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The Dalek Empire's look at the new Doctor Who Spin-Off series.



       


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Torchwood: The Story So Far
by Andrew Panero


Geeks bearing Gifts and Other Tales


As Torchwood steams into the second half of the first season, it continues a variable run of the absolutely brilliant and the strangely awful. At least when this series messes up it sure does it with style and usually several gallons of studio blood.

Greeks Bearing Gifts    
by Toby Whithouse             

It seems that betrayal is a major theme for this series; in the first episode we had Suzie abusing her position by pursuing her own desire for power over life and death, then we had Ianto betraying the others by sneaking his Cyber-converted girlfriend into the base. Shortly after Gwen betrays her boyfriend by starting an affair with Owen Harper. Owen it seems has a particularly relaxed attitude to sexual mores, well he’s a bit of a shit actually and one of his former conquests it seems is Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) the stunning yet geeky IT specialist at Torchwood. She forms the focus for this episode, which establishes in the opening scenes her alienation from the others, particularly Owen and Gwen.

She is therefore ripe for exploitation by Mary (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a shape-shifting alien exile on Earth, who offers her both sexual fulfilment and a device for reading other people’s minds. What Toshiko discovers there is not always to her liking but she soon finds herself addicted to the power it gives her. At first the power is almost too much for her, but after she uses it to stop an alienated, angry, father from killing his family, she soon sees potential benefits of such a device. However she conceals the device from her colleagues and under Mary’s thrall gets the shape shifter into the Torchwood base. There Mary attempts to use the transporter she was banished to Earth with a guard nearly two-hundred years before to escape from the planet. Jack tricks her by altering the controls so that Mary is transported to the centre of the sun.

Clearing up the emotional backwash later on, Gwen tells Toshiko not to be put off by being betrayed by a cunning alien shape-shifter with a psychotic tendency to tear people’s hearts out of their chests. Jack allows Tosh to destroy the mind reading device. She comments that reading his mind was like trying to read the mind of a dead man, to which he gives no answer.

A fairly robust script from Toby Whithouse struggles to make the connection with the title by having Mary refer to herself at one point as Philoctetes who in Greek Mythology was exiled to the island of Lemnos. Her exile to Earth she claims is for political reasons, although her actions speak otherwise. A great performance by all the regulars and Ms Denby-Ashe, makes this a better than average episode.

They Keep Killing Suzie
by Paul Tomalin and Dan McCollach. 

This episode begins very much as it means to continue; in welter of gore. The local police summons the Torchwood team to the scene of a murder, mainly because the name ‘Torchwood’ is smeared in bloody letters near the corpses.

 All of this is part of cunning plan by their deceased colleague Suzie Costello (Indira Varma), who we last saw in ‘Everything Changes’, to force them to bring her back from the dead. For in a moment of incredible foresight she saw that they would kill her and so she had programmed a group of unwitting members of a local support group using the Torchwood amnesia drug, wittily called Retcon by the scriptwriters. This she had been overdosing her victims on and then hypnotizing them to become mass murderers unless they hear the recited lines of an Emily Dickinson poem.

I don’t know if it is a side effect of having two scriptwriters for this story, but the plot seems to pull in all kinds of different directions at once. Suzie, who now ranks as the one recurring villain in the series is, like her more cartoonish antecedents in Doctor Who itself, big on schemes but low on plausible motives. We can only assume that she is a hideously deformed sociopath, whose basically fucked up personality stems from childhood abuse at the hands of her father. Or at least that is my guess, given that she tricks Gwen into allowing her to visit him where he is dying of cancer in hospital simply so that she can disconnect the ventilator keeping him alive. One gets the impression this wasn’t meant as an act of mercy, particularly as it comes in the context of Suzie telling Gwen that she is slowly dying of a gunshot wound to the head. Having used the ‘Resurrection Gauntlet’ to bring Suzie back to life, along with the vicious stabbing knife that comes with it, Gwen’s life-energy is slowly being drained to keep Suzie alive.

With the Torchwood team in pursuit we are told that Gwen only has minutes left, outside the car it is night-time. However by the time they catch up with Gwen at Hedley Point where Suzie intends to escape on a boat, it is daylight. The sun must rise a lot faster in Wales it seems, or maybe Owen got his sums wrong. Either way we are set up for a bloody and rather pointless denouement on a pier as Jack repeatedly blows bits of Suzie away before destroying the Gauntlet and restoring Gwen to life.

