Escape to L.A.Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Paula Seligson

s episode was also strong, but moreso in characters than in plot. Plot-wise, the mystery continues to be revealed tantalizingly a piece at a time, and this episode didn’t reveal enough to satisfy my curiosity. Very little was explained about the plot - only that PhiCorp is being run by some invisible force and creating overflow camps for the undead who wont heal. Because the plot of the episode mostly focused around a mission that ended with a cop-out shot-just-before-he-could-say-the-name-of-the-bad-guys moment, the episode felt like filler.

Thankfully Danes’ storyline saved the day and continued its progression from disturbing to extremely disturbing. The entire ‘Dead Is Dead’ campaign was a fascinating example of the perspective people could take to the Miracle. Danes’ choice to go into the hospital and set himself up as a messiah-like figure for the despondent injured and ill was a perfect counter to Ellis Monroe’s campaign and values. Watching him inspire hope in people was downright creepy. I can’t wait to see his role as the messiah of the Miracle unfold.

Jilly’s sheer joy at his actions was fun comic relief - she knows PR, and true to her profession, she loves it when someone pull a good PR play. Her scene where she tells Danes how much she can’t stand him, especially to even look at his hands, was a great piece of character development for her. Up until now she’s just been this agent with no soul or personal opinion and completely focused on the job. That moment reminded the audience that though she’s working for PhiCorp and on the ground level of the Miracle, she’s still just a puppet and not at the top of the foodchain, a very human puppet who knows exactly what she’s doing. Though she might be the ‘devil walking the earth’, she still has some morals, just ones she sets aside for her job.

As an American, I’d like to make note that mayor Monroe was part of the Tea Party. Oh Russell T. Davies. That man loves to knock on America’s right side of politics and glorify its left. Cases in point: the stupidity of President Winters in the season 3 finale of Doctor Who (granted, everyone mocks him) and President Obama’s plan that would have saved the world from financial crisis in the final David Tennant Doctor Who specials. Though it makes a lot of sense for someone of the Tea Party to come up with a campaign like ‘Dead Is Dead’ since it relies on a fairly religious fundamentalist view of the world, I just find it funny to see Davies’ ongoing biases in his TV writing. I’m completely fine with his bias - he’s not a journalist, and since I love his writing that means I want to see his biases since those are quintessentially a part of his writing. I just find them funny since they’re so blatant and don’t actually need to be in Doctor Who and Torchwood at all for the sake of the stories.

Going back to the episode, I also loved the character development we gained with Rex and Esther, especially because the focus was on family. Rex visited his father because he’s scared, though he wont show the rest of Torchwood. He should have died and he knows it, and he wanted to hear, “I love you son and everything is going to be okay.” Instead his father was still just angry, refusing the olive branch and hammering another nail into the coffin of his relationship with Rex. Rex tells his father that he died, and his father doesn’t care - Rex’s expression after that moment was just so sad. And Esther’s decision to report her sister, Sarah, to child services was equally heart wrenching, especially when it led to her sister’s children being taken away. It was a hard choice with unexpected repercussions, and the actress and the writers portrayed this very well. 

These back stories are continuing a running theme in this season of Torchwood - family. Along with Rex’s father and Esther’s sister, Gwen is willing for Rhys to put himself and Anwen in danger to protect her father, and then her father becomes tied into the plot as he’s sent to one of the overflow camps. This family life even extends into the mission, with Esther placing the whole Torchwood team in danger by visiting her sister’s house in person and then becoming an emotional wreck due to her phone call to child services, and Gwen actually talking to Rhys on the phone in the middle of the mission. All this presence of family brings the Miracle and the nature of Torchwood home - though all this is a ‘big picture’ issue ultimately it affects people, and though the Torchwood team might have to act like spies and super heroes, they’re still people who at the end of the day have families.

But this presence of family also highlights Jack’s lack thereof, made even more jarring in the hilarious but also bittersweet scene where Jack and Gwen pretend to be an obnoxious couple to gain the biometrics of Nicolas Frumkin, the PhiCorp engineer. Watching them hold hands was a sad moment of what might have been. Jack has no personal stake left in this world, except Gwen. This focus on family is again showing Jack’s isolation. It’s setting up whether or not he wants to die.





RenditionBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Paula Seligson

Torchwood is taking advantage of its longer time-frame.

With 10 episodes, 50 minutes each, instead of the usual 45 minutes for a ‘monster of the week’ or the miniseries of Children of Earth, we finally get to see not only the action of the plot but also its greater ramifications for both the Earth and the characters.

