Torched Earth

When I’m feeling cheap, which has happened a lot lately, I shop at Asda. (I know, I know, but they’re all bad in their own ways.) The most pleasant way there, not that there is a great deal of choice in routes, is down Clive Lane, which is marked on maps, though it’s really a back alley between Clive Street and the railway, and its few doors open to pocket gardens and garages. Maybe it justifies having a name because a handful of these appear to be commercial, not that they stretch to anything as dignified as name signs. A few weeks ago, I was walking down there and the way was blocked with vehicles. This doesn’t usually happen as it’s not neighbourly to bar egress to someone’s house. As I approached I realised that the main culprit was an ancient, almost antique car, which four people started to push out of the way. Once I got through, I found I’d strayed onto a film set centred round a lock up which could give a bad name to dilapidation. The car was heaved into a side street (not for my benefit; they’d clearly done with it), people stood behind cameras and lights, and others sat in folding chairs. The nearest one said something – he had an American accent and I recognised him. The last time I’d seen him was on a YouTube video where he sang Springtime for Hitler. I thought about mentioning this, but I realised that it was probably a lot more recent for me than for him. So I said nothing, looked about a bit and went on.

He was, of course, John Barrowman, and he seems like a very nice guy. So it pains and embarrasses to totally agree with Justin: Torchwood sucks. It sucks in lots of ways. Russell T Davies and co-writers may be willing you to suspend your disbelief, but they aren’t helping at all. Their opening episode had ‘opening episode’ all over it; so much for starting in media res. Yet while explaining some things, the interesting thing, the thing most viewers wanted to know wasn’t explained at all. How did Captain Jack Harkness, last seen being killed by a Dalek, travel back to the 21st century and wind up heading a secret British organisation? How did he find his retro RAF overcoat again? More interestingly, why has he retained that superficial charm which fitted him as a conman and a Doctor Who travelling companion, but not as a whatever the hell he is. I know people in call centres who are less stressed than a guy whose job is being target practice for homicidal aliens.
Apparently, having died once, Harkness can’t die again. It’s remarkable just how much that statement bores me. If he can’t die, well, he’s going to get shot or crushed or something every week and he survivies. Captain Scarlett couldn’t die either. On the other hand, he was for five-year-olds. I like my science fiction to be as materialist as me; and that’s very. When he rose up after being shot in the head, my first thought, honestly, was So how does he remember stuff, because memory is physical reorganisation of the brain, just like a bullet but on a more subtle scale.
The conceit that aliens arrive on Earth as single spies, generally with advanced arthritis and emphysema so they wheeze and creak through the city of London like your 60-a-day great uncle (though unlike him, they’re also bullet proof, not that you’ve ever thought of that particular experiment) until they’re outwitted by the Doctor works in a kids’ show. But Torchwood is Adult. That means just like a kids’ show, but with sex bolted on. Having character in Torchwood seems to mean being an immature dick. The writing team has a low opinion of their creations integrity; three out of six are office thieves. And not only are aliens regular visitors and unsuccessful in their dastardliness, they also forget their tech, leaving behind nick-nacks which look like the accessories which always seem to be on sale in Next.
I liked John Barrowman when he was with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper, however when they filmed a pointless onanistic shot of him astride the yuppie flats on Bute Terrace for no discenable reason, I changed my mind. Cardiff isn’t a good looking city. Most of the highlights of it are cruelly treated Victorian architecture, and the rest is crude post Victorian drabbery and high tech ugliness trying to bed in.
As Justin says, this is a Frankenstein creation of the best elements from other shows (as I typed that, I realise that it’s not a bad description of Cardiff: I’d rather live in Cardiff than Vegas, but Vegas, its neon stips and empty factory suburbs films much better). It’s just that none of them seem to be the bits which are in touch with reality. In CSI (Grissom edition anyway, the only watchable one), the problems are real; Sarah’s alcoholism, Willard’s gambling, Grissom’s deafness. A programme for adults should at least understand how the British state works, and Torchwood doesn’t. Everything works by magic. I haven’t seen a worse script committed to film since Sophia Coppola’s dreadful contribution to New York Stories.
I know some people think the show has teething problems, but I’m going to follow the advice of the raven, Nevermore.

