Sunday, November 05, 2006


After I seriously went off on one about the new BBC drama Torchwood, Will Dixon asked what I really thought of the show. At first I figured it was a jocular riposte: a “what did you really think?” after my attempt to tear the series a new arsehole.

By his second time of asking I decided he was serious. And since it would be rude to simply fob him off with a glib reply, here’s why I had serious issues with Torchwood.

First off, the incessant hype didn’t help win me over. I hate hype. Obviously you have to promote whatever it is you’re selling, rather than sit back and expect people to come on their own accord. But there’s a difference between promoting a product and promoting the living shit out of it.

I loathe someone repeatedly telling me I must watch a particular television programme or film. I can make my own decisions, thank you very much. And when the hype reaches overwhelming proportions, as it did with Torchwood, the cynic inside me becomes suspicious of the product they’re hawking.

It’s easy to criticize, far harder to create. Work Buddy and I are currently putting together a number of projects to pitch. One, a television drama, already has the pilot episode written on spec. Working out how to introduce the characters and how much of the plot threads to divulge, had us sweating blood.

It didn’t help that I altered a line of dialogue to make it more logical and then had to change the next twenty pages to accommodate the alteration. Only because, while I didn’t want to over analyse it, I didn’t want to be obvious either.*

The Torchwood pilot looked obvious. Actually, I should correct that. It looked lazy. This idea of making sure the ‘real world’ got a fair shake, meant that too much time was wasted fannying around while the plot, what existed of it, was hopelessly rushed. Compared to the pilots of Alias, say, or The X-Files, it looked positively anaemic.

The characters, perfunctorily introduced – “Toshiko Sato, computer genius, Suzie Costello, she’s second-in-command, and this is Ianto Jones. Ianto cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time” – were barely two-dimensional at best.

“Toshiko Sato, computer genius.” Can we still use lines like that in 2006?

The unexpected violent death of one of the main characters come the episode’s hurried and confused finale, didn’t have the same weight as the pilot of The Shield and the murder of Terry Crowley, because in Torchwood we didn’t know enough about the characters to really give a shit.

Being the pilot episode, it would probably not have had the same time constraints that apply to writing episodic television. Working to deadlines, you do the best you can in the time given. But this was the pilot episode for goodness sake. Which meant that as an introduction to the series, written in advance with more time to get it right, the failings were utterly unforgivable.

These caveats aside, the biggest lie fed to the audience was that it was adult drama. Pull the other one. There was nothing adult about it. Teen dramas out of the States are more grown up in their attitude. Hopelessly juvenile, Torchwood proved that there are times when being a potty mouth isn’t big or clever.

Having mentioned the ‘resonances’ Russell T Davies packs into his episodes, there’s no point in going over them again. Other than to mention that ‘resonating’ other people’s ideas really gets my goat. Still, here’s something I came across checking out other folk’s opinions of the show. This is from the 25th July edition of The Daily Telegraph:

Torchwood was actually the name used as a security measure to disguise preview tapes of the first episodes of the new Doctor Who to stop them falling into the hands of DVD pirates when they were moved from Wales to BBC headquarters.

Davies said: “One of the people in the office had the idea of calling the tapes Torchwood as they went from Cardiff to London, instead of putting
Doctor Who on them. I thought, ‘That's clever!’ I had that taped away in my head for a good six months, and now here it is as a show.”

So, even someone else came up with the fucking name of the show? What exactly does he do?

So there you go. Rather than complain any more, I’m giving the rest of the series a wide berth. Will, I hope that’s answered your question. Here ends my 100th post.

* The spec pilot went off to two people to gauge their reactions. A film producer Work Buddy has worked with absolutely savaged it. Reading his comments, which he tried to make constructive, it became apparent that he was under the assumption the script was self-contained. Still, he made some valid points, even though most of his produced work favours flying monkeys.

The second reader was an actress looking to step the other side of the camera. She thought it was better than two professional scripts her agent had sent for her to audition for, which was nice. Even then, when we laid out the story beyond the first episode, she flagged up a major theme that wouldn’t have been introduced until the second or third episode. Quite rightly, she told us this had to be introduced in the pilot. Left where it was, the audience would feel lied to once it eventually appeared.


At 3:56 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

Okay, fair enough - but 'really', what did...

Sorry. Got it good.

Will still have to give T-Wood a view when it comes around, always check everything out I always say...

Now this pilot stuff and people's reactions sounds fascinating. As hard as it may be to hear critical 'feedback', the first step to getting anything off the computer and onto the screen is getting it out there I always say...

I guess I always say a lot of things.

At 9:31 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, I check out everything I can, because I want to see if it's any good for myself. Luckily I don't find everything to my taste. Otherwise I'd be glued to the box.

I even watched the Torchwood pilot again, just to make sure that I hadn't over-reacted first time around. There were a few instances where I thought "Oh, wait a sec, this isn't quite so-- oh, yes it is. Damn!"

Was initially knocked by the two reactions, only because I didn't know Work Buddy had sent them out. But it does help to get a different point of view during the process - to see if they see what we're trying to get across.

The thing is, with a title page included, the first episode script runs to seventy pages. (Which might have thrown the producer). I had come across a pdf of an er script that ran long, ignoring the one page equals one minute of screen time guideline. I was happy to discover that the Spooks scripts, included in the DVD boxsets, average about seventy pages as well.

It doesn't mean that everyone is racing around on a caffeine high, but the pace certainly picks up in places. I think pacing is something a lot of English drama suffers from. Editing the likes of the corporate work has certainly helped give an idea of how quickly and effectively information can be passed to the viewer.

After the next filming block, we've set aside time to finish the material and then send it out.

As for you saying a lot of things, keep talking.

At 7:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my god. I fucking love you. Someone who hates Torchwood as much as me!!

At 6:35 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I knew if I kept on blogging women would be throwing themselves at me!

At 3:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easy Tiger...I didn't say I loved you THAT much...Tho get me on Casualty or Holby City and I'll make it worth your while (I'm a literary ho, what can I say??!)


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