Fearful Symmetries

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07 November, 2006

Torchwood - First Impressions

Aside from reading a couple books this past weekend, I was able to watch the first two episodes of the Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood, with The Dulcinea. The series premiere was called "Everything Changes" and it had a large amount of ground to cover introducing the Torchwood Institute and several characters. Overall I found the episode to be OK but leaning towards the good side of things.

The Torchwood Institute was founded by Queen Victoria in last season's Doctor Who episode, "Tooth & Claw". It was founded as a hyper-secret organization dedicated to protecting the UK from aliens and the supernatural. Torchwood was revisited in Doctor Who last season during the two-part season finale. Torchwood was based in London and the early scenes had the feel of a James Bond movie with the places being filled with alien artifacts and people tinkering with them to create really cool weapons. The stern hubirs of Torchwood's leader, Yvonne Hartman, led to some pretty nasty consequences, namely an invasion of earth by Cybermen and Daleks.

When Torchwood the series opens, we discover that the Institute has numerous branches and the one that we were to follow was in Cardiff, Wales. Captain Jack Harkness returns, viewers having last seen him two seasons ago in Doctor Who. In addition to Captain Jack, there are 4 other agents, a much lesser number than the London branch. Plus their headquarters is much smaller. Instead of being all gleaming white and at the top of a skyscraper, it's darker and located in what appears to be a disused subway station. The episode was shot very stylishly with some great high-contrast lighting at the opening.

It begins with the corpse of a man lying out in the middle of a street as rain pours down. The police investigating the crime scene are pulled away as our Torchwood gang arrive. One of them puts on this large metal gauntlet which brings the dead man back to life for a couple minutes. During this time, our heroes question him about the identity of his killer.

Watching this from a parking ramp from above is Constable Gewn Cooper. She gawks in disbelief as she watches a dead man brought back to life. Captain Jack spies her and she becomes his next "target". From here, we see Gwen go from being completely unable to comprehend what she sees and is told to becoming a member of Torchwood.

My main complaint is that it felt like the producers were trying to fit too much into too small a time. Things felt rushed instead of feeling like they happened in a natural cause & effect manner. Gwen's induction into the Institute just seemed rushed and I don't think we were allowed to wallow in her incredulity long enough. Plus it seemed odd that an organization unknown to even The Doctor would be so open to a stranger. My other complaint was that Gwen's (and our) first encounter with an alien wasn't scary enough. It involves Gwen approaching an unknown figure at the end of a long hallway. I think that the identity of the figures was given away too soon and that the audio wasn't evocative enough, not moody enough. I don't necessarily mean that some creepy music was in order, but some tweaking to the ambient sound would have helped. Maybe some echo to Gwen's voice or something along those lines.

Overall, though, I liked the episode. I found that I wanted to know more about the characters and more about what their jobs entail. I wanted to know more about what Torchwood does, exactly.

"Day One" was the second episode of the series. It was about Gwen's first day on the job. We learn that she is hiding the true nature of her work from her boyfriend and, when a meteroite crashes outside of the city, Gwen learns that work takes precedence over play.

At the scene, Gwen isn't quite sure what to do and is taunted by Owen, the geekiest member of Torchwood. In response, she tosses a chisel instead of handing it to him and it lands in the meteorite. This releases a gas which goes on to infect Carys, a young woman outside of a nightclub.

We find out that the gas is really an alien and that it feeds off of orgasmic energy. Knowing only this, one might think that it sounds like the plot to a really bad porno video or at least a rip-off of Species. But it was actually a very good episode. The show was able to pull it off. There were some humorous parts interspersed throughout which didn't come across as too cliched.

The subject matter brought out the possibility that Captain Jack was gay. This was hinted at during his stint in Doctor Who. But, being an alien, the normal rules wouldn't seem to apply. Still, a bit more mystery was added to Captain Jack and the promise of having a homo- or bi- or omnisexual lead character is intriguing.

There was an extended kissing scene with two ladies that was hot as well as a sex scene, something that is verboten in Doctor Who. So Torchwood is definitely for adults only.

I enjoyed "Day One" more than "Everything Changes". It didn't feel rushed and the story could breathe a bit. It didn't have to rush around making sure that certain things were shown to the viewer before the credits rolled.

I want to close by talking about sex. After having seen only the first two episodes, it is seems that sex and sexuality is to be one of the show's themes. Captain Jack's sexual orientation is ambiguous and a whole episode was devoted to an alien that feeds on the energy of orgasms. The show's creator, Russell T. Davies, is openly gay so, if sexuality is to be a theme, it seems likely that we'll get more than just the white bread heterosexual viewpoint. (Davies also wrote and produced Queer as Folk for UK TV which was later ported over to the States and remade for Showtime.) So I think that Davies and the writers have a great opportunity here to explore a theme that sci fi often avoids.
|| Palmer, 2:56 PM

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