Ghost MachineBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the flawed 'Day One', Torchwood gets back on track with 'Ghost Machine', a largely character-driven episode that manages to be mature in a way that the sex-crazed alien shenanigans of the previous episode blatantly weren't. Helen Raynor's script focuses purely on the interactions of her characters, both regular and supporting, and although we get an obligatory alien artifact in the shape of the quantum transducer, it essentially acts as a catalyst for the plot rather than being the main focus. Which is probably wise, as the technobabble explanation for how it works ("Human emotion is energy") is load of old bollocks. Nevertheless, as a means of driving the plot it fulfills its function, and Raynor puts uses it sparingly. Refreshingly, the script also managed to surprise me: usually in science fiction series, predictions of the future come true, so when the quantum transducer shows Gwen with a bloody knife in her hands, this is exactly what she ends up with, but confounding my expectations Bernie Harris' vision of himself lying dead in the street is averted when Torchwood stops Ed Morgan from killing him.

Having been portrayed largely as a self-centered misogynist in previous episodes, Burn Gorman's Owen here gets some welcome character development, as the transducer shows him the past and he feels the terror that Lizzie Lewis felt when Ed Morgan killed her. As a result, Gorman gets plenty to do here, as Owen becomes obsessed with finding Lizzie's killer in the present, and tracks him down, before putting "the fear of God into him." His confrontation with the aging Morgan in the man's living room is very intense, and Gorman conveys Owen's barely-controlled fury quite convincingly. When he gets the chance to kill Morgan at the end he resists the temptation, but for a minute it isn't clear if he's going to be able too, and this is thrown even further into question given that the audience has already been given a glimpse of the future.

Jack and Gwen also again get meaty roles here. Torchwood provides Russell T. Davies with the opportunity to have sexual tension between the main characters without alienating long-time Doctor Who fans in the way that Rose's lusting after the Doctor might, and here we get the most blatant example of this so far in the weapons-training scene. The scene crackles with sexual tension between Jack and Gwen, and although the fact that they are discharging powerful weapons together automatically robs the sequence of any subtlety, the actually dialogue skirts the issues; the closest we get to an admission of the obvious mutual attraction is when Gwen finds out that Jack lives at the Hub and doesn't sleep, to which she replies, "Doesn't it get lonely at night?" Balancing this out however is the following scene with Gwen returning home and using the quantum transducer to recall happy times with Rhys, just before he unexpectedly arrives home and they settle down together on the sofa, a rather sweet and quite touching moment that does make me hope that the series doesn't go down the obvious route of having Gwen cheat on her boyfriend with Jack.

As for Captain Jack himself, he seems to be slipping further and further into the role that the Doctor fulfills in Torchwood's parent series, as he identifies the alien device as a quantum transducer to the audience and reassures Gwen that what she has seen is only "one of many possible futures.

"The supporting cast in 'Ghost Machine' is generally fine, although rather alarmingly John Normington (familiar to Doctor Who fans as Morgus from 'The Caves of Androzani') is quite dreadful as Tom Erasmus Flanagan, playing him in a manner that is reminiscent of Hugh from, The Armando Iannucci Shows as he delivers in a boring anecdote in an accented monotone that does little to advance the plot. Christopher Elson is memorably sinister as the young Ed Morgan, his high-pitched voice making the scene of Lizzie's murder all the more chilling, but it is Gareth "Blake" Thomas as the older Morgan who virtually steals the show. He's effortlessly convincing in the role of an embittered old man wracked by guilt and paranoia and conveys the wretchedness of the character perfectly, making Morgan by turns hateful, pathetic, and pitiful.

'Ghost Machine' is the first episode not directed by Brian Kelly, with Colin Teague instead handling the episode, and his style works better for me, losing the gratuitous aerial shots of Cardiff and providing some dynamic chase scenes that balance out the slower, dialogue-driven scenes quite nicely, and are completed by incidental music that just about manages to enhance what is happening on screen without distracting from it. Overall, 'Ghost Machine' works very well as an example of what this series can achieve when it isn't being puerile and in doing so hopefully sets a benchmark for future episodes.

