(Alt. title: The License Fee - The Case Against)
God knows, I'm not one to rock the boat, especially when it may contain the hand that feeds me ;-) BUT my exposure to the first two episodes of Dr Who spin-off, Torchwood, last night did result in me doing my rabid dog impression. Honestly, are there really no half original ideas left in the UK? Obviously not.
Ok, ok I'm probably the worst person to judge such lightweight fare, especially as I've spent all year getting frustrated (which can be a good reaction to evoke in your audience) by Lusht and frankly floored by Battlestar Galactica - both of which are now into their third seasons, more of which later - but even compared with its parent show, which is designed for KIDS, it sucked on many, many levels.
Let's deal with the issue of CHEAPNESS first. Ooh, we're back to FZ again - and as he says: 'i LOVE cheap monster movies, in fact the cheaper the better'. Frankly we KNOW that the BBC's publicly funded budgets don't come close to those of ABC or Fox. The amount spent on an entire series of Torchwood would probably just about pay for Matthew Fox's face coach. But for some reason, the Beeb feels it necessary to try and poorly emulate the things that have long since become the norm for prime time adult Sci Fi in the US. Dr Who's recent resurrection saw perfectly fine CGI work (though clunky by comparison with even something like Lexx) which was leavened by amusing multi-levelled scripts and not-at-all-bad acting (though I don't totally buy the Billie Piper reappraisal. She's still only one level above X Factor stage school scum). Sure, it raised the bar, for a BBC drama, but had it tried to give us anything other than what was, at heart, nothing more than the old skool favourite with a fancier wrapping it would have failed miserably. Torchwood tries to repeat the rather quaint style but, in combining this with its more 'adult' themes, it draws attention to its huge deficiencies rather than letting you say 'bless, it's all just a jolly silly romp innit?'. Despite the fancy HQ set and the flashing lights you found yourself getting annoyed at the rubber antics of the 'Weevil' and the derivative nonsense of a purple alien sex fiend gas which, frankly, could have come from a 1967 episode of Star Trek. Of course, to cap it all, the feeble excuse to film it in Cardiff, of all places, because THE PRODUCTION TEAM IS BASED THERE was laughable. Despite numerous in-jokes to deflect its naffness ('CSI Cardiff, I'd like to see that' etc etc) it remains a deeply unsexy place to base anything, let alone a prime time Sci Fi drama. Oops there go my Welsh readers...
Which brings me on to the 'sex' aspect of Torchwood. A lot has been made of the ambiguous sexuality of the 'team'. How was this demonstrated? Well, by having the obnoxious Owen pick up both a man and a woman in a morally suspect use of alien sex pherenomes; by having the 'human interest' bore, Gwen, get some girl-on-girl action, and by constant references to Captain Jack's love of shagging anything that moves. The really clasy bit was when he snogged the alien sex fiend host/victim, giving her some of his cosmic 'juice' if you will, and then arrogantly proclaimed something like 'imagine what the rest of me's like if you get that from a kiss!'. Pillock.
This is not an 'adyult' depiction of sexuality. The whole charade had the smell of 16-year old boy's bedroom about it. In fact the whole sorry thing was like some adolescent comic fan's version of grown up land. In battlestar galactica recently we've had sex used as a bargaining tool with the enemy, as a desultory cure for the sheer mind-numbing boredom of war and as an allegory for political underhandedness. Now THAT'S entertainment...
The script, containing such gems as 'we're outside the government, outside the UN, outside the police etc etc.' veered wildly between in-jokes, dull ponderings on the gulf between cosmic shenanigans and cozy domesticity and hilariously ponderous declamations on SF gobledegook.
Which brings me on to the acting. Not ONE of the cast can do it. Seriously. Humour, timing, emoting, pathos. these are just a few of the things that Torchwood cannot ever deliver. It's bad enough that Captain Jack is (pointlessly toadying towards US conventions) a yank who looks like Gary Numan without the make up in his sub-goth trenchcoat, but Eve Myles as Gwen takes the biscuit. Here's how she describes herself: "She's a very down-to-earth girl, kind and generous, but extremely ambitious, feisty, intelligent and witty. But she's also very human - she's really the girl next door. Because I'm playing her, I put a lot of me into it and I take a lot of my own characteristics.".
Well, as far as I could tell she brought ALL her characteristics, leaving no room for a character at all. Whingey and devoid of any skills required to kick alien ass, she was crowbarred in to keep it 'real' presumably. Urgh...
As to the plotlines, I shall pass, except to say that anyone who's seen a fraction of TV or cinema from the last 30 years will have guessed the outcomes aeons before they happen.
Here's what (ex) BBC Three boss Stuart Murphy said: "Torchwood is sinister and psychological... as well as being very British and modern and real."
No, it's ill-conceived, ratings-chasing, provincial nonsense....
Meanwhile back at TV heaven we have a Battlestar Galactica which gets bleaker by the second. Cylon mind-fucks, treachery by those we hold dearest and an increasingly damaged crew make this (along with some of the best effects: stylised beyond reason and all the better for it) about the best Sci Fi you'll see this decade. How ironic that while the UK produces TV for adolescents under the guise of 'adult' entertainment, the USA sneaks grown-up TV into a show format that was originally aimed squarely at early teens. I'll be doing a proper round-up later.
As for Lusht. Well, it may quite possibly have jumped the shark, but it still looks great and hangs together far more coherently than Torchwood. Which is some going when you consider their making it up as they go along. Episode One of the new season was dripping with evil, and even Matthew Fox got my sympathy. Way to go Jack! Cry, you sad man! You're NEVER getting the wife back!!!