An awkward episode with too much plot, the level of violence making it almost a  low budget parody of a Quentin Tarrantino film, ‘They Keep Killing Suzie’ has very little going for it. It was good to see Indira Varma again, but even she seemed to struggle with her character, who at times seemed far too ironically detached to be really committed to such fell deeds. We do learn that there is nothing beyond life, only blackness and that something wicked is on the move out there in the darkness.

Random Shoes
by Jacquetta May.

Almost as if to keep us guessing about this whole life after death thing we are presented here with story narrated by a dead man. Eugene Jones (Paul Chequer), failed maths genius, part-time telesales operative and full time geek, finds himself the victim of a hit and run accident. However, he has swallowed an alien eyeball and as a result is condemned to be an invisible voyeur in the afterlife. It is from his semi-omnipotent point of view that the viewer is led in this episode.

Like this years Doctor Who episode  ‘Love and Monsters’ this episode uses the device of viewing the regular crew through the eyes of an outsider to gain an extra perspective on the story. Like the protagonist of that story, Eugene is an obsessive follower of their actions who desperately tries to attract Torchwood’s attention in real life. One gets the feeling that they can’t be much of a clandestine outfit if members of the public are tracking them in this way. Nevertheless he eventually manages to succeed in grabbing their attention after his death when they come to investigate his life. Gwen becomes determined get to bottom of things and is accused by Owen of trying to compensate for the fact that Eugene had a crush on her.

The random shoes of the title are a series of photos saved onto Eugene’s phone that Gwen manages to access and use to find people he knows. These include his fellow workmates Gary and Linda; both are upset when they learn what has happened. Linda explains how Eugene had offered to pay for her to go to Australia to make a new start in life.

It seems that Eugene’s plan to raise the money consisted of selling the eye on e-bay; to his surprise the bids toped £15000 however no one knows who the highest bidder was. However it comes to light that Gary had put in the bids using a variety of aliases on the web. When the bids soared over the £15000 mark Eugene became convinced the buyer was an alien trying to get the eye back.

What wonderfully bonkers stuff this sounds as I type it now, a mixture of plausible, ordinary human relationships with high levels of weirdness. Torchwood episodes can vary quite markedly in their approach and degree of success. I feel overall that this episode succeeds in more ways than many of the earlier and later episodes. Curiously it is the one episode where the team is (with the exception of Gwen) almost entirely in the background. So we have a sympathetic figure in the shape of Eugene who takes up foreground and keeps things moving with his first person account of life after death. A person the audience can identify with in a situation beyond ordinary understanding; sounds like a classic definition of a sci-fi story to me.

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The Second Bits:

Cyber ladies, vicious faeries and crazy welsh cannibals...

Episodes four and five certainly step up the pace in terms of drama and excitement levels. The first season of Torchwood seems to be getting into its stride. Episode six marks for a turning point in the character arcs of Gwen and Owen Harper but leaves us a bit puzzled as to why it was in a science fiction series.

Cyberwoman
by Chris Chibnall

Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) hasn’t really had much of a role so far this season; up to this point his contributions have been mainly in the coffee-making department. This all changes as he plunges the Torchwood base into the direst danger imaginable. For he has a dark secret in the basement; a half-cyber-converted girlfriend called Lisa (Caroline Chikezie) who he has smuggled in and is using a converted cyber converter to keep alive.

So, waiting until the others head off down the pub he smuggles in a Japanese cybernetics expert Dr Tanizaki (Togo Igawa) to help save his girlfriend. Dr Tanizaki is delighted to have such an opportunity to acquaint himself with said Cyber lady and is most impressed with her fleshy bits as well it seems. For Cyberwoman has not been converted in the way that the new Alternate Earth Cybermen have been converted- by ripping the brain out of a human skull and shoving it in a robot shell. Instead she has been converted in a more traditional (Mondasian?) cyber-fashion-by piecemeal replacement of human organs with cybernetic implants and artificial limbs. That is why she still has a human face and fleshy patches. Apparently in the last stages of the fight for Canary Wharf (as seen on ‘Doomsday’) the Cybermen got so desperate for soldiers they opted for this more slap-dash approach.