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood

CyberwomanBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

When Torchwood was first announced, it was described as "Doctor Who for adults". On the strength of 'Cyberwoman', it's Doctor Who for adolescent boys. The admittedly ludicrous premise of 'Day One' allowed writer Chris Chibnell to just about get away with a script that married characterization of the regulars with puerile sex scenes and innuendo, but here he attempts a similar blend with a potentially more serious premise and throws horror into the mix as well. The result is an absolute mess.

The idea of a Cyberman on the loose inside Torchwood hub has enormous potential; the idea of a group of people trapped in a confined space with a lone monster on the rampage has long been a winning formula in science fiction and was handled relatively effectively in the Doctor Who episode 'Dalek'. Making the lone monster a scantily clad attractive woman in silver bondage gear is however a case of shooting oneself in the foot. There is no logical reason why a Cyberman would need tits, so why would a Cyber-conversion unit augment them into a metal bust rather than removing them? Why bother to provide a slender strip of metal to cover her crotch but leave her thigh untouched? Because it appeals to adolescent fantasies. There are moments in 'Cyberwoman' which have the potential to be enormously tense, such as Lisa's pursuit of Toshiko towards the exit, a should-be edge-of-your-seat moment made gripping by the usual unstoppable menace of a Cyberman ruined by a stupid costume that shows a woman in a silly hat and a silver thong. It doesn't even look like real metal, which doesn't help.

And this is the problem with 'Cyberwoman'; it has so much potential, but blows it by being superficial. As I've noted in the past, the advantage of Big Finish's Cybermen stories is that, unhindered a pre-watershed timeslot, they can convey the real body horror that the Cybermen represent in a way that Doctor Who on television was never able to, as they successfully did in 'Spare Parts'. Torchwood could do the same, and here there is plenty of gore on display, from Dr. Tanizaki's mutilated corpse ("His upgrade failed") to the copious amounts of blood on display and the brain transplant scene at the end. And yet whenever the tension mounts to effective levels, something puerile happens to scupper it. Trapped in a mortuary draw with a homicidal monster about to find them, Gwen and Owen kiss passionately; I can buy the last kiss idea, but as soon as Lisa is seemingly incapacitated the pair doesn't bother to, for example, go and see if Jack and Ianto are still alive, they stand around bickering about Owen's erection.

On top of all of this, the plot is riddled with holes. The episode establishes that the hub isn't very big, but nevertheless we're expected to believe that Ianto has kept a Cyber-conversion unit with partially converted-occupant hidden in the basement for months, and nobody has stumbled upon it. And how did he get it there, and who helped him? Later, we get Toshiko's unexplained gambit with two cheap plastic light sabers, which don't appear to do anything, but the biggest problem with the plot is Lisa's shifting motivation. Initially, she seems to want to convert people into Cybermen, but later wants to transplant her brain into Ianto's body, before finally transplanting it into the pizza delivery girl's body and then suggesting that she and Ianto should both be converted into Cybermen. Why doesn't she just try and complete her existing conversion? Or be content with her new body? And why does she conveniently stand by and let Jack and Ianto rescue Gwen from the conversion unit? Presumably, her experience has driven her insane, but the script doesn't explain this, or even suggest it, it just makes it look as though Chibnell was drunk when he wrote it and the script-editor didn't bother reading it. Speaking of which, the line "You always told me you didn't love me because of what I looked like" is unintentionally amusing, suggesting that Ianto thinks she has a face like a bag full of spanners in the middle of what is supposed to be a heart-rending tragic scene.

