Torchwood: Television’s B-Movie
Right, before I start, I have brief plugging to do- firstly, I’ve noticed the Doctor Who articles on the Guignol have been getting tons of clicks. If you want to read more of my Doctor-Who related nonsense (which I assume is what you’re here for), I’ll be writing a beginner’s guide to Doctor Who over the next few weeks over at the excellent site Popjunk, which I’ll posting here sporadically too. And another thing- for those new to the site, hello! I run other blogs both here (that’s an interview-based site about working in the arts), and here (that’s a music blog I run with another freelance pop culture writer). Check them out because I’m a sick-ass dope writing motherfucker. We good? We’re good.
So, Torchwood. Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who, and a code name for the rebooted show when it was still in the early stages of production) is a spin-off from the second series of the new Who, following the exploits of periphary character Captain Jack Harkness-
-and his band of merry upgraded extras. Basically, each epsidoe revolves around them prancing about Cardiff solving mysteries. It’s Scooby-Doo, if the gang dry-humped in the back of the Mystery Machine at the end of every episode.
Torchwood was sold as a “grown-up” Doctor Who, packed with fluid sexuality, moderately offensive swear words, and pointed blood splatter. This is usually where I would start ripping the ever-living pish out of a show of this nature-a spin-off, a “gritty redo”, Russel T Davies….
But Torchwood is great. Well, it’s not, but that’s what makes it so eminently watchable. The acting is pretty average, with John Barrowman earning particularly criticism for his portrayal of Jack (although, honestly, he’s playing a swaggering, omnisexual intergalactic space cowboy- the part needs to be inhabited, not actually acted), but it works. The cast have strong chemistry, and Eve Myles in particular (who was scooped straight out of a season one Doctor Who episode, character name and all) toes the line of audience surrogate and plain exposition machine carefully and to great effect. I’m also a huge fan of Owen, because he looks wildly strange in a way that I find momentously attractive.
He’s also the focus of some of the most interesting episodes of the series, and carries them with aplomb. One character I don’t understand is Ianto- there was such a vitriolic tidal wave when he left the show, I was expecting an engaging, witty, empathetic character and instead he’s the…pale-ish tea boy? You can keep it, thanks.
So the acting is no great shakes, and the stories are often two-word epiphanies that hit the writers at three in the morning on the way back from the pub. “SEX……GAS”. “LIVING…..FILM. “PTERODACTYL….PET”. You get my drift. The villains inevitably turn out to be either preening ninnies or badly CGI’d monsters or twist endings that make me want to harm things, but you’re there to see the gang bicker and leap into action at least twice an episode, not for Moffat-ian scripts. Everything is oozing with innuendos, second base, and snappy, office-banter one-liners. The whole thing plays out like a b-movie, in that it’s well aware that it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s enthusiastic and ridiculous and a little bit knowing anyway. Although once some screenwriting genius working for Torchwood managed to blurt out “MARSTERS….BARROWMAN” and it was good. REALLY good.
Keeping up with series eight of Doctor Who, one of the things I’ve been missing most profoundly is that sense of bright, kitschy, self-aware fun. That’s not to say every episode should feature Daleks in pom-poms and a swanny whistle, but there is- or should be, in my eyes- a light element of camp to the Whoniverse, and watching Torchwood reminded me that. I’m entirely game for serious science-fiction that makes a strong moral point (see: Miracle Day and Children of Earth, the brilliant if oft maligned miniseries detours Torchwood took after it’s first two monster-bashing seasons were over) or science-fiction that’s bright, breezy fun. And I also think that the Whoniverse is better placed than many to pull off both in tandem. But, in the midst of an all-too-serious season of Doctor Who, it’s nice to remind myself just how blase and brilliant this world can be.
Hang on, I just like this show because I think everyone’s fit, don’t I? It’s The Great British Bake-Off all over again.