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12 April 2008 @ 08:30 pm
Torchwood Season 2  
I've been trying to organise my thoughts in a coherent fashion about season 2 Torchwood. In particular I've been trying to work out if I'd be watching it if it weren't for the Doctor Who connection.

I thought season two was far, far better than season one. However, season one had me engaging in long rants with almost anyone who cared to listen, so that isn't much of a recommendation. My main criticism of season 1 revolved around the fact that the majority of episodes would never have occurred if a member of Torchwood hadn't been disobeying (perfectly sensible) orders, a further set of episodes wouldn't have occurred if they'd actually been competent and in most of those that were left they were basically helpless. Furthermore the team appeared to have little cohesiveness and Jack no leadership qualities.

Season two has fixed a lot of this. The team were much more cohesive and much less mutinous. They were still often incompetent, but mostly in minor ways and whole plots didn't hang off the fact that they were a bit shambolic a lot of the time. Jack still has no discernable leadership qualities but by the end of the season his team consists entirely of people who are in love with him so this possibly no longer matters. On top of that they put their minds to delivering more stories like Out of Time and Captain Jack Harkness (and, I would say, Random Shoes, though no one else seems to have liked that one) which were, in various ways, genuinely moving and interesting. In fact, looking over season one I also rate Ghost Machine and Small Worlds quite highly it's just that I thought pretty much everything else was bad. I thought there was only one real dud in season two (Dead Man Walking) so on a story by story level season two is vastly better quality.

I've mentioned before, ever since parrot_knight pointed it out, that Torchwood is remarkably inconsistent. parrot_knight pointed this out in the context of From Out Of the Rain in which there is no mention of the events of Something Borrowed the week before. More importantly there are no real consequences from week to week of the actions taken by Torchwood. I also feel that the plots are often less internally consistent than is really excusable. Now people have pointed out, and RTD has at times explicitly stated, that only fans worry about this sort of thing, ongoing consistency is, if anything, a way to lose viewers. Unlike parrot_knight, I can't claim to be even a part-time media historian, however it seems to me that there was a sudden change in what main(ish)-SF was prepared to attempt with the advent of Bablyon 5 (though, to be fair, X-files was already experimenting with ongoing plot-lines). Thoughout the 80s any SF aspiring for the mainstream, including Doctor Who, was pretty wedded to the idea of the reset switch at the end of the episode. I'm excluding the 70s here because Terry Nation, if no one else, was mostly ignoring the reset switch in much of his work. Of course Babylon 5 became over-burdened by its own continuity, but then we got Buffy, which tried to do much the same thing with a lighter touch and a more flexibly evolving story. For whatever reason the Cardiff production team have deliberately avoided anything that might be considered an "arc" but, at the same time they don't appear to want to employ the reset switch. However, somewhere along the line they appear to have missed the fact that "no reset switch" requires a little more work than plotting out a season as "Rhys finds out about Torchwood, Rhys and Gwen get married, Owen dies (but gets better)" you need a script editor prepared to tie things together, inserting the odd line of acknowledgment here and there of events that have (or will) occur in the surrounding scripts. I suspect this is the same kind of skill that is needed to make sure individual episodes are internally coherent. Neither New Who nor Torchwood are terribly good at this, but Torchwood is a lot worse than New Who and I have some sympathy with lil_shepherd when she wonders why she should care about the series when the production team so clearly do not. Except they clearly do, they just obviously don't consider the nuts and bolts of inter and intra-story coherence all that important compared to the other things they are tying to do (i.e., delivering interesting mood and character pieces with gripping action).

The problem with concentrating on interesting mood and character pieces, as someone, somewhere, pointed out. Is that they are "format breakers". In most shows it is the format breaking episodes that are most fondly remembered but, with Torchwood, its hard to identify the format that is being broken. Torchwood is all over the place in terms of format bouncing from meditations on memory and personality, to comedy weddings, to surreal fantasy. Obviously its parent show does this as well but I think we buy into that more readily because of the "Magic Door" of the TARDIS. I actually thought the best episode this season was Reset which, ultimately, was a close to a "format" episode as I think you will get in Torchwood.

The issue of format ties into the widely circulating rumours that Torchwood is going to be reworked as peak time family viewing, with Martha Jones on team, and so on and so forth. This may explain why they felt the need to rid themselves of the Owen character (the edgiest and most difficult member of the team). Though I can imagine that Owen, being dead already, might well be back after all. I also can't help wondering if Owen's introduction as, essentially, a date rapist was one of those horrible mistakes that can arise when you have a bunch of (predominantly) male writers not paying much thought to the actual implications of what they are showing. The Owen character was made a good deal more sympathetic in season two (presumably in order to make the audience care about him), although the "date rape" scene was reused in flashback (so I'm told - I missed that bit) which suggests they weren't completely trying to air-brush the character. But consciously choosing to present him, at outset, in such a starkly unpleasant fashion seems a bizarre decision for a character you presumably want to be flawed but sympathetic, especially in a show where you are not really prepared to show that actions have consequences (in fact a world in which actions don't have consequences seems an odd choice for a show that prides itself on being "adult" and "dark"). At any rate, working on the assumption that it was a horrible mistake and thereby pretending that that particular bit of the very first episode didn't happen in that way I found Owen, a character for whom I'd had no sympathy whatsoever in season 1, exactly the sort of flawed but sympathetic person I presume they were originally aiming for. I find it difficult to understand why they also felt the need to write out Toshiko at the same though*. Of course, we assume this was a story choice not just that Naoko Mori wanted to do something else.

