...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 3854: TORCHWOOD: Miniscule Day: Rendition


Okay, episode two of the US-ified Torchhoot and it's got better.

This felt properly structured: three separate storyline that interweave before all coming together for the climax at Dulles Airport. Jack, Gwen and newboy arsehole Rex, aboard a tight little bottle show; fluffy mouse Esther caught in a re-run of every government conspiracy drama ever; and Dr Vera doing the science (fiction) bit.

…although I'm probably alone in hoping for the spin-off from a spin-off of "Danny and Greta's Giant Wacky Flying Rendition Wagon" where each week on route to Gitmo they have to do a "Blue Peter make" out of bits from the plane in order to save the lucky hostage/overcome the terrorists/kill all those mother-ing snakes.

This week also introduces us to the devilishly perky charms Julie Kitsinger (Lauren Ambrose). Future episodes (yes, I'm writing this from "the future") will make less of her, showing her to be a small cog in the larger Phicorp wheel, and in trying to humanise her by revealing her revulsion at her child-killer client Oswald Danes will in fact diminish her.

Here, she is basically the Devil.

She says as much in her exchange with Oswald: "If the Devil walked the Earth he'd need representation". Oswald pegs her at a glance, though: "If the Devil walked the Earth, he'd be in PR."

She's a very "Bedazzled" kind of Devil (I'm afraid I mean the actually-not-that-bad Brendan Fraser/Liz Hurley remake rather than the superior Pete'n'Dud original), with very obvious red coat and lipstick. And she smokes! It's the sure-fire sign of TV evil, more certain than a "666" tattoo. The only surprise is that she doesn't cause the ciggie she bums of Dr Vera to spontaneously ignite.

Her ability to be in the right place at the right moment is uncanny bordering on TV clich̩. She "just happens" to catch Oswald's performance on the morning chat show (though to be fair, so do, apparently, the entire staff of the CIA information gathering desk in Langley) and then "just happens" (again) to be in the right room to hear Dr Vera take charge of the crisis and happens to have a supply of the very pain killers that Dr Vera needs to take to Rex at the airport (yes, it's Jilly's "free samples" that Dr V hands over to Rex Рwhich is why he recognises them in Phicorp's X-Files brand warehouse next week).

She also appears to get from meeting Oswald in L.A. across America to meet Dr Vera in Washington in less time than it takes Rex to render Jack and Gwen across the Atlantic.

Okay, Oswald is probably still in Kentucky where they tried to execute him, but it's more fun to think Missy K can teleport.

Anyway, what this episode does is be a rather good early episode of "Torchwood: the ongoing series". If it feels really odd, it's perhaps because it's pitched as episode two of a ten-part thriller and develops precisely no plot at all. All the separate stories are about establishing our characters strengths: Jack gets to play the Doctor with his morphic fields and space gizmo (yes, yes, it's the Vortex manipulator but it plays McGuffin for this ep – odd how he doesn't just grab Gwen and teleport away once he's got it back); Gwen is all over taking control in a crisis; Vera is pretty good at seeing the big picture, whether it's rewriting the rules of triage or working out what a call for more anti-biotics actually means and the consequences for the planet; and Esther can outsmart Dennis Nedry.

Oh, I'm sorry, that last one was unkind; I should have said "Esther is quite good at 'spy stuff'," but the "escape from the CIA" sequences are so derivative, it's just a relief that Alexa Havins and Wayne Knight have the charisma to carry them. And to be fair to Knight, the scared years-of-pressure out-of-his-depth nervousness of his "CIA Director Brian Friedkin" is quite different to the panicked suddenly-it's-all-gone-wrong out-of-his-depth nervousness of his classic Jurassic Park villain. Friekin is almost… resigned to his having to commit treachery. It's a smaller role than Peter Capaldi's "Mr Frobisher" in "Children of Earth" but in the same mould, and as well done. Plus we get the first sight of his "special red telephone" and its triangle symbol.

But to return to my point about this as an episode of a series rather than a serial, series one of Torchwood would have benefitted enormously from a second episode like this (rather than that one by Chibnall about the gaseous alien that makes you shag till you explode – see also, all of his work on "Camelot").

This is about bedding in the characters and the situation, reiterating points from the first episode to make sure that the audience begin to bond with these people and their predicament, something that series one never did and might in part explain its floundering nature veering from hit to miss and back.

Also the plane trip is a metaphorical journey that transitions Rex and Esther (yes, I know she's not actually on the plane) from their CIA world to the Torchwood world of miracles and aliens. In a way it is those two who have been rendered, not Jack and Gwen, hence Gwen's concluding remark: "Welcome to Torchwood".

Next Time…Okay, we're back with the plot development, as the sinister Phicorp become more than just a name on Julie Kitsinger's business card; Jack get's obsessed with Oswald; and we start to find out some truths. Plus the sex scene. All Hail the Mighty Espensen; never mind Russell, here's a lady with serious genre credits. Check in with the Soulless for "Dead of Night".

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then there's always the iPlayer!

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