Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blow Torch

By this time next week I’ll have been slapped awake by a woman in a nurse’s uniform and told to get dressed and get out. Just thinking about it takes me back, except this time the treatment will be free. Although I expect the after effects – spending the next few days feeling like I’m pissing razor blades – will probably be the same.

The past few days things the aches and sharp pains have eased off and I suppose I could back out of the upcoming procedure, pleading with the urologists that, “I’m getting better”, but I suppose it’s worth having them ram their probe right up my urethra and beyond to make sure there aren’t any more nasty surprises to come further on down the road. And at least getting the all clear means I can get off these meds and hopefully stop feeling completely run down long before the day is done.

It was probably because I was feeling so worn out last week that I found myself sprawled out on the sofa watching Torchwood of all things. In the past I think I’ve made it pretty clear what I thought of the show. Supposedly fashioned to be an adult drama, the results, more often than not, proved to be, at best, distressingly juvenile. After two series in which one or two entertaining and rather well thought out stories were forced to rub shoulders with episodes that ranged from mediocre to hopelessly embarrassing to utterly dreadful, I could have quite happily ignored this third year.

Except this time around they had ditched the thirteen-episode format in favour of a five-part serial, stripped into the schedule over consecutive nights. Rather than thumbing my nose at it, instead it piqued my curiosity. There were things that annoyed me. After the first episode I still wasn’t sure it deserved the plaudits being unreservedly showered upon it, and by the end of the second hour I would have liked a few minutes on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square so I could stand there and bellow, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!?” at the top of my lungs.

But come Wednesday’s episode everything turned around as the pace picked up considerably, and the elements of drama and comedy, characterisation and plot all balanced out rather well to create a far more cohesive story. Even more remarkable, the usual ‘jokes of a sexual nature’ that Torchwood apparently cannot live without had a subtlety that made them far funnier than the typically obvious and annoying cock–custard pie–in–the–face gags.

One of the drawbacks to the third part was that having reached such a high point at the midway mark, the remaining two episodes didn’t continue to sustain the momentum and seemed to simply peter out. As it worked toward its unexpectedly dark finale, rather than build up dilemmas where the consequences were still far from certain, squeezing every last ounce of drama from the situation, it bluntly telegraphed the outcome far ahead of time, thereby diminishing the end results.

Though there were times across the five episodes where the dramatic tension seemed to be directed in the wrong place I still kept watching, which was more surprising. While the story didn’t always make sense I had to remind myself that this was, after all, a show that started off its second series with a goldfish driving a sports car. If there were problems with the finished product it was down to the fact that the production obviously didn’t have the budget to realize what was on the page.

Following the massive explosion that totals the secret underground base that everyone seems to know about, I kept getting distracted by the fact that the blast had apparently left the surrounding glass-fronted buildings untouched. Later in the same episode, after the cell Jack Harkness is laid out in is filled with cement, the size of the hardened block his Torchwood teammates make off seems to indicate he was interred standing up in a telephone box instead.

While that prop may have been a knowing wink to Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge model and can be seen as one of many trivial details best ignored, what couldn’t be overlooked was how relentlessly useless everyone involved was when it came to handling firearms. The John Woo moment where the gap-toothed, goggle-eyed Welsh bint leaps from the back of the ambulance, guns blazing, was just embarrassingly bad.

Even when she was standing up the woman couldn’t grip and fire a pistol to save her life. Worse were the roving black ops soldiers that kept rearing their gormless heads. When the sharpshooter missed not one but two of his intended targets they immediately started to look a bit rubbish, and the show had only really just got going. Then when the men came under fire in the cellblock they squealed and shied away like a bunch of little girls.

Pick up any recently made war movie on DVD and the extras will undoubtedly include footage of the actors being given a brief approximation of a soldier’s boot camp experience and, more importantly, instructed on how to hold and discharge their weapons properly and work together as a cohesive team. Obviously the excuse here would be that they didn’t have the time, money, or inclination to make it look the least bit convincing.

However much the director might have thought they really looked the part, all kitted out in the uniforms with their boots, helmets and tactical ammo vests, without any kind of instruction to make it look like they know what they’re doing, on screen they appeared as a bunch of jobbing extras fannying around with guns as they pretended to play soldiers. It was as if the Keystone Cops had been inducted into the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy, and then failed to graduate.


At 6:53 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I won't name the production but one of my shows called for a squad of elite SAS-style troops. They recruited a local Territorial Army unit. While the guys at least knew one end of a weapon from the other, they looked like a village cricket team. One had a pot belly, one wore glasses, one couldn't have been much more than five feet tall.

On the same show, the policemen looked great... but when the action started they all ran like girls.

Showbiz, huh?

At 3:28 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

After watching The Wire last week (actual adult entertainment), I switched over to catch the last few minutes of one of the latenight Torchwood repeats.

As the credits rolled, the continuity announcer jumped in and urged viewers to go out and buy a copy of the Torchwood Operating Manual, presumably so that we could keep it beside our collection of figurines and rubber masks.

Torchwood is a kids' show, spun-off from another kids' show, and adding an occasional 'fuck' to the dialogue doesn't make it otherwise.

As for the relentlessly crap execution, isn't that pretty much the norm now? And it's too easy to lay all the blame on budgets.

