Sunday, April 6, 2008

Torchwood - It's The End, But...

With a bit of a mind flip
You're into the time slip
And nothing
Can ever be the same...

It's amazing for me to think that I am not only eager to see the finale of Torchwood, but one written by Chris Chibnall. My younger self at the end of 2006 would most likely have blown his brains out if he thought I was suddenly a Torchwood groupie (but then, probably would have anyway, as times were not happy). Just how has the yogurt-brained sniggering brain donor from series 1 reached the point where his name, be it in Torchwood, Life on Mars or Doctor Who, been reason to cheer up? Is he the same man? Has he sold his soul to the devil? Did he just need to rid himself of all his crap in the first four scripts to become decent? We still don't know and perhaps it's best we never will.

Once again, RTD shows that his insight into Torchwood is not as all-encompassing as he'd like us to think. Just as his presence in the first series amounted to him sitting in the corner, wincing and muttering that he's certain he knows what they're doing, this series delights in screwing him over. KKBB spat on his attempts to link the show with Doctor Who, the "Hi-Martha, Bye-Martha" kicked the crap out of his claims that the series would not have any cliffhangers or story arcs, not to mention all the subtle rewriting of events so that season one seems uncanonical. Even its decision to do what RTD promised were skewed - yes, it revealed all the important psychological secrets of the characters, but at the same time showed them to be the useless bunch of wannabe losers that Martha Jones dismissed them as - yet, this acceptance of their shortcummings only proved to be realistic. After all, Doctor Who revolves around a university drop out with ADHD in a stolen motor corrupting young girls... it's just that it doesn't pretend that it's anything but.

Now, Exit Wounds starts for all intents and purposes as Fragments Part Two, even with cliffhanger reprise (a great improvement on last year, which pulled a global catastrophe out of a self-contained plot with no warning whatsoever). Spike (AKA "Captain John Hart" but we know who it really is) has turned wronged lover scorned time agent psycho and in the space of thirty seconds has lured all the functional members of Torchwood into a trap. Indeed, it is revealed that the somewhat unlikely survival of Tosh and Ianto (who AREN'T immortal) is down to the bombs being cheap prototypes that Spike only used out of curiosity as to their power. Thus, nearly killing the whole gang is simply a side effect and not his main objective, so their survival actually makes him seem MORE dangerous. Spike - like the Master - hasn't put all his eggs in one baskets and has plenty of more surprises to ruin Jack's life, starting with the fact he has his long lost brother Grey prisoner.

Despite being set up in less time than it took for you to read it, this premise works and Exit Wounds kicks off proper with, according to wikipedia:

Captain John Hart begins a violent attack against everything Jack holds dear. Taking Jack prisoner, he sends him back in time for a long overdue reunion. Left without Jack, the Torchwood team face a desperate fight for survival against a city over-run by Weevils. As Jack battles to get back to present day he meets an old friend he thought he wouldn't see for quite some time, The Doctor. Captain Jack and The Doctor arrive back just as the rest of the Torchwood team need them the most. The Torchwood Team are cut off for most the this episode so they start to use popular website Digital Spy to send messages to a unknown Torchwood agent with the code name Digital Sid. David Tennant is to appear naked or semi naked; Gwen is to reveal she has a penis; Tosh is to reveal that she is an Sex loving corpse shagging slut; Owen dick will fall off because he is dead; Ianto get married to Lisa's bones.

And wikipedia NEVER lies.

Everyone who USES it, however, does lie.

Back to reality. No sooner do the walking wounded try to get to Rhys' car (since Spike has stolen their SUV), Tosh realizes that rift activity is happening all over Cardiff - from the hospital (To The Last Man) to the police station where PC Andy is so utterly traumatized he rings up Gwen for help. Neat how, having established Gwen is a borderline pyscho, you can crank up the tension by having characters turn to her. If you need Miss Big Teeth Denial to save you, then things really ARE serious. So serious, in fact, that even before the writer's credit has faded from the screen, Jack is splitting the gang up to cope with Spike's attacks. Now, I COULD bitch that they are hardly in condition to fight a time-travelling psychopath, and that this is clearly Spike's intention that they not be up to facing him, but I won't. In fact, the way none of them whine and bitch about their injuries shows they've finally got their priorities sorted, as does the fact they can twig that these ARE traps.

Jack deduces that Spike will be at the Hub, and goes to confront him alone on the grounds that the Time Agency partnered him with the nutter because he was the only one who could control him (leading to a genuinely amusing moment when Rhys sarcastically asks if the Time Agency is Cardiff-based as well). Anyway, we're not even two minutes into the episode - no opening titles this week - and Jack is striding into the hub to find Spike has made himself at home, adding a few bloodstains and turning it into a roller disco as I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper blares from hidden speakers and Spike himself shouts, "CUM ON, FEEL DA NOISE!" as he does a mock exercise routine.

