...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, July 08, 2009



In Episode Two of "The War Games", the armed forces of British Governmentry try to SHOOT our hero before there's an ESCAPE in an ambulance and a RESCUE from a military prison. The alien villains behind it all haven't shown up yet, though.

On the other fluffy foot, I wonder what's happening in Torchwood?
"Day Two", by John Fay, was a terrific, fast-paced, action-packed roller-coaster ride with a particularly pounding, persistent musical beat that keeps driving the tension, all as a way of keeping any more of the plot from happening until Russell gets back to write "Day Three"…

Even more than "Day One", this felt like Torchwood, the Movie.

Blowing the Hub to bits – and was it wrong of me to be imagining the Grand Moff wandering around Upper Boat saying "I've got some plans for a bigger TARDIS set… this'll have to go!"? – destroying the Hub was a very "movie" thing to do. Think blowing up the Enterprise in at least two Star Trek movies. It ups the stakes, leaving our team without their safe place, in a way that a weekly serial, with the need to return to those standing sets for economic as well as continuity reason, cannot afford to.

The movie it most resembles, with its near-fetishising of guns and leather, laser-sights and night filming (yes, ironic after all that daylight in "Day One"), is, of course, "The Terminator", the classic chase movie. Or "Terminator 2: Judgement Day", particularly if you think of Jack putting himself back together like an exceptionally icky T1000.

And like a movie, it didn't quite have the "television-drama" complexity of "Day One"; with all of Russell's plots having neatly tied together at the end, there were fewer strands here to open back up.

To be fair, the chase-movie doesn't allow for many plot strands, the tension derives from there being so few options open to the protagonists, and you ramp it up further by not cutting away to other people.

So we were mainly reduced to Gwen's thread and Ianto's thread, with Lois Habiba's subplot folding into Gwen's story while Paul Copley, after a terrific performance in "Day One" as Tim/Clem, being woefully underused here, left to do nothing but wander around and do the "we are coming tomorrow" chant.

What we do have is more of the deliciously creepy Mr Dekker, almost literally salivating over the poison-gas chamber that he has prepared for the arrival of the "456's". He seems to be taking an unnatural delight in the discomfort of Mr Frobisher, and in dropping hints that he knows more about what is going on than is strictly-speaking – in light of assassination squads being sent out to dispose of people like Captain Jack who do know what's going on – good for him. He's like Torchwood's very own Cigarette Smoking Man, except instead of laid-back authority, he just oozes sleaze.

Meanwhile, Lois rather more than proved her worth. In fact, pulling a whole sheaf of deus-ex-machina out of her hat ass (this is Torchwood), she's been just a bit too efficient – it's her second day and she's organised a successful conspiracy against the Government. Let's just say that I hope she turns out to have something a bit more… substantial in her background, like maybe being a UNIT infiltrator, to justify this. I mean it's all very well being a concerned citizen, but have the Home Office never heard of staff screening?

And of course, Gwen takes one look and offers her a job with Torchwood… after that worked out so successfully with Dr Patenjali yesterday.

Having said that, the "family moment" between Gwen and Rhys, while fleeing for their lives atop a sack of potatoes, was rather charming, and Rhys's subsequent attempts to be gallant, usually in the face of all sense, were a lovely leavening of what could have been too, too grim an episode.

There was more nice family development for Mr Jones, too. Interesting to see them play with resentment about his father. Also, Alex points out the reversal of expectations as it's the "nice" sister who gets all resentful about Ianto dragging them into his mess, while it's the "bastard" brother-in-law who says "he's family, we have to help him".

Now, I don't want to pick holes but… Ianto proudly declares that with the right software you can track any car… and then drives off in his sister's auto. You know, the one that was parked outside the house that the Government agents were watching, and which they've almost certainly noticed has gone missing by now. So no chance of him being tracked then.

I'd have thought that an extra line of dialogue – "Tosh wrote the only known counter-programme" – could have cleared it all up, but Alex suggests instead that Ianto realises his danger and ditches his sister's car before hotwiring an identical model, on the grounds it's the last thing they'd expect… a theory apparently borne out by the car's number-plate allegedly changing from a "P"-reg to an "X"-reg somewhere between Wales and the quarry!

But there's a bigger, overall problem, which is one that Torchwood (the series) has had all along; it's just that when the Government is able to throw huge teams of black-ops agents at them it draws attention to it: if Torchwood is a Government organisation, if they are as well funded as Gwen's girlish enthusiasm over her pay cheques on "Day One" would indicate, then why don't they have their own teams of grunts? The tension would have been raised even further, the peril to Gwen and Ianto emphasised more, and the Government agents made to look less like the world's gayest ninjas (sorry, that's "Being Human" slipping through), if a bunch of Torchwood support staff had been quickly murdered in the opening minutes.

But really that comes back to what I said, when discussing "Day One", about Torchwood's main flaw: Torchwood ought to be the baddies. I suspect it stems from Russell falling in love with his creation; it's all too easy for a writer to do that. But the whole series would make a lot more sense if Captain Jack had taken over an abandoned Torchwood base and he was always on the lookout for the real Torchwood turning up to reclaim their own. Which, of course, it what we would then be seeing in "Children of Earth".

And speaking of the series set-up, the Hub being blown to bits does pose an interesting longer-term question, namely: what will they do for a base should there be a fourth series? It might be a bit boring for the Government to forgive and forget and rebuild the Hub for them… so, might they not instead go off in search of the mysteriously-disappeared Torchwood 4, last heard of in Russell's pilot: "Everything Changes" (though possibly alluded to in the Government primer on Torchwood read by Lois, which refers to properties bought by Queen Victoria personally)?

Finally, we can't go without mentioning the gratuitous nudity. Four years after his bare ass was cut from "Bad Wolf", John Barrowman finally gets his wish and gets naked on BBC1. His full-frontal, on security camera, is only slightly obscured by the discretely placed "X" of a serial number. When it comes to the end of the episode we the viewers get his excellent bottom and it's Torchwood who get an eyeful of his "Face of Boe". Charmingly, Gwen has a peek, then looks away then looks all shy, while Ianto has this big soppy-puppy that's-all-mine grin on his face.

Mind you, you have to wonder what happened to all the "bits" that Agent Johnson and her ninjas didn't find… and if there aren't a whole orgy of Jack Harknessess merrily coming back to life in the ruins of the hub.

Next Time…There's a fire in the sky. They're here! Day Three.
After "Torchwood" we ahem my Daddies watched Mr Charlie Brooker's new series "Telly Addicts". Made by Endemol, purveyors of fine television… and Big Bother… these are the people who make Mr Charlie's OTHER television programmes like Screenwipe, Newswipe and Wetwipe, er… More than anything this looked like the evil masters of Endemol had said to Mr Charlie: "Right, Brooker, you sold us your soul and we made your scathing review shows. Now it's payback time, and you are going to host a cheap-as-chips celebrity panel game show so that we can make our money back." And Mr Charlie had said "oww, oh bum. All right." And then gone and done his usual ranty-hilarious shtick anyway. Hooray!


1 comment:

Lon Won said...

Blimey. P-reg to X-reg. You are observant!