...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Day 2592: TOYCHWUD: Meat


Mr Hilary Briss, the Demon Butcher of Royston Vasey, had to be getting his "special stuff" from somewhere – and they always swore blind that it wasn't "long pig". Could Torchwood have the answer?

Well, here is Daddy Richard's review to help us find out:
Torchwood appears to be having a pretty good first season for a fantasy drama series. It's just a pity that it's their second. A reasonably solid episode, this, that would have fitted in nicely as a development episode at the back end of last year, it does, however, rely on the inter-series reboot to function.

The episode plays heavily with the idea that Gwen is secretly – or not so secretly – attracted to Jack, and thank goodness for that, because the chemistry between Eve Miles and John Barrowman sparks off the screen, particularly in the charged moment at the conclusion where Gwen refuses to retcon Rhys's heroism away. Better yet is the moment when she's shown Rhys the Hub for the first time, and he worries about her working with "all these gorgeous men"; "there's only one gorgeous man I can see," she coos and they kiss… and her eyes flick over his shoulder to where Jack is watching… cue EastEnders drum-roll!

All this, of course, depends on Gwen's hideous ghastly affair with Weevil-boy Owen having been quietly steamed out of history. Last year she had no qualms about retconning Rhys until his head rattled so that she wouldn't have to face the consequences of him finding out – "Saaaay Yofffa Givmeeee" and all that. But now she won't take away his memories and is happily inviting him to an environment where she knows these secrets get blurted out every week. It's not like her paranoia about Rhys finding out what Torchwood does has mellowed; and it's not like he's suddenly stopped being Mr Suspicious Moody Jealous Guy (subject to supply of Danishes).

But the episode ends with a positive (unless you're a dead space whale): love and honesty triumphing over paranoia and secrecy. It is interesting to see the conflict between the traditional need for secrecy and the exultation of hope play out. It plays out on John Barrowman's face before he gives Gwen his blessing. After all, it is the Twenty-First Century and Everything Changes. Perhaps even Torchwood. Hopefully this development will stick.

In spite of concentrating on the Gwen/Rhys axis, there was still time for some nice moments for the other players. Tosh and Owen appeared to have gone right back to "she's got a crush on him / he doesn't know she exists", though the moment at the end, where he accepts her comforting hand might hint that in fact Owen knows exactly what is going on and is trying to avoid becoming entangled – sort of like Bertie Wooster but with aliens instead of aunts.

Some more strong work for Ianto Jones, not just delivering the one-liners (and the pizza: meat feast, anyone?) but also getting to be rather fierce when he thinks his friends (one in particular) may have been killed by these idiots.

And Jack gets a few moments of being suave – offering an arm to Gwen, sparking Rhys's jealousy (loved Rhys's hopeful, doubly ironic: "you're not gay by any chance" remark, by the way).

There was an opportunity missed there, though, to contrast Gwen and Rhys's relationship with Jack and Ianto's.

But where the episode really misses a trick is by not sticking with a single point of view throughout. The opening, where Rhys is in the middle of trauma, discovering a friend and colleague has died in a car crash, when the "Men in Black" turn up… and one of them is Gwen (with full on Matrix-lite leathers and slo-mo camera work) offers a tantalising hint of an episode that follows him trying to work out what is going on. And maybe waking up several times having been retconned back to square one. Or, we could have followed Gwen trying to reconcile her relationship with Rhys with the fact that she's also investigating Rhys, and play with the possibility that he really is in it up to his neck. Flipping back and forward between Rhys and Torchwood means that we know what is really going on, which robs us of tension either way.

And of course they do linger a bit too long on the CGI space whale. Long sweeping shots pulling back to reveal its size also let us dwell on the fact that it's a cartoon. Not a terribly bad one – well, except when we see it's "cute flappy mouth" near to the end – but it too obviously doesn't match the real background. The practical effect of the creature's wounded, harvested flank was much better realized – stomach-threateningly so, so soon after dinner. And the opening eye, complete with reflections, was rather nice.

The moral of the story is straight out of Season Twenty-Two and the Robert Holmes book of "Vegetarianism for Good Guys". It can't really help being heavy-handed, bringing home the sort of visceral horror that the Japanese Whaling Fleet is visiting on higher mammals right now. The "it's sentient!" revelation was perhaps over egging things, though: this ought to be a moral wrong even if it is just an "ordinary" animal.

When I first saw the creature, I did wonder if it hadn't been engineered to grow continuously for food. A couple of the Doctor Who books – "Original Sin, springs most readily to mind – have made mention of "food animals" in the Thirtieth Century (and of course the books themselves show a debt to 2000AD again there). I wondered if it might not have been one of those, fallen through time. There is an interesting debate about farmed livestock and GM foods to be had, though this episode wasn't it.

On the whole, this was a powerful episode for the actors and we enjoyed it for the strength of performances here to the extent that while I might suggest a more interesting story direction, I wouldn't want it at the expense of those performances. Getting the team firing on all cylinders is the heart of a good ongoing drama, and we've finally got a Torchwood of characters who are worth watching.

Now, let's give them something interesting to do.

Next time… would you Adam'n'Eve it, there's a new member of the team and Jack's got a li'l brother. "Adam"

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