) from their CIA world to the Torchwood world of miracles and aliens. In a way it is those two who have been rendered, not Jack and Gwen, hence Gwen's concluding remark: "Welcome to Torchwood".

Next Time…Okay, we're back with the plot development, as the sinister Phicorp become more than just a name on Julie Kitsinger's business card; Jack get's obsessed with Oswald; and we start to find out some truths. Plus the sex scene. All Hail the Mighty Espensen; never mind Russell, here's a lady with serious genre credits. Check in with the Soulless for "Dead of Night".

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then there's always the iPlayer!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Day 3873: Mere Anarchy is Loosed Upon the Headlines


There's a lot of talk about "anarchy in the UK" about at the moment. But Anarchy means without RULERS not without RULES. As Mr Balloon, Bouncing Boris and even Mr Millipede fly back into the country, what we seem to have is the exact opposite!

Why are there riots in London (and Birmingham and Liverpool)?

Is it the world economy teetering on the brink? Is it the Metropolitan Police being in chaos after the discovery that they were in bed with Mr Murdoch? Is it Captain Clegg being left in charge of the country?

It seems inexplicable to me.

At least with the riots of the Eighties (Brixton and Toxteth, 1981; Broadwater Farm, 1985) and the Nineties (Poll Tax, 1990) you could UNDERSTAND, if not condone, that there was a HISTORY: crushing poverty, callous disregard, racist policing, negligent government, years of build up. How have we got to this level of anger so FAST?

It seems almost impossible NOT to link the chaos on the streets to the chaos overtaking the world economy.

How can we expect ordinary young men and women to continue to soldier on under the yolk of the system when the news portrays the "gods" of our capitalist society chucking money away with abandon at the deeply undramatic news that America may have somewhat overextended her credit and that countries in southern Europe have been overspending for the last several decades.

On the one fluffy foot we hear the "markets" calling for a trillion Euro bailout fund; on the other we the same markets burn up a trillion Euros as the stock exchanges around the planet topple into freefall.

How can we expect people to behave responsibly when they see the world come within hours of total meltdown because the Replutocrats and the Tea Party want to play chicken with the debt ceiling?

(Look "let's not borrow any more" is not an unsound policy, but there's a time and a place, just as it's too late to say "let's not hit the ground" when you've ALREADY jumped off the forty-fourth floor. "Let's not hit the ground" ISN'T AN OPTION; all you've got is "let's not hit the ground YET".)

In a sense, this HAS been building for years.

The first crash, the 2008 global near-annihilation that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers was an inevitable result of many years of party good-times fuelled by cheap borrowing. A global Ponzi Scheme in which MANY were complicit that wiped out huge swathes of the economy when it burst.

The actions (of governments and companies) taken in response to that crash and the deep and long recession that followed have resulted in FOUR YEARS of stagnant and falling living standards in the face of escalating inflation caused – at least in part – by an implicit devaluation when we printed all that money.

Portraying the Coalition's (actually very tiny) rowing back from deficit spending as a massive, savage attack that has fundamentally changed the attitude of government from loving, open-handed generosity to cruel and selfish denial, has poured petrol on a pyre of resentment and stoked a fire of fear and anger.

In fact the coalition's cuts are just one more straw on the camel's back. But are they the straw to break it?

But when you are told day in day out that your poverty is all the fault of "the bankers" or "the Tories" or "the foreigners", seeing them "do it again" is one heck of spark tossed onto that bonfire.

If AVARICE can do so much harm, RAGE and ENVY seem only logical in response.

But they are NOT.

You don't burn your neighbour's house down to protest the behaviour of bankers; you don't steal a plasma telly to register your disapproval of America's credit rating.

It seems, in the end, that these riots are an EXCUSE to go looting. They aren't protesting the GREED of our age; they're another expression of it; they are the outcome of a generation where some people (at the BOTTOM just as at the TOP) are just SPOILED ROTTEN.


The riots are contained to what can only be described as "places where there are things to nick".

So we could also do with a bit less irrational coverage from the commentariat. Homes and businesses burning are AWFUL but rerunning the footage 24/7 on rolling news makes it seem a LOT WORSE; a storm on Twitter is still only a Twitterstorm.

And, frankly, calls for the ARMY to be sent in are the SILLIEST form of PANIC.

We need to STRENGTHEN communities not INVADE them!

We don't need water cannons or rubber bullets; we need a sense of perspective.

Calls for "leadership" are, I think, overrated. You don't need "leadership" to not go rioting and looting. You don't need "leadership" to not go rubbernecking and getting in the way of the police doing their business.

You need to GROW UP.

This has been (another) huge blow to the High Street. Shops like HMV are already pressed to the wall by online competition and may well just retreat into cyberspace. Shops that can't go onto the web may just disappear altogether. That's few jobs and more empty spaces in the middle of our towns.

So we need to think of ways to reinvent the high street. Free public wi-fi, better access and transport, places to sit, places to go to the loo would all be a start. Government, and local government, can do a lot to make these places attractive again.

And after the high-street shop, young people are the ones who are going to be made to suffer most for these riots. And our young people are the politest hardest working, most long suffering they've ever been. From the unfairness of the minimum wage to the ASBO to those wretched mosquito buzzy things to the stories of binge drinking to the cut in EMA to the misinformation about student tuition fees young people have been made to feel like second class citizens.

So we need to rethink our strategy of focussing money on the old, because frankly, the baby boomers HAD their turn. We should think first about investing in the NEXT generation, not funding the comforts of the LAST.

The extraordinary thing is that these events ARE extraordinary.

London isn't Beirut or Los Angeles. We are one of the safest, cleanest cities anywhere in the history of ever.

We need fewer headless chickens calling for leadership and a bit more Keep Calm and Carry On.