Last week, I mocked Helen Raynor as being a fun-bereft, tedious, issue-loving, “save the whale” kind of a woman. I had no evidence for this. I was probably being very unfair.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the next episode, by last season's stalwart of quality Catherine Tregenna, would literally be a “save the whale” episode. Okay, “save the space whale”. Either I'm immensely perceptive and intuitive (unlikely) or the universe likes to have little jokes with itself. Who knew the universe read my blog, though?
Seeing as I'm on a roll with the unfair stereotypes, I'll give them another go this week.
Now Torchwood might well be set in Cardiff, be brim-full of Welsh actors and be made by BBC Wales, but apart from Rusty's initial quips about CSI: Cardiff and kebabs in the first episode, there's not really been much that's Welsh about it.
Last night's episode, however, was very Welsh. Apart from the Welsh flag in the back of Rhys' van (which all self-respecting Welsh people have with them at all times. I live in SE London and I can spot the other Welsh contingent on my estate from 200 metres away, since they're flying not one but three flags, two of them indoors) and the 120dB domestics (cf Wind Street in Swansea of a Friday night), we had the very essence of Wales summed in the plot: what would happen if an alien animal landed in Cardiff? Would the Welsh greet it cordially? Would they bomb it? Would they conduct evil experiments on it?
No. They'd turn it into a pasty.
Rhys discovers the truth about Torchwood and becomes part of the team as they investigate a mysterious alien meat supply. With Rhys in increasing danger Gwen is under pressure like never before. Will Rhys go too far? Will Jack ask too much of him? And can Torchwood save the alien from being used as cheap meat?
Was it any good?
So another issues show. In the hands of Helen Raynor, it would have been a snooze fest. Catherine Tregenna may have left her comfort zone, but at least she knows how to make something entertaining.
The problem with Meat is its high entrance requirements. The thing about science-fiction is that if you stray outside certain boundaries, it starts to look a bit daft. It doesn't matter how logical it all is. If a strange alien whale suddenly ended up on Earth, someone somewhere probably would try eating it, extracting oil from it or use it as fertiliser. We're that rubbish.
But on-screen, that looks daft. Our brains rebel. We suddenly realise it's all a bit silly. What are we doing with our lives? Project Catwalk's on the other side and we're missing it because we're watching a show about alien pie fillings.
So I did spend more than a trivial percentage of the show's time giggling at how silly it was. Other than that, it really wasn't that bad in most elements. Sure, the direction was a bit arse and we have the fundamental weakness of the show's format when it tries to do action: the SAS, SO19, police armed response units and others spend months and months training to deal with hostage-taking gunmen, using overwhelming force and firepower to force a surrender or overpower the baddies – and Torchwood sends in five people in the back of a white van with six-shooters and tasers, no body armour and all the training they could glean from watching episodes of Life on Mars. Standing in well-lit doorways with our guns out is not a good plan - you will get shot.
But when it stayed away from action-adventure and dealt with relationships and the situation itself, it wasn't half bad. A touch soapy in more than a few places, in both script and acting, but some good lines, particularly from Rhys (“You're not gay by any chance, are you?”) and Ianto. Ianto's rapidly turning out to be the best character of the series, incidentally. Who knew he was so hard as well?
Tosh is at last being active in her bizarre pursuit of Owen after pining after him like some tiresome teenage wallflower for God knows how long and Owen's being singularly obtuse for some reason. Jack's working his way towards some kind of threeway with Ianto and Gwen, which is pretty much in character. Gwen finally makes a stand for sanity against amnesia pills (what were they thinking of telling Rhys - he got amnesia after being shot in the shoulder?). So some nice character touches.
It must be remarked though, that John Barrowman's acting hit an all time low. Really, he needs to stay away from deep emotions. He's great at the light stuff, but deep, not really. Still, most actors would be tested when asked to demonstrate deep empathy for a giant, beached CGI space whale. I'm surprised Jack didn't want to shag it, too.
I'd also like to know where all of Torchwood's high tech alien hardware has got to. Ianto has to take minutes on a pad and paper, rather than use some voice recognition system to record everything. Owen has to euthanise poor Mr Space Whale rather than use some alien stunning device or teleporting whatsit. And why do they all use regular weapons rather than Kill-o-Zap guns? Are they just short of replacement magazines?
It's all very unprofessional and makes you wonder why they're even bothering nicking all the space tech if all it means is they can put someone in a freezer for 90 years and bring nutters back from the dead.
So daft yet something more than plotfiller and a nice bit of fun.
A guest appearance by the Murray Gold Watch
This week, Murray Gold was mostly drowning out the dialogue and removing all sense of drama from Torchwood by deriving music from… The Sullivans
Cardiff Bay landmark watch
Last week, I (and the tigers) predicted that the birds would have to watch out, since the wetlands round the back of the St David's Hotel would be the next Cardiff Bay landmark to be featured in Torchwood. Unfortunately, the monkeys were right and it was actually the Welsh Assembly building that got featured instead (as well as the Millennium Centre, as per usual). For next week, I'm predicting… the Pierhead building.
- February 14, 2008: Review: Torchwood 2x5 - Adam
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