'Cyberwoman' does at least give Gareth David-Lloyd's Ianto some character development, and does it in a way that is presumably designed to remind us that this a dysfunctional group far removed from the "UNIT family" of seventies Doctor Who, despite the other four playing basketball and drinking together near the start. David-Lloyd spends most of the episode portraying a character wracked with grief to the point of being unreasonable and he does convey Ianto's trauma very well, turning to anger as Ianto furiously asks Jack, "I clear up your shit. No questions asked, and that's how you like it. When did you ask any questions about my life?" and begs his companions to try and help Lisa. Not surprisingly, they are more concerned with their own survival, but Ianto's behaviour does at least ring true, even if "Jack, give her a chance to surrender" when she's trying to kill them is pushing it a bit. Still, Gwen's line, "All that deception. All because he couldn't bear to live without her" nicely sums the situation up. The problem is, I rather think it goes too far; the whole episode takes the emotional aspect totally over the top in way that suggests that there is no going back; this may be a crucial point for the series that will be developed further, but it is a little hard to buy Ianto quietly returning to work and tidying up after Lisa has been dispatched.

And then there's Jack. Apparently keen to portray the character's dark side, Chibnell gives us a man totally devoid of empathy, who doesn't even begin to understand what Ianto is feeling and pointlessly orders him at gunpoint to execute his girlfriend, a task he ends up completing himself. The script takes the stance that Jack is forcing Ianto to decide where his loyalties lie, but given the circumstances all it does is make Jack look like a sadistic prick and it doesn't gel with previous characterization. Jack does get some good scenes here though, including his decision to distract Lisa by trying to get her to kill him, over and over again, and the implication at the end is that he was hoping she might succeed. This raises interesting questions about what might happen when he eventually catches up with the Doctor and perhaps finds a way of curing his anti-terminal condition.

'Cyberwoman' does benefit from James Strong's direction, which manages to maintain tension at times in the face of a facile and overwrought script, but Lisa's costume looks horribly like rubber sprayed silver, which jars in the face of the slick production values that Torchwood desperately wants to boast. Presumably most of the budget was blown on the Pterodactyl, which finally gets something useful to do, but still looks like low-budget CGI. There is a sense, throughout 'Cyberwoman', of over ambition poorly realized, of promise not delivered; the ring of stitches around the pizza delivery girl's head at the end of the episode should be horrifying, but it looks like it's been stuck on her forehead by enthusiastic by untalented drama students. Even the incidental music, with its occasional faux-nu-metal riffs, seems designed to appeal to teenagers, even though I must confess to quite liking it.

In spite of all of this, and quite incredibly, there is still something compellingly entertaining about 'Cyberwoman', but this isn't enough to carry a series. If the quality of 'Ghost Machine' can't be maintained then I suspect the series' future is rather shaky; hopefully, Sapphire and Steel creator P. J. Hammond can bring a touch of class to the proceedings?

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood

Small WorldsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the overwrought silliness of 'Cyberwoman', 'Small Worlds' sees a marked improvement in Torchwood thanks largely due to a script from Sapphire and Steel creator P. J. Hammond. In contrast with previous episodes, 'Small Worlds' sees the series step back from the supposed science fiction approach of the series and roots itself more in fantasy; in common with Sapphire and Steel, the episode sees ill-defined, almost magical entities with a curious relationship with time (and a smattering of technobabble to explain their nature) menacing the heroes. Interestingly, as in Sapphire and Steel's 'Adventure Two', 'Small Worlds' also has a similarly dark ending, with the male lead sacrificing an innocent human life for the sake of the whole world in both.