Is this better than a sudden run of time refugees inexplicably making everyone think it's the end of the world? Seriously, why did they think that? Having peered through Revelations for the background of my Tenth Planet rewrite, there's nothing remotely like UFOs and the resurrected Beatles to indicate the final battle between good and evil. A Roman legionary in Cardiff police station is not officially part of Ragnarok, either. And why would the Welsh think it's the end of the world when five billion Cybermen appearing on TV to the whole world saying, "Your ass is mine!" didn't even merit part in their long term memory?

So, the return of Spike and his psycho delight in screwing around with Jack's status quo is simply the baseline in normality - especially since his desire is not to destroy the world, or enslave humanity, but humiliate and torture the main cast, putting inside our perceptions and clearly avoiding the tedious end-of-absolutely-everything-averted-in-twenty-three seconds of Abbydon...

I digress, I apologize. With the old Monty Python catchphrase, "Aw, you're no fun any more!" Spike loses all pretence of being Jack's old drinking buddy and switches to Cracker-esque lunatic who you do not mess with. Even if they're straightjacketed and strapped to the floor of a padded cell. And Spike simply pulls out guns and machine-guns Jack to death. Even given our immortal protagonist, a villain who doesn't bother with any Dr-Evil-style drama before trying to kill his enemies deserves plaudits. Even Daleks have more respect for narrative convention - remember Dalek Caan, the rebellious wild card Dalek, needing to make a morale-boosting speech before shooting the Doctor? When the Doctor was bouncing up and down, waving his hands and shrieking, "GO ON YOU WANKERS, SHOOT ME!!"

However, what follows has to be the biggest on screen blunder since Everything Changes had Gwen passing posters for the Doctor Who Exhibition. Someone decides that Spike shooting Jack dead is a brilliant mini-cliffhanger and then starts the opening credits. For a start, this person doesn't seem to twig the fact Jack dies a lot. And gets better. Secondly, the scene is pretty much a retread of KKBB when Spike throws Jack off a building. Thirdly, someone else seems to think that this episode doesn't NEED the title sequence, so after the cliffhanger reprise the caption "EXIT WOUNDS by Chris Chibnall" in the first scene. This means the title sequence has a rather awkward gap following it, which is hastilly filled by "place" subtitles that seem to be typed up at the last minute. The fact Torchwood's never had these time/place X-File captions ever before kills off some enjoyment as well.

Anyway, Gwen and Rhys turn up to meet Andy at the station, where Rhys and Andy have some nice sarcastic banter as they discover each other knows about Torchwood and idly compete in how indepth their knowledge is. However, Andy has turned to Gwen because a carnivorous alien has turned up and chewed its way through the senior station staff - and, in a refreshing nod to Doctor Who, Andy notes that if word gets out there is an alien in the police station, Cardiff will panic. Because they know about aliens. And they're scared of them, as established in every RTD script from Christmas 2005 onwards. Torchwood finally catches up! This is, admittedly, a buzz killed when niether Rhys nor Andy recognize the alien monsters as Weevils. Oh well. Since Torchwood IS spiking the water supply, we'll have to assume such local wierdness can be overlooked.

Anyway, speaking of Doctor Who, the Hoix is back! Yes, the big toothy monster from the start of Love and Monsters is stalking the basement of the hospital where the same nurse from Dead Man Walking tells Zombie Owen to deal with it. After pausing to inhale the fanwank fumes, Owen effortlessly tackles the uncontrollable carnivore and drugs it unconscious with some doped snacks. And I'll be generous and take the nurse's disbelief about the Hoix being an alien since she assumed it was a wild animal, rather than her being 'xenoskeptic'. Oh, I like that word. I shall use it more often.

Elsewhere, we discover that Cardiff has a Central Server - effectively a whacking great tower with every single possible modem built into it. Which is just begging for trouble, IMO. Tosh (now fully mobile and healed thanks to "industrial strength pain killers") and Ianto find three wierd dudes with strange voices, dressed as Grim Reapers preparing to 'cut down' the heretics with their scythes.

So Ianto and Tosh shoot them all dead.

It really is, as simple as that. And I'm not entirely unconvinced this casual slaughter ISN'T supposed to remind us of the episode's chief evil. Mind you, I have no idea who the cultists were or what they were doing hanging around a server, as they don't look the type to be hoodwinked by a decadent degenerate like Spike. Maybe they're Ben Chatham cultists and don't exist in the laws of logic?

Speaking of the chief evil, Jack once again finds himself chained up by an evil mastermind who has systematically removed all possibility of escape. However, as Spike points out, in other circumstances Jack would consider his current state the perfect start to a Friday Night ("What? Are you suddenly anti-bondage?"), and it goes to show that you really should be careful what you say to people. The insults given to Spike in KKBB have caused him to want payback, even though the same people who belittled him saved his life and let him go. No pleasing some psychopaths.

