Sunday, February 17, 2008

Torchwood Wishes They Were As Cool As Martha Jones

Martha Jones strong!
Martha Jones mighty!
Martha Jones rocks!

As Jack's bewildering return to the world of Cardiff makes me wonder if there is an unwritten law to contradict Doctor Who as much as possible, Martha Jones arrival in the Hub makes me wonder about just what the hell we are supposed to make of the main characters. Part of the trouble is, as ever, the fact RTD regurgitated his old Excalibur script without fully meshing it with Doctor Who. Torchwood was originally shown as an incredibly powerful and secret organization run for the express benefit of the English Empire and staffed with the best and brightest. Torchwood Three is a lone band of emotional cripples lead by an omnisexual immortal with a severe personality disorder.

Now, I always assumed that it was just dodgy writing and the Hub gang were supposed to be viewed as a serious team of the elite of alien-monster-fighting scientists and soldiers. But, no. These guys really ARE a worthless band of losers who have as much right to meddle with alien artifacts and defend humanity as Ren and Stimpy should be put in charge of infant heart surgery. Certainly, Reset makes it clear in its opening minutes that for all Jack's posturing about them being ready for the 21st century and beyond the grasp of all other authorities... they really are not qualified to do anything. And they are also completely stupid.

Ladies and gentlemen, Martha Jones has arrived, and if you don't want her to leave right away to show how grown ups deal with alien incursions, then you're watching the wrong show.

Martha's a lot different from the pretty student we saw at St Garts such a long time ago, but for the first time the character's total redefinition in Torchwood seems logical. After The Last of the Time Lords, Martha is a different person, ipso facto. She's walked the Earth, she's saved humanity, she's grown up. She dresses in a suit, for crying out loud, rather than her trademark burgundy leather jacket and chopsticks in her hair, she makes it clear to Jack she doesn't miss the Doctor anywhere near as much as he does, she's a fully qualified doctor of alien medicine and as far as I can make out is as important to modern day UNIT as Jon Pertwee was to the 70s version. Now, this does have the downside of killing stone dead any kind of audience identification with our favorite Dark Lady, but that's the point.

In less than two minutes of entering the hub - and being completely unimpressed with all the DS9 revolving doors, secret passages, rift manipulators and subway stations marked TORCHWOOD - Martha has pretty much bitchslapped the entire organization to the point you realize they need to up their game to ensure they're above Operation Delta. Ianto is caught on the hop by her, Owen is shown to be utterly pathetic as a phorensic pathologist and Tosh and Gwen immediately fall silent and watch on with hurt expressions. She's the Alpha Female and she doesn't even insult anyone or act mean or anything. She just arrives, says hello to Jack and gets on with her work... you know, the way everyone else doesn't.

Hell, Owen actually tries to talk them off the case by showing off the latest alien artefact. He has no idea what it's for, how it works, but nevertheless starts firing laser bolts around the Hub, nearly killing Ianto in his quest to set fire to a piece of paper in a styrofoam cup. It's clear that whatever Martha thinks of Jack's team, she'll be calling a certain police box wearing a blonde wig and calling herself Rose before going to Cardiff for help. It's even more painful as she realizes that Jack hasn't even SLEPT with his fellow gang, and they don't even know he's a time traveller! Every time Gwen or the others opens their mouths, you see Martha's (and our own) respect for the Welsh Crusaders drop further.

Thankfully, the retarded incompetence of Torchwood Three is done for comic effect, and thus comes across more deliberate than the endless parade of disciplinary failures of the first series. But before we go onto the plot proper, a word about the direction... who gave the drugs to the director? Several shots literally dissolve like acid into another, and you can get whiplash from sweeping jump cuts and flashes of alien screensavers that seem to edit out all the stupid talky stuff to focus on the plot.

What is the plot? People are being killed across Wales and England, apparently murdered by injections and a conspiracy ensues all the victims' medical records are mysteriously wiped. After three minutes (well, maybe more in "story time") Martha concludes that the injections are not the cause of death per se, but applied to destroy some kind of evidence left in the corpses before anyone can detect it. "These attacks aren't random, they're clinical, professional," Martha muses to Gwen. Got the subtext there, Welsh girl?

