I remember, as I watched 42, thinking "Is this really the same Chris Chibnall who was shagging a dead horse in Torchwood?" True, there was the usual countdown, technology turning on people, alien possession, star crossed lovers, meddling with something way too big to piss off, all the themes that had appeared in other work by CC, but this time it was good. Just what happened? Did RTD beat the guy over the head with a baseball bat until he developed talent, a sort of aversion therapy? Or was it, as I have spectulated, that Chris Chibnall is like David Agnew or Tara Samms, a pen name for various writers?
The fact is, the bloke who pens the first episode of Torchwood 2 is clearly not the same retard who perpetrated End of Days or Day One. RTD has been cautiously admitting how rubbish the first series was, explaining that everything was a bit rushed and desperate, hence the overabundance of angst, no decent story arc, and the fact there was no on screen reason why our main characters turned up for work each day considering they were a bunch of emotional cripples who hated each other and their jobs.
The opening episode, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (amongst other things, a nickname to James Bond) redeems these truly magnificent problems. For a start, the characters are likeable, or at least not total fuckwits like last year. They all seemed to have been retconned and to be brutally, brutally honest, I really think season one of the show is as much canon as Doctor Who's pilot episode (you know, the one with Susan the Goth chick from the 49th century and the Doctor insisting that he would die rather let human beings see the TARDIS take off). And, frankly, I won't miss it.
Gwen is no longer the confused slut willing to shag anyone but her boyfriend and increasingly corrupt. She is compassionate, sensible and above all monogomous and it makes sense that she's chosen to be leader of the Scooby Gang without a certain omnisexual available, and it's just as plausible that she's not coping as well as she'd like. Owen too has apparently laid off the aphrodisiacs and shows off his scientific and medical skills several times, along with his gunslinging and has his sights on wooing Tosh the old fashioned way without dateraping her. Tosh, sadly, isn't much different being the computer nerd that often misunderstands things and isn't good at human interaction but Ianto is more at the forefront here. Not only is he clearly the one Jack fancies most, his abilities at crisis management and his hardcore loyalty to his friends is shown to be strength rather than a pointless fifth wheel.
The format of the show is a tad different too. For a start the Welsh are not the complete retards they have been portrayed as in the series (and in Doctor Who): even old age pensioners know that Torchwood is behind the wierd crap happening in the city and the police only tolerate this bunch out of amateurs because they're clearly professionals. It seems that they've finally decided that Jack was making Torchwood 3 a less secret organization than Yvonne Hartman and her gang, and all the signs are in this episode that this is the same universe where the Queen was nearly flattened by a spaceship looking like the Titanic. Again, it looks like series one has been retconned itself - even the hysterical woman in the trailer for next week babbling that there is no such thing as aliens is blunty told to stop bullshitting them.
And it's funny! Deliberately funny! This is the same show that once had a black woman in kinky Cyber underwear fist fighting a pterodactyl and expected us to weep at the cruelty and horror of this execution rather than bursting into hysterical laughter as the audience did. We were supposed to be impressed when out of absolutely nowhere a giant stone demon arrives and then drops dead in two seconds of story arc. The show no longer takes itself so bloody seriously, and is cheerfully aware of how absurd it is (after all, the parent show has, in every single episode, its main character told they are complete bloody looneys for thinking a police box can be a time machine). The opening episode is full of humor, and what's more it's funny humor - for example, when the gang are left without transport, Tosh gleefully pulls out some technobabble to extract them from their predicament, only for Ianto to simply whistle and summon a taxi.
The scene which gives me the biggest hope for this show is...
The back of a cab. Tosh, Gwen, Owen and Ianto are awkwardly sitting around.
GWEN: It's typical Jack isn't it? He disappears, he comes back, then he runs away again. He always shuts us out. We don't even know his real name.
TOSH: Or which time he comes from?
GWEN: Exactly. He's supposed to be our boss but we know nothing about him. Drives me crazy!
Long pause. Everyone looks glum.
IANTO: It is more fun when he's around, though.
GWEN: Yeah, it is.