This approach works rather well in Torchwood, although with Captain Jack and the team up against an unstoppable foe in the form of the faeries, it is probably for the best that we don't get this sort of thing every week, or they wouldn't last five minutes. Hammond's script thrusts the regulars into what is literally a fairy tale, and they find themselves completely out of their depth; although Jack again fulfills the role usually occupied by the Doctor in Torchwood's parent series, armed with handy foreknowledge of the faeries and providing whacking great infodumps when the plot requires, the difference here is that whereas it is hard to imagine the Doctor sacrificing a child to save the world, Jack is forced to do just that. He's obviously wracked with guilt, and the understandable anger expressed by Gwen and Owen in particular will no doubt serve to further jam the gears of this utterly dysfunctional group. What is really notable about 'Small Worlds' is that the team is utterly unable to cope from start to finish; Jack knows what's going on, but despite chasing around after the faeries and eventually identifying their "Chosen One", he's unable to stop a single death here, from Estelle, to luckless stepfather Roy.

Ah yes, the deaths. When I reviewed Sapphire and Steel, I noted that Hammond is big on atmosphere, but doesn't always have the most watertight plots and often seems to be making things up as he goes along. This is, to an extent, the case here, with things happening seemingly for no other reason than to prompt responses in the regulars; thus, there is no obvious explanation for why the faeries kill Estelle except to give John Barrowman the chance to do some emoting, nor is there any reason for them to trash Gwen's flat but not, for example, the Hub or the homes of any of the other Torchwood members, except to give Eve Myles the chance to do some shouting. And also, perhaps, to engage the audience; 'Small Worlds' is atmospheric and interesting, but it is curiously uninvolving for much of its length. When the faeries' victims include a p?dophile and a man who has just backhanded a small girl, it is difficult to really feel a great deal of sympathy, despite actors Roger Barclay and William Travis both putting in enthusiastic performances. It's an interesting characteristic of Hammond's writing that he often includes morally dubious or at least deeply flawed supporting characters (Sapphire and Steel 'Adventure Three' for example), which here juxtaposes with the fantasy aspect of the story but tends to invite the audience to sit in judgment rather than empathizing. There's also no real explanation for why the faeries don't actually kill the girls who are bullying Jasmine, although it isn't too much of a leap to assume that they generally draw the line at killing children.

That said, this is also what the regulars are for, but with Ianto, Tosh and Owen largely sidelined and Gwen playing the role of companion so that Jack can explain the plot, it is only Jack who gets any real benefit from 'Small Worlds'. Torchwood has shown us his charm and a also a ruthless streak, but 'Small Worlds' shows us his human side, and Barrowman is very good at conveying Jack's warmth and affection for Estelle, and showing his barely-controlled grief at her death. He's not quite so good however when Jack is recounting the deaths of the fifteen men in his past at the hands of the faeries, since he tends to use a monotone which is presumably meant to sound haunted but just sounds like someone talking in a monotone. Incidentally, the opening sequence of Jack having nightmares about faeries whilst tossing restlessly does rather raise the question of what script-editors actually do, since Jack announced matter-of-factly that he doesn't sleep in 'Day One'. Brian Minchin might not have noticed that, but I did and so I suspect did other viewers. More on the subject of script-editing when I review 'Countrycide'.

The guest cast is generally very good, including Adrienne O'Sullivan as Lynn, who seems genuinely distraught when her husband is choked to death in front of her eyes, Eve Pearce as the likeable Estelle, and Lara Phillipart in the timed honored role of creepy little girl. Roger Barclay makes Goodson seem utterly pathetic as he stumbles through the market vomiting rose petals, even though the natural tendency considering that he's just tried to abduct a young girl is think that it serves him bloody well right. Director James Strong does a fine job of the episode, with some very creepy sequences, especially the moment when the faerie hiding in Estelle's shrubbery opening its eyes, which actually made me jump. The faeries, when they finally appear, also work rather well, looking utterly malevolent and quite repulsive.

On the whole, 'Small Worlds' isn't quite as a good as 'Ghost Machine' was, but it is a step back in the right direction. Unfortunately, the next episode doesn't just step back in the wrong direction, it actually starts running.

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood

CountrycideBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I don't claim to be a writer, but I would suggest that if writing drama, using bad puns for titles is inherently unwise. That is by far my least trivial criticism of 'Countrycide', which sees Torchwood meet The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the Welsh countryside and is almost unbelievably ludicrous.

