Friday, 4 April 2008

Torchwood 2.13 Exit Wounds (spoilerific from the off)

Well now we know how Chris Chibnall sees Torchwood, essentially an SF version of Spooks. And he's the new Eric Saward. And that means, since we've seen since Doctor Who's second season working for Torchwood is dangerous, dammit, we have to prove it!

If you've been watching carefully it's been fairly easy to guess who's not going to make it through to season three. Naoko Mori was permanently underused in the show, all of her character's plot functions being pretty much duplicated between Ianto and Owen. And every time she got centre stage there was only one plot - fall in love, get hurt due to time/species incompatibility issues. If you've got such a limit on the character it makes sense to get rid of her. Fair play to Naoko Mori though, she got the best dramatic scenes she's had in two years and made the most of it, giving the overly drawn out death scene pathos and impact, although Barrowman's mugging undercut it just seconds later. As for Owen, Burn Gorman's raging against the second dying of the light was the sort of thing he does best but the lack of a definitive final scene meant Owen's finale just tailed off. If he did survive I like the idea of Owen feeling abandoned by Torchwood and being King of the Weevils. I've got a great image in my head of the team marching in and finding him sat brooding on a Weevil throne. Killing him undermines the emotional arc from his earlier death though - oh he's dead again, bet he's back. At least this series redeemed the first season's treacherous rapey bastard to an extent, finding some sympathetic character traits that he utterly lacked before. It's hard not to see Martha's temporary substitution for Owen earlier in the series as a trial run for her being his permanent replacement.

Aside from that the finale fumbled a few very cool ideas. James Marsters stole the show again, even if Spike lite Captain John was largely wasted - was he just written in after being so damn good in episode one? There's a lot of dramatic mileage in the sundered brotherly relationship, and one blaming the other but you need decent actors to do it. John Barrowman's got charisma, but he's basically a stage actor, not a TV actor, so every emotion is overplayed when the nature of television enhances the small gesture and lampoons anyone going OTT. And Jack being buried alive for nearly 1900 years? Surely anyone would go somewhat nuts at that, and nothing we've seen from Jack before indicates he'd go for the meek acceptance he gives here, even for his brother. Essentially that storyline hits all the wrong emotional beats, rare for a show from the modern Doctor Who stable. And was it me or did Gray's plan make any sense whatsoever, particularly when most of it had no dramatic payoff? As a Newport lad it was fun to see Cardiff blown to smithereens, but the plot didn't demand it when the Rift distractions lured the Torchwood team out anyway.

And damningly, just when it could have done with it most, Torchwood abandoned the snarky sense of humour that had raised it from the swamp of angst and despair series one sank itself in. Not coincidentally the last three largely humour free episodes have all been Chris Chibnall's. The ending implied we won't be seeing too much fun next season, at least to start with, since Torchwood seems to demand angst. So it'll be back to square one unless we can get some characters (or, please God, writers) who can lighten the tone. A few more episodes along the lines of Something Borrowed , a few less angsty episodes that play to the fans, would be a stride in the right direction.

Two years in I'm not sure anyone quite knows what to do with the show, which is a shame since the first episode of each season offered tantalising of what a smart, sexy show Torchwood could be, modern, witty and slick, adult in the truest sense and providing enough subtext to fuel generations of fanfic-ers, something we've only seen intermittently since. There's a sense that lessons were definitely learned from the mistakes of season one, but there's still a frustrating sense that this could be so much more.

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