Doctor Who #739: Everything Changes

"It's an amnesia pill. My own recipe, with a touch of denial and a dash of retcon. Wake up tomorrow morning, you'll have forgotten everything about Torchwood. Worse still, you'll have forgotten me... which is kind of tragic."
TECHNICAL SPECS:  Torchwood episodes from Everything Change through End of Days are available in the Torchwood Season 1 DVD set. First aired Oct.22 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Gwen Cooper meets Captain Jack and his version of Torchwood.

REVIEW: Watching Torchwood's pilot gave me a bad case of déjà vu, or rather après vu, if you will, because Agents of SHIELD ripped off its formula wholesale. A fresh new face investigates a semi-secret organization led by a character we know from a famous series and gets recruited to help it find alien tech, deal with the supernatural, etc. Is that because Whedon et al. took a peek at Torchwood's homework (not that he could be blamed for taking back a little from a franchise that poached so much from Buffy), or is it because this is generic genre TV 101? As in SHIELD's pilot, only a couple characters are fleshed out, but that's because we're seeing it through Gwen Cooper's eyes. She's RTD's Rose Tyler in this drama, thee outside character who latches on to the show's superheroic protagonist, Captain Jack. Eve Myles is wonderful in the role and made Torchwood must-see TV for me even when the episodes weren't up to snuff (especially through Season 1), so real and charming. Perhaps (and this is my last comparison with the more recent show) why Torchwood works right off the bat and Agents of SHIELD doesn't, is that through Gwen, we have a clash of two worlds. The crazy world of Torchwood and the mundane world of Rhys and Andy who jabber on about ordinary things, oblivious to the insanity around them. Skye, the Gwen analog in SHIELD, doesn't have a foot in the real world.

Torchwood is obviously a part of the Whoniverse - Captain Jack Bad Wolfed into immortality, the Cardiff Rift, Sato in a very different job from when we saw her in Aliens of London, and of course, links to the Torchwood from the Battle of Canary Wharf - but it exists in a different tonal space. Davies makes sure we realize this by dropping an F-bomb in the first act, and obviously, there's way more blood than in any Doctor Who episode, but the real difference is how remorselessly bleak it is. Torchwood is using the recently murdered to try out an alien Resurrection Glove (NOT to solve the crimes), and they learn there's "nothing" after you die. This seems to confirm immortal Jack's suspicions (in retrospect), and if you look at the Torchwood opening theme/sequence, it's like echoes chattering in the Void (or "hell" as the Doctor describes it in, not coincidentally, the first real Torchwood story). This is a story where Gwen gets a spot on the team because the second-in-command, Suzy, shoots herself in the head after making a big speech about how Earth/Cardiff gets all the alien filth and none of the good stuff. This is the underbelly of the Whoniverse. The Doctor brings you along to see the big, gorgeous, epic stuff. Some of us are left behind to lead (boring) ordinary lives, or else exciting ones swimming through utter crap. If Doctor Who is Star Trek, Torchwood is Battlestar Galactica.

Not to say there isn't some wit and fun in Everything Changes. Rhys and Andy have a lot of comic potential (CSI Cardiff indeed! - who hasn't imagined a ridiculous CSI in their smallish home town?), and Gwen's relationship with each is completely charming. Torchwood's secret base is found because admitted twat Owen has pizza delivered there. The Hub is vaguely reminiscent of the TARDIS console room, with a central column and makeshift aesthetic - part underground, cave, lab, vault and morgue - but it's also got a pterodactyl flying through it. There's something very cheeky about Jack's roofie drug being called retcon, and I wish the show had been able to explore some of the stuff he tells Gwen, like the Torchwood bureau that's gone missing. He's not quite as horny as in his Doctor Who appearances, but his trademark jokes about all things sex are there (he's apparently tried being pregnant and is mildly sexually harassing Ianto). Owen's threeway date rape via alien perfume is played for laughs, but it's a subversive laugh that's all wrong, and makes you wonder just how flawed the characters are. Could they all tip into the dark place Suzy found herself in? Definitely. They've all been bringing alien stuff home (well, not Ianto, he's doing a lot worse, as we'll see), and Indira Varma's Suzy isn't a calculating psycho. She's an overwhelmed human being fumbling for a gun inside her purse, one that, once found out, has nowhere to go but the nothingness her victims described. That's where Gwen comes in. Will she be a grounding force for the team? She really IS a Rose Tyler, keeping the Doctor (TW) from going too far, from forgetting the human and humane dimensions of the job. Or will she be corrupted as they've all been?

VERSIONS: A deleted scene on the DVD has Gwen tell Jack what her normal little world is like, as a flash-forward prologue. Alternate scenes have a different doctor examining her at the hospital, and a differently staged scene at the pub - at a table, not the bar - where she tells Jack about Rhys (the bar scene has much better deliveries over all). When broadcast on the CBC over here, a few scenes were trimmed, including Owen seducing the girl's boyfriend and taking both of them home with him. Really, CBC?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A strong pilot that manages to tell a complete story, explain its premise, give us an audience identification figure we can relate to, set future stories up (and more besides), and despite the darkness, still give us moments of bright humor. Several characters are still ciphers though, and some viewers may have a malaise about how this "PG-13" world can comfortably exist in Doctor Who's (but they've obviously not read the New Adventures).


Jeremy Patrick said...

Stoked you're doing Torchwood, my true love in the Whoniverse. Hope you don't mind if I plug my own episode review from a few years back:
I think the two actually compliment each other well, as they focus on different things.

With a little bit of distance, I continue to think that what I appreciated most about Torchwood was the willingness to give us genre fiction that was (at least in concept) darker, edgier, and more thought-provoking then the norm. As much as I love Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Buffy, and more, sometimes I want something out of the PG box. That's becoming increasingly common as cable networks like HBO and others are getting more and more involved in genre shows.

But if any network tries to be true to Preacher, they better be ready for a reaction ;)

Siskoid said...

Plug away! Vintage Detritus is good for the soul!

I think TW is a lot of people's true or at least first love. I seem to recall seeing that in North America, a lot of people came to Doctor Who via TW. I only know one such person in my entourage, but not too sure what the situation was in the States with BBC America.

Craig Oxbrow said...

We found Torchwood goes a lot smoother with a bottle of wine.

Siskoid said...

It's probably designed that way!


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