That one scene has more characterization, humor and entertainment value than most of season one. These people actually behave vaguely like real human beings. When Owen notes their lack of info over their leader in Day One, it leaves the baffling questions of why such a clever organization know less about Jack than Gwen did with five minutes at a police computer and why they put up with him as leader when they clearly don't trust him? Here, the answer is obvious: he's cool, he's fun and he knows what he's doing and they wanna tag along. It's not deep, but it's a reason which is a damn sight more than last year gave us. A few have dubbed this episode more a comedy than gritty adult sci fi, and it's definitely an improvement.
There's only one real problem. I assumed that RTD's very obvious disowning of Torchwood in Season 3 was down to his disappointment at how rubbish it was - certainly, he makes the crossover episodes clash as much as humanly possible. But now I wonder if there is some kind of BBC rule that insists they don't fit together properly. It's the only way I can explain how two shows made by the same people in the same building clash so badly when they try to fit together.
Quite simply, at the end of The Last of the Time Lords, Jack says farewell to the Doctor and Martha and returns to the Hub presumably to wait for the others to return from the Himilayas, having been gone at most a week or so by Earth's POV. However, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang begins in January of 2009 with Christmas decorations still in the street, Jack is missing for months and only Tosh is gormless enough to remind the audience the gang are one member down with Owen patiently reminding her (as they presumably do every day) that the bastard's gone walkabout and is unlikely to turn up. When Jack does turn up, his vague descriptions of where he's been contradict the Who episodes as much as it refers to them. OK, I know any new viewers might not have appreciated him going, "I spent the last year chained up in an engine room being kinkily tortured by the English Prime Minister who was really an ancient alien determined to destroy Earth", but was it really necessarily for Jack to talk about 'seeing the End of the World' and surviving only by his faith in Gwen? Is he lying again? Or has RTD pissed off the script editor something rotten?
The plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not perfect. Rather like Captain Jack Harkness, it involves an evil master plan of completely random and pointless factors - for example, a random character just happens to have a vital clue for absolutely no reason whatsoever - and in terms of content, this episode is an odd choice for season opener. I mean, the story is mainly about Jack dropping by and realizing that the rest of the gang are pissed off at his departure and he's left twiddling his thumbs and being the third wheel. Then, they are confronted by somone only Jack can deal with. If I were to subtitle this episode, it would be something like "Do Not Trust This Man And Do Not Sleep With Him", since pretty much the whole plot hinges on the fact Jack is a secretive son of a bitch and was once a complete and utter fuckwit in those heady days.
All the stuff about WHY the gang are based in Cardiff, what the time rift does or even what the hell happened to Jack when he visited "his doctor" are not even hinted to a casual viewer. Even the godawful voiceover at the start has been removed, which might have proved a clue. Interestingly, the trailer at the end of the episode is for the whole YEAR rather than episode two. It's like this episode is only here to resolve the problem of Jack coming back, and also to systematically take the piss out of year one.
To emphasize the new self mockery angle, we meet Captain John Hart a character who, in other circumstances, would lead me to assume that Chris Chibnall is a penname for Charles Daniels. This guy extracts the piss out of Torchwood Three so much a black hole appears in the urinary tract. And, considering the show has based itself so much on Angel, and the fact the opening sequence is almost shot for shot the same as Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two's premiere "When She Was Bad", where Buffy arrives out of nowhere to save her friends after a long absence with the words "Did you miss me?" (or perhaps better "Dead Man's Party" where she returns to the friends she abandoned to their fate to get a less than warm reception), John is played by James Marsters.
Who am I kidding?
No, it's not John Hart. It's Spike. William the Bloody.
This is no transference on my part. James Marsters eschews his native American accent to play a Cockney psychopath with dangerously perceptive mind and a line of sarcasm that could puncture a Dalek. I dare say his Adam Ant outfit is just to stop Joss Whedon's lawyers from suing - I bet someone wanted him looking like Billy Idol again. He even uses some of the same jokes.
The only differences are:
he's not a vampire
he's openly omnisexual
But since Spike was destined to become human (and a vampire could easily have lived to 5090) it's not impossible that he's the same character. You may scoff, but it's easier to assume that John is Spike than explain where the hell Jack's been since he said goodbye to the Doctor.