Rendition continued exploring the Miracle into the extent of its world-impact. This isn’t just the Torchwood team trying to save the Earth from a threat only they know about. This isn't Doctor Who where only the Doctor and maybe his companions can save the day. The Miracle is affecting the whole world, and that means the world’s best minds are going at the issue because everyone has a stake in what has happened.

That’s why I loved Dr. Juarez’s scene where she reverses triage. She understands how few resources her hospital has when nobody can die, and she realizes that a doctor’s most lacking commodity - time - is no longer an issue. This extends into her attendance at the panel, where we realize that illnesses will soon become resistant to drugs, and the most in-demand drugs will be painkillers. Logical steps like these turn Torchwood into good science fiction, which discusses how people deal with new issues and what ramifications those issues have on culture and resources.

The cultural aspect is prominent through Danes. The use of social media, ranging from the Twitter hashtag #forgive to memes about Danes’ failed execution like the Youtube video ‘what did you do?’, show why Danes is a character at all. As Esther says, “It’s the miracle made visible.” But she also comments on another interesting development: reconciliation between India and Pakistan, going completely against how she thought those cultures would react. It’s details like these that I hope the show continues to include, because they are what set it apart from a fun and dark ‘scifi’ action show into something that really analyzes human behavior and comments on society.

Gwen and Jack’s interactions continue to be a highlight of the show I love Gwen’s conflicting feelings of anger at Jack for leaving and for then returning, her fear for her family, and her relief and joy at having Jack and all the action of Torchwood back in her life. The entire scene where Jack is poisoned and Gwen, Rex, Juarez, and the flight staff work to save his life was just, simply put, well done. Her concern for Jack and her utter refusal to let him die are characteristic of how much stronger Gwen has become as a person since she first joined Torchwood.

Jack is still as cocky and in-control as always, which make his interactions with Rex a welcome comic relief. He is also finally being open with Gwen, as shown in one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in the episode:

Gwen: Where did you go, Jack?

Jack: A long way away.

Gwen: And did it help?

Jack just looks away, and doesn’t try to lie to Gwen and say that he’s fine. He’s no longer portraying himself to be the unshakable leader when he’s with Gwen, which shows how much their relationship has grown.

Also, point of interest: Jack’s guess about morphic fields causing the Miracle (confirmed by the CIA’s response of attempted assassination) is actually from the conjectures of the real scientist Rupert Sheldrake: http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/morphic/morphic_intro.html

I’m very excited to see how the writers take Sheldrake’s ideas and make them real for the show.

So far, Torchwood continues to be a strong show with a good mix of plot, characters, and action. The chase scene when Esther escaped from the CIA, the moments where Rex stared at himself in the bathroom mirror on the plane and questions again why he was still alive, and Danes’ disturbing breakdown of ‘I’m sorry’ on national television are all examples of continuing strong scenes in the show. I also love the bones the writers keep throwing at the new audience to hint at information only previous Torchwood fans would really know, especially in regards to Jack’s immortality, like when he says he had a boyfriend in the 1800s who used arsenic. The plot is progressing by revealing a bit each episode, and it’s fun to keep the mystery going. The new information in this episode - the morphic field, the oscillating level of life, and the fact that people are still aging - is all intriguing and I can't wait to see what is revealed next.

But of the two new characters, I only like PR rep Jilly Kitzinger. She is sly, developing the plot, and downright creepy with her smile and business cards. She’s interesting. On the other hand, Rex’s old love interest, CIA agent Lyn Peterfield, is too stereotypical to keep my interest. She’s exactly what you’d expect from a high-security-clearance CIA agent. And her ‘death’ was too camp - I felt like I was watching a zombie horror film when she walked toward the car with her head twisted around. Although she gets points for another really disturbing Torchwood moment.

Another issue I had with the episode was the gay flight attendant, Danny. I felt like every joke centered around him fell short. The jokes themselves felt juvenile, and at the least should have involved Jack flirting with Danny. Humor, usually very dark, is part of Torchwood, and it would be wrong not to have comic relief throughout an episode. But a character like Danny highlights an issue with longer stories. With a short length and time limit, writing has to be tight. Every word must count. But when a story becomes longer, and without the pressing need to make every moment necessary, quality can be lost. I felt like that’s what happened with Danny.

It’s wonderful for the story to not feel rushed. Scenes are longer, letting us see more nuances in the characters facial expressions and mannerisms, like Danes’ slight and sly smiles, and the beats between Jack and Gwen that are always filled with either silent communication or unspoken emotions. The full story gets to unfold in the style of a very long movie, allowing for a slower and more comfortable evolution of the plot as well as more character development. Hopefully this freedom in length wont diminish the quality of the show.





