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Torchwood - John C. Kirk

Oct. 30th, 2006

01:31 am - Torchwood

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As per my entry last week, I wasn't particularly impressed by the first two episodes of Torchwood. I watched the third episode tonight, and it's earned a temporary reprieve until next week, but I think that's partly because I had lower expectations.

Firstly, some good points. No sex this week, no posing on top of tall buildings, and nobody referred to Jack as "Captain". Now onto some bad points...

According to Jack's voiceover at the start of the episode, Torchwood's mission is to collect high tech weapons that they can use to defend the planet. When the story begins, we see three of the team chasing someone through a town centre, and Gwen eventually grabs the guy's coat, which has some form of alien gadget in the pocket. None of them have any idea what this thing is, but their main goal is to find weapons. So Gwen decides to press a button on it. Congratulations, you've just nuked Cardiff! Well, actually she got away with it, but only by dumb luck.

It turns out that this device is a quantum transducer, which picks up some kind of psychic echoes that have been left at a location in the past, while giving the holder strong empathy with the person involved. The other half of the device does the same thing for the future, or at least a possible future. Fair enough - this is an interesting idea.

Anyway, when Gwen first activated the device, she saw a young boy who'd been evacuated to Wales during the second world war, and had got lost at the railway station. The team tracked the boy down (now an elderly man), so she and Owen went to visit him. They had a plausible pretext for this, pretending to be police officers (with fake ID) and asking him whether he'd witnessed a recent crime nearby. Gwen then observed that he didn't have a Welsh accent, and this basically led to him pouring out some heartfelt emotions of what it was like for him to be an evacuee during the war, including how scary it was to be lost. She did prompt him once or twice, but this kind of expository dialogue seems like clumsy writing.

A bit later on, Gwen decided to take the gadget home with her, so that she could relive some of the good times with her boyfriend in flashback. That's fine for the audience, who haven't seen this before, but it does seem to go against the stated Torchwood policies from the previous episode (no alien technology to be taken off the base without Jack's explicit instruction). Since she was present at the events she's remembering, it seems reckless for her to play with a new toy rather than just relying on her memories.

Meanwhile, Owen used the device to see a woman being assaulted under a bridge in the 1960s; when the team checked the records later, it turned out that she had been killed that night. This was one of the better points of the episode, since he actually got a bit of character development. When he visited the evacuee's flat he annoyed me by being just as slimy as last week, but we saw a new side to him when he wanted to get justice on the woman's behalf. (I should perhaps clarify here that I have no ill-will towards the actor concerned, just towards the character he portrays.)

Jack pointed out that Owen wasn't technically a witness, since he wasn't physically present at the scene of the assault, so he didn't have any new evidence that would stand up in court. Owen's response was that they didn't need to rely on the courts, i.e. he could take matters into his own hands for some vigilante justice. I think there's another point which they neglected to address - he never actually saw the man commit the crime. Yes, he'd put a knife at the woman's throat, and he was probably responsible for raping and killing her afterwards, but Owen didn't see that. For that matter, Toshiko mentioned that "Ed Morgan" was quite a common name, so the person who Owen hunted down at home might not necessarily have been the same man. Still, this didn't stop him from intimidating an old man.

At the end of the confrontation, the old man said something like "Leave me alone, I've told you before, leave me alone!" (I don't recall the exact words.) This seemed odd to me, since it was the first time he'd said that to Owen, but I just chalked it up as another example of bad writing. It actually turned out to be a clue, indicating that Bernie (the young man who had the alien device at the start of the episode) had been trying to blackmail Morgan. This is a good example of the most frustrating thing about Torchwood as a series - it squanders its own potential.

