Review: Torchwood 2×2 – Sleeper

Torchwood - Season 2, Episode 2 - Sleeper

My wife: Torchwood’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it?

Me: Yes

My wife: Can we keep watching it?

From a conversation with my wife this morning

Oh dear. And it was going so well. Pretty well, anyway. Okay, it was a little nonsensical at first and the acting could have been outshone by any of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But it was fun, well-directed, reasonably intelligent and raised some interesting ideas.

For half an hour.

Then it turned into an old episode of UFO.

And so begin the spoilers. Look away to avoid being spoiled if you haven’t seen the episode already.

It would be easy enough to nitpick the first half. The evil aliens send in an advance party of sleeper agents to scout out a planet before invading it. What’s the point of a sleeper scout who doesn’t know they’re a sleeper scout? How much scouting are they going to do as a relative non-entity who spends all her life in Cardiff? More importantly, what’s the point of sending a scout when you already have more information about the planet than anyone on the planet already has, anyway?

Then there’s Team Torchwood and their rubbish security. It’s hardly Gitmo down there, is it? Ooh, fancy coming and sniffing our equipment, maybe blasting it with an electromagnetic pulse while we give you a guided tour, you suspected alien, you?

All the same, we knew they were a bit pants and that the plots leave a tad to be desired on Torchwood, so why bother nitpicking?

Colin Teague demonstrated some really fine directing skills, giving the show an intimate yet off-kilter look that verged on the excellent. Ianto finally grew a personality from somewhere. There were some fun lines. Everyone else was doing well. There wasn’t even a hint of Chris Chibnall in it anywhere.

True, it wasn’t as fun or embracing of its innate silliness as it was last week. But it was still pretty good, even if the guest alien had all the acting talent of an infant’s school nativity play.

Then it all went pear-shaped. Now, it’s easy to mock Doctor Who for having aliens constantly wanting to invade England for some reason. But aliens that want to invade Cardiff? WTF? Cos, if they managed to get a foothold in Mermaid Quay and Roald Dahl Plass, by next week they could get as far as Port Talbot and maybe even Neath, before the ultimate goal of Bristol is soon in their grasp.

Colin Teague also seemed to hand over directing duties to someone who trained on late 80s local cinema ads for Indian restaurants. I’ve seen more action and excitement in a PowerPoint presentation. The other aliens made the previous guest alien look like an Oscar winner. Still, in their defence, you can imagine the conversation with local cinema ads director: “What’s my motivation?” “You’re an alien with a remote control in one arm and a knife in the other and you want to blow up Cardiff with some nuclear weapons defended by five blokes with guns?” “Ah… Can I ham it up?” “Yeah, all right then.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Things improved marginally by the end, with the suggestion that Team Torchwood might have an ongoing enemy in the shape of these beasties. Colin Teague started directing again. Yey.

All the same, completely ruined by the last arse half, yet oddly compelling. 10 minutes too long. Too camp for serious, not camp enough for silly. But better than Daleks in Manhattan and Cyberwoman.

Plus what was Murray Gold thinking this week? Clearly not how to write music. QFS.

  • TemplarJ

    With you on the direction, but I think it was a case of trying hard to work around a tiny, tiny budget. But I got the impression (and I was looking at porn at the same time as watching it so was a touch distracted) that they weren’t trying to invade, rather just cover up the fact they had been exposed.
    I think my issue with Torchwood is that John Barrowman doesn’t carry it. He’s great in DW but seems to lose all the charm in Torchwood. And Eva Myles seems to flounder a bit in his wake, a support actress who doesn’t seem to know who to support. Still, nice to see Ianto start to steal the show. .

  • MediumRob

    I thought Eva Myles was doing better this series. I think they’re juggling too many characters and she had too little to do this episode except run round after Jack.
    Cover it up by exploding 10 nuclear weapons?

  • Well it was utter nonsense and I would agree not half as overall bonkers good as last weeks. Still, it was silly fun for the most part [if you can’t suspend the ‘why Cardiff?’ question then you’ve pretty much always been stuffed regarding logic on Torchwood*) and YES it is a joy to see Ianto develop character and humour. That really is from the fan-fic inspiration.
    * I can’t believe i put ‘logic’ and ‘Torchwood’ in such close proximity. that’s just mad innit?