Does Chris Chibnall actually know that Torchwood has other writers, or did he think that he is writing a string of consecutive episodes? This might explain why early scenes are riddled with references to 'Cyberwoman' in a way that suggests that 'Small Worlds' was just some kind of pleasant marijuana-induced dream I had about P.J. Hammond writing for the series. Suddenly, Ianto is talking about Lisa again, which would be fair enough considering the trauma he suffered in that episode had the script-editor not allowed him to be seen looking cheerful in the previous episode; here, he's as miserable as sin and keeps glowering at Jack. This is, incidentally, after the entire team (including those who are not, in fact, field agents) has driven out into the countryside to try and find a putative alien monster by camping in tents and bickering a lot. It's like Scooby fucking Doo. In the midst of all of this, we get the hitherto un-hinted at revelation that Tosh has a massive crush on Owen, who is trying to seduce Gwen, and manages to succeed as the episode progresses. Or rather, continues. Tosh thus starts bitching at Gwen and looking jealous, a piece of character development thrust deep into the bowels of the series like an unexpected dildo.

So deeply thrust is this strapped-on piece of character development that the rest of episode sees Gwen and Owen flirting and making double entendres at every single opportunities, including when Gwen is having pieces of lead shot pulled out of her side whilst Ianto and Toshiko are missing in a sinister village littered with butchered corpses, and again when they are both being roughed up by meat-hook wielding cannibals. Fortunately, Jack's on hand to shoot each cannibal in the foot with a shotgun, which is more or less what Chibnall does to himself with the plot.

Ah yes, the plot. Or rather, the plots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostage mixed together with a nod to Night of the Living Dead, resulting in an unsavory amount of pure sadism. If you ignore the bickering and flirting of the regulars, the first half of 'Countrycide' is quite effective, as an unseen something stalks first a young woman in a car and then the members of the Torchwood team. It should be effective, as it has been done so very many times before. The revelation that the team is being stalked not by monsters but by the local villagers is a genuinely unexpected and quite powerful moment ruined almost immediately by the incredibly hammy teeth-gnashing performances of Owen Teale and Maxine Evans as Evan and Helen, respectively. What follows is quite ghastly; 'Cyberwoman' saw Chibnall put Ianto through hell for the sake of character development, a worthy aim despite the paucity of the episode; 'Countrycide' sees Chibnall put Ianto, Toshiko, Gwen and Owen through hell purely to drive Gwen into Owen's trousers, a less laudable aim further compounded by the sheer sadism of the piece. The episode is so derivative that it is hard to take seriously, but the undiluted nastiness of the premise and the admittedly well-acted terror of the regulars are so gratuitous that it just becomes distasteful. The coup de grace in this respect is Evan gleefully telling Gwen that he "harvests" people once a decade because it makes him happy, a horrible moment the sole purpose of which is to traumatize her so that she will cheat on Rhys. With, incidentally, a man whose response to being threatened with butchery by cannibals is to role his eyes and mutter, "Only in the bloody countryside". Which is obviously a great comedy moment.

The director milks the tension promised by the script to technically impressive effect, and there are some genuinely creepy moments, but the tone of the whole episode is so badly off that any appreciation of the direction is purely clinical. Torchwood utilizing its "adult" remit to do a proper horror story is a great idea, but this ghastly mishmash of contrived characterization and witless brutality isn't the way to do it. This is dreadful, and the fact that Chibnall has written the season finale doesn't bode well.

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood

Greeks Bearing GiftsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'Greeks Bearing Gifts' is typical of Torchwood, being as it is a rather silly episode that again highlights the dysfunctional nature of the eccentrics and misfits making up the team whilst it is at it. Unlike the sadistic 'Countrycide' however, 'Greeks Bearing Gifts' manages to be enormously entertaining from the intriguing opening scene set two hundred years in the past, to the ridiculously camp showdown in the Hub.

