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STUDIO: BBC Warner
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 628 Minutes
-The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack
Doctor Who’s morose and violent cousin.
Jack’s ‘disco strokes’ left a path of destruction in their wake.
John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, James Marsters, Freema Agyeman, Alan Dale and Ruth Jones
“From what I can gather, he’s in Bangkok. And while I can’t confirm it, things appear to be dangerous.”
The opening of Torchwood’s second season finds the gang with trust issues with Captain Jack (Barrowman), who disappeared on them at the end of last season (to help save the world with the Doctor and Martha, as regular Doctor Who viewers will remember). Complicating matters worse is the appearance of a former flame/time agency partner Captain John Hart (Marsters) who comes looking to reunite with his former partner to paint this world red. Meanwhile, Gwen Cooper (Myles) is finally engaged to be married to Rhys, further complicating the unrequited love thing going on between herself and Captain Jack. That is paired with Toshiko’s (Mori) yearning for a chance at happiness with Owen (Gorman) who is oblivious to her pining, and Jack and Ianto fuck for fun on the side, as you will be reminded frequently throughout the season. Elements of Jack’s past coming back to haunt him permeate the early episodes and finally come to a head in the finale where the team members have to make massive sacrifices in order to save Cardiff and the world from certain destruction from a long-thought lost part of Jack’s childhood.
People always try to get a piece while the Pterodactyl’s not looking.
My review for the first season of Torchwood was forgiving, as I figured the program to be capable of at least being an erstwhile accompaniment to Doctor Who with the right amount of work done to conform to the cast and their abilities. And as I begun the second season of the series, I began to think that my optimism was unjustified. To be sure, there are the marked signs of improvement that most shows display in their second full season; the actors are feeling more comfortable in their roles and are thus inhabiting the characters more fully and easily, and this is reflected through the writing with the characters now being more clearly defined and their personality types being utilized correctly (the most obvious benefactor of this is the Ianto character, who seemed to be adrift through much of season one but now has taken the ‘sarcastic quipper’ role and run with it in series two).
And more so than in the first season they realize that John Barrowman’s wheelhouse as the Captain Jack character resides in him being a rakish sexual omnivore and not so much as a hard-ass team leader. So instead of saddling him with ponderous hero moments and long stretches of gravitas, they let him play the character more as we remember him from Doctor Who instead of trying to turn him into a more traditional hero type. This isn’t to say they don’t still give him cringe-inducing moments (the end of Meat is a prime example of this), they’ve just pared down the frequency of these moments to a much more tolerable level. They’ve also upped the role of Rhys, which makes Gwen’s home life feel much like anomalous to the series proper, as her work life and real life finally start to bleed together. All welcome additions.
The Torchwood team fights against the deadliest threat of them all: renegade iTunes ads.
However, these small gains in character development and cohesion between the cast were nullified by the storylines and episodes themselves being pretty deficient in the early going of the season. The opener’s inclusion of James Marsters as a rebel time agent acquaintance from Jack’s past/present/however the fuck was an inspired choice and his interaction with the cast is as exemplary as one would be led to expect*, and adds a nice wrinkle to the Jack character and bringing the best out of Barrowman as a performer. There are a few too many moments aiming for emotional crescendo that fall completely flat in the early going of this season, and given that the cast is feeling more comfortable the blame has to fall at the hands of the writing in the early stages. For a show more based in gritty reality than its progenitor, the show relies far too heavily on mechanical whatsits and alien machinery to reach the finish line in early episodes shifting the focus from its characters and their plight to some entirely uninvolving technological Macguffins.
Celebrity Exorcist Rehab helped put the Sci-Fi Network back on the map.
However, starting with the episode Reset the show shifts its focus back to its characters by making a pretty bold decision concerning one of the regulars and how they interact with the crew surrounding them. From then on, with the sole exception of an episode involving a haunted film reel with a ghostly carnival crew that feels as though the Torchwood concept was grafted on to it, the show begins the most solid run of its existence, reeling off above-average episodes one after another. My personal favorites: Something Borrowed, in which follows Gwen’s nuptials being complicated by her impregnation with an alien spawn whose mommy is waiting for the proper moment to perform a bare-handed caesarean delivery, Adrift which finally takes full advantage of the moral ambiguity that this show should take advantage of as the main difference between it and Doctor Who by offering a situation that doesn’t appear to have any right answer and Fragments which cannily retcons and explains how each of the Torchwood members came to join the group before Gwen in a flashback structured around an attempted murder of the group.
“I want you to put this in your ass.”
There isn’t really a secret to the formula, considering the show started becoming much more agreeable as the human drama element was ratcheted up instead of focusing on the monster of the week. There seems to be some realization that the current plotline should feed into the characters and how they interact instead of basing how they interact around whatever they’re dealing with at the moments. It seems simple enough, but when they finally realize this, the show benefits greatly from it. Even better, the season, which seemed more or less disjointed and a grouping of disparate elements, leads up nicely to a pretty darn rip-roaring and satisfying two-part finale. Featuring just enough apocalyptic drama (a dire situation the likes of which hasn’t been seen this side of Doctor Who, really) and badass moments (Captain Jack makes an awesome epic sacrifice that you wouldn’t see convincingly pulled off in most other programs) to successfully close out the season. And end it does, with one of the ballsiest finales that I can remember in recent years. Despite the ratings seemingly slipping with the latter half of this season, it’s there in which the show really found its stride and took major steps towards becoming appointment viewing for this reviewer. Hopefully the miniseries that will comprise the third season will garner enough support to lead to bigger and brighter things from this series. And hopefully it doesn’t become more family-friendly as I’ve seen rumored, as the adult ratings finally gave way to adult situations that are worthy of discussion as opposed to simply cursing and soap opera-level sexcapades. A nice improvement on the first season and worth checking out for fans of the Doctor Who universe.
Frank Caliendo yet again breaks out his world famous Colonel Kurtz-as-burn victim impersonation.
The cover art is a little bland for my taste (although it gets across the whole ‘shades of grey’ palette the show employs pretty affectively), but at least they avoid having the indignity of the awkward ‘action poses’ contained in the inside box art being put front and center. The set has a similar set of extras as compared to the first season, but the overall package feels lacking. Part of the problem might be lack of an audio commentary, which any self-respecting popular television series should come equipped with. But what you get here is entertaining and worthwhile. The outtakes are amusing, the deleted scenes are worth checking out, the featurette on the trajectory of Captain Jack as a character in the Whoverse is good stuff and the declassifieds are fluffy but well put-together and provide a nice behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the show achieves the level of verisimilitude it does despite some brushes with low-grade special effects. It’s a good set, although it could’ve been better.
7.8 out of 10