Monday, October 23

Look Who's gone darker

David Davies finds that Torchwood hasn't spun-off quite as far as it should have

With the new Doctor Who taking off like a greyhound with a bum full of dynamite, and with the free thinking Beeb not resting on its laurels, they decided to continue the sci-fi revolution by... making a spin-off.

Torchwood follows the adventures of Captain Jack Harkness. John Barrowman (pictured), the bastard lovechild of John Travolta and Tom Cruise, is leading a crack team (does anyone actually know what that expression means?) of specialists in a fight against the alien scum of the universe. Think Men In Black. Except set in Wales. Yes, to increase what must undoubtedly be a drastically reduced FX budget (this is going out on BBC3 and BBC2 remember) the entire show is set in my homeland. This is where the problems begin.

As with Doctor Who, the show follows the classic trope of stranger in a strange land. Eve Myles plays Gwen Cooper, a police constable who ends up becoming part of the Torchwood team by seeing something she shouldn't have and - you get the idea. As with most stories that follow this thread, it's mainly for exposition purposes, and it all feels a bit tired.

There are problems with tone too. That sounds horribly Sunday Times, so let me justify myself. The show is aiming for a darker tone. People swear on a regular basis, the second episode had a full-on sex scene between two teenagers, a lesbian kiss and murder by orgasm, and there's some sexy tension between Gwen and Captain Jack. This would be great if it didn't feel like you were still watching Doctor Who. The comedy remains, the visuals are all crisp, clean and daytime, and the aliens still aren't scary enough. In a show where men are being bonked to death, these need to be pared down to a minimum. It needs to be dark and edgy, and it needs to take more advantage of its post-watershed slot when it comes to characterisation. Everyone is still Saturday night fluffy. I can't help feeling that John Barrowman is about to break into song at any moment. Eve Myles keeps the hysterics to a well-judged minimum, then gets lost in the blandness of her own character. The supporting cast are primarily there for comic relief. It's a shame because this show has great potential to really spin-off into something different and exciting.

There are moments of excellence. A three-way showdown ends with the revelation that Jack cannot be killed, a cool Captain Scarlet scenario. Barrowman does well hiding an undercurrent of melancholy beneath Captain Jack's magoo exterior, and really grabs the screen when he's given the chance during these moments, before reverting back to that Doctor Who pantomime Prince Charming that dominates the opening episodes. There's also an interesting moment in the second episode where Jack has some strange obsession with a severed hand. This is weird, freaky stuff, and it's the direction the show needs to go in. Unlike most spin-offs, there is promise here. They need to be a bit braver and row a little farther from the shore, cut loose of Doctor Who's family stylings and make something for the older teenager or even the sci-fi loving adult. It's clearly what they're shooting for, with the swearing and the blood and the sex, so why don't they go all the way, make this a real X-Files experience and satisfy those of us who wished for a little more darkness in our Doctor? Hopefully Russell T Davies will take this show where it needs to go once he knows he has our attention.

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