'Greeks Bearing Gifts' focuses on Toshiko, who after being scared shitless by rednecks in the previous episode, finally gets some much needed characterization. This is achieved through the dual mechanism of providing her with a MacGuffin that makes her telepathic, and partly by involving her in a lesbian love affair with a naughty but seductive alien. The former of these two devices works very well: writer Whithouse explores the issue of just how good telepathy would really be, as Tosh "hears" all of her friends thinking disparaging thoughts about her and ends up feeling lonely, miserable and vulnerable. This is an interesting tactic and refreshingly doesn't see her setting out to exploit her new ability except in order to save a woman and her son, although it does require the audience to accept the fact that everyone thinks in clear sentences (rather than say, images or emotions). The latter device is fine in principle, but this being Torchwood the lesbian love-affair in question is the sort that straight men fantasize about and therefore ends up seeming purely juvenile. The episode also shows Tosh become the second bisexual member of Torchwood, the first being Jack, and the second female member to be seduced into same-sex snogging by a manipulative alien. Somebody's either taking the piss or suffering from serious testosterone poisoning.

Anyway, Tosh gets some good scenes here, including when she excitedly talks to Mary about the letter that she found from an alien to his, her, or its family, which is quite charming. She also gets to bond with Jack both when he congratulates her on her "good save", and again at the end when he tries to restore some of her faith in human nature. She bonds with Gwen too, which given all the jealous sniping in 'Countrycide' is something of a relief, as the two of them seem to end the episode on the cusp of friendship, and Gwen tells her, "Love suited you".

This brings me neatly to the villain, with Daniela Denby-Ashe playing Mary, an arch lipstick lesbian who smokes cigarettes in a slightly filthy manner and seduces Tosh with ease. It's a camp and over-the-top performance, but it is highly entertaining, which is incidentally also true of Torchwood as a whole. She's cast as a temptress from the start, saying of the pendant, "It levels the pitch between man and God? it changes how you see people", a prospect that Tosh clearly can't refuse. By the end of the episode, she's openly gloating to the team to such an extent that she handily explains the plot, and it all gets very silly, as she sniffs Jack with an oddly gleeful expression and notes that he doesn't smell like the others before she suddenly gets whisked off to the heart of the sun by his trap.

Jack meanwhile gets another good episode, again being mysterious as Tosh fails to read his mind (and he is unable to explain why, although she does suggest that "it's as though you were dead"), and again sweeping heroically in at the end to save the day whilst casually recounting the story of his transsexual friend Vincent/Vanessa, before unapologetically killing "Mary" by reprogramming her transporter. Things are slightly spoiled earlier in the episode by the silliness of him again standing around pointlessly on rooftops, and chastising the Prime Minister down the telephone, but for the most part he works well as leading man here.

Gwen and Owen meanwhile have gone from finding comfort in each others beds at the end of 'Countrycide' to having a full-blown affair and giggling like teenagers at every opportunity. This predictably results in some comic relief as Tosh reads their thoughts and hears Owen thinking such thoughts as "I should have worn different trousers, I'm going to have to sit down until this subsides", but doesn't explain why Owen seems angry that Tosh has caught them out at the end when they have spent most of the episode openly flirting in front of her both before and after she got the pendant.

In the midst of all this silliness, the scene in which Tosh saves the mother and son from the mother's ex-husband is quite an effective dramatic moment, with actor Ravin J Ganatra making Neil both sympathetic and repellant at the same time, whilst Eiry Thomas makes Carol look absolutely terrified. The episode is generally well directed too, and the incidental music continues to just about underscore the action without swamping it, something that has resolutely failed to happen to date in the new Doctor Who. Still however, the series seems to lack proper script-editing, with minor fluctuations in characterization between episodes and lapses in logic, such as the sudden leap here from Owen's discovery of heartless corpses going back years to Jack suddenly knowing everything there is to know about the transporter and realizing that Toshiko is dating one of its occupants. Clearly it isn't just Toshiko who's telepathic then?

