In the UK: Wednesday 16th January, BBC2, 9pm
In the US: Saturday 26th January, BBC America, 9pm ET/PT
There is a movement that suggests that Murray Gold, erstwhile rubbish composer of the incidental music for Doctor Who, did his best work with the Torchwood theme: it’s spooky, dynamic and mercifully brief. I’m not going to argue with that.
However, it became abundantly clear during series one of the Doctor Who spin-off that is was massively inappropriate. In fact, to my mind, there is an existing tune that matched up completely with the tone and feel of most of that series: the classic football chant, “You’re sh*t and you know you are”, which also has the good fortune to be sung to the Village People’s “Go West”.
Which was a shame really, since the opening episode of the first series was quite promising, as were some of the later episodes by people who weren’t called Chris Chibnall.
Series two started last night. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang*, written by show-runner – oh no, surely not – Chris Chibnall, was quite a revelation. It turns out that a man formerly associated with awful plots, terrifyingly bad dialogue and characterisation that makes you wonder if he’s only ever spoken with online chatbots before now is actually capable of writing something halfway decent and that doesn’t make you feel like your eyeballs and eardrums are being sandpapered. Will wonders never cease?
Captain Jack returns, as the Torchwood team reunite to fight a rogue Time Agent. The mysterious Captain John Hart is determined to wreak havoc, and needs to find something hidden on Earth. But with Gwen’s life in danger, and cluster bombs scattered across the city, whose side is Jack on?
Is it any good?
On the whole, a very strong opening for the show. Watching it, you’ll feel more inclined to believe the excuse trotted out for series one that the time constraints placed on the show by the Beeb made it impossible to produce anything good.
Certainly, there were a fair few moments when the old Torchwood we came to know and hate last year reared its ugly head:
- The blowfish idea was probably quite funny on paper but in practice was about as amusing as having a molar extracted
- The constant movie references (John Woo, etc) stand out like scar tissue from a back-street plastic surgeon’s botch job and aren’t very good
- There are age-old clichés littering the place, like the woman who weighs about 50 pounds and telegraphs her punches hitting someone who knows how to maewashi geri and tomoe nage with the best of them and yet gets greeted with praise rather than “blimey, that was a lucky shot. Better not try that on him when he’s looking”
- The constant “Jack must keep his dark secrets to himself” refrain is utterly stupid since we know most of them already and he’s a gabby old git back on Who
- Any attempt to do exciting car chases in 30mph zones in Cardiff while driving a massively top heavy Range Rover must, as a matter of principle, be mocked mercilessly and
- The Torchwood team are still a little bit on the complete pants side.
But there’s a knowing humour, with Torchwood pseudo-secrecy and pretension revealed as sources of derision for Cardiff denizens and anyone who comes to meet them. The characters are starting to become people at last and not ones you’d gladly twat around the head given half a chance, but somewhat likeable. Except for Tosh whose virginity seems to keep re-healing. Captain Jack is almost his old Whoey self again, and may the Lord make us truly thankful. Torchwood aren’t so massively incompetent any more that you’d rather pay them to stay away from trying to save the planet than go anywhere near something dangerous. There’s no massive amounts of ridiculous swearing at every given opportunity, just to show how adult everything is (probably because it would be harder to edit for the kiddie version). And the fight scene was pretty good.
It’s just a whole lot better and entertaining.
Guest star James Marsters stole the show, of course, even when sharing screen time with the other scene stealer John Barrowman. It might get boring after a while, but if he could be the villain every week, that would be just super.
The trailer at the end of the first episode wasn’t quite so promising, so I’m not sure if, once the pressure’s back on, the Torchwood writers will return to their old ways over the coming weeks. But fingers-crossed, we could have the show we were all hoping for when it was first announced.
* Yet another accursed Chibnall movie reference – he just can’t help himself. Does he even know whether he’s referencing a Val Kilmer movie or James Bond movies with it?