Sunday, April 27, 2008

Torchwood: 1x01 - 1x04

As I was saying before, watching Torchwood made much clearer what it is that makes Doctor Who works. His joy and energy makes even a run of the mill episode enjoyable, and watching his life spirit come in conflict with vast darkness is what ignites the major conflicts in the series. Torchwood doesn’t have this same life spirit, the characters are all a bit darker, and the external world is treated more as a menace than something exciting to be discovered. The show has its moments, but after four episodes, I don’t think it’s quite found its voice.

The basic structure of the first episode is pretty similar to Doctor Who’s ‘Rose,’ however ‘Rose’ worked better for me because I was totally new to the universe, like the character was. Here, I know who Jack is, I’m aware that there’s weird stuff going on, so it feels like we’re one step ahead of the character. Gwen is a solid protagonist, I like the pull between her regular life and the more lonely, workaholic lives of the Torchwood gang, I’m guessing she’ll eventually dump the boyfriend and commit full time to Torchwood.

My central issue with the series so far is the portrayal of Captain Jack. This was a character who was so charismatic he got this spinoff made after only a few episodes on Doctor Who. The central appeal of the character was his reckless sense of adventure, his enthusiasm to go anywhere and do anything. He’s the character we know, and in theory, he should be our point of view character, not Gwen. So, I’m not sure why they chose to change him from a friendly, energetic guy into a brooding mysterious guy. It kills the appeal of the character, and makes the show into much more of a typical broody, dark sci-fi show.

The show has a lot in common with Angel, and like the first season of Angel, it struggles to find its voice. I think all the episodes are watchable, and have their moments, but none of them really click. The strongest is probably ‘Day One,’ which puts Gwen in some tough situations, and contrasts her naivete with the world weariness of the rest of the gang. But, like early Angel, they frequently try to make the series too dark and humorless, as a contrast to its goofier parent show.

Now, I love dark stories, the darker episodes of Who are my favorites, but those dark episodes still feature fun and awe. Look at the Master episodes, it’s his ecstatic dance as the six billion orbs descend that makes it work, there’s no need for brooding. The Doctor goes through dark times, but he keeps high spirits. The fact that he can be happy makes his sadness even worse. Other than Gwen, I don’t have a sense of who these characters are outside of work yet, and that makes it tough to care for them.

That’s where the series’ biggest misfire so far comes from. ‘Cyberwoman’ has a bunch of things going against it, that really goofy outfit on the woman notably, but the real flaw of the episode is that it wants us to care deeply about Ianto, a character we’ve barely seen, and the actor just doesn’t pull it off. It feels melodramatic and over the top when it should be emotional. It’s the kind of episode that sounds good on paper, but just doesn’t work in practice.

But, it’s still early in the series. I’ll stick with it and see how things go. The premise has a lot of potential, and Gwen and Jack have some good chemistry when they let him actually play something other than brooding mysteriousness. It makes no sense to me that his work crew should be unclear whether he’s straight or gay, the guy we saw on Doctor Who would have tried to have them all already, so they should know he’ll go for whatever, as long as it’s beautiful. It’s odd that they’d so completely miss what makes the character work when building a show around him. Jumping from the Jack we saw in the last episodes of season three to the Jack of Torchwood is an odd experience. It really feels like the same actor playing two totally different rules. I don’t blame Barrowman, it’s more the writing that fails him.

1 comment: said...

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