Good luck with the kidney stones. I'm told they're every bit as painful as they sound.

At 1:07 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I was concerned that the post may have given the impression that I had gone soft on lousy drama. I started writing it after the second episode on Tuesday night, which was so jaw-droppingly bad but after writing about wanting to get up on the plinth and scream about it I was just too run down to go any further. And just to write, “It’s shit!” without giving any explanation puts you squarely in the retard section.

It really was the equivalent of the sort of trashy thriller you pick up in an airport bookstore as you rush to catch a flight. So many things were wrong with the narrative but you plough on hoping that it will get better at some point, and, like I said, the third episode really stood out from the rest, which was just as amazing.

That said, it had moments where there was drama in the wrong place. For instance, when the daughter and grandchild are picked up by the Black Ops bozos. Before they come through the front door, surely they would have checked out the surrounding area, positioned men at every potential escape route, and then moved in. Sure, she can evade the first couple of soldiers, to show that she has some skills and can think on her feet, but eventually, even after leaving her house and the surrounding grounds, she runs into soldiers waiting for her.

That way a gaggle of them don’t have to run up the street after her, looking like the stragglers at the end of a marathon, and certainly don’t chase her up a “back passage” where the soldiers are so bunched together that, if they all discharged their weapons, the lot of them would get hot, ejected shell casings in the face and the silly little woman in charge would be deafened by the noise.

As it stands, that sort of sequence is fine for a kids show but this is supposed to be ADULT drama. And won’t she have the knife in her kitchen knife in her hand rather than shoving it into her belt? It was instances like that, that had me shaking my head.

When it came to the A for Andromeda/Contact reference where the aliens send plans for the installation, the government twonks make out that nobody can understand what they’re building – building up the tension – and it turns out to be a giant glass container. Still, lucky that it wasn’t an IKEA bookshelf otherwise they’d be in a hell of a pickle.

Then when it’s built and the gases are pumped in, the minister’s aide says, based on the different gases and their composition, can’t they work out what kind of creature lives in it. Huh? Amazingly nobody slaps her hard around the face. I’d like to see aliens given a air sample and then get into a tizzy over whether the planet is populated by humans, donkeys, penguins, giraffes... oh, I give up.

And one final thing, amongst the list of chemicals pumped in, which included nitrosyl chloride and phosgene, which was used as a chemical weapon in WWI, they add fluorine. After the episodes were broadcast I was told by someone with more than a passing knowledge of basic chemistry that fluorine is not just highly toxic but highly reactive. Mixed with the other chemicals, God knows what would happen, but just on its own the fluorine gas would immediately start corroding the biohazard suit of the cameraman that goes inside. And as for the kiddie already there.... Nope!

So, if they can’t get basic weapons training for the soldiers, couldn’t they have phoned up a chemistry professor at the local university and run a few ideas past him? Sure, it may go over a lot of people’s heads and not spoil their enjoyment. I have top admit I didn’t catch that one. But it’s the laziness, the “it’s just science fiction so fuck it!” attitude that gets my goat. Because a little more thought makes for a better story.

Just from these few instances, it’s obvious that if I was back on my feet the posts last week would have been a whole lot different.

Oh, and I loved the way the BBC2 schedule-bastards dropped the third season finale of The Wire on Wednesday night for a half-hour preview of the sodding Open Championship. Way to go!

At 11:48 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Torchwood: Children of Earth came across as a disparate collection of derivative material, lashed together by a team of people who, though I’m sure care very deeply about it, have generally no feel for or idea about the genre in which they are working and have too many people in their ranks for whom the idea of working in television makes them touch themselves inappropriately.

To paraphrase Ben Goldacre, just because you think that science is all just long words strung together to baffle you, doesn't mean it is. Therefore, wading in and using the 'sciencey-sounding words fridge magnet' approach to any of the technical dialogue will make anyone with a passing knowledge of the workings of a computer (or even the microwave, ffs) want to tear out their eyeballs in rage.

Too many plot holes to list, appalling faux-drama, lots of dialogue that should never have survived the initial draft, juvenile and badly-handled sub-plots and a lazy, 'reverse the fucking polarity' shit ending yet again...

Right up there with "It was raining that day on Mongo"...

At 11:41 am, Blogger Good Dog said...


but that’s asking the bovine audience who graze on this kind of arse gravy before being led to the cultural slaughterhouse to snap out of it.

That still doesn’t account for the relatively clandestine operation of rounding up the kiddies being carried out by the fucking military! Isn’t there some kind of chain of command structure there that should have been fully investigated? Or did the generals just say, “ah, fuck it!” and let the government twonks get on with it?

I liked the fact that once the alien was blown up after emptying it’s sac all over the glass everyone immediately knew it was over. Which mean the artiste for the horribly sub-Lisa Gerrard music played over the bollocks carrying on in Wales could step out of the recording booth and say, “Can I go home now please?”

And since Mongo is subject to inclement weather, you’ve gone to the wrong planet there. Try one that’s all desert or snow. Or that one in the Doctor Who episode Midnight, where the terrain is so utterly fucking hostile they build a leisure complex on it.

Next time they should go to a planet with a surface made entirely of landmines.

At 3:21 pm, Blogger aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


At 3:22 pm, Blogger aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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