Tanizaki and Ianto manage to free Lisa from the Cyber-conversion equipment and take her upstairs to the autopsy room where Ianto hopes they to be able to reverse the process; what Tanizaki hopes for is not clear although he looks sceptical that she can be restored. Up until this point it seems that Lisa has retained her humanity. With Tanizaki’s help they manage to get her breathing independently however at that point the others interrupt them by returning to checkout a UFO sighting.
Tanizaki returns Lisa to the basement whilst Ianto deals with the others; when they get to the room with the Cyber-converter Lisa turns on the Japanese man and throws him down on the conversion unit. Upstairs there is a massive power drain and Ianto rushes down to the cellar to investigate. He finds Lisa, now speaking in a cyber-voice who tells him calmly that Dr. Tanizaki’s upgrade has failed; on the floor the unfortunate man lays dead, a chunk of cyber-implant sitting crudely on his battered skull.

The rest of the episode is basically a run around with the Cyberwoman being discovered and attempting to convert the others. Along the way an unfortunate pizza delivery woman has her brain emptied to make way for Lisa’s, Owen snogs Gwen whilst they hide in a compartment in the autopsy room and we get to witness the first fight between a Pterodactyl and a Cyberwoman.

The consequences for the team of Ianto’s betrayal are pretty dire and one can’t help but wonder if this will have further ramifications later in the series. As an episode it generally works well despite some major difficulties such as why the up and down stairs bit at the beginning and if the Cyber-conversion unit was keeping her alive how could Lisa survive the first journey? (Also, how did Ianto smuggle in so much equipment without the others noticing?) The acting is good and the terror felt by all the cast, except perhaps Jack is fairly palpable. We also get to see Jack dying and coming back to life again, as in the first episode and so do the rest of the team. 
At the end of the episode Gwen asks Jack whether he has ever loved someone enough to act in the way Ianto did for Lisa. This obviously anticipates the following week’s story where we get to meet one Jack’s old flames, however he declines to answer Gwen’s question. She tells Jack that for a moment she thought it looked like he could actually die. Jack’s reply is that for a moment it felt as if he might die as well and that this made him feel ‘so alive.’

Small Worlds
by P.J. Hammond.

We have some more back-story for Captain Jack as the team investigate malevolent fairies that have come to claim Jasmine (played with great conviction by Lara Phillipart) for one of their own.

 An old flame of Jack’s Estelle Cole (Eve Pearce) is lucky (or unlucky in this case) to capture some of the creatures on film. Once her back is turned they cease to be the charming little beings with gossamer wings that we know so well and mutate into man sized green skinned monsters.

Meanwhile young Jasmine is on her way home from school when she is accosted by a predatory paedophile Goodson (Rodger Barclay); he is seen off by a threatening invisible presence and a disembodied voice tells the young girl to run.

Goodson is so plagued by bizarre and threatening experiences that he runs to the police and begs to be locked up. Later on he is found dead in his cell with hundreds of rose petals stuffed into his mouth. Coincidentally it seems that Jack has been dreaming of similar things, which occurred over ninety years earlier on a train through Lahore. How Jack came to be there is not explained (maybe it was one of his missions as a time agent?) but it seems apparent that he was part of the British Army and that he was an officer. The group of men he was in charge of had been responsible for the accidental killing of a young girl from a nearby village. The girl was one of the ‘chosen ones’, those whom the fairies wanted to claim for their own; in revenge the fairies killed all of Jack’s men by stuffing their mouths full of rose petals.
This story works well on the whole and manages to avoid some of the pitfalls that the series seems prone to; such as the constant adolescently charged sexuality one gets in other episodes. The relationship with Estelle is poignant and believable and we get more of a rounded view of Jack Harkness as a result. In some episodes he comes across a rampant sex-obsessed psychopath and indeed a lot of the time it is members of his own team such as Ianto who are screaming at him that he is the monster. Here we get to see him as a person capable of vulnerability and of giving as well as receiving love.

Another reason why this episode seems more mature is it’s uncompromisingly bleak ending, in which a grieving Jack is forced to concede to the fairies’ wishes in order to save humanity. P.J. Hammond inverts the mythology of these creatures to produce a truly scary, demonic foe.

Countrycide
by Chris Chibnall.  

The team head out to the countryside to investigate a series of strange disappearances that they are sure are attributable to the time rift expanding. So begins a episode of desperate misdirection, as the audience as well as the team believe they are on the trail of some odious alien psychos.

The reality it seems is both obvious and surprising, in that it involves no supernatural or extraterrestrial explanations. Having watched a very gory French horror film the night before I found myself experiencing deja vous on a phenemenal scale as corpses in various states of dismemberment are thrown at the screen. Not since ‘Real Time’ as there been such a gruesome Who-derived story as this one and at least that was animated.