So, would I be watching if it were not for the Doctor Who connection? I think the answer is that I would watch it if it were on but I wouldn't make an effort to watch it. I watch NCIS when it is on and NCIS frequently has all the problems Torchwood has in terms of non-sensical stories and reset buttons. The NCIS team are a lot more competent than the Torchwood one, but they are also a lot more two dimensional and the show has no aspirations to produce the sort of varied drama that Torchwood does. I'll still be watching season three, especially since it looks like it might be very different again from what has gone before.

* and I don't believe the supposition that they assume there is only room for one minority character on the show. Some of New Who's casting decisions may be questionable, but no one denies they work hard at being multi-cultural and they are well beyond "token" minority characters.

Susanlil_shepherd on April 13th, 2008 07:13 am (UTC)
It has to be said that, while 60s series had no plot arcs, the (American) ones I liked best had excellent character consistency - if you've crawled over every episode of a 26 episode season (or indeed over, 115 episodes as I have done, for my sins) you generally find that to be the case. British series tend to reset more frequently, oddly enough.

This is not the case with Torchwood. For my money, one of the worst writing sins is to have a character do something because the plot requires it - not because that is what that character would do in that situation. It is why the name Ranald Graham is basically a curse in this household, because he does it all the time. Luckily he only got his hands on The Professionals and The Sweeney a few times... on the other hand, he was the reason Dempsey and Makepeace was so dire - he was the chief writer and script editor. According to my brother, who follows these things more than I do, RTD actually encourages his writers stuff characterisation.

I only see NCIS occasionally - I loathe its politics - and only watch it for Ducky and Abby when I do. I much prefer Criminal Minds which does have proper arcs, and is about character interaction almost as much as it is about profiling. There are consequences. Come to think of it, my other favourite US show, House also is about character and consequences. On the other hand, I watch CSI for the plots and Grissom's one-liners.

Torchwood gives me none of these things. It gives me plots that make little sense, characters even a mother would find it difficult to love, and no internal logic or consistency. Furthermore, it has very little humour and almost no imagination. If it had any one of these things it might be worth watching. As it does not, I'm off. As a matter of fact, I can't be bothered with NuWho either for the most part. (Incidentally, when I switched on the TV on reaching home last night, did I really see a line of Roman characters dressed in velvet?????? Or something that looked very like it? I mean, I know the BBC think that aliens all dress in Lurex (and the Ancient Greeks, remember a production of the Orestia - but really....

louisedennis: torchwoodlouisedennis on April 13th, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)
I recall you mentioned in a previous post the character consistency in, I think, UFO. My memory of growing up is that I was always pleasantly surprised when a show acknowledged what had gone before, one of the reasons I specifically focused on 80s shows since they will have been the ones that, for me, most clearly formed this opinion.

I tend to parcel up characters doing things entirely to progress the plot with the general problems of plot consistency. I think you'd stopped watching Torchwood by the time Adrift came round. It was a rather good episode but it revolved around Gwen investigating a secret Jack is keeping and, when the secret is revealed, there is no logical reason why Jack would have been keeping it from Gwen. It's another example of internal plots not making sense but, in this particular instance, it is tied to the problem of character's doing things just to progress the plot. Both Torchwood and New Who seem to sketch out these basic plots which take us through dramatic moments X, Y and Z and also character moments A, B and C without paying the necessary attention to make sure the bits that link X, Y, Z, A, B and C and so on actually make sense.

NCIS is trash, sometimes I can't believe I enjoy it so much but I do. I watch for Ducky and Gibbs, I find Abby a bit twee. Grissom just rocks, on the other hand.

I class Velvet in Rome along with Minarets in Jerusalem (apparently Robin Hood: Prince of Theives has the wrong sort) - its a detail its nice for production teams to get right but I don't hold it against them when they don't. I was more concerned that the story of the Pompeii Eruption was inaccurate in places since it was a central point in the events and you might legitimately expect it to inform people's understanding and beliefs about Pompeii. Even then I don't think it was incorrect in a serious fashion.

Edited at 2008-04-13 11:12 am (UTC)
Susanlil_shepherd on April 13th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
There was an exchange this morning on my FofF page which went something like this

OP: and [after a long list of scientific inaccuracies concerning said volcanic eruption] did my eyes deceive me, or did I see Ten and Donna outrun a pyroclastic flow (travelling at about 100 feet per second)?
Comment: You did. They're dead.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on April 13th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
That's where I thought it started to go wrong...
(Anonymous) on May 7th, 2008 02:12 pm (UTC)
well done
favorited this one, guy