...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, March 21, 2008

Day 2635: TOYCHWUD: From Out of the Rain


Drugs, terrorism, nuclear weapons, cyber-attack… and that's just Mr Frown's new security plan!

Goodness knows what he'd do if he had to cope with the perils of, er, a small circus. Fortunately, the Torchwood CLOWNS know what to do!

Here is Daddy Richard's review of the latest episode.

Don't forget: Torchwood moves to FRIDAYS from TONIGHT!

(So the last episode, sorry, "Season Finale" will be on April 4th. This MAY – nod, wink – have something to do with the start of the new series of Doctor Who!)
Can I say this was a weaker episode? It almost seems blasphemous to suggest that an episode from the pen of the mighty PJ Hammond isn't one of the strongest of the season. Crammed with style and haunting ideas, and yet somehow the story seemed as thin as one of the Ghostmaker's ghosts: they come out of the film, they take some lives, Jack defeats them, job done.

Seven people die here, but the story seems not to care. We know they're dead as all the victims are dead except one little boy, and while I can see why Jack would want his team to focus on the "we saved one" aspect, the story does so to such an extent that the other seven are forgotten. This is particularly hurtful about Jonathan's parents, the owners of the Electro Cinema, after we've seen him distraught to find them propped up as a toy audience in their own theatre and then never see them, or indeed him, again. Whatever happened to "closure"?

The story almost seems more interested in making oblique references to Jack's – and Ianto's – past. The introduction that Ianto gives us to the Electro, the childlike expressing of his remembered happiness and his prissy shushing of Gwen and Owen as they – most irritatingly – chat through the feature, all speak to Ianto's character and background and a fundamental loneliness which is both endearing and rather sad. He's captivated by the pictures of the past, even before he's astonished to see Jack appear in the movie. Yes, John Barrowman gets to be a Silver-Screen Idol.

A tale of turn-of-the-century Jack joining a travelling show to investigate the Night Travellers seems calculated to be much more interesting than anything we get see on screen. Who sent him – probably Torchwood 1900 – and what did he find out? And, it seems bizarre that he clearly remembers his own investigation but never tells us what happened, not even that the Travellers disappeared before he could find them. Why go looking for witnesses when clearly he ought to be one himself?

And of course this plays directly into the plot: what happened to the original Night Travellers? Were they, incidentally, supernatural to begin with? But anyway, did they actually turn themselves into celluloid to escape the ending of the travelling shows, or are these, their ghosts animated from the film, just some kind of echo? The heavily clichéd ending – I'm sorry but it is – strongly implies that the Travellers could be raised from another film, so it would seem that the latter is the correct explanation, in which case what did happen to them to stop them stalking the Welsh villages?

The lead villains, or ghosts, Pearl and the Ghostmaker – it's almost irresistible to call him "Dean" – make a visually impressive impact wherever they appear, and kudos to Julian Bleach and Camilla Power for making them so memorable from a performance that is often reduced to mime. They do have dialogue… but it's not very interesting, apart from the creepy line "make her cry; I want to drink her tears" and even that's not very informative. What they say never really tells us much about them: they're killing for an audience, but why do they even want one? What is their motivation to perform?

They spend entirely too much time just wandering around. Arresting as the initial image of them in the rain at the bus stop is, when the writer presents to us two, or even three, distinctly interesting locations – the rebuilt-from-derelict Cinema and of course the Travelling Show itself… and the abandoned outdoor baths is another haunted locale but that too is merely a waypoint – it seems almost wilfully perverse to spend so little time in either, and instead trawl the Cardiff Streets.

And their ambition seems oddly small compared to what they're supposed to be capable of. When we hear the folk tales of them taking whole villages, an audience of eight seems a little… restrained. Where was the scene within the Electro with every seat filled with a ghostly audience member? The scale of their threat seems wholly disproportional to all the Torchwood team's talk of "they could do this to the whole world". Well, yes, dears, but very very slowly, it would seem.

The Show itself – all shot beautifully, in a wistful, almost elegiac style that captures the feel of film from that time at the same time as selling its beautiful and sinister mystery – appears mainly in flashbacks and in film clips and in the deliciously promising pre-credit teaser.

But what does that pre-credit scene have to do with the rest of the plot, anyway? It suggests a tale of stolen children and a sinister Brigadoon-esque Circus, one that vanishes between breaths… and then the main story is actually all about ghosts coming out of old film. It seems completely disconnected. And frankly, the teaser promised a more interesting story – how do you find the vanishing circus, what goes on once you are there and how do you ever leave?

It's almost as though there were two completely different episodes here vying to get onto our screens: the one of Jack and the original circus that follows on from the pre-credit sequence, and a sequel featuring the return of the Ghostmaker's ghost from the celluloid. And that might have been more interesting for us to see, a Torchwood two-parter that fleshes out the plot and doesn't disappoint.

Because the real problem here is that one episode of Torchwood is about a hundred minutes too short for a "Sapphire and Steel" Adventure.

One last question, why isn't Gwen on her honeymoon?

(Yes, yes, I know that the time can have passed and all that, but wouldn't it have been a nice nod to continuity – and a nice week off for Eve Myles – to recognise her life outside the team?)

Next time… Gwen should beware of digging up Captain Jack's buried secrets when she goes looking for those who've been cast "Adrift".


Alasdair W said...

I doubt they'll be sending any of those 1,000 people to failing states that don't have anything to with the War on Terror. They'll just leave those places to crumble as usual.
I didn't watch that episode. I find quite a lot of them disapointing.

Millennium Dome said...

I am sure Mr Frown's 1,000-strong "Civilian taskforce" will be VERY helpful to Team Torchwood!

I'm sorry you are not enjoying Torchwood much, though; do you prefer Doctor Who?