Spike is a Time Agent like Jack, left to his own devices after the Agency collapsed in mysterious circumstances. He is very much the cruel shag anything git we saw Jack as in his first story, and it's not hard to link this with the Dark Age of the year 5000 the Doctor talks about in Talons of Weng Chiang, The Invisible Enemy, and The Ice Warriors. He's just nastier, decadent, and master of the double entendre. Despite the lack of onscreen violence, sex and swearing (one guy shouts "Shit!" before he dies but nout else), I still can't believe this episode will be viewable after being 'cut down' for younger viewers.
Anyway, Spike has travelled to Cardiff to collect a bunch of radioactive bombs which were accidentally sent through the rifts and his Vortex Manipulator immediately tells him Jack is in the locality. With his usual mockery of pop culture and extreme violence, Spike arranges a Western style show down with Jack involving a massive barroom brawl, violent sex and shotguns. All accompanied by some music I've never known the name of, but it's famous in car adds and everything. Imagine a strumming electric guitar interspersed with a high pitched voice shouting, "WEEE-HOOOOO!!" every so often. See, I knew you'd recognize it. Also, Spike has his own theme, the guitar riff from House of the Rising Sun, which sometimes enters the room before he does.
Jack and Spike are old... acquaintences. Whether or not they're friends is hard to say, but Jack doesn't trust his ex in any way whatsoever and Spike (and James Marsters) does his usual fun-loving anarchist routine. He comes across much as Jack was sold to us by RTD, someone who doesn't comprehend human authorities or due process, and comes across as fun and mischevious. Yet, as events unfold and we discover Jack was quite right not to trust his compadrie an inch, it's totally believable.
Spike is also a bit like RTD's Master, in the fact he is a very smart and dangerous person. Trouble is, season one made it clear that just about anyone could outthink the Torchwood gang, so when he totally screws over the gang, it comes across as inevitable. But, forgetting the whole first season abomination, we have Spike's status as evil con man mastermind built up, especially as it's made clear that the others underestimate him because they don't trust Jack enough to believe his warnings.
The plot comes to a decent conclusion with Owen's "Trust me, I'm an improviser" just about excusing the DNA-buggery involved in the conclusion. At least it makes more sense than the Daleks' similar tricks, and I can't think anyone wasn't disappointed as Spike's offer to join the gang was turned down. I dare say the extra long next time trailer was simply to assure us Spike would return, with the brilliant line about the gang "You people are just sex obsessed!" But he also drops a hint that he has found "Grey".
Who is Grey? No idea. I have absolutely no idea. But this parting shot leaves Jack shaken and terrified at the information, and when he refuses, as ever, to discuss it with Gwen the others, I think it's because he's not up to thinking about it. Yes, it looks like this will be a proper story arc.
When watching the second series of Robin Hood, I regularly bemoaned that Torchwood wasn't even on the same level. However, this episode is certainly up to Robin Hood's standard, and easily beats a few eps (Lardener's Ring, easily) and if the rest of the season can at least be as good as the opening episode, then, well, we'll finally have got the adult, sexy and funny Who spin off we were promised back in 2005. Forget Everything Changes through to End of Days. That was a failed experiment to graft ideas onto RTD's aborted Excalibur program (which Spike, with his usual postmodernism, refers to dismissively at one point).
This is a good episode. This is a show I'd want to watch. This is a show I'd buy Torchwood Magazine for (I had absolutely no interest in it until I saw this episode). I want to see the next episode. And I didn't have this buzz the first time round, BEFORE I knew it was crap.
Richard Briers apologizes for Kroagnon! Giant bugs! Alien bodysnatchers! Some angry guy who's an old enemy of Captain Jack who can change his face! Weevils! A guy, upside down, being Exorcist-sick and Jack locked in a cell with him! PC Andy patronizing Torchwood! Captain Spike returns! Er... everyone shagging each other... Gwen being stalked! Cardiff being nuked! MARTHA JONES! Alien invasion! Time traveller DNA! Ianto having a nervous breakdown in the rain! Owen... suggesting "we all have sex"...
Oh well. I suppose they'll grow out of it.