Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bitter Glue

Late one night, some years back, after a meal in Soho, I cut through a surprisingly deserted Chinatown to get to the nearest tube stop. On the way I came across members of a police armed response unit in helmets, vests and automatic rifles raised, edging toward the mouth of an alley between two of the restaurants.

Although eager to get the last train home, since this wasn’t something I got to see every night, I stopped to watch the action unfold. Whereupon one of the rozzers, catching me out the corner of his eye, turned and yelled, “Hey, you, FUCK OFF!” Which I did.

To show that Torchwood has adult credentials, it starts with a crime scene and a copper saying “It’s a fucking disgrace.” Which, coincidentally, was exactly what I said some forty-odd minutes later.

Other drama writers bust their humps to get everything right, whereas Doctor Who, and now Torchwood, is just hack work of the highest order. Like the wince-inducing The Outsiders a couple of weeks back, Torchwood is just so utterly fucking juvenile. It’s a teenager’s ill thought out idea of what adult drama is. The end result is a shit soufflé that instantly collapses under the weight of its own pretensions.

So, rather than beating around the bush, what did I really think? If you’re wondering why Bitter Glue, well Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who and Bitter Glue is an anagram too. Whoever guesses right wins a cookie.

Foaming at the mouth over, what’s the problem with it?

Maybe I find the shameful self-promotion annoying, with Writer/Producer Russell T. Davies popping up everywhere in print to bang on about how brilliant he is. In The Times’ cultural guide The Knowledge, he wrote:

...I’m not a hack, I’m not a new boy, I’m a very, very experienced and successful TV writer and there’s no way I could have got there without understanding character.

I’m not against self-promotion. But I don’t remember the likes of Dennis Potter, the Kennedy Martins, Paul Abbott, Anthony Horowitz, David Milch, David Simon, Aaron Sorkin, David Simon, Ron Moore ever banging on about how bloody brilliant and talented they were in interviews. The only one I can think of who does is Joss Whedon, but that’s because he’s taking the piss of himself. Davies’ talk sounds like Sean Bean’s character, Spence, in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin: all mouth and no actual talent for the job.

Davies can certainly write very good character-driven drama, but plots seem to escape him. In the same article, discussing his approach to Doctor Who, he writes:

I always wanted there to be some ordinariness in there; some mundanity with the extraordinary. These days there are 500 shows, good and bad, which have fleets of spaceships and monsters all creeping on what what used to be Doctor Who’s preserve. So, in looking for scripts, you have to think, well, Battlestar Galactica’s got the big spaceships and Buffy’s got the fantasy and the vampires, what have we got that’s unique? And it’s the real world.

Well, certainly on the surface, Battlestar Galactica’s about spaceships and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about fighting monsters. But there’s a whole lot more to them than that, I think you’d agree.

With Doctor Who and Torchwood, instead of allegory we get juxtaposition. But the real world elements, instead of just establishing time and place, they more often that not incongruously intrude on the stories, eating up precious time that could be better served on plot. Which is probably why the two series of Doctor Who regularly rely on deus ex machina come the episodes' hurried denouements.

Then there are the lumpen plots themselves. To mix the fantastic with the ordinary you need believability. Verisimilitude. [There’s that word again. It’s almost like the last few posts have been leading up to this. How about that?]

The opening scene of Torchwood’s first episode takes place at a murder scene. The victim lies dead in a side alley. It is pouring with rain. Now, I’ve seen enough dramas and documentaries to know that in such instances a plastic tent is erected over the body to preserve the crime scene.

Except here the victim lies exposed to the elements letting the rain obliterate whatever evidence there is. Why no tent? Well, because if the body was covered, then from her vantage point the inquisitive cop wouldn’t be able to see the Torchwood team bring the corpse back to life.

Which then brings up the fact of how come Torchwood is supposed to be a secret organisation when they go around telling everyone who they are? And should they be doing their weird shit in public? I mean, get a tent!

The titles are barely over and the dominoes start to fall: But that’s not the half of it. The clumsy way the Torchwood team are introduced almost made we piss myself laughing.

Here’s something courtesy of Lee over at The Light, It Hurts. Unfortunately, due to the unique way The Independent run their website, if you don’t read a feature the day it is published then they only give you the opening paragraphs and charge you for the rest. But he’s snatched the relevant text from a Russell T. Davies interview in the newspaper:

It's all there for the taking, I do it gladly. The ending of
Doctor Who, where we had to separate the Doctor and Rose, that was unashamedly taken from the Phillip Pullman novels. They're brilliant, and every child reads them. So that creates a resonance, when they've got a story in one part of their minds and they see Doctor Who and think, 'Oh right! You can change stories!' If you want to get pretentious about it, it's exactly what Shakespeare did. As long as you put yourself into it I think it's all there for the grabbing.

