Review: Torchwood 2×10 – From Out of the Rain

Oops they did it again

 

Oh bugger. And they were doing so well. Okay, last week‘s was a bit arse, although fine as comedy. But this week’s was a bit dull really and just a touch silly. 

Which is odd, because it was a PJ Hammond script. I remember coming out of last year’s PJ Hammond episode wondering how they managed to balls up what should have been a classic and it’s happened again.

I’ve worked it out though. I know what’s wrong. 

They haven’t got Shaun O’Riordan.

Plot
When an old cinema re-opens, past horrors emerge to stalk the streets of Cardiff. And as bodies are found, somewhere between life and death, Torchwood must act fast. Who are the Night Travellers? And how can Torchwood capture these mysterious killers?

Was it any good?
Well, if you’re at all familiar with PJ Hammond’s work on Ace of Wands and Sapphire and Steel*, you’ll have recognised some of his trademarks:

  • creepy arsed street performers (Ace of WandsThe Meddlers, Sapphire and SteelAssignment Six)
  • creepy things that can come out of old pictures (Sapphire and SteelAssignment Four)
  • fear of old things that will ‘break through’ and kill you (all of Sapphire and Steel) and
  • innocuous everyday objects that will come alive and try to kill you (Ace of WandsThe Beautiful People, all of Sapphire and Steel).

On top of that, there’s the generally scary concepts that old PJ just throws out: having a villain called The Ghostmaker, having a room full of ghosts, the mermaid woman drinking and bathing from puddles, creepy things that can choose to insert themselves into your film collection and then beckon to you from within (although that’s a touch Ringu, isn’t it?) and so on.

In fact, if you closed your eyes and listened to instead of watched From Out of the Ring – or better still, read the script – I’m betting it would creep you out, purely through the writing.

But as Torchwood script editor and ex-Big Finish supremo, Gary Russell, will probably recall, when Big Finish were first attempting to start up their range of Sapphire and Steel audio plays, old PJ turned down the opportunity to write new ones because he thought the show essentially a visual one. He very much had a point as anyone who’s listened to the plays will note.

Watch Sapphire and Steel with this in mind and you realise just how important the direction and the visuals were – and they were down very much to the highly talented Shaun O’Riordan.

Unfortunately, Shaun O’Riordan’s retired and so far, no one of equal talent has been assigned to PJ Hammond’s stories to create the creepiness his words demand. While there were a few instances in the episode where there should have been some truly creepy moments, they always seemed to be pale imitations of Shaun O’Riordan’s work: a room full of ghosts where you never see their faces? What’s going on there?

So a bit disappointing – the music didn’t help either, another overlooked asset of Sapphire and Steel.

Still, it’s not like it was complete rubbish and there were a few interesting points, such as Jack’s early recruitment for Torchwood and life in a travelling circus. But I can’t help but wonder why, every year, they mess up PJ Hammond’s scripts – and leave me disappointed to boot.

* If you’re not, why not? What’s the matter with you? Get those box sets now!

 


Sapphire And Steel

Ace Of Wands

  • There might have been a problem with the directing, but the biggest problem was the terrible, terrible dialogue which sounded like nothing any real person would ever say, the Magic Exposition Nurse, the Convenient Old Lady, the dialogue, the pat ‘We saved the boy and everything’s going to be alright now and we’re happy but oh aren’t all his family dead?, the dialogue, the completely nonsensical resolution with the camera which might have worked for Steel but certainly doesn’t work for Jack, the dialogue, and did I mention the dialogue?
    It felt like Hammond just blew the dust off a half-completed first draft S&S script, wrote ‘Ianto’ where it had said ‘Sapphire’ and ‘Jack’ where it had said ‘Steel’, and handed it over to the production team, who didn’t even bother to check whether he’d finished it. It was dreadful.

  • There might have been a problem with the directing, but the biggest problem was the terrible, terrible dialogue which sounded like nothing any real person would ever say, the Magic Exposition Nurse, the Convenient Old Lady, the dialogue, the pat ‘We saved the boy and everything’s going to be alright now and we’re happy but oh aren’t all his family dead?, the dialogue, the completely nonsensical resolution with the camera which might have worked for Steel but certainly doesn’t work for Jack, the dialogue, and did I mention the dialogue?
    It felt like Hammond just blew the dust off a half-completed first draft S&S script, wrote ‘Ianto’ where it had said ‘Sapphire’ and ‘Jack’ where it had said ‘Steel’, and handed it over to the production team, who didn’t even bother to check whether he’d finished it. It was dreadful.

  • “The dialogue, the completely nonsensical resolution with the camera which might have worked for Steel but certainly doesn’t work for Jack, the dialogue”
    I was going to mention the conclusion, but it felt like repetition of my “fantasy and sci-fi don’t mix in the same programme” riff during our science in science fiction discussion of a while ago. PJ writes fantasy. He doesn’t do sci-fi. If you watch the Torchwood Declassified programmes and read the interviews, you’ll have spotted that he calls Torchwood fantasy. And in fantasy, you can do magic. You can have fairies. You can have people come out of film and control the real world from within film. In sci-fi, you just can’t. The camera capture thing works perfectly well in fantasy; in sci-fi, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
    So the question is, can the audience cope when a show shifts genre from sci-fi to fantasy then back again? No, I think, as we’ve just demonstrated. People need rules for their imaginary non-real universes, and they don’t like it when the rules they think they have appear to change. But then, we need to turn brains off to cope with the science in Torchwood’s sci-fi, too.
    As for the dialogue, it’s not supposed to be real person dialogue (not that Torchwood is especially well known for real person dialogue). It’s fantasy dialogue. Trouble is, it’s fantasy dialogue of 30 years ago and time has moved on, you’re right. But I’m willing to forgive it.
    And the ending? Well, everyone’s dead. The boy’s family is dead. And the travelling people still exist on film somewhere. So