Friday, June 10, 2011

Torchwood

A number of weeks ago, when I had finished watching all the seasons of Stargate Atlantis on streaming Netflix, I said that I was going to start watching the new Doctor Who. I was a Doctor Who fan back in the Tom Baker days and I stayed through most of the Peter Davison days too. But then I stopped watching and then it went off the air. I don't have cable so I never got to see the new Doctor when he regenerated but through the magic of streaming Netflix I can now catch up.

I was told by people I trust that I should also watch the spinoff, Torchwood. I was already intrigued by Torchwood because I had heard that Jane Espenson, my favorite television writer, was scripting part of the next season. So I looked up the lists of episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood, figured out the order they would have aired, and started in.

At this point I've seen the first three seasons of Doctor Who and the first two seasons of Torchwood. I wouldn't usually write about them in the middle of watching all the seasons but I saw that Alyssa Rosenberg is also watching Torchwood, to catch up in anticipation of the new season. And then I saw that Ivey West at Cliqueclack is also catching up on Torchwood. Both of them are writing about it while in the middle and I found myself agreeing with some of what they are writing. So I thought I'd throw out my thoughts after two seasons and then see if they took any of my advice for season three.

First, I love Captain Jack. But I loved him more on Doctor Who. I was sad when the Doctor and Rose left him behind at the end of the first season of new Doctor Who, but I assumed that they didn't know he wasn't dead. When he showed up on Torchwood I understood why the writers didn't want to give away his entire background and make him mysterious to new viewers and leave some mysteries for Doctor Who fans. Such as ... how the heck did he get to the 21st century from the future where the Doctor and Rose left him?

I think the reason that I liked him more on Doctor Who is because he is such a BIG character as written and John Barrowman really took that character and ran with it on Doctor Who. Of course he could do this because whoever plays the Doctor, they always play him BIG. So the BIG Doctor and the BIG Captain Jack could play off each other. PLUS they were travelling through time! There isn't really any reason to play Doctor Who as a realistic show - it isn't. It never has been. It's like a cartoon or a comic book so the actors can play the characters BIG like a cartoon character or a comic book character.

But Torchwood is stuck in the 21st century (at least most of the time). And all the people who work at Torchwood are just regular people who happen to believe that aliens exist exist and the earth needs to be protected. And Captain Jack was stuck on earth beginning in the 1800's (don't ask) and all through the 20th century. I he had acted as BIG as he acted on Doctor Who .... well, it's beyond belief that he would have been able to fit in. So, of necessity, the writers had to tone him down and Barrowman had to play him a little smaller. I understand that. But I like him when he's BIG.

I think the show needs a regular character who plays it BIG. Maybe a big bad. Or a crazier member of the Torchwood team. When James Marsters guest starred it was magical. The character was written BIG and nobody can play BIG like James Marsters. And that let Barrowman loose to play Captain Jack BIG. Wow. And that made the reaction of the other normal members of the team even more realistic. At the end of season 2 it was clear there were going to be cast changes and I hope that means that they came back in Season 3 with a BIG new character.

The other thing I think they need to do is to anchor the idea of Torchwood better than they have. Season two of Doctor Who gave us lots of hint dropping about the Torchwood Institute and most of the publicity was negative. We were led to believe that the Torchwood Institute was not necessarily a good thing - although it wasn't an unqualified evil either. It was very ambiguous. But the concept of Torchwood doesn't play off that. The Cardiff branch of Torchwood is (apparently) the only branch of Torchwood left after the Canary Wharf war and they are trying to "do the right thing". It would be much more exciting if they were fighting the system. Even the unabashedly militaristic Stargate often showed the Stargate team in conflict with the institutional military. And was better for it. Alyssa pretty much says the same thing:

Similarly, the fact that Torchwood Three appears to be the only functional branch of the institute isn’t actually a good thing for the show. We don’t get a training montage that really introduced Gwen to Torchwood’s practices and traditions, which would be both a fun thing to do, a great way to introduce viewers to the world the creators are building, and a good way to establish the constraints Torchwood agents work under. Without constraints, it’s hard to know what it means to be a Torchwood agent. As is, they’re basically private dicks who know that aliens are out there. My understanding is that we get more context later for why Torchwood Three is what’s left. But even if, and especially if, they’re what remains of a tradition, that should be an interesting burden to carry out, a legacy to carry on, something that should be part of Gwen’s experience and ours.
Maybe they'll pick up on this in Season 3.

Those are my main issues with the series. I really like the character of Gwen and I think they can do more with her. And I really like her boyfriend/husband. Tosh and Owen are obviously off the show after Season 2 and I don't think I'll miss them. I liked the quietness of Tosh's character but it just didn't play well with a Captain Jack who needed to be BIG. Same with Owen. The same characters without a Captain Jack may have worked although it would have been a totally different kind of show. But if they are going to have Captain Jack they need characters that set him free.

Truthfully I'd be fine if they'd ditch Ianto too. I don't think that he and Jack have any chemistry. Which is weird because Jack has chemistry with pretty much everyone else who crosses his path. He especially had chemistry with James Marsters. But I just don't feel the chemistry with Ianto.

But on the whole I've really liked it and I'm looking forward to watching Season 3. It was a surprise to find that Doctor Who and Torchwood are only 13 episode seasons. After watching the 22 episode seasons of Stargate, this seems too short.

I also really like the new Doctors (both of them). Tom Baker is still MY doctor but I think David Tennant is coming in a close second. I was tired of Rose by the time season 2 ended and was glad she was gone. And I totally object to the whole love interest issue - this is Doctor Who for gosh sakes. THE COMPANIONS AREN'T LOVE INTERESTS. I was irritated that they had Martha hitting on him but at least he wasn't interested - which is as it SHOULD be on Doctor Who. It's a kid's show. No kissing!

But I've pretty much loved it. Even the rehabilitated Daleks, which remain just as corny as ever. And I think that Blink was one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen. Right up there with the Buffy episode Hush.

I've just started Season 4 and I'm pretty sure that Donna is going to drive me crazy. But at least she isn't hitting on the Doctor. Whew.

Gotta go watch another episode.