The Categories of LifeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Paula Seligson

ally, an episode that 100% felt like Torchwood - a strong story and strong characters, along with a horrifying plot development.

Now we see another part of PhiCorp’s plan. It’s taking a chapter from the book of World War II: people receiving categories to define their life and furnaces to deal with the most unwanted. But knowing what little we know of PhiCorp, controlling the healthcare of practically all humans through the overflow camps might not be for the simple reasons of money and power. With the cryptic mentions of who controls the company, along with the Time Lord technology stockpiling the pain medication, this points to something more than just typical human greed. But whether it’s an alien influence, or humans with access to alien technology, has yet to be seen. The more interesting aspect is that the rest of the world, in a time of crisis, is willing to go along with PhiCorp’s plan, stick their heads in the sand, and not ask questions. It’s a classic Russell T Davies social commentary on the evils any person can perform. 

The final reveal of the horrors of the overflow camps centered around Vera’s murder, which was about as horrifying as Torchwood gets. Since people don’t die, presumably ever, she would have been aware and conscious up until the point her brain was ash, if not longer. And Rex could only stand outside and watch, and film. Her death was also wonderfully gutsy, and well done. Her arrogance at assuming she would be allowed to walk out of the overflow camp after threatening to prosecute, and then disbelief at getting shot, was good writing and good acting. 

I didn’t think Torchwood would kill anyone off this early in Miracle Day, but the writers went ahead and took the plunge. It’s not bad or good - Torchwood has a habit of doing this and as long as they don’t actually kill off anyone from the first three seasons I’m past the point of caring. It will be interesting to see how Vera’s murder warps Rex, especially if he blames Esther and Jack for letting Vera join the mission, and what he does with the video footage. If viewers had any hope for Vera still being alive, Jane Espenson comments via her Twitter account: "burning means you really really are dead".

As for the rest of the episode, no complaints. Jack anticipated Danes’ true wish of wanting to die, and got it wrong. Danes’ speech and the crowd’s disturbingly supportive response was an expected continuation of his plotline. I really like how they’re tying Jack and Danes together, and it will be interesting to see how Jack ultimately deals with Danes, or possibly vice versa. Gwen’s slapdash run-in-and-rescue approach with her father hurt rather than saved him, and for all of Gwen’s self-confidence and experience, she still has to learn to look further ahead at the consequences of her actions.

This was a good episode, and I look forward to the next.





The Middle MenBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Paula Seligson

m the beginning of this episode addressing the state of suicide, to the ending with a non-apologetic government, ‘The Middle Men’ hit home with its excellent social commentary. This episode finally focused on the Torchwood team and didn’t deviate to include the other subplots. I especially enjoyed the break from Danes and Jilly. The show is much more enjoyable when the team is focused on something together, even when it’s not on a single mission. And though it was frustrating to still have very little of the ongoing plot revealed, except that PhiCorp is in the dark about the Miracle, the overflow camps became public and out of Torchwood’s hands, thus finishing one part of the plot.

Through Maloney we saw a bad person do bad things. His decisions, to incinerate Vera, to slowly stab Rex in the heart, to kill whoever was in his way to protect himself, were above and beyond a person reacting to fear or just following orders. He created suffering in the overflow camp, and rather than face the consequences, he murdered and tortured. He didn’t regret the murder, he was simply afraid of being caught. On the flip-side we have the doctor Gwen confronted. She was a good person doing bad things. Afraid of the changing world, she didn’t know how to keep her profession afloat in the impossible situations of the Miracle. She did not send people to the ovens for any personal reasons, but was doing what she was told and hoping that the leaders she trusted were choosing the right thing. Gwen confronted her on this form of evil, the banality of a good person just following orders, and though distressed, the doctor stuck to her defenses, refusing to blame herself.

And yet these evils were countered with two good people. First, the janitor that helped Gwen escape with her father. At first she was presented as a suspicious figure, eyeing Gwen warily. But instead she was a kind person, recognizing that Gwen was in a desperate situation. This janitor couldn’t fight the system, but she could perform one good deed and help where she could. This good is shown again in Ralph, a soldier, someone broken down and trained into following orders. He did follow orders, going along with Vera’s murder because he didn’t act in time to save her, terrified of being caught as an accomplice. He agonized over what to do, and let Maloney take the lead. But after thinking about what happened, he realized he was doing the wrong thing and had to take personal accountability for his action. As he said when he shot Maloney, saving Esther - “This has got to stop.”

