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STUDIO: BBC Warner
MSRP: $79.98
RATED:  UNRATED
RUNNING TIME:  650 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Commentary on every episode
- Torchwood Declassified
- Outtakes
- Deleted Scenes
- The Captain’s Log Video Diary
- 5.1 Surround Sound
- 5 Torchwood Out of this World Featurette
- 4 Torchwood: The Team & Their Troubles Featurettes
- Welcome to Torchwood
- Torchwood on the Scene
- Torchwood: On Time
- Torchwood: Sex, Violence, Blood & Gore
- Torchwood: On the Road



THE PITCH

Doctor Who with ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’.  Or the SEX-FILES *insert slide whistle sound here*.


THE HUMANS

John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, David Gareth-Lloyd, Kai Owen, cyborg woman punching pterodactyl in the face



“It can’t be…”




THE NUTSHELL

Torchwood is a byproduct of the massive success of the Doctor Who reboot current airing its fourth series on BBC television overseas; it’s a spinoff featuring the lovable Captain Jack Harkness, confidence man of the future, sexual omnivore, man of mystery and excitement.  After the Torchwood organization (established when the Doctor went back in time to save Queen Victoria, and kept up to monitor alien life forms and artifacts in order to protect humans from extraterrestrial threats or messages they couldn’t possibly understand) was left in tatters in season two of Doctor Who, Jack Harkness is there to pick up the pieces and try to remake the nefarious organization to be something more pure and honest, designed to prepare human beings for the 21th century, “where it all changes”.  Along for the ride is his crew and their newest member, former Cardiff police officer Gwen Cooper, who learns over the course of the season just what kind of emotional and physical sacrifice it takes from a person to work for the most special of all special ops.



“The prophecies have come true…”


THE LOWDOWN

A little known fact about forefather of the cinema Eadweard Muybridge is that beyond photographing the horse with multiple cameras to fully capture its motion, he also invented the Zoopraxiscope, which was an early precursor to the Zoetrope and other means of cinematic projection.  Even lesser known is where he eventually saw the future of moving pictures leading.  To quote (from Brian Clegg’s The Man Who Stopped Time: The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge – Pioneer Photographer, Father of the Motion Picture, Murderer), “I long for the day when my wildest dreams can be projected to an audience in motion for them to experience vicariously.  Namely, a beautiful half-woman, half-cyborg punching a pterodactyl in its face.”  Well, Eadweard, you can stop haunting the people of Kingston upon Thames now, as your lifelong wish has finally been made reality.  In fact, we can pretty much call a end to all further cinematic endeavors as we’ve reached the apex of what can be accomplished with the moving image: a robot woman has cold-cocked a prehistoric dinosaur.  There’s really nowhere to go from there.

 

In all seriousness, Torchwood has more to offer than a robot woman punching ancient creatures in the jaw (although exactly how much more is a matter up for debate).  In its attempt to bring sexyback to the sci-fi universe created in the Doctor Who series, there’s a good many stumbles in the early going – everything is grim and gruesome and the characters don’t seem to liven up until the halfway point, despite the fact that the show often takes sojourns in the land of the ridiculous (in case you missed it earlier, a cyborg woman punches a pterodactyl in the face), not to mention poorly plotted storylines and direction and editing that is overbearing to a fault – but in its latter stages in manages to get its second wind and start to resemble something like a proper sci-fi adventure show.  It’s not great by any means, but there’s definite room for improvement that makes me acutely interested in the direction the show is going towards in its future.


Even though the show finds its footing in later episodes, the problems are still myriad.  Part of the problem is that the writing seems more catered to the characters than the actors.  It isn’t until episode ten that we discover that actress Eve Myles has comedic chops as she tries to explain the birds and the bees to a character transplanted from the 50’s.  Instead of writing to the actor’s strengths, they seemed to be tailoring the roles to how they wanted the character to be in earlier episodes, and it creates awkward and stilted episodes where you can feel the actors trying to feel their way through the character motivations.  Most unforgivable in all this is the misuse of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness in these early episodes; this character is an established entity already, and a lot of the charisma and charm that made him so enjoyable to watch on Doctor Who seems to be lost in the sullen grey overtones of Torchwood.  It’ makes you wonder why they burden these characters with such sullen storylines throughout the entire series (although they admittedly were handled with more tact and grace in later episodes), which ties into another complaint.
 

“Nobody would listen.  I kept telling them, but they wouldn’t listen!”