Meanwhile, Owen and Martha belt out medical jargon to each other where they establish that the stuff being pumped into the victims is... er... odd. I'm lost, they speak so fast and use things like "perfect cholestorol levels" and "parasitic sub-strains", I'm at a loss to work out if it's good or bad, let alone what the hell they're deducing. Was this episode speeded up to fit the timeslot or something? It's making me dizzy. Their magical flitting through the hub to the hospital and back doesn't help either, but apparently the only survivor of the needle attack, a teenage girl, is in perfect health apart from some alien crap in her blood. Which is... uh... interesting.

Coz Tosh has been left on teleport duty, er, computer duty, and Jack is... where is Jack? No idea. Anyway, Gwen and Tosh are chatting with this student, who is the friend of another student. Who is dead. Cause he got the lethal injection, but it wasn't lethal, it was something else and the injection was something else and he was diabetic... GOD DAMN IT, SLOW DOWN! Jesus! It's only ten minutes into the episode and I can't keep up - and I'm the man who made sense of Resurrection of the Daleks and Warrior's Gate! THIS IS SOME SERIOUSLY CONFUSING SHIT HAPPENING, MAN!

Turns out that diabetes cannot be cured in the heady future of, uh, is it 2009? So the fact the dead student was cured of it is an evil clue. OK. So the students are part of the Sleeper Cell or something and someone else is killing them? If so, who's doing the injection of evidence removal? OH MY HEAD!!! Oh, it just strikes me that the first shot of the episode, the door to Ianto's tourist office, has the newspaper from Boomtown on it - New Mayor, New Cardiff. My brain's just not keeping up with this... SLOW DOWN! Right. The teenage girl was HIV positive, but was given a miracle cure "Reset", the same experimental drug that cured the student. Right. "Reset" comes from "the Pharm" and... Owen's shoving his hands up under her hospital gown... What? For once, I don't think he's trying to cop a feel, but that's sure as hell what it looks like, like that bit in The Mutants where Ky molests Jo back to life by fondling her breasts in a strange alien CPR. Pity Martha is looking away at the time or she'd no doubt have a few choice words for "Dr" Harper, the ugly bastard. Still, he hasn't slagged off Tosh this week. Where we we?

Now the teenage girl has dropped dead before she can explain further... and coughed up a swarm of bugs... in a hospital... and Martha and Owen are hiding from them and alarms are going off... but the bugs are dead. So... "Reset" are like chest busting aliens incubating in humanity under the guise of being a cure... Wait a minute, this is a rip off of Slow Decay! That's another novel rendered non canonical - what the fuck is going on at BBCWales? They're being forced to plagiarize their own TV-tie-in novels to come up with new episodes!

My consciousness is impaired. I cannot think. And it's not even fifteen minutes into the story.


I think I'll try watching it again tomorrow.



That makes a lot more sense. I won't go into intense detail over the rest of the plot, however, as for once actual spoilers exist that I feel duty bound to hide. Mmm. The most interesting thing is that, unlike the rest of the season, this episode palpably exists in the same continuity as The Last of the Time Lords, with Jack telling Whitehall to go fuck itself coz he doesn't really trust them after they elected the Master prime minister. Also, while Martha's survival is guaranteed - and the info she has a boyfriend who has saved her life is a bit of a surprise - what is done to her in this ep... well, suffice it to say it would never happen in Doctor Who. It's a touch gross and uncomfortable and reminds me of Xtro... Poor Martha.

This episode certainly has the potential to rewrite the premise of Torchwood. There's a hint that the proper authorities are no longer prepared to put up with Jack and his gang of fools, and tackling the Pharm in such a way effectively is the Hub declaring war on the rest of humanity - they've certainly burned their bridges with Britain. Perhaps Torchwood will be redefined as not the professional MIBs they want to be, but a bunch of well--intentioned amateurs with the moral highground over the worlds governments? That they are simply the lesser of two evils? Frightening thought that... And does that mean they'll be asking Sarah Jane Smith for help in future?

At the end of the day, I'm just guessing about all of this - we all know how rubbish Torchwood is at creating ongoing story arcs. Even the final shattering conclusion of Reset (hint, hint) is undermined by the title of the next episode alone!

And so, this episode leaves us to marvel at the sight of Grownup Martha - so different to the fresh faced student of yesteryear - mingling with Owen Harper. It's a sight which will stand up there with oddities like Ace and Mel in Dragonfire, Turlough and Peri in Planet of Fire, Polly, Ben and Dodo in The War Machines, Vicki and Katarina in The Myth Makers, and Steven, Ian and Barbara in The Chase. Work out the common factor, boys and girls, and in the meantime relish the fact that out of six episodes, only two have been truly below par, unlike year one, where they were all of the same horrible standard.

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