Jack’s search for answers continued this commentary. He found no man behind the curtain, but instead discovered a convoluted and sprawling system, completely masking accountability. There was no one to blame, just a chain of people who did their job without any context. Though someone is pulling the strings, they’ve hidden themselves in the actions of the whole world, an invisible puppet master.

I’d still like to see the answers to the plot come out faster, and I’m looking forward to seeing the team working together in person, rather than in goal. But this was an excellent episode in both its delivery and characters. (I’m still annoyed that Jack is only presented as gay, though. Where’s the omnisexual 51st guy we all know and love?) But the depth of thought in determining the world’s response to the Miracle, now creating a modern-day Holocaust along with all the moral implications that follow, continues to be outstanding. I can’t wait for the next episode, one that unmercifully pulls Gwen between Jack and her family.





Immortal SinsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

here we are in 1927 New York, which means that Jack's infiltration mission with the Night Travellers in the 1920s must have come to an end - this is plausible I guess, in that the only date we have for that setting in series two's From Out Of The Rain was 1925 and that isn't tied directly to Jack. However, I was surprised how his American accent caused little concern for someone arriving in America on a UK passport (which was authentic in that the style came into use in 1920 ... though I couldn't tell if it was a 1927 "Northern Ireland" or earlier "Ireland" version!).

But why is he wearing his modern day coat? The story implied that this is Jack v1, i.e. the one who originally joined Torchwood in the late 19th Century, but with that coat here did he actually go back in his timeline yet again in some future Miracle Day revelation? Or am I now desperately looking for some plot rationalisation over how he came to be dressed that way?

Once again we have an episode that says a lot but doesn't do much. About all we learned from the episode was that Jack had a relationship with Angelo, and that back in 'our time' it seems Angelo is still about and wants Jack dead - or is that by the other three instead, who wanted 'ownership' over Jack in 1928 (and who happened to clasp hands in the now familiar triangular symbol/logo the Miracle protagonists use on their phones etc. - an important plot clue?). 

Unlike Gwen's monologue in Children of Earth, Jack's mention of the Doctor seems a bit forced in the script, and the reference to the Trickster Brigade is all well and good but serves nothing to push the story forward whatsoever, another bit of plot padding to keep the episode from stalling. Then again, for all I know the Trickster himself will be revealed in Episode Ten!!! (Actually, when all the talk of WWII and altered timelines came up I thought for one moment that this was going to tie in with Let's Kill Hitler and that's what Ed Russell's comments about timing of the broadcast was really about!)

However, whilst the plot itself might be shaky, character-wise the episode performed well with an interesting exploration of Jack's view of the ephemeral nature of his relationships with us mortals; as mentioned above, though, it isn't clear if this is pre- or post- Ianto Jack - if he had only been on Earth for some 40 years so far would he have had that many relationships? Still, as other reviewers have observed, this series does seem to be concentrating on Jack's male exploits (and possibly some slash-fiction asperations on the part of the writer who handled both these encounters this series?!!). Not that this matters to the story per se, but it does feel neglectful of the character's inception as an omnisexual 51st Century guy (something that River seems to have taken up the reigns of in Doctor Who, judging by her anecdotes!).

Speaking of which: okay BBC, so what standards are being applied for scene censorhsip in Torchwood? Episode three sees a brief scene cut from transmission for its sexual content, but episode seven sees a much longer, explicit scene broadcast at an earlier time than the previous excised one, plus what seems to be male anatomy on show! So why bother trimming episode three at all? (unless there was a problem with Vera and Rex?!?!).

Also, the scenes with Jack and Angelo inter-played well with what looked to be a bitter parting between Jack and Gwen in the car as their own relationship descended into distrust and seemingly ready to annihilate each other to protect their lives. These were again great scenes, but it was all so neatly forgiven and forgotten at the episode's climax that the whole emotional impact was somewhat undermined.

(Who am I trying to kid: we are now more than 3/4 way through and there is so much that doesn't seem relevant to the Miracle (or maybe it is) that the plot is ducking and diving to the extent that it isn't making a blind bit of sense to me which direction it is actually trying to go in!)

Still, yay for Esther for lighting up the screen for those few moments she had this week, and for being the one who sussed it all out yet again, saving everybody in the process. The true heroine of the series!


Anyway to summarise, we had some great character scenes (with good acting from John Barrowman and an even better performance from Daniele Favilli!), but little to further the overall storyline; I know sometimes it is good to take a breather from the action (a problem with some Who episodes is that you don't get a chance to breathe) but not for several episodes in the same series!

(and, having had Nana Visitor for a minute in this episode, let's hope "Next Time" John De Lancie gets a bit more screen time, not to mention a meatier role ... but episode eight and another previously unheard of new character pops up?!!).