Lee calls the post There's another word for that, you know and quite rightly so. Didn’t Shakespeare dramatise historical events. (Aside from using Christopher Marlowe’s suggestion that he change Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter to Romeo and Juliet, obviously).

Back when Doctor Who was on I suggested a spot-the-“lift” drinking game. A blatant Torchwood reference in the second series meant having to drain the bottle, and an added deus ex machina meant smashing the empty bottle over your head. It didn’t catch on.

Torchwood is no different, with the first episode heavily indebted to Men in Black, along with Silence of the Lambs, Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything and the Somebody Else’s Problem Field, except now it’s called a Perception Filter. It all ends with a Captain Scarlet reference, which, unless I’m mistaken, kicks any future dramatic confrontations firmly in the nuts.

Most shocking of all was The Hub, Torchwood’s secret underground base. Aside from the general stupidity, I couldn’t believe the shallow stream running through it and the central column glistening with water trickling down from the Millennium Centre’s fountain. With computer workstations and technology spread around it? As someone who is Health & Safety certified (really), I found that most irresponsible.


At 3:59 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

No...come on...what do you really really think?

This was very amusing to read, even not having seen the show (but between this and the trailer I'm getting a picture)...and who is this creator/writer? Is he maybe just having fun? I can't believe the arrogance if he's serious.

At 9:35 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know The Independent did that to articles; I'm a Guardian Unlimited man. RTD has shown in a couple of interviews this week that he seems to have developed some kind of complex. Don't know what's going on there.

I wasn't quite as dismayed by Torchwood as yourself - certainly it's no worse than the current season of Spooks - and lean more towards Andrew Rilstone's view - mindless (or witless if you prefer) fun with a few early flaws to work out. Mind you, I don't have much time anymore to spend on mindlessness.

I'm completely with you on the misconceived juxtapositions, though. Doctor Who often feels like two different shows, neither having much to say about the other, and Torchwood could be taking a big mistep by taking the Alias route of Gwen trying to juggle the fantastic and the mundane. Especially when the mundane is the world's dullest boyfriend.

In my heart of hearts, I think I wish wishing for a new Ultraviolet, but Torchwood is a long, long way from giving me that. Shame really, as there was a real fantasy show for grown-ups.

Oh, and I claim my Lincoln for Utter Bilge.

At 1:46 pm, Blogger Piers said...

Ah, Torchwood.

I'm not loving it yet, but I'm certainly liking it well enough to keep watching. Similar to the first two episodes of Doctor Who - they were all right. Not great.

There have been enough good moments in the first two episodes to make me think that there's probably a good series in there. Will it come out? I'm hopeful.

What it hasn't had yet, at least for me, is what DMc calls the commit moment. The bit where you move from "Oh, this is all right I suppose. I'll watch if there's nothing else on." to "ZOMG!!! I'm in!"

My hopes for a commit moment on Robin Hood drop week-by-week. Which makes me sad.

Torchwood I'm still reasonably hopeful for.

At 9:04 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

There was another quote from The Knowledge:

I’m not terribly interested in depicting sex and violence; they can be so sixth-form if you don’t do them correctly — so much as in terms of emotions.

And earlier in the year in The Sunday Times there was a quote that went something like "I'm only interested in happy endings, pessimistic episodes are so sixth form."

I'd like to know what traumatic experienced he suffered in his final year at school?

Will: I'm afraid it's strange but true. For strange read 'utterly terrifying'.

Lee: Mindless nonsense masquerading as entertainment it may be. But I haven't got the time to waste. Especially when there's so much better drama coming my way from America.

The worst part about watching Torchwood on Wednesday was I had Das Boot paused on one of the computer monitors throughout and just wanted to get back to watching that.

Piers: Two episodes of Torchwood and I was waiting for the "Oh, this is all right I suppose" moment, let alone saying "I'm in."

And if I did ever yell "I'm in," the next words out of my mouth would be "Commit me now!"

At 3:00 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

Gutter Bile?

At 9:21 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

In all the excitement I forgot to mention the award for working out the anagram, which went to Lee for getting Utter Bilge. Which actually was the politest thing I could think off.

But I do like Will's suggestion of Gutter Bile. There's definitely something there. So an honourable mention.

At 6:08 pm, Blogger English Dave said...

''So, in looking for scripts, you have to think, well, Battlestar Galactica’s got the big spaceships and Buffy’s got the fantasy and the vampires, what have we got that’s unique? And it’s the real world.''

I beg to differ with RTD here. What you have that is unique is Time Travel.


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