There are some particularly grating parts to this story  that has to be said, particularly some of the lines that Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) has to enunciate. Indeed in an article for ‘The Mirror’ Jim Shelley notes:
 
I can't help thinking there's something inappropriate about a Doctor Who spin-off where one character asks another, "When was the last time you came so hard, you forgot where you were?"

Indeed, and Eve’s subsequent falling into bed with Owen is again so obvious one doesn’t expect it. This episode as well as huge quantities of gore also offers up more of the aforementioned adolescent sexuality. We have Gwen passing the time with her fellow ultra-cool, special ops types by asking them when they last had a ‘snog’; a term that I’m sure isn’t used by anybody over the age of twelve. When Ianto tells her, again unsurprisingly, that the last person he snogged was Lisa, one can’t help but wonder why she didn’t see that one coming. I guess we know then his still a little upset by all that Cyberwoman stuff.

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The First Bits:

It is perhaps odd that in it’s forty-three years of life Doctor Who has not spawned more spin off stories in it’s own medium. There have been numerous Doctor Who spin-offs in comics, books and audio dramas, but aside from the execrable ‘K-9 and Company’ and the abortive Dalek serial Terry Nation attempted in the sixties, precious little has happened on TV.  Until now; and wow, what a spin-off this is!

Everything Changes
by Russell T. Davies.

I guess the scene is set pretty much straight away when we are presented with a bleeding corpse on a rain-strewn pavement. PC Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) arrives on the scene to find the SOCO’s (British equivalent of forensics) pulling back.  To her astonishment she learns that a ‘special ops’ unit known as Torchwood have been given privileged access to the body, something she finds hard to reconcile with normal police procedure for preserving evidence.

Cue Captain Jack and his mysterious sidekicks, entering in a totally blacked out 4x4 with creepy blue lights.  Murray Gold’s score is very effective in setting the mood for this scene with a frenetic, bass line building up tension. Wanting to see what these peculiar people are up to PC Cooper enters an adjacent tower block and climbs up to a balcony that gives her a perfect view of the crime scene. She arrives in time to see Suzie Costello (Indira Varma who starred in last year’s ‘Quatermass Experiment’) use a silver claw device to bring the dead man to life momentarily.

So begins Gwen’s descent into the bizarre and somewhat paranoid world of Torchwood and alien technology. With more than a nod and a wink to the Men in Black we have a clandestine organisation secreted under the streets of Cardiff led by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and staffed by an assortment of ultra-cool freaks with a penchant for the fantastic and the extraterrestrial. As with ‘Rose’ we have a figure whom the audience is meant to identify with in the shape of Gwen, whose life is turned upside down by this encounter with the exotic; like Rose she also has a boring boyfriend at home, but thankfully we don’t see much of him. Gwen at least makes for more interesting conversation as well and by following her instincts and the fortuitous ordering of a pizza by bad-boy Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), she is able to find the Torchwood base under Cardiff’s millennium centre. After a brief introduction to the guys she is taken up stairs in Torchwood’s invisible elevator ( a bonus left by the TARDIS’ visit in ‘Boomtown’) and taken for a drink by Captain Jack. Being such a cad he drops a Mickey Finn in her drink that wipes her memory of that evenings revelations. In vain she tries to type a message to herself on her computer, only to have it hacked and deleted by Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd). However she is able to retrieve her lost memories by the end of the episode and is instrumental in creating a vacancy in Torchwood at the same time.

This episode is very much a scene setter of a story but nevertheless manages to tick all the right boxes as well as cross-referencing Doctor Who on the way. We learn that Captain Jack cannot die after his resurrection by Rose in ‘The Parting of the Ways’, although we do not learn how he made it to 21st Century Cardiff.

Sexuality is also highlighted as a recurring theme that could not be explored in detail on Doctor Who for obvious reasons. We were all aware of Captain Jack’s ‘omni sexuality’ as Russell T. Davies has described it and it seems that in Torchwood a number of his colleagues are also that way inclined. There is a scene where the rather slimy Owen Harper goes out to seduce women with an alien equivalent of a pheromone based spray. He is successful in seducing a woman who wouldn’t look at him normally only to have her lary boyfriend turn up and threaten to kick his head in. To save an argument Owen sprays himself again and the irate boyfriend immediately kisses him on the mouth saying he is going to ‘have him’: Well, it is an RTD story after all, so what does one expect!

