Thursday, January 24, 2008

Torchwood & Suicide Bombers of SPAAAAAAACE!

Tittle tattle Commie Rat
I never know what you're at
If that's you hiding under my bed
The red you see is the blood you bled

Some shows can really suffer simply because of what you've seen earlier. For example, this episode of Torchwood kicks off with a home invasion ending with the two balaclava-clad thugs being pulverized by a defenceless woman in her underwear (and it's not as titilating as it sounds), accompanied by flickering lightbulbs and said woman insisting she never saw a thing or did it.

Having survived the masterpiece (no, I'm not being pretentious) of Jekyll and two thirds of Heroes, I felt my enthusiasm waning for the show. Although the characters remained as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Owen is now portrayed less an immoral rapist, but now a wisecracking loser for example, and Tosh and Ianto have undergone Hulk-like metamorphoses into three-dimensional characters) and the plot was straight, well... seen it all before huh? It's like 42 expecting you to find the real time angle 'novel'. Doesn't matter how well it's done, it's done before and it ain't impressive.

But wait? What light through yonder window breaks?

KKBB was a funny comedy episode - did we actually have any of those last time? At least, deliberate ones? - but this feels more like the grim, angsty show we were expecting. Though this time everyone involved isn't a complete arsehole, the story makes sense and the threat is palpable. When Jack drags the poor woman down to the cell (she's played by the black abess from Robin Hood's conjob ep), he's angry, intimidating and not nice. Then he pops outside and Ianto gently breaks it to him that no one found him remotely threatening. But Jack has good reason to switch off the charm: the woman's a walking time bomb and being nice to her will just make things worse.

The revelation that she is part of the Sleeper Cell isn't too shocking, since the title kinda gives something away. But the devil is in the detail, and the blend of sci fi, horror and tragedy rises to a heady moment. The scene wear she struggles to say goodbye to her boyfriend manages to be more heartbreaking and uncomfortable than the whole first series put together. When the other Sleepers activate and start slaughtering people, well, I was scared. I mean, there's a particular fear, that 'nothing can stop them, not even being sensible', and the scene of a baby in a pram being allowed to run into oncoming traffic... no chance in hell is that going to get shown in the cut down version.

The rest of the plot seems somehow cobbled together from other episodes and books. Alien invaders effectively hopping from body to body, nuclear weapons, city wide sabotage, a female alien befriending a female worker, the Hub being sabotaged, Jack hauling out dangerous alien tech from those NOT FOR USE boxes cause everything's going to hell, running around hospitals, the Weevils cowering in fear...

I dare say you could edit together Sleeper on youtube. But it's how it's done that matters. When the inevitable confrontation with the alien in the Hub, with its hostage taking and lethal force happens, well, try not to think that it's not someone who wanted to do the climax of Greeks Bearing Gifts properly. No Jack going "Hi five!" after he's filled them full of lead, and indeed the last shot showing our hero sitting alone, brooding about what's happened screams so much more development thanks to three episodes of Who than anything else.

I think the fact series one was so shithouse that I find series two so amazing. If this was the first series, I might find it adequate (well, the difference in tone would be a shocker), but I still think I'd like it. No swearing, no nudity, and references to sex you could fit into Doctor Who without an edit. The violence (bar snapping someone's neck) is more implied than seen, and the only problem I have with the whole thing is a bomb that goes off with less force than the average cannister of Nitro-9.

All in all, it feels like KKBB was an apology for season one, and this is getting down to business. The cell might be back (managing to capture in a few lines of dialogue the kind of hive mind horror I've been struggling to put into Cybermen) but they might never appear again. It's not as bad as that Angel episode She - which, for those who were lucky enough to miss it, was about a race of warrior women whose genitals were on the back of their necks and were using Los Angeles as a sanctuary to plan out an interdimensional war... and were never mentioned again. Ever. Not once. Probably because She is one of the worst bits of television human history has ever known, but the point is it screamed 'NEW STORY ARC' at us as it was dragged off stage.

That kinda thing just bugs me.

Next week: hospitals again. Cryogenics again. Time zones colliding. Again. People from the past arriving in the future. Again. I'd call this derivative, but it seems like they're trying to get these things right...


Cameron Mason said...

Interesting thing about She is that one of the Angel unoffical guide books claims that it's a rejected Star Trek: Deep Space Nine script that was search-and-replaced into an Angel script when they were busy turning all the early spec scripts for Doyle into proper episodes with Wesley.


Youth of Australia said...

I did not know that.

It's a good rewrite until they leave the art gallery. Then it goes downhill like jumping off a cliff into a black hole...

Cameron Mason said...

There's about three mid season one episodes of Angel that were originally pitched with Doyle in mind, as they went to the network with a lot of episode plot lines to show that Angel (as a series) had a lot of potential and story mileage.

Once Joss had decided that Doyle's shock death would take place in the nith episode, these ideas were reworked with Wesley.

Youth of Australia said...


I remember the critics previewing Angel for the first time in Frontier - they said stop watching after Doyle bought it.