TORCHWOOD. As a concept it? been rattling around the fertile imagination of creator Russell T Davies for some time, way before his retooled DOCTOR WHO burst onto TV screens and made everyone sit up and take notice. The idea was created when Russell, an avowed fan of slick US genre shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL, idly wondered why Britain hadn? tried to make anything similar. Pitched to the BBC soon after DOCTOR WHO exploded, Russell? second dream (his first being to recreate DOCTOR WHO for the 21st century) soon became a reality when BBC3 commissioned a thirteen-part adult SF drama. The name, of course?ell, we all know where that one came from. So now here is it, debuting on BBC3 to record audience figures and poised ready to find a terrestrial audience on BBC2. But what? it really like when you get beyond the hype and the publicity and the ratings? Is it a bold new action-packed drama, something new for British TV, or is it just reheated old concepts American TV finished with a couple of years ago? It? a tricky one ?and the truth is, at the moment, it? a bit of all of them. And that? the problem.

TORCHWOOD has been pitched as a gritty, urban science-fiction series, stories about real people in a real city (less-than-sunny Cardiff) dealing with extraordinary situations. The Press quickly latched onto Russell? pre-production description of the show as ? cross between THE X FILES and THIS LIFE.?It? a description he? now keen to play down ?and quite rightly so. TORCHWOOD toys with the edge and style of both shows but hasn? yet got to grips with either – and nor has it really been able to find its own uniqueness, its own vision. There? monsters and blood and weird things for THE X FILES demographic and some sex and swearing for a post-THIS LIFE crowd. But the two don? actually sit together very comfortably; the former? too unsubtle ?fountains of gushing blood and graphic shootings, the latter? too gratuitous. The show has decided to make full use of its ?dult?status by punctuating its scripts with swear words which really don? add anything to the drama or the character dynamics. ?verything Changes?would have been a lot more effective without some of its more colourful language. Shows like SPOOKS and AFTERLIFE – both frankly far more adult than TORCHWOOD ?get by perfectly well with only very occasional use of quite tame profanity. There? a snort of sniggering adolescent sense of ?ook at us, we can use really bad swear words because we?e For Adults and aren? we big and clever.?Of course it really isn? very big and clever because much of it isn? necessary. Some of it? quite realistic, of course; as a denizen of Cardiff I can confirm that Owen? confrontation with the boyfriend of the girl he? just used his magic love spray on (more of which later) is all too believable ?but that doesn? stop it being brittle to watch.

The show? use of sex and sexuality was always going to raise a few eyebrows. Having already created Captain Jack Harkness(Barrowman) for the kid-friendly DOCTOR WHO and somehow managed to get away with playing an outrageously bi-sexual character at 7pm on Saturday nights without so much as a single ?ust we throw this filth at our kids??letter to the Daily Mail it was pretty much a given that the more ?dult?TORCHWOOD was going to go quite a bit further ?just because it could, regardless of whether it actually needs to or not. Episode one actually doesn? have time to dwell on sex ?there? too many other things to establish into the headlong narrative. Episode two though, presents the tedious, well-used concept of the alien entity which thrives on sexual energy to survive. Been there, done that, groaned at SPECIES (amongst others). It? to TORCHWOOD? credit, though, that they managed to salvage something from this somewhat tiresome and obvious idea by focussing a bit more on the humanity of the human host victim ?albeit at the expense of the creature? unfortunate victims who all ended up as neat little piles of dust without a moment? thought for the unpleasantness of their orgasmic demise. ?ay One?(originally entitled ?ew Girl? tries to use the sex-alien as a metaphor for our over-sexualised society; the confused possessed girl stumbles through the streets of Cardiff, her senses constantly bombarded by distracting sensual images. I have to say I? not sure what the episode is trying to say about the state of modern society and its reliance on ?ex sellsh the only message I could pick up from ?ay One?was ?ook out for aliens which live on sexual energy.?The sex-alien seemed uncomfortably like an excuse to get Gwen (Eve Myles) into a gratuitous lesbian snogging session and to encourage the morally dubious Doctor Owen Harper (the superb Burn Gorman) to get his kit off.

Oh, and that cast? John Barrowman is the square-jawed Captain Jack, a man out of time, a man who can? die, a man who? waiting for an old friend. Barrowman is superb; he? a great, confidant actor, real matinee idol material and he? the glue that holds the show together. His appearances really light up the screen, whether he? standing incongruously on top of buildings (and what on Earth were they thinking, setting the last scene of the first episode atop the Millennium Centre?) or striding through the rainy streets of Cardiff, the tails of his greatcoat flapping out behind him. Eve Myles, familiar to DOCTOR WHO buffs as Gwyneth the psychic maid in season one? ?he Unquiet Dead? portrays PC Gwen Cooper and she gives a quiet, understated, extremely expressive performance. It? all in the eyes. She? no Billie Piper ?yet ?and while Gwen doesn? convince and carry the audience along the way Rose did in DOCTOR WHO, Gwen really comes into her own towards the end of ?verything Changes?in her confrontation with the duplicitous Suzy Costello as Gwen stares at death down the barrel of a gun. Myles portrays the abject terror and despair of someone who? convinced their number? up with a face which is a mask of fear and panic. Of the rest of the team it? hard to know what to say yet. Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), last seen as a doctor baffled by a pig in a spacesuit in ALIENS OF LONDON, has been recreated as a computer whiz and she? not had much to do yet. Gorman? Harper could go either way; he? been characterized as a bit of a sleazy sex maniac, not averse to using alien technology to get his own way with the ladies ?or even the gentlemen. It doesn? make for the sort of person you? want to spend a lot of time with; it? to be hoped we?l learn a bit more of Owen as the series progresses. The greatest mistake of the first episode, surely, is the rapid dispatching of Torchwood? second-in-command Suzy (Indira Varma). Whilst it was undoubtedly a twist to turn her into the murderer, sacrificing her career and the lives of innocents in the name of furthering Torchwood? understanding of alien technology, the ?hock ending?loses quite a bit because Suzy? only appeared in a handful of scenes and we know as little about her as we do anyone else in the show. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to weave her story as a bit of arc throughout the first three or four weeks, leaving the ?erial killer?as a subplot which could have come to fruition further down the line. This would have given us more interest in and knowledge of Suzy and the shock of her leaving the show so bloodily would have been so much greater than her summary removal in episode one.

Two episodes in and what we have in TORCHWOOD is a show with a lot of promise but a show not quite certain exactly what it is. The pieces are there, they just need to be manoeuvred into the right places. If the show can shed its ANGEL obsession (cutting down the helicopter shots of Cardiff might be a good idea), fashion proper stories which don? rely on convenient gizmos to resolve the threat-of-the-week and tone down the obsession with rude words and sex, BBC Wales will find themselves onto a real winner, a show which is not only popular with the audience ?as it seems to be at the moment ?but also a show able to reap some of the critical acclaim which is constantly bestowed upon DOCTOR WHO.

TORCHWOOD ?still under construction.


More to explorer