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood

Everything ChangesBookmark and Share

Friday, 3 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I can't help thinking that Torchwood is the series that Russell T. Davies really wanted to write; whereas his Doctor Who saw him updating a classic format by rooting it in present day England, with stories primarily set on Earth, with mixed results, Torchwood, which is set in Cardiff, easily lends itself to the format of a science fiction set in the present day, with a regular cast of characters who have friends, relatives, and lives outside of work, resulting in a set-up that feels markedly less forced than the Doctor's frequent returns to the Powell estate so that Rose can visit Mickey and her Mum.

And it works. Torchwood wears its influences on its sleeve; the structure of the opening episode reflects that of 'Rose', with an ordinary working girl (in this case policewoman Gwen) is gradually drawn into an extraordinary world of aliens and alien technology when she meets a mysterious and charismatic man about whom there are records dating from Earth's past. Buffy, of which Davies has always openly admitted to being a fan, also plays a role, with the rift (first seen in 'The Unquiet Dead' and again in 'Boom Town') essentially fulfilling the same role as the hell mouth in that series, acting as a plot device or explaining the high occurrence of aliens and sundry other paranormal events in Cardiff. But whilst 'Rose' was cluttered and too-fast moving, reintroducing the Doctor Who format by dragging it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, 'Everything Changes' is a better paced, smoother affair. Ironically, given the adult target audience and the late timeslot, on the evidence of this first episode, Torchwood, whilst bloodier and sexier than Davies' Doctor Who, is more mature in the ways I least expected; there are "adult" jokes, sex and innuendo, but the toilet humour and frequent lack of subtlety in that series is far more restrained here.

This is most obvious and least expected in the characterization of Captain Jack. Whereas in 'Boom Town' Captain Jack, in Davies' hands, became "Captain of the innuendo squad", here he's a more brooding presence. He still flirts with his colleagues, both male and female, but he's obviously haunted by his inability to die following his resurrection by Rose at the end of 'Bad Wolf'/'The Parting of the Ways'. This is gradually becomes clear from the first scene with the resurrection glove, as he intensely asks the unfortunate John Tucker what dying is like, and his comments about finding "the right sort of Doctor" to explain what has happened to him is blatantly going to be a recurring character trait. Indeed, his glib comment that the perception filter was caused by a "dimensionally transcendental chameleon circuit" suggests that his only reason for joining Torchwood, and basing himself in Cardiff, is because he knows from personal experience that both the Doctor and the TARDIS have been there. Interestingly, he is presented as a man of mystery but although as yet only Davies knows his origins, Doctor Who fans in the audience fans know more about him that; this becomes even clearer in 'Day One', when it turns out that the rest of Torchwood aren't even sure about his sexuality, and is rather unusual.

John Barrowman is at his best as Captain Jack here, recalling in particular the role he gave in 'The Empty Child'/'The Doctor Dances', proving by turns heroic, dashing and charming, but with a slightly untrustworthy edge (witness the ease with which he attempts to wipe Gwen's memories); in short, without having to play second fiddle to the Doctor, he makes a perfect leading man. Indeed, Jack is something of a ruthless pragmatist here, instructing his staff to move and alter corpses to cover to avoid discovery of their work.

Eve Myles, who previously appeared as Gwyneth in 'The Unquiet Dead', is also well cast as Gwen, a thoroughly likeable and sympathetic character whose sense of morality prompts her to angrily condemn Jack for failing to use the technology at his disposal to help the victims of crime rather than merely exploiting them; it is this, coupled with Suzie's betrayal, that prompts Jack to decide, "Perhaps we could help more", presumably setting the tone for rest of the series. Russell introduces the audience to Torchwood through Gwen's eyes, which works far better than his introduction to the Doctor through Rose's eyes did, especially in the memorably creepy (and quite bloody) scene in which she first encounters the Weevil. Notably, she bursts into tears and shakes with terror when Suzie is about to shoot her, a very natural and human response, but one that is rarely seen in Doctor Who, which serves as a reminder that Torchwood is intended to have a far more realistic feel than its parent series.

