Helen Raynor? script for ?host Machine?the third episode in Russell T Davies? ?dult?DOCTOR WHO spin-off TORCHWOOD sees the fledgling series edge away from the adolescent sniggering sex and unsubtle exploitation of the slightly wobbly opening two instalments. ?host Machine?is a step in the right direction, an episode which seems to be suggesting that TORCHWOOD might have interesting human stories to tell in the middle of all the juvenile sci-fi hardware and all the shouting and histrionics. It? a measured, intriguing little piece whereby Gwen (Myles) recovers a handy bit of alien tech stolen by a local hoody which ?rojects?Gwen back to an emotionally-charged moment in history; the arrival of a disorientated and frightened young evacuee from London at the height of World War Two. Leery Owen Harper (Gorman) gets his hands on the gizmo too and he finds himself at the scene of a murder in 1963ond Torchwood investigates a long-forgotten crime. It? a good tale well-told, moody and atmospheric with some decent pacey action sequences (the chase through Cardiff which opens the episode and, amusingly, totally disregards the actual geography of the city centre) and some decent moments of wry humour. Raynor is more interested in telling a good, spooky story than getting her characters to say ?***?just because the show is on after 10pm. ?host Machine?is far grittier and urban than both ?verything Changes?and ?ay One?and far more believable for it. It works as a character piece too; Owen? not just the cynical sleazeball he appeared to be in ?verything Changes?but he? a man with a surprisingly strong sense of right and wrong, a man who hates injustice and who won? rest until he? put things right. Barrowman continues to impress as Jack Harkness but it? clear now that this isn? the same happy-go-lucky ominsexual who beefed up the last third of the first series of new DOCTOR WHO. This new Jack is a more haunted figure, tormented by his immortality and worn down by his self-appointed position as protector of Mankind (Cardiff branch). The scripts aren? confidant enough yet to make the audience fully embrace Jack or any of his new chums ?Mori? Toshito has been very poorly served so far ?and I don? really feel I know any of these characters yet, much less care about them. But away from the publicity glare which left the first two episodes so exposed, and with less reliance on adolescent imagery and humour, ?host Machine?works as a dark, rather downbeat murder yarn and a nice change of pace from the crash-bang of those first two instalments.
Chris Chibnall? ?yberwoman?is an entirely different matter though. It was either a masterpiece of kitsch body horror or an absolute load of old tosh and I can? really make up my mind either way. Originally entitled ?he Trouble With Lisa? the episode? bald new title suggests a production team uncomfortably keen to forge connections with the sister show which don? do TORCHWOOD any favours at all. This show has been pitched again and again as an adult show dealing with adult situations in an adult manner and everyone? been banging on about how important it is for TORCHWOOD to put a bit of distance between itself and DOCTOR WHO, to forge its own identity. Worrying then that episode four not only adopts a penny dreadful title but also bases its entire storyline on 40 year-old DOCTOR WHO concepts and links quite directly to the events depicted in the finale of the second series of new WHO. ?yberwoman?attempts to do what DOCTOR WHO has always done so well; the so-called ?ase under seige?story where a group of characters are trapped inside a restricted, claustrophobic environment, fighting to stay alive as some horrible aggressive force battles to get in. So here, in what Americans call a ?ottle show? the Torchwood crowd are trapped inside their confusing HQ The Hub (I can never figure out where anyone is supposed to be at any given time) as a resuscitated half-Cybercreature, Ianto? unfortunate girlfriend Lisa, caught up in the battle of Canary Wharf in the last episode of DOCTOR WHO, goes on a delete-crazy rampage as she tries to reactivate the Cyber-conversion line.
Whatever you think of ?yberwoman??and if nothing else it was a hugely-enjoyable, hugely-silly action romp ?its position here in the series?running order can only have been a poor judgement call. Still struggling to establish itself away from DOCTOR WHO, ?yberwoman? despite some clunky expositionary dialogue, relied so heavily on foreknowledge of WHO lore that it really wouldn? make much sense to the new audience who may not have found DOCTOR WHO to their tastes. Halfway through the episode, probably during the deliriously daft but well-realised scene where Torchwood? resident pterodactyl (stay with me on thisu attacks Cyberwoman Lisa, I realised that this show had just lost any hope it may have had of capturing an audience not remotely interested in science-fiction. Oddly enough it? done the exact opposite of what DOCTOR WHO has managed; by cleverly marrying human stories and creating believable people, DOCTOR WHO made the fanciful and the fantastic acceptable to an audience not remotely interested in spaceships and prosthetic aliens under normal circumstances, an audience drawn in by the new humanity of DOCTOR WHO. Not nearly as sharply-written, TORCHWOOD has just dumped a fairly unsympathetic bunch of secret agents onto the screen and put them into rather ludicrous situations which a non-genre crowd are unlikely to tolerate much beyond the underwhelming title sequence. Four episodes in, and with viewing figures already halved on BBC3 (but already more than decent for non-terrestrial telly), it looks as if TORCHWOOD is starting to play almost exclusively to the SF crowd which always watch this stuff whatever channel it? on. That? the greatest shame of the show; what promised to be dark and edgy, realistic and unsettling, has become a tongue-in-cheek romp with lots of guns and monsters and the odd expletive. ?yberwoman?seals it with Chris Chibnall? achingly-creaky dialogue ?e woke up and a dog was pissing on our tent?old me!?says Cyberlisa (who has recently managed to?r?ransplant her own brain out of her cyberbody and into the body of a hapless passing pizza delivery girl) as she tries to persuade misguided boyfriend Ianto (David-Lloyd,indulging in his own bout of extreme gurning in his first high-profile episode) that she? still the same ol?girl he fell in love with. Here? where the subtle differences between DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD are thrown into sharp relief. Here I don? care about Ianto and his girlfriend (although I? intrigued as to how he could have transported his half-Cybernised girlfriend and various bits of shiny Cyberequipment all the way from London and secreted it away in the bowels of Torchwood Cardiff without the never-sleeping Jack catching him in the act) and I? not too bothered about the growing relationship between Gwen and Owen, horribly and crudely welded into what should have been a tense ?iding from the monster?sequence. Ultimately these characters aren? yet well-defined enough for the audience to give a toss about them; curiously the only one with any real potential is Captain Jack and that? purely because he was such fun in DOCTOR WHO.
TORCHWOOD remains a riot, though. It? not what it could and should be and it? nothing like we were promised. It? throwaway stuff, well-made (?yberwoman?is particularly well-directed and beautifully-lit) and easy on the eye. But it won? change the face of science-fiction on UK television and it won? open up the genre for those who don? this kind of stuff. With a bit more effort and some tighter scripts (and less reliance on schoolground smut) TORCHWOOD could have been our very own X FILES. At the moment it? more like THE TOMORROW PEOPLE with Welsh accents and cussing. I expected more than that. It? not too late; next week PJ Hammond (SAPPHIRE AND STEEL) contributes a script about malevolent fairies (no, wait, come back?) and the trailers I?e seen so far in themselves look better than anything else we?e seen in TORCHWOOD so far. Cross those fingers?on? abandon this sci-fi ship just yetz/p>