Back at HQ, Jack gives Gwen some gun training. The first time she picks up a loaded gun, she then points it at his head, and he immediately pushes it away. Admittedly it wouldn't have done him any permanent harm (as seen last week), but this is still a very stupid thing to do. "Hey, it would be really cute and playful if I pointed a lethal weapon at my friend's head at point blank range, tee hee!" I made a mistake like that once, when I was at school. We were doing archery in the Scouts, and after we'd all shot at the targets we put our bows down, went to retrieve our arrows, then returned to the firing line. I ran back ahead of the others, and thought it would be funny to point my bow and arrow at them as they approached (I was holding firmly onto the arrow, so I had no intention of firing it). My patrol leader told me very forcefully to put it down, then when I'd done that he told me how dangerous it was, and he was entirely right to do so; I'm very glad that nobody got hurt, and that's a lesson which has stuck with me ever since. Coming back to Gwen's training, it's worse because:
a) I was 11, whereas she's an adult.
b) A gun can do a lot more damage than a bow.
c) She was a lot closer than me.
d) Jack didn't do anything to discourage her from repeating this mistake in the future.

It's probably a good thing that she's not blonde, otherwise she'd be a walking stereotype. As it stands, I have to wonder how she made it through her police training. Are all the Welsh police that inept on Earth-DW, or is this the result of some kind of quota system from the equal opportunities lobby? (To clarify, I'm not implying that all female police officers are bad, I'm just speculating about what possible motivation Gwen's bosses would have for thinking that she was a good person for the job.)

Later on, things come to a head when Morgan goes to Bernie's house with a knife. The team confront him in the street outside, and demonstrate their stupidity again (particularly Gwen). I'm planning a longer LJ post on the subject of violence and its avoidance, but here's a tip - if someone is threatening to stab you, and you can run away from them, then that's the way to resolve the situation with minimal force. (I am speaking from personal experience here.) In this case, you had an overweight elderly man vs two young people who can run quickly for a long time (based on their chase at the start of the episode). So, maybe it would be a good idea for them (or at least Bernie) to run away, rather than standing still?

Instead, Gwen and Bernie keep Morgan talking, while Jack and Owen sneak up on him from behind. Jack restrains him while Owen disarms him, then uses the knife to threaten him. This did lead to one of the better aspects of the episode, where Jack was showing his anger. Anyway, Gwen then took the knife away from Owen, and held it in front of her with the blade pointing away from her. Jack let go of Morgan, who came stumbling slowly towards her and managed to impale himself on the knife. Given his speed, and that she seemed to be holding the knife fairly loosely, I'm surprised that it even penetrated his clothing; it seems to be equivalent to Buffy & co staking vampires without using enough force for the wooden stick to penetrate a leather jacket, except that Buffy (the series) has the advantage of being mystical.

Anyway, he collapsed, and she held onto the knife, helpfully making the wound worse. I'm not quite clear on where this wound was, since we only saw a close-up of his torso when he was lying on the ground, with no clear indication of which end was his head. I would have guessed that this would be an abdominal wound (i.e. that she stabbed him in the belly), based on the position of the knife, and that it seemed to have a fairly short blade. However, one of the guys said that he'd gone into cardiac arrest, which suggests a heart wound. They were apparently able to detect this without actually taking a pulse, and they gave up on CPR after about five seconds, without bothering to call 999 for an ambulance. I have to say, that's some damn crappy first aid.

The upshot was that Jack decided they weren't ready for this technology, so it was moved to their archive, which is probably a good thing overall. I remember a couple of years ago when John Prescott punched someone who threw an egg at him, and there were lots of people saying "Well, yeah, that's what I do, so it's good because it shows he's a normal bloke like us." Ian Hislop's point of view was that he might not be the best choice to be PM, with the big red nuclear button. "I'm annoyed - BAM!" I have much the same attitude towards the Torchwood team - I'm not really convinced that I'd want them to be the Earth's first line of defence against hostile aliens, with cataclysmic technology at their fingertips. So, getting them to lock these devices away is probably the best compromise.

Next week's episode is "Cyberwoman", which seems to have a stronger link to Doctor Who than the other episodes so far, so I'll watch that one. However, I think I may give up on the series after that.

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