Of the other regulars introduced here, Owen is profoundly obnoxious and thoroughly unlikable, as he is clearly meant to be; a man whose reaction to privileged circumstances is one of selfishness and arrogance rather than responsibility, he clearly sees Torchwood's haul of alien technology as his own private toyshop, most notably during the deeply objectionable scene in which he uses the alien equivalent of Rohypnol to lure a woman into bed. Although the idea of using drugs to force people to fall in love (or lust) as been treated as the stuff of comedy ever since Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream, the moral implications are appalling, since Owen's prey is blatantly not consenting whilst in her right mind. Rather worryingly, Davies scripts the whole scene for laughs, as Owen is forced to use the spray on his victim's boyfriend and is forced to make a rapid getaway to avoid an unwanted menage-a-trois. Burn Gorman is alarmingly convincing in the role.

Indira Varma is equally convincing as unexpected traitor Suzie, whose obsession with the resurrection glove has driven her mad; it isn't clear if this is a result of the glove itself (which is quarantined after she commits suicide) or her own personality, but Varma conveys Suzie's conflicting mix of emotions very well. Suzie's betrayal serves two purposes; one is to provide a vacancy for Gwen to step into, the other is to illustrate that in comparison to, for example, Pertwee era UNIT, Torchwood Cardiff is a dysfunctional group, further demonstrated by the lack of regard that Owen and Toshiko have for Jack's order that none of the alien technology leaves the base. This friction within the group, to which Gwen's moral stance will undoubtedly continue to contribute, is almost certainly going to drive the characterization within the rest of the series. As for the other regulars, Naoko Mori's Toshiko and Gareth David-Lloyd's Ianto get little to do here, although both give decent performances and it would seem likely that they'll each get opportunities to explore their characters more in future episodes.

Other things worthy of note in 'Everything Changes' include some of the dialogue, which veers between the best and worst of Davies' writing. As in Doctor Who, we get unwieldy contrived sermons, including Jack's "Contraceptives in the rain. Love this planet" speech on oestrogen pollution, but there are also flashes of genuinely amusing wit including the line, "That is so Welsh? I show you something fantastic, you find fault." Other gems of characterization and dialogue include the first resurrection glove scene, which is very intense, as John Tucker seems convincingly terrified at what is happening to him, and the scene in which Gwen meets the Weevil, which she assumes is a man in a mask, which is all very post-modern and obvious, but also the most likely explanation and therefore a reasonable assumption to make.

As for the production side, Torchwood benefits from some great (if derivative) set designs (the Hub prison cells are very The Silence of the Lambs) and extensive location filming which benefits the series enormously. Brian Kelly's direction is generally very effective, maintaining a fast pace when necessary, but also allowing the story to unfold without the visual clutter that Keith Boak brought to Davies' debut Doctor Who episode 'Rose'. The only real criticism I have of the direction is in the overuse of aerial shots which give the production a glossy sub-Hollywood blockbuster air but seem designed purely to show off Cardiff and are a bit distracting, especially the astoundingly pointless of Jack posing on top of a building for no reason whatsoever. And Torchwood's vehicle looks crap.

Overall, Torchwood is a pleasant surprise, and 'Everything Changes' makes for an effective opener. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Davies' restraint in a series in which he could feasibly make all the smut and innuendo that blights his Doctor Who episodes far more prominent. Ironically, it is the second episode, by writers Chris Chibnall and Brian Kelly, that sees Torchwood exploring areas that I expected Davies to want to script, as we get the unlikely experience of an alien that shags people to death?

FILTER: - Torchwood - Television