  • MediumRob

    “Why Cardiff”
    The normal explanation is the rift, much like Buffy’s Hellmouth. However, cunning aliens’ plan involved the rift precisely not at all. Presumably, they also have their own means of travel to invade planets (or do they only go for planets with rifts?) so could have landed anywhere instead of Cardiff, choosing the location using their miraculously good existing intel that’s deep enough to give sleeper agents false memories that would withstand the probing of at least two courting periods and marriages without anyone finding out.
    Courting periods. Bet it’s been a long time since anyone’s used that phrase.

  • Missed it again. 2/2. Am missing next weeks and the week after’s too. These reviews are proving very handy to keep me in the loop.

  • espedair

    I love the conversation bit… that’s almost word for word what my wife and I said 😉
    Torchwood – Keeping the world safe with guilty pleasures

  • Stu

    I suppose these aliens want to invade Cardiff for much the same reason that activity of this sort is usually centered around London and the Home Counties in the the mother series. If they didn’t then you wouldn’t have show — well alright you would have a show but it would look like the last series which would be no fun at all. I really enjoyed last night’s episode and have essentially realised that its best to enjoy it at face value and try not to analyze everything because it can’t stand the scrutiny. Which is sad.

  • Well, yes, namesake, but at least if you’re invading via London you can gain control of the broadcast media and have a nice dramatic scene where you kill the Prime Minister. Somehow, killing the leader of the council doesn’t have the same effect (even if it does give Ianto a nice line).

    It looks like they’ve spent some time on the characters and improved the dialogue — Tosh and Ianto actually do have characters this time around — but the plots are still a bit rubbish.

  • With my Welsh politics hat on, I would point out that they could at least aim for the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, rather than the leader of Cardiff Council. Not sure how much Wales – or Cardiff – would be incapacitated by such a move, though. Or even by a take over of S4C, HTV and BBC Wales.

  • Matt M

    I assumed that the murders and explosions were just designed to cause chaos and give them time to get their hands on the nukes.
    At the time I also thought that they planned to use the nukes around the world. But having given it some thought (always risky with Torchwood) I’m not sure how one bloke would manage that – so they’d just have to be content with blowing up Cardiff*. Maybe the debris and radiation thrown up would be sufficient to destabilise the world enough for an invasion fleet?
    (*Maybe the advanced force used the rift as a short-cut, while the big guns made their own way to Earth?)
    The plot just about hangs together if you want it to.

  • “The plot just about hangs together if you want it to.”
    In best pantomime voice: Oh no it doesn’t!
    Why did the advance force stay by the rift? Cos they were sleepers? Reminds me of that Stargate episode where O’Neill and Carter end up going through the wrong Stargate, end up in an icy wasteland, almost die, assuming they’ve landed on some inhospitable ice planet then discover they’ve been in Antarctica the whole time.
    If the aliens had enough intel to implant such detailed memories in their sleepers, they would know Cardiff wasn’t really the best place to get more detailed intel on the rest of the planet or even the UK. Although what intel the aliens would actually need, given they already know more than Torchwood before they start, I’m not sure.
    We just have to accept there are big holes in the plot. C’est la vie and it was still reasonably enjoyable.
    Right, I’m off to destroy the world by infiltrating Peckham now…

  • Peckham Library is, in fact, a Secret Volcano Base.

  • Is it extinct? It’s very important for secret volcano bases to be extinct or else you get into all kinds of trouble.

  • Actually, a volcanic eruption in Peckham would probably count as gentrification.

    Of course it’s extinct. What sort of idiot planning department would approve a library in an active volcano?

    Oh yeah. South London.

  • If they’d build on a flood plain, they’d build on a dormant volcano. Probably because it had room for car parking spaces.

  • Matt M

    “Why did the advance force stay by the rift?”
    Hmmm, good point.
    Although it’s possible that we only saw the Cardiff detachment of sleeper agents – left there to keep an eye on the rift and Torchwood while others headed off to more important locations.
    I’m more concerned about the fact that they saw Torchwood as enough of a threat to keep tabs on them.

  • espedair

    *Gets geek hat*
    Maybe the bombs where to open the rift ready for the invasion?
    *Removes geek hat*
    That’s the kind of half-arsed logic Torchwood usually uses!

  • espedair

    *Gets geek hat*
    Maybe the bombs where to open the rift ready for the invasion?
    *Removes geek hat*
    That’s the kind of half-arsed logic Torchwood usually uses!

  • MediumRob

    I guess nuking an area into dust before you enter it is one strategy. Maybe they’re in league with the Dominators (cf Patrick Troughton Doctor Who) who had those radiation vacuum cleaners. I say, best crossover monster for Torchwood has to be the Quarks.

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