...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day 2571: TOYCHWUD: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


Sitting and watching the new series of Torchwood with my daddies, we are thrilled by the opening car-chase.

"Did you see a blowfish in a sports car?" asks heroic Gwen of a passing little old lady.

"That's a great opening line," says Daddy Alex.

The Torchwoodmobile drives off and the little old lady looks after them and says: "Bloody Torchwood!"

"No," says Daddy Richard. "THAT'S a great opening line!"

We are now eagerly (and nervously) anticipating episode two to see if this was an opening FLUKE or a genuine sign of having GOT IT RIGHT at the second attempt!

To keep you going until tonight, here is Daddy Richard's report on episode one:
So Russell "I Hate the T" Davies sits the creative team behind Torchwood season one down and says to them:

"Right, so I gave you a lovely, sexy leading man and you make him sulk for a year; I give you a lovely sexy leading lady and you make her have ugly, unpleasant sex with man who thinks the word "f***buddy" is an acceptable substitute for conversation with a lady; I give you a lovely exciting sexy secret base and you go and kill my pterodactyl. So sit quietly while I break your fingers, because I'm going to be doing the typing this year."

Because someone, and it's pretty certain that it's the mighty Russell, has taken this show in hand and shown them what it's supposed to be.

Sexy, outrageous, funny.

The biggest difference in John Barrowman when he was back on Doctor Who was to see him grinning – and thank goodness if he doesn't spend a lot of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" grinning too. And even when he's not flashing those famous teeth – when he's locking lips with rival Time Agent Captain John, when he's shyly asking Ianto out on a proper date, even when he's giving the serious "I'm immortal" speech – he's clearly having fun at last.

What is interesting to see is the way that each of the other members of the team have also been rebooted in different ways, some subtly, some less so. Owen announces that he's over his womanising days (to the relief of an audience heartily sick of "ugly git sex") while Toshiko is abruptly much more confident, to the extent that she comes out with lines like: "Is no one going to say he's hot?" Gwen is much more focused and "in charge" to the extent that she had clearly taken it on herself to be team leader in Jack's absence. Ianto gets his lack of lines in the first series turned into a character trait: partly with him performing a series of comic head gestures; partly with him keeping his interjections to often witty one-liners while becoming unable to express himself when long sentences are required, when it matters.

In what is in many ways a revised Torchwood pilot, we get to see all the team members demonstrating their talents and their resilience in the face of a hostile intruder. Both Owen and Tosh show "in the field" application of their specialisms, be it medicine or technology. Gwen demonstrates leadership, courage and intelligent detective skills. And Ianto knows his way around an office. Oh, that was an unfair joke, he is clearly trying to be an apprentice Captain Jack, though not yet fully sure of himself as the opening standoff demonstrated. And as Gwen says, they just keep coming back stronger.

And to be fair it's a much better pilot than the one Russell wrote for them last year, even without pterodactyl. The music was familiar and yet more raw and grungy. The direction was sharper, more stylish, whether it was the swooping circles around Jack and John as they, er, engaged at the Bar Reunion, or the comic timing of team Torchwood's heads leaning in together in their big car. The actors seemed more involved with the drama.

Last year's "Everything Changes" had much potential but also set up a lot of the flaws that the series developed – too much darkness, too much team angst; not enough warmth, not enough laughs; too much Jack frowning; not enough characterisation for Tosh, none for Ianto; too much Owen getting his end away. The good stuff is there as well, but it wasn't what series one picked up on.

Still, the first series of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had many of the same problems and they didn't get fixed until James Masters arrived at the start of series two. (Oh, you probably saw what I did there.)

Even if it's true that he phoned up and asked for the gig, it's an inspired piece of casting. Captain John: Captain Jack's equal and opposite, another rogue Time Agent (both now survivors of the destroyed Time Agency) who has a history with Jack but hasn't had the… opportunity to better himself that meeting the Doctor gave to our hero. Does any of this sound at all familiar? And then he goes and delivers – almost word for word – Roger Delgado's speech to Jon Pertwee in "The Doomsday Weapon" (that's the superior novel with the moral debates filled in of "Colony in Space", if you insist). We just knew that James was going to be back for more, after all they've already killed off one Master(s) in the last year. (Yes, you may groan.)

It's not difficult to say that he's playing Spike all over again, all jaunty, confident sexuality (even if it's Jack who's the immortal). But, as Alex says, who'd have thought that it would take Spike turning up to prove to this series that it doesn't have to be "Angel".

The plot is, thankfully, paper-thin – three McGuffins have washed up through the Hellmouth, sorry, Rift and threaten Cardiff's continued tranquillity. Golly gosh, Captain John wants to steal them for himself, who'd have thunk it. But it's all about getting there, not about where we're going, and he manages to spark off, bounce off or piss off all the regulars in his little game of hide and seek, before they turn the tables on him, to his rather charming surprise.

My dear fried Nick felt that the bomb-in-a-box twist was an intrusion of Chibnality into the story, but I have to say that explosion-ex-machina is also very Russell. It drives the next character moves, which is for John to put Gwen in peril so that the rest of the team will save him, and for Gwen simultaneously to take charge and go all self-sacrificey. And the resolution – ooh, it takes all of Torchwood combined to fix it – isn't half cheesy, but it is a good message for the series.

The other thing that James Marsters brings with him from Buffy is the ability to go into the past. No, not just time travel – though that may be possible as he, at least, has a presumably functioning Vortex Manipulator – but into that history with Jack, and into the Time Agency. The last scene rather obviously set up that there is some story to unfold over the season's arc – who is "Grey"? But also, more intriguingly, who could bring down the Time Agency? More broadly, who could bring down a time-active power? The obvious answer is only another time-active power – so who? Clearly this is "Torchwood" mirroring the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Of course, one Dalek – Dalek Caan – does still survive, so they have to remain a possibility.

(A possibility that opens fewer storylines did occur to me, which is that this is a reference to the Family of Blood. They did obtain a Time Agent's Vortex Manipulator in their pursuit of the Doctor, and they were bloody-minded enough to have brought down the Agency just to get hold of one. But that offers so few possibilities for story-telling that I think it’s unlikely to be the answer.)

And of course, in best RTD tradition, there is the "Make Lawrence Miles' Head Explode Moment of the Week": Captain John (aka The Master in this spin-off line) reveals to Jack "there are only seven of us left". Compare with Lawrence Miles' Eighth Doctor Adventure: "The Adventuress of Henrietta Street": The man in the blue rosette (aka The Master in this spin-off line) reveals to the Doctor "there are only four of us left".

Cue endless speculation about who are the seven/four? And if seven, is Blake one of them?

All in all, this is what we were expecting last year – adult, certainly (with all that mano-a-mano snogging, but not so much with the f-ing and blinding, Owen even using a "good grief" where an "f" would have gone last year), but Doctor Who to its beating heart.

So, as John might ask of Jack, can they keep it up?

Next time: oooh, that's a cool "trailer for the whole season like what Doctor Who does 'cos it gets a Christmas Special". Oh, sorry, forgot, next week, "spooky" detective time, in "Sleeper".

Of course, I have not seen this yet at all, because I am TOO LITTLE, but there is Torchwood for Tots on TONIGHT at 7pm, followed By Torchwood Moving Wallpaper, followed by episode two after bedtime. Happy watching!


Tristan said...

And the two captains kissing has sent the whole of female fandom into raptures...
(I've already been told we're buying the DVD for that scene alone)

Carrie said...

Kissing and kicking the crap out of each other, duh! It doesn't get sexier and more conflicted than that.

I expect this to be a staple of my weekly viewing! :-p