...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day 2628: TORCHWOOD: Something Borrowed

Wednesday (again):

An immaculate conception; a supernatural baby; a birth in stable… just in time for Easter, Torchwood have they very own FAIRY TALE WEDDING story. (Someone should tell them that Winterval was three months ago!)
It was about time we shed a little light into the darkness of Torchwood. Moving as last week's "A Day in the Death" was, it really was putting the tin hat on a dark time for the series what with Owen being dead and not loving it. Slapstick comedy may be a handbrake turn, but it was about time we had some more fun.

The series opening with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" lifted it up to a place where Torchwood was a cool and funny series about people we liked and wanted to be with. Trading off that high start enabled them to go to the dark places again and not leave us behind and although we've stepped back towards the "death, death and more death" themes that pervaded series one, we've seen it leavened with much stronger humour and more positive feelings, particularly from Ianto, Gwen and guesting Martha Jones. Even so, another comic episode – yes, especially one with death by blow-job, a killer Captain Jack and the mother-in-law from Hell – is the kind of relief that we could do with at this stage in series two, before things get seriously weird in next week's PJ Hammond-written tale after which we face the joy of a Chibnall-fest for the final three episodes.

We've been building up towards this wedding for most of the season, from the engagement ring in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" though "Meat" and the side note in "Adam". Obviously it was going to be a disaster in the way that only Torchwood – and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" – could manage. You could make more comparisons with "Buffy's" "Hells Bells"; Rhys as Xander, Gwen as Anya, she even goes back to her "demonic" job at the end, but at least this time the couple do end up hitched! So there's no unnecessary heartbreak to ruin what is a very, very funny episode.

It's set up with a great pre-title sequence: one alien shape-shifter, one instant alien pregnancy (that is such a plastic bun-in-the-oven tummy, by the way), and the music is silenced just long enough for one of Eve Myles' trademark hoots: this time just a perfect little "Oh…"

It's a great episode for Eve – at last – as she gets to do funny, pathos, steely determination, bloody-mindedness, and outright terror (at Rhys wielding the singularity scalpel). Through it all you never lose sight of the fact that she's absolutely determined to wed her Rhys, who she loves lots, even though she loves Jack too – although the closest she comes to admitting it, is, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) to "Mommy-dearest Jack" rather than the real thing. Even so, the episode takes that running theme of unrequited love between them and makes a joke of it when Jack bursts in to stop the wedding at just the right moment. (You know… "Does any one know of any just cause etc…")

They toy with it some more when Jack gets to be the one who saves the day, but also insists that it is Rhys who is the hero, and the hero gets the girl. He's "doing the noble thing" so much that you want to slap him. Although Jack gets to be witty, he's mainly the straight-man here: the joke being that he's in a completely different genre to the Rom-Com wedding that he's crashed into. That's probably why his more noble moments all play like deadpan. It makes for a strong episode for John Barrowman, as well, as he gets to carry on action-hero style for a lot of it, plus the aforementioned cameo as the shape-shifter that's pretending to be him. That's a surprisingly subtle turn for a bloke in fangs with black veins and venom all over his face.

The dance, post-nuptials, seems to have provoked some difference of perspective, which is in itself interesting. Some people see Jack wearing his secret smile and warmly embracing Ianto; while others see Ianto as threatened and Jack as distanced, more interested in the "forbidden" love of Gwen. What are we to make of the coda where Jack opens up his box of memories and takes out the picture of, transparently, his own wedding day? Does his heart move towards commitment with Ianto, or to a fantasy of romance with Gwen? We have to remember that Jack is going to live on. Like the Doctor's explanation of his feelings in "School Reunion", Jack's going to be leaving a lot of relationships behind him.

It's an odd ambiguity, perhaps the most genuinely grown up thing Torchwood has managed yet. I confess I come down on the side that finds it uncomfortable, and I worry that Ianto, who – let's face it – really commits to his relationships, is going to get hurt by Jack's wandering polyamorous eye (and indeed the wandering rest of him).

I think we can anticipate more developments around Jack, Ianto and maybe that box of photos when we come to the season's penultimate episode, "Fragments".

Writer Phil Ford has written for indestructible captains before, of course, doing the scripts for most of the episodes (and all of the good episodes) of the recent CG Captain Scarlet as well as writing some Sarah Jane Adventures. He's really rather good, and dextrously mixes the humour and the more serious moments, and juggles a decent amount of screen time for everyone.

So there's quite a nice meaty role for Tosh too: getting to the wedding ahead of the rest of the team she proves that she's really quite capable, taking out Rhys's best man with some well timed moves, and almost getting the drop on the villainess. Of course, the episode would end there if she did, but instead "Banana Boat" blunders in and the super-fast alien gains the upper hand, leading to more great comedy as Tosh finds herself trussed up with the hapless (and excessively keen) Welshman.

And there are smaller but still memorable parts for Owen and Ianto, especially as they try to work out a way to work together. Ianto is very defensive of his relationship with Jack, a counterpoint to the dance scene at the end. And interestingly Ianto is clearly much more sympathetic towards Owen now that the latter is dead. Not that he might be remembering his "dead but still alive" girlfriend, Lisa the eponymous (and infamously kitten-heeled) "Cyberwoman".

Unusually for Torchwood there's quite a big supporting cast too, with Gwen and Rhys's families – obviously they're chalk and cheese – and the bridesmaids, like a Greek chorus commenting on each unbelievable twist of the plot, and a best man and a (doomed) DJ not to mention several iterations of each shape-shifter.

And there's Nerys Hughes, for goodness sake, playing Rhys's mother. And playing a killer alien shape-shifter disguised as Rhys's mother. And now she's in full-on fangs and black blood make-up!

"I'm not an alien!" is such a great line. As is "Get away from her, you ugly bitch!" Hooray for Rhys for defending his mother's honour by punching Jack.

It's also a great episode to look at: it's a lovely setting for a wedding (oh dear, how many fans are going to be booking theirs there?); the frocks are gorgeous; and the "look I'm evil" shape-shifter make-up is well-judged: outrageous enough to be funny without being so over-the-top as to become intrusive. It's all very-slightly over-directed by Ashley Way – who also stylishly directed "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and, and this is hopeful, will be up for season finale "Exit Wounds" – and I mean that in a good way: using show-off-y camera moves, ramping, under-cranking, zooms and the like, in the same way that "Boston Legal" would, to emphasise the artifice of it all. It's knowing, of course, but what it knows is that too much cod-John Woo looks silly… and silly is exactly what is called for when you have Rhys threatening Nerys Hughes with a chainsaw.

You really shouldn't find yourself laughing at Rhys's big moment, but by then you've already been laughing for the last half hour. And it is a really funny "oh fuck" moment.

Next time… An old cinema reopens and an old can of film plays scenes from the last tour of a lost travelling show. Time has broken though and Sapphire and Steel are busy. All irregularities will have to be handled: Tupperware and Torchwood have been assigned. Now who's coming "From Out of the Rain"?

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