Day One
by Chris Chibnall.

GWEN: All right, I'll give them a call. Put out an A.P.B. "Woman possessed by gas knobbing fellas to death."

The sexuality theme is explored in greater detail as a strange meteorite lands outside Cardiff and the Torchwood team, including the freshly seconded Gwen go to investigate. They find a piece of what Owen describes as ‘bog standard space junk’ that Gwen accidentally pierces when passing him a chisel. A gaseous creature emerges and makes its way into town where it finds young Carys — Sara Lloyd Gregory-outside a noisy nightclub. The gas creature surges into her lungs and compels her to go find men in order to copulate with; at the moment of orgasm her first victim crumbles to dust. A voyeuristic nightclub bouncer who was busily masturbating over the CCTV at the time when the fatal coupling took place tips off the Torchwood team.

Using old-fashioned police techniques and a database that matches names to images the team are able to track Carys to her home where they arrive in time to stop her killing the postman. Taking her back to the base it is soon evident to Gwen that Carys is suffering as a result of her being taken over. Carys it seems is possessed by a form of alien life that feeds off human orgasms, or to be more specific male orgasms as she rejects Gwen after seducing her with more miraculous pheromones.
Owen Harper is able to explain how the contamination that Carys is suffering from will eventually lead to a very painful death and is then instrumental in her breaking loose in search of more victims. The rest of the episode is mostly a race against time as the team try and track down Carys before she kills again.

During this episode we learn that the rest of the Torchwood team know as little about Captain Jack as Gwen does. Gwen’s role within the team seems to be one of reminding the others about their humanity a theme familiar from Doctor Who; she is the only one of the team who seems genuinely concerned about what will happen to Carys. Captain Jack recognises this as a valuable asset to the team and warns Gwen to not let the job consume her and to continue to have as normal life as possible. We are left wondering how likely this is as Gwen finishes the episode eating lasagne with her boyfriend.

Ghost Machine
by Helen Raynor.

‘Blake’s 7’ actor and veteran of Big Finish audios, Gareth Thomas guest stars in this episode as the malevolent sex criminal Ed Morgan, whose crimes a long time ago have left him paranoid and depressed. In this disturbing and thoughtful story an alien device is recovered from a petty criminal Bernie (Ben McKay). When Gwen activates this device at the train station where they track Bernie down, she is witness to a young boy with a label on his clothes who appears to be lost and alone. Later she is able to trace the young boy down and it transpires the scene she witnessed took place in the Second World War when the boy had arrived in Cardiff as an evacuee from London. Now in his late sixties the man still lives in Wales, having nothing to go back to after the war.

Owen also has a similar experience whilst fiddling with the ‘quantum transducer’ and witnesses the prelude to a violent rape that took place in the sixties.

He becomes obsessed with what he has seen and tracks down the man responsible, Ed Morgan, who lives as a paranoid recluse. Gaining access to his home by pretending to be a gas engineer he tells Morgan that he knows what he has done and is ejected from his home. Morgan cryptically hints that someone else has been trying to blackmail him about this. When Owen leaves the house he spots Bernie and gives chase, catching him and then arranging to meet up with the others in a pub. It transpires that the ‘quantum transducer’ was amongst a stash of stuff kept by an old man in a biscuit tin. There is another half to the device that when put together with the original piece allows the user to view the future as well as the past. Again it is Gwen who uses this device and is horrified to see a vision of herself holding a knife covered in blood.

This episode as with the others before it explores a number of well worn themes in science-fiction, in this case the morality of being able to predict the future and whether it is possible to do anything about an event that has yet to happen. There is of course nothing new under the sun, so Helen Raynor is certainly to be congratulated on bringing a fresh angle to an old temporal paradox.

I suspect there will be many Doctor Who fans who will have little time for ‘Torchwood’ and will doubtless be glad that it is a relatively canonical free spin-off series. In that respect I feel that they are mistaken because ‘Torchwood’ is great television sci-fi and could perhaps stand on its own merits separately from its parent programme. How the relationship between the two develops shall be interesting to see and we should have some more of that after the next episode entitled simply ‘Cyber woman’.




Web site © 2005/2007 Visagraph Films International/John Rocco Roberto/Andrew Panero.
Photos © 2007 British Broadcasting Company.
Torchwood series ©  2006 British Broadcasting Company.

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