More similarities to the Master continue as Spike ominously announces his plans are now so advanced he cannot stop them, and uses the Rift Manipulator in the same dues ex machina as the Paradox Machine, and forces Jack to watch from a high vantage point: Cardiff Castle (so it wasn't demolished in Boomtown to make way for Blaith Droog Nuclear Timebomb... that's Another Life cancelled out then). Spike then completes the night by giving his own "Peoples of the Universe" speech, though narrowed down to Gwen, Ianto, Tosh and Owen...

SPIKE: Attention, Torchwood employees! Evenin' all. Now, stop what you're doing. Jack can't come to the comms right now, but if you leave a message I'll be sure and pass it on. "What have I done to him?" Wrong question. You should be asking "What am I about to do to you?" So masterful, so bossy, so basically powerless. Get up to the rooves of your buildings, quickly now, spit spot. Because if you don't, you'll miss all the fun. Wait a minute. Do I mean "fun" or do I mean "carnage"? I get them confused. Are you running yet? No dawdling now.

And a series of nuclear blasts tear chunks in Cardiff. I wouldn't say it "destroys the city" as Jack exclaims, but it definitely knackers it. This is 911 type destruction all right, and I'm tempted to think that Chris is drawing a line in the sand for Torchwood Season 3. If they ignore this, well, screw them. Anyway, as Cardiff burns, Gwen is once again put in charge (not just in charge of Torchwood but seemingly the entire city now all the senior coppers are dead) while Spike translocates with Jack elsewhere: however, even aside from the fifteen nuclear explosions and the side effects, the modem for the Welsh nuclear reactor is playing up dangerously. Luckily, Gwen is certifiably insane and confidently tells everyone they are going to repair the damage to the Welsh capital, with lots of pep talk glossing over the big question of "how?".

While Gwen tricks the entire police force of Cardiff into believing her spiel, which not even SHE believes, Ianto decides to head for the nuclear reactor to try and stop it from blowing up while Tosh stays fiddling with computers in a set identical to the one in Nightmare of Eden where the Doctor is left rewiring freestanding fruit machines on a countdown.

Jack meanwhile, has been dumped in Cardiff 1982 years in the past, when it was just a rather boring field. Spike explains that he's fled here because someone ELSE has fused a bomb to him in order to blackmail our Cockney Crazy into doing whatever the damn hell he wants. Seriously, Spike, this is becoming a habit! However, Cardiff in 27AD is far enough from his master's voice for Spike to reveal his true intentions (he ISN'T a complete psycho stalker...) when Grey turns up. Cue LSD flashback-flashbacks to Adam.

However, I think it fair anyone reading this will have gathered:
a) Spike was not in control when he claimed to be holding Grey hostage
b) Spike is under the control of an unspecified master
c) He is a tad worried when Grey shows up
d) Grey was lost because Jack let go of his hand and might be a bit pissed off at this.

Ergo, the concept that maybe Grey is the mastermind behind all this occurs to me. After all, what could be better than finding out your longlost brother is actually totally evil? Thus, I am not surprised (entertained, slightly horrified but NOT surprised) when Grey stabs Jack through the guts with a huge knife, shouting, "SORRY ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH!" and, not particularly fussed when his brother returns to life, prepares to bury the bastard alive in the foundations of Cardiff City. Where he will spend the next four billion plus years living and dying until the sun explodes. And since I don't believe the Face of Boe is Jack, things look bleak.

With Jack seemingly out of the picture, Spike is given his freedom: and so he returns to the Hub to meet Gwen... only to realize Gwen hasn't has a good day and, more importantly is a few totillas short of a picnic. And since Jack isn't exactly forthcoming about his past, Spike's explanation of "Grey did it!" doesn't have the reaction he wanted. In order to prove he's on the level, Spike rips out the bomb before it's fully-diffused from his arm.

Yeah, don't be eating during this episode. I was nearly sick. And you know what a strong stomach I have.

Grey jumps forward to appear in the Hub Vaults beside the Weevil cage, and presses his time agent bracelet thingy with an incredibly annoying noise which not only gives all humans who hear it a blinding headache, but wakes up every single damn Weevil in Cardiff. And they are not happy. He then releases the Weevils in the cells under the Hub (for some reason, I dunno, maybe the fact he's the source of the noise, they ignore Grey and head after Spike and Gwen). Meanwhile, the Weevils swarm out of their Church (also Dead Man Walking) in that incredibly fake 'CGI makes multiple versions of people to create army').