Sometimes the show’s adult overtures feel forced instead of actually, you know, adult, which can lead for some uncomfortable scenes.  It really comes to the forefront when the show focuses on the intermingling between the Torchwood team, with all of the sexual rendezvous that it implies, instead of feeling adult, their interactions feel less than.  This is more or less fixed by the last few episodes of the series, never more so prevalent than in the touching penultimate Captain Jack Harkness where our hero meets his namesake during the Blitz in WWII-era Cardiff and falls in love with him.  Despite the relationships not reflecting an adult tone, in terms of storylines and larger themes, the show is actually treading a much darker and more adult path than the kid-friendly Doctor Who.  Right from the get-go, the show establishes its mantra that there is no heaven or afterlife to speak of and that all there is to life is living.  These notions of mortality are one of the shows constants, and its handling of the subject matter is consistent.  Also worthy of praise is the show not constantly aiming for crowd-pleasing denouements and conclusions to each storyline, allowing for these characters to make tough and often times wrong decisions about what to do (many of which lead the audience to question the idea of the greater good and how many lives should be sacrificed in order to save others, all tantalizing stuff on television drama). 

However, the thing that far and away sinks the show above anything else is its reliance on overwrought montage and overly stylized camera movement in a show that would be better served by handheld or gritty camerawork.  Anytime the show is in danger of engaging me emotionally (such as the otherwise enjoyable Countrycide episode*, which is an entirely derivative Wicker Man meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre storyline that works despite its having been done before, and better) they pull some of their college-grade editing tricks out of the bag and pull me right back out.  The example from Countrycide is a moment that should be a defining portrait of badassery in the series; Captain Jack is coming to the rescue with a shotgun in tow to help mow down the cannibalistic villains at the center of this episode.  Instead of pulling back and showing Jack’s rampage from a dispassionate perspective that would’ve allowed the viewer to soak it all in and make it feel immediate to them, we get a symphony of screams and cocking with slow motion shotgun shells falling to the ground.  It’s cheesy, but acceptable – but then he drops the shotgun and uses a pistol, but THEY STILL CUT TO SLOW MOTION SHOTGUN SHELLS FALLING.  Little things like that are entirely fixable on their part (although future episodes don’t exactly suggest they’re going to the stray from the editorial pomp and shot selection), so it’s all the more frustrating that one feels this show is on the cusp of being something wholly entertaining when it makes these boneheaded decisions that are like television seppuku.





RAGNAROK.


And while it seems like I might be slogging off on the show a bit, it picked up quite a bit in its second half, and I can see it developing in more intriguing ways now that the writers seemingly have picked up on the cast’s relative strengths and the directors hopefully allow for a grittier style to take over the show instead of constant visual flourishes.  With a little work this show could work just as well as what spawned it, Doctor Who.   And that’s pretty high praise indeed.  Plus, even in an overall uneven season, there are plenty of episodes I enjoyed quite a bit.  The aforementioned Countrycide is a derivative, but entertaining excursion into the dark recesses of humanity, the usage of continuity to bring back a former player in one episode makes for a pretty engaging storyline, and they tweak the fish-out-of-water story with an episode where all of the characters become caretakers for people who have unfortunately been thrown into the future by the time and space rift.  It’s an entertaining diversion of a show, warts and all, which can become something more with a little work.  A cautious recommendation, although one shouldn’t expect anything other than a solid entertainment for the most part, with the possibility that it could improve by leaps and bounds in the near future.

THE PACKAGE

The cover art captures the dreary aesthetic of the show and showcases the ensemble, as most television box sets tend to do.  The show is shot in HD (an interesting choice that works for the clarity with which Torchwood sees the world versus the unsuspecting populace of Cardiff and beyond), so the video looks damn fine and there’s a 5.1 audio soundtrack to back it up.  If anything, this is a show that goes big often, so it’s worthy of kicking out the A/V equipment for.  In terms of extras, this thing is as lovingly packed with goodies if not more so than the Doctor Who set I reviewed earlier, trying their damndest to justify a high price tag (though not as high as the Who sets) by stuffing it full. 

England’s number one cinematic foot chasee.


The extras are spread out over the show’s seven discs, with the final disc being entirely comprised of the BBC3 Torchwood Declassified short episodes that show a little behind-the-scenes love for every episode of the series.  Every episode of the season has commentary from varied sources: directors, producers, creators, writers and stars all contribute to the tracks.  Also on the disc are outtakes, deleted scenes, a video diary from John Barrowman, and a multitude of featurettes about character arcs, the adult tone of the show, the team’s SUV and acclimating themselves to a newly christened sci-fi locale.  When taken separately some of these features won’t add up to much, but when seen as a whole they are quite the comprehensive look at how this show has come together in its first season.  The best I can say for it (as I did for Dr. Who) is that I’m looking forward to seeing how this show develops as the creators and stars find their way even more assuredly.

7.0 out of 10

Diablo: The Imax Experience


*Which I now find was made by the same fellow by the horrendous cyborg woman punches pterodactyl episode.  This is the weird yin and yang of Torchwood, I guess.