Doctor Who #879: Dead of Night

"Stay where you are, or stand up tall and stride across the skin of the world."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.22 2011.

IN THIS ONE... The Oswald cult springs up. Rex and Jack have sex (with other people). Vera gets Gwen into the PhiCorp building because they've been stockpiling drugs.

REVIEW: There are a couple of annoying tics in the writing, this time around, and I don't know if they're part of a bigger mandate, or if it's the episode's writer specifically (but I expected better of Jane Espensen, an alumni of BSG/Caprica, DS9 and the Joss Whedon catalog). For one thing, it goes way overboard with the UK/US comparisons. Something like Gwen annoyed at the lack of fizz in her lemonade is amusing, but Esther turning into a universal translator in case duller viewers can't understand a British turn of phrase through context... ugh. One comment, fine. But it goes on and on. And it seems part of an overall writing strategy that treats the audience as idiots. Information gets repeated A LOT, quite beyond the fact these things have "Previously on..." and the longer "Next week" trailers I've ever fast-forwarded through. The DVD even starts each episode with a mini-featurette in which RTD and Barrowman tell you what you're about to see (which feel like they aired on Starz in just that way?). And yet, if you're pitching your story at people who've never watched Torchwood before, there's a moment that, without some kind of explanation, might lead that audience member to believe Jack was a child murderer like Oswald, which isn't exactly the truth, is it?

Where I recognize Espensen's strengths and interests is in the personal, emotional arcs of the characters. While there is "incident" in Dead of Night, it's much more about advancing relationships. Esther discusses her sister, which will become a problem later, but makes a poor Toshiko to Rex's Owen, in my opinion. Rex hooks up with Vera at the exact same time Jack hooks up with a bartender, both men wanting desperately to feel alive (steamy same sex relations intercut with its hetero equivalent? that feels kind of naughty on U.S. TV, for some reason). Jack drunk-calls Gwen, but she stops listening as soon as Rhys and her daughter Skype in. It's all quite pathetic and sad on his end. He's clearly trying to lose himself in something, and we're reminded of why when he encounters Oswald Danes. Jack's whole thing is his guilt about losing/sacrificing children (his little brother, the fairy, the 456 kids, his grandson) and he calls Danes on his bull about feeling forgiven. He doesn't and never will, so how can this child murderer? And he's right. Danes is spinning a web, manipulating public opinion, probably just to see how far he can take it. The way he describes his crime makes for potentially unbearable television, and perhaps that's why I don't completely buy the cult springing up around him. As audience members, we know too much.

And then there's the plot. Rex continues to be a one-man machine designed to piss people off, which is very annoying. The Triangle conspiracy doesn't have a lot of teeth at this point, so we're just going through the usual motions - interrogating people who can't say anything because they're too scared, tracking phone calls, etc. I like how Gwen makes sure she gets to play superspy inside PhiCorp, but the action itself is pretty timid. Again, this is stuff we've seen countless times, watching flash drives load material on computers while the clock runs out. The bigger picture is more interesting, with Jilly seducing both Vera (with a push from Rex) and Danes, and the latter changing his message to match PhiCorp's, just in time for legislation about getting a lot of the necessary drugs without a prescription because prescribers are already over-extended. It makes sense that the new world order would have you buying pain meds and antibiotics on your way home from work, along with milk and eggs. This is where the fiction brushes up against the real world, and where Miracle Day might have something to say about health care, pharmaceuticals and the extension of human life through medicine.

VERSIONS: The parallel sex scenes were changed for the UK broadcast. They removed Rex and Vera entirely(!).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some good character moments, but the plot is less exciting, and the UK/US humor isn't as funny as the production thinks it is.

4 comments:

Jeremy Patrick said...

I agree that viewers should be trusted to figure out language differences by context, and they can always Google if they're really desperate. I've been watching Australian TV for a couple of years now, and there's still times I have no idea what the characters are talking about--but figuring it out is part of the fun!

In the show's defence, it was heartening as a Torchwood fan since the beginning that this co-production took the previously episodes seriously and didn't dispense with canon or characters. In that sense, it's a model for how successful British or other foreign genre shows should be "popularized" in the U.S.

I've always thought it disappointing that American network execs felt the need to completely remake so many popular foreign shows, even ones that were in English the first time around!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_television_series_based_on_British_television_series

Are American audiences really so parochial that they can't enjoy a show that's not set in New York or Los Angeles? Maybe so, but I hope not . . .

Siskoid said...

Part of the fun: You bet! Same reason I watched Sailor Moon years ago, trying to decode the anime symbology like the big sweat drops, etc.

A model for popularizing foreign shows: Maybe it isn't. Miracle Day kind of killed the brand, didn't it?

Remakes: I agree. It's absurd. Of course, these people aren't into distributing shows, but making them and owning them. They hope lightning will strike twice, but you get Coupling more often than you do House of Cards.

I'm personally a big fan of shows that DON'T take place in NY, LA or DC. Republic of Doyle, Justified and Breaking Bad, for example, are great at least partly (sometimes a lot) because of their colorful locations.

Bob said...

Out of curiosity, are you going to review “The Fiveish Doctors” and put it in your RPG timeline as something some old players made up as a meta-parody of their campaign and the RPG club?

Siskoid said...

Yes. I can even tell you when: May 29th.

I'm so close to the end now, I can actually do that.

 

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