If you've seen the Steeple Chase episode of Double the Fist where the Womp creates multiple copies of himself... that special effect is FAR more convincing than the one we see here. Oh well. If it's a choice between a half-decent plot and utterly convincing special effects, I'll take Invasion of the Dinosaurs over The Idiot's Lantern any day.

The point is, the streets of Cardiff are full of Weevils, so Ianto and Tosh cannot get to the nuclear reactor to stop it blowing up. But Zombie Owen with his reasonable grasp of Weevil sexual advances (according to the books, anyway), can! It's amazing how bad this show has been that simply using basic parts of the character's history rather than totally ignoring it (ala Something Borrowed) brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Chibnall, we will miss you, you spectacled, lisping ponce...

Anyway, the Weevils still remember Owen as the Host of the Fend... I mean, "Death", and immediately fall to the ground moaning, "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!" as wide-mouth zombie date-rapist runs through the dullest part of Wales to prevent thermonuclear meltdown. It's a funny old world, and no mistake.

Tosh and Ianto return to the Hub and subdue the Weevils, but once again it seems that the Hub is the utterly shittiest secret base ever - come to think of it, has it EVER worked the way it's supposed to? - as Grey has total control and tricked them into trapping themselves in the cells with pissed-off Weevils! And as Tosh tries to help Owen over the phone bluff his way with a critical reactor, Grey appears behind her and opens fire...

And on that point, it might be best that I leave it there - impressive, as we still haven't reached the half-way mark in the episode. (BTW, Tosh is totally rehabed from the Uberbitch of Something Borrowed - we certainly care what happens to her when bullets are firing... oh, and Aliens of London is explained! On his second day on the job, Owen was hungover and they had to send Tosh in instead to deal with "Space Pig". No flashbacks though.)

But if 42 was Planet of Evil meets The Impossible Planet by Solaris, this is Last of the Time Lords meets Earthshock via the very last episode of Buffy whose name completely escapes me at present. But it isn't a complete rip off it, which makes a change... nah, I'm doing Torchwood 2 a disservice. This year at least manages to bring something new to the stories, like the way Robert Holmes remade Hammer Horror flicks for three years. Something Borrowed was an exception, but all in all:

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Dead Man Walking
Day in the Death
Exit Wounds

To The Last Man
Something Borrowed
From Out of the Rain


The Ugly could have been saved through stronger script editing and the Bad can be told by the authors' respective lack of interest, enjoyment or respect to the whole Torchwood concept.

And Torchwood really has turned around. We know actually KNOW who these people are, WHY they stick together, WHY they do what they do, and exactly WHO thinks they should be allowed to. It's truly remarkable to realize that at the end of End of Days, we knew nothing more of the main cast than we did at the start of Day One - bar their universal bissexuality.

They've fixed the problems of:
* the mast cast being a bunch of utter arseholes
* the Welsh being completely moronic
* no inter-stories continuity
* proper acknolwedgement of Doctor Who
* ridiculously childish swearing, shagging and boozing
* neglected secondary characters

Torchwood 2 is a series that actually is in the same room as the descriptions of it as "gritty adult drama". It's not Edge of Darkness, but it's not the crushing embarassment of before when the Dead Ringers spoof was a more coherent and enjoyable bit of television. True, it's hands are still down the back of Joss Whedon's underpants, but at least they understand what they're spoofing/copying/homaging rather than stealing random elements and plot and waiting for us to applaud. And the most fundamental thing the Buffyverse tells us is that actions have consequences, and to annul those consequences takes away the whole point of it. Jack's experience of being buried alive can be dealt with by retcon... but it won't make it any better in the real world.

Like Robin Hood 2, Torchwood 2 ends not on a cliffhanger but a crossroads. Things have changed, no reset buttons can be used and, as they say in the final scene:

The End is our Beginning.

So, before the Creepy Little Girl With Her Clown Doll From The Test Card can run down Rohl Dahl Plass and switch off my modem, I say "Bye-bye!" to Jack, Gwen, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Rhys, Andy, Martha, Myffanwy, Grey, Jack, Beth, Mike, Tommy, the Space Whale, Adam, the Suicidal Widower, Richard Briers, the Night Travellers, poor Ork-face and his mum, the Kinky Lesbians of Torchwood 3, Owen's late lamented bride and her pet brain tumor, Tosh's parents, Ianto's casual clothes, Owen's toiletries, Tosh's smoked salmon sandwiches, those freaky mosquitoes down on the Pharm - and don't forget the Blowfish!

And so, my friends, our story is at an end and we must move on to another time, another place. Perhaps some remote corner of the outer universe? Perhaps when a proper DVD box set is released? Perhaps when the ABC gets off its ass and buys the show? But wherever it is, we shall meet again. We SHALL meet again...


Right, are we gonna sit round sobbing into our dorritoes or are we gonna check out what Doctor Who is up to?

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