(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)
It was amusing, on Thursday night, to see the gaping divide on my Twitter feed. People either thought the first episode of the new series of Torchwood was stonking-awesome-great-fun or godawful-shit-why-would-anyone-watch-this. If you were in the latter camp, this review is not for you: I loved it, and am going to talk about how much I loved it at length. However, I also have to wonder why people who don’t like Torchwood were watching the first episode of its fourth series in the first place. I suppose it’s possible that there were some genuine Torchwood fans who found the latest edition disappointing, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it so far. For the most part, the comments were to the effect of ‘that doesn’t make sense’, ‘if it were that big a deal, why wouldn’t the Doctor show up?’, ‘this is completely implausible!’. To which I feel inclined to reply:
‘Of course it’s implausible – it’s Torchwood.’
I suppose it’s possible that the unexpected success and critical acclaim of Children of Earth last year made a few people tune in who otherwise wouldn’t give Torchwood the time of day, but these can’t be the same people who are wondering why the Doctor didn’t turn up. There was a strong undercurrent of bitterness in Children of Earth about the Doctor’s failure to pitch up and save the day, and I pretty much took it that this was establishing a bit of independence for Torchwood, stipulating for future series that this is now known to be a world where the Doctor doesn’t turn up for everything, and sometimes we must fend for ourselves. I liked that about it. I love the Doctor, but he’s a walking McGuffin, especially for a spin-off series where any appearance by him is not going to focus on his personal struggles and imperfections. It seems to me that distancing itself from the Doctor a bit is a wise and healthy thing for Torchwood to do.
As it happens, I did feel that Miracle Day was much more in the vogue of Children of Earth than its earlier series. Torchwood has always been a silly, implausible, fun, more adult, lower budget sibling to Doctor Who. It wouldn’t be Torchwood if it weren’t a bit silly and implausible, with a side-order of penis jokes and bisexual flirting. It’s a bit like a sci-fi version of The A-Team, only with more gore, women, and double-entendre. (Incidentally, I particularly enjoyed the ‘No, not “Touch wood”, Torchwood’ joke.) But it felt like the show had grown up a bit and found its footing all the same.
The trans-Atlantic move is definitely working for the show, as is the bigger budget. The show has a great affection for its roots in Cardiff, but there’s no denying that the first two series were rather a mess, and the events of Children of Earth provide the perfect excuse to step out into the wider world, shake free the debris, and do something really exciting with the big, fun core. Torchwood is by nature somewhat larger than life, and giving it a larger stage to play on allows it to move beyond the running gag that a secret government organisation that regularly fights monsters all over Cardiff isn’t going to stay secret for very long. Now they can set some of the elements that didn’t work behind them and start anew as an elite team on the run, ignoring the incompetencies of the past.
I am particularly a fan of the new, kick-ass Gwen Cooper. As she coolly advances out of her house, her baby in one hand and firing a handgun at a helicopter with the other, I finally feel like I have a twenty-first century heroine to look up to. Yeah, she’s the momma-bear protecting her kid, but unlike even the formidable Sarah Connor, her strength doesn’t originate in her need to protect her child, she’s a momma who’s protecting her child with the skills she already had. She doesn’t need to be super-human like Buffy, or uber-trained in martial arts beyond the attainment of mortal women, like the Bride in Kill Bill. And though I am sure the Bride could kick her ass in no seconds flat, Gwen exceeds her in not being defined by her motherhood and her relationships to men. Yet, equally, she doesn’t need to sacrifice being a loving, caring mother and wife in order to display her strength. No, I can’t fire a handgun accurately or shoot a helicopter out of the sky with a bazooka, but those seem like things an ordinary woman could be trained to do. Granted, the stunts Gwen pulls may be deeply implausible for other reasons, but they’re no more so than the stunts of any male action hero I could point to.
I also loved seeing my team get discovered and hunted out by people on another continent. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of recognition when something they love goes a bit more global? And I think this move worked. Granted, the CIA agent who gets off his deathbed to go chasing across the Atlantic in search of Gwen and apparently has magical powers of Summon British Police is deeply implausible, but I don’t care. It’s Torchwood, they do things like that.
About the only thing I really didn’t feel terribly keen on was the subplot with the paedophile on death row who is somehow let out of prison because he was ‘executed’ but, because of the events of Miracle Day, isn’t dead. Given the way the US has been happy to keep Guantanamo going indefinitely, I’m pretty sure they would have found a way to work the law to keep this guy banged up. I have no interest in him as a character, and feel fairly sure I’m going to get more and more annoyed with his plot as it goes on. It’s predictable and dull, and isn’t offering me enough of what I enjoy for me to overlook the plausibility.
Other than that, though, I’m full of the squee for what looks to be a cracking series. I’m especially pleased to see Dichen Lachmin (of Dollhouse fame) in the trailer for next week. She deserves more work, and Torchwood will benefit from having her in it. Awesome, too, to see a bit more Torchwood/Whedon cross-over, after James Marsters’s cameo as Captain John. No, Torchwood’s still not as good as Buffy or Dollhouse, but that’s OK – it’s not meant to be, it’s a different kind of show.