  1. ian said:

    If he can’t die, it would have been better I grant you that it was some sort of time related thing, like just not being in th eway of the bullet etc. In general however, I didn’t think it was quite so bad as you paint it. When I watch CSI I’m always mentally shouting that they are contaminating the crime scene walking in in ordinary clothes. But of course f they didn’t we wouldn’t see so much cleavage and tight trousers from the likes of Marge Helgenberger and Jorja Fox would we? Not that I’m complaining, but all drama works by requiring us to accept something as given at the start and then builds on it – like religion really…

    What I liked about Torchwood was the cheerful and transparent way it rips off films like Men in Black – the idea behind the opening of episode 1 was clearly ripped off from the Will Smith scenes in MiB – to produce undemanding entertainment. It could have been much better of course but then – what couldn’t?

  2. Justin said:

    Solidarity, Dave.

    And where’s Barlow? He’s the local expert and Whovian, isn’t he…?

  3. gabor said:

    Well I like it!

    Admittedly there are things on tv that I think are dire that others love, but that’s life.

  4. Pingback: Panchromatica

  5. Phil E said:

    Pah. You and Justin are both wrong, I’m afraid – at least, you’re both not only judging Torchwood much more harshly than I would, but (more importantly) using criteria that I’d never have dreamt of applying. More later, but can I just ask – did you like Queer as Folk?

  6. Phil, could you elaborate on the criteria you would use please. I don’t watch much TV. Only Vegas CSI at the moment, otherwise Spooks and Dr Who when on, and Larry David on DVD. Since one of my criteria was that I’m materialist – you can guess what I like about CSI. Ian sees another good aspect. So as to Queer as Folk – you asking the wrong question: I didn’t even see it, why would I? I’m tempted to point out that I’m a straight man, and if there’s no tits or violence why bother, but I’ve seen Angels in America on TV and twice (maybe three times) again on DVD, originally on the strength of Arthur Silber’s recommendation – but that has Streep and Pacino in it, and Emma Thomson and Michael Gambon and Simon Callow. And I could take ‘The Hours’ several more times (though I can take anything with a Philip Glass score lots of times). But I don’t do soaps apart from dipping into the Archers if it’s on when I’m cooking.

    I suppose I should admit that I didn’t see all the references that Justin and Panchromatica saw. I didn’t get Men in Black: depite the presences of Rip Torn and Linda Fiorentino, I thought it was pretty flat. But I don’t think you should have to get references for something to work. When I first saw ‘Apocalypse Now’ I didn’t know that the epigraph of ‘The Hollow Men’ was ‘Mistah Kurtz – he dead!’ (Brando doesn’t read that bit); I hadn’t seen ‘October’ so I didn’t get the reference of the slaughter of the cattle – only that the images were stunning and the cutting as powerful as I’ve ever seen (that goes for Eisenstein too of course; though I like most of us saw Peter the Great coming down as a reference to Brando). Come to think of it, when I read Eliot at first, I hadn’t read Dante. I read Dante, and the Metaphysicals, and Jacobean tragedy, and Marlowe, and all of that because of Eliot. Whatever Torchwood’s references are, it hasn’t had that effect. Though if Russell T Davies references FH Bradley (I read him too), it can only be a good thing he doesn’t inspire anyone to seek out the originals.

  7. Phil E said:

    I’ll say some more about Torchwood in a proper post. I’ll be hard pressed to say anything nice about episode 3, I have to admit, but I’ll do my best.

    My wife and I (ahem!) both liked Queer as Folk very much, although we didn’t agree over which of the main characters we would… you know, I mean if you had to…

  8. Wolfie said:

    I found myself liking the “idea of it” a lot more than the inception and strangely enough I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly. Maybe its just a bit boring? Maybe I’m just getting too old, after all I get riveted to the history channel sometimes.

  9. Nick said:

    And where’s Barlow? He’s the local expert and Whovian, isn’t he…?

    I’m here, and I’m watching, it just doesn’t motivate me to write about it! Which might be a damning enough criticism in itself. I like it – it’s an enjoyable enough way to spend 50 minutes, and better than just about anything on ITV – but I’m not sure I’d really feel any urge to watch it if not for the Who connection.

    Besides, I seem to only have the ability to obsess over one TV show at a time, and Spooks is currently filling that position for me – in fact, I’m thinking of a post on it, especially as Mad Mel has decided it represents all that’s bad about the BBC…

  10. Katherine said:

    To me, it just seemed like a Doctor Who episode with some sex in it. Which actually isn’t all that “adult” at all. It has wasted potential written all over it I fear. And good god what the hell is going on with the male assistant’s mouth? Freak!