Monday, February 04, 2008

Torchwood - Season 1 (2006-2007)

(Image from Imp Awards)

Torchwood - Season 1 (2006-2007)

Man, this is a surprise. I do not like this show. In fact, I borderline detest it. Going in I was expecting to at least marginally enjoy it, but it proceeded to sucker-punch me in the solar plexus at regular intervals. 'Torchwood' is a spinoff from Doctor Who, which I love, that was set up with little subtlety in the latter show's second season. It's about the Cardiff branch of the super secret Torchwood Institute (though everyone seems to know about them and they make little effort to be secret) which is assigned to keep watch over a temporal rift in the area that is causing all sorts of weird things to happen. Their mission also involves collecting and cataloguing various alien artifacts for use in helping to defend the Earth against future alien threats.

'Torchwood' doesn't seem to know what kind of show it is. It tries to be serious and edgy - ooh, swearing and sex! - but at the same time it is utterly nonsensical. Doctor Who can get away with his lack of accountability because he's a wanderer who meddles like a kid in a toy store. These guys are in an overtly more serious show, yet they get away with being a team of incompetent, selfish eggheads who keep screwing up in dramatic fashion! Seriously, other shows have done incompetent and foolish character behaviour (Galactica), but they made their characters believable and human, and made the audience understand said behaviour. And, those characters usually had to account for what they did - their actions had consequences. Torchwood arrogantly run all over the place announcing themselves to all and sundry, they usually fail to fix any problems without causing a massive mess, and they quite often cause problems themselves.

The fact that the characters are unlikable and have few redeeming traits exacerbates things. Only the somewhat tortured main character, Jack Harkness, played by Tom Cruise-alike John Barrowman, is worth giving a damn about, and that's largely thanks to Barrowman's endearing performance (though he's not as much fun as he was in Dr. Who). The other semi-likable character, Gwen (Eve Myles), loses her charm a few episodes in. There are a few standout episodes in there, but for the most part the plots and writing are run of the mill. I can't recall ever feeling amazed or awed or gleeful during the adventures that take place with this morose bunch. Yeah, it ain't meant to be Dr. Who, but if it ain't, what is it meant to be? Without the playful nature of its progenitor, the plots and sci-fi concepts are shaky and just don't work in a more serious setting.

And while ostensibly serious, the show rarely attains the dramatic depth of 'Who' with any consistency either. While I can appreciate the frank and open approach to sexuality (although, why is it that virtually everyone is bisexual?), the show seems to be going more for shock value and titillation than trying to say anything meaningful. The production values are on a par with 'Who', which also isn't a plus point for a more serious show. And apart from Barrowman, the rest of the performances are merely adequate; they are just about effective in portraying the complete lack of professionalism and competence of these characters without an ounce of charm or vitality. They don't even look that cool walking in slow motion towards the camera, which they do quite a bit (seriously).

'Torchwood' is watchable and is often entertaining and even moving at times, and I would say that overall it is decent. The cynical and darker aspects of the show are noteworthy, with characters often behaving against convention and stereotype and often immorally (although such perspectives are relative!), but those elements still feel forced and don't really elevate the show by much. I'm not sure what I was expecting out of this show apart from hoping that it would be inventive, well written, and well acted (which it generally isn't). I'm certain of one thing though; what Torchwood finally turned out to be isn't all that satisfying. Even putting aside my own general dislike of what it is, I don't feel that it's particularly well made. In short, unlike Doctor Who, Torchwood isn't very good at being the type of show that it sets out to be. Perhaps it can improve in future, but I can't imagine ever liking this sorry bunch of characters.


CyberKitten said...

Tried it - didn't like it. Then again I don't like the new Dr Who at all either.

Russel Davies is just a crap SF writer/director who obviously doesn't have any *feel* for the genre.

I was a *huge* fan of Dr Who in my youth. These new incarnations have ruined that for me.

Antimatter said...

True, the new Dr. Who is more fantasy adventure than sci-fi, though I never got the impression that the old ones were much different from the two or three episodes I've seen.

CyberKitten said...

The new ones are just *very* baddly written & often make little sense - in their own context.