Night TerrorsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

In an episode all about multiple fears, and where the Doctor ponders whether young George suffers from pantophobia, it’s tempting to frame this review by referring to different phobias, both real and invented. With that in mind, perhaps this story will offer a cure for Gatissophobes still traumatised after Victory of the Daleks, though given its array of alarming lifts, nasty dolls, and recurrent darkness, it certainly won’t make comfortable viewing for phobophobes.

Gatiss has said that his brief was to make the contemporary scary, as per his excellent Crooked House. That, however, used portmanteau horror to give its present-day setting an overlaid creepiness, whereas this tale doesn’t have the luxury of different time periods and historically lingering spookiness to realise its threat. Instead, we jump straight into a repertoire of childhood anxieties, superbly realised via director Richard Clark’s use of shadows and complemented by a themed colour palette combining inky blues with sickly yellow-greens.

Since he is ostensibly a child of our time, I kept expecting George to have a remote-controlled Dalek or a collection of Character Options toys in his room: Bergerac exists in this universe, but not a television series called Doctor Who. Incorporating such visuals would have made this both more realistic and yet less real-seeming at the same time; a fiction pointing out its own fictional status. We are shown an Amy action figure, of sorts, in the form of her dolled-up version, but the episode resolutely avoids branded toys so that George’s collection of non-copyright-infringing, non-product-placement robots, dinosaurs, and themed wallpaper still end up looking like a strange, out-of-time BBC unreality. Despite refusing to permit any ‘meta’ appearances of Doctor Who toys, an episode centred on a scared child cannot resist referencing debates which have whirled through the series’ history: “may be… things on telly… scary stuff” should be blamed for George’s nervous state. It’s a knowing wink to the audience, but played lightly and without disrupting the story’s world.

This was one of the series six episodes produced by Sanne Wohlenberg, and though I’d not have a critical word to say about Marcus Wilson’s excellent work, this bears all the hallmarks of a very tightly, skilfully produced ep where key elements knit together well. Given the focus on paternity, and on Alex’s love for his son, Emma Cunniffe as Claire is rather underused, though Daniel Mays doesn’t put a foot wrong throughout and Andy Tiernan plays the sort of character his physiognomy seems doomed to enact – Purcell, a caricatured landlord, complete with Bernard the bulldog (surely a sly Quatermass reference from Gatiss).

Rituals are vital here, whether it’s switching lights on and off, putting fears away in the cupboard, or repeating phrases such as “please save me from the monsters”. Ritual holds and contains anxiety, and this theme is artfully reflected in Clark’s use of shots split up into angular sections; the housing estate which seems to box in its inhabitants; the serving hatch through which we observe Alex and the Doctor; doors and windows which frame various residents, and even the pile of bin bags which encloses Mrs Rossiter in a menacing reverse shot. Everything is constantly framed, bounded, and visually hemmed in, implying that characters may themselves have become shut in with what’s feared. And the episode’s editing also becomes almost ritualistic or incantatory at times, such as in the intercutting of slammed doors – wham, wham, wham! – on the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

Night Terrors poses a simple enough question: what can overcome a child’s fear? And the answer is an emotional one rather than a wodge of technobabble. Stories are one place of safety, such as ‘The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes’ or the ‘Three Little Sontarans’. But even more powerful than storytelling is unconditional parental love: Alex is willing to embrace ‘his’ child, no matter what. This gives the tale an emphasis on human feeling that has always been at the heart of Who since its 2005 return, but it also feels a little off-kilter here. For one thing, why is the maternal so strongly written out of proceedings, as if Doctor Who’s natural constituency should involve focusing on a father-son relationship? And then there’s the matter of George’s alien identity as a cuckoo in the nest. Conveniently glossed over by the notion that he will adapt perfectly to life among humanity – i.e. he’s alien, but from now on, imperceptibly so – this seems all too rapidly and easily dealt with. Is Alex supposed to sit Claire down for a “by the way, dear, our sense of reality has been modified and we actually have an unearthly child” sort of chat on the sofa? Ironically for an episode about ritual, the ending feels rather ritualistic and by-the-numbers itself, observing the convention of contemporary Doctor Who that love and monsters are needed. 

Always visually compelling, this is generally atmospheric rather than downright scary, treading a fine line for the family audience. And as for those watching from behind the proverbial sofa, well, perhaps it’s just that Doctor Who’s viewers exhibit an unusually high level of cathisophobia.

Matt Hills is the author of Triumph of a Time Lord, and is currently reviewing Torchwood: Miracle Day for the Antenna blog