Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Torchwood - Dirty Phone Calls

Emotions come! I don't know why!
Cover up love's alibi?

Call me! (Call me!) On the line!
Call me, call me, any, anytime!
Call me! (Call me!) All the while
When you're ready, we can share the wine!

Any time, any place, anywhere, any day!

Call me! (Call me!) On the line!
Call me, call me, in some your sweet design!
Call me! (Call me!) On the line!
Call me, call me for some overtime!
Call me, call me for your lover's lover's alibi!

Let's get one thing clear before we start. I hated Something Borrowed. My rants against Ben Chatham are fluffy love letters in comparison to that unfunny heap of mysoginistic, badly-plotted cliches in search of a punchline that made me actually question the sanity of anyone who defended it (like Dave A McIntee, who has since spat on the grave of Robin Hood - don't expect me to get The Eleventh Tiger any time soon, bud, you're dead to me now). Yet Phil Ford's Sarah Jane Adventures material is second to none. Even if The Waters of Mars prove to be a damp squib (see what I did there?), at least the trailer looks cool - something SB didn't manage. My only conclusion was that Ford... like a surprising lot of authors for Torchwood's second season... despised the central characters, the format and everything in between. How could someone so competant otherwise get Toshiko so bowel-shatteringly wrong?

Well, if Ford tapped out the script to SB (well, stabled together some Buffy transcripts anyway) while ranting his hatred for the spin off and all it stood for, he clearly only did this with a mild sneer. He clearly doesn't like any of the characters, with Gwen's stupidity pointed out at every opportunity, Ianto bemoaning his lack of anything approaching a life, and Jack very much defined as the insensitive jerk who remains a party animal while all around him flux and wither and change their shape. Nevertheless, they are depicted as well-meaning amateurs whose hearts are in the right places, unlike the gang of useless tossers in the previous installment.

The adventure kicks of in media res with a woman getting woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call by a rather subdued Ianto Jones who tells the woman their mutual shag Jack Harkness is dying. The woman sensibly tells Ianto to fuck off as it's the middle of the night and she knows full well that the Captain is an eternal fact in space and time and does not die. But finally Ianto pesters her enough to go down to the local hospital where Jack is one of a number of other patients all comatose with spooky black eyes.

Turns out that this came out as a result of Jack being in a real "get out there and help the people" mood and determines to stop a wave of coma-inducing mysterious phone calls - just as Moffat looked at Data Ghost Kylie in Voyage of the Damned and nicked the idea to extrapolate further, Ford seems to have done the same to OMcom in The Empty Child. However, Jack recklessly caller IDs the source of the deadly phone calls and ends up comatose himself: luckily, he was chatting about how wild his life was back in the seventies when he was bumping uglies with a chick called Stella who grew up to be the world's top neurosurgeon - the woman Ianto was ringing earlier. (As a note, Jack defends the rubbish films of the era as "guaranteed to lead to making out in the back row" - maybe Ford was saying that Something Borrowed is the ultimate aphrodisiac since anyone will find shagging you better entertainment than what was on TV?)

As often occurs while listening to these audios while going to bed, my consciousness started to bleed away around this part, so when Stella realizes that the deadly phone calls "aren't killing you on purpose", I found this incredibly fascinating, since it meant they were DELIBERATELY keeping people alive and ergo must depend on the hosts being kept alive. This theory was then rudely interrupted when Rhys and Gwen find some guy who answered the phone months ago, was starved to death and his body eaten by rats. Charming. Yes, Rhys turns up, played with consumate ease with Kai Owen, who pretty much gets all the best lines - including the painful scene where Gwen rings him up to tell him to beware lethal phone calls. Yes, Rhys sees the problem there too and makes damn sure everyone else does while Gwen struggles to rank up the tension by reminding us we all have mobile phones that could kill us any second!!!


Back at Albion Hospital, Ianto gets a rather touching scene where he talks to the comatose Jack ("This is the longest I've seen you when you haven't smiled") and muses on their finite and clearly doomed relationship, strongly suspecting that even if Ianto does survive the next TV series one day Jack will wander off and not come back. Considering he spent several centuries in Cardiff, I'm more inclined to believe his wandering days are pretty much through, but this is Ianto being cathartic, who cares about logic? Note also that Ianto's speech further decanonized TW1 since Jack clearly DOES sleep rather than stay in a perpetual waking hell.

Anyway, it turns out that all the coma patients have their mental energies used to make phones ring and cause MORE coma patients and without "Captain Scarlet" (as Rhys calls him between gratuitous continuity references to Something Borrowed) to save the day, it looks like the human race is well and truly stuffed as every phone starts ringing and no apparent way to stop it. At that point my grip on reality became slippery and when I grabbed hold again the Third Doctor and Sarah were pretending to be gay monk lovers fighting Ghosts from N-Space, so colour me baffled as to how the Hub team got out of it.


Fine, fine. I'll listen to the ending...

OK, Rhys and Gwen twig that somehow the evil stuff originates from retro 1970s telephones, randomly interrogate some dude in Swansea, then go to a private nursing home run by a shifty guy called Tyler where a previous generation of phone-zombie-victims. "You think I'm mad, don't you?!" rants Tyler. For some reason. Deciding none of this is really important, the dynamic duo (Gwen oddly reluctant to admit she's married to her "partner") return to Albion Hospital where Ianto just sighs at Gwen's inability to something logical like, maybe, check the Hub's records for rift activity in the 1970s to see if there might be a pattern?

Stella works out that this is some kind of computer virus (I'm sure Big Finish did that first with Urgent Calls - is this some kind of Viyran crossover?) and Ianto somehow fiddles with an MRI scanner (shades of Smith and Jones there) to destroy the virus, even though this might leave all current victims comatose forever. Nevertheless, Jack returns to the land of the living and Barrowman finally does something in this audio. Like TW1, he seemed to be sometimes less than a cameo, but at least here he's an enjoyable cameo, as he tries it on with Stella even after she reveals she's a grandma. "I AM THE SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER!" roars Jack at the end of a lengthy speech extoling the virtues of the 1970s, before revealing that, actually yes he heard Ianto's humiliating monologue and the teaboy should really lighten up.

The end.

Um. Ok. Keeping up with Something Borrowed, the best bits definitely are NOT the bits you'd call "plot", Rhys is the only cool character present, but it's a reasonably diverting way of spending 45 minutes and shows a lot less contempt for carbon-based life as the previous story.

Well, that's that for Torchwood until I finally get round to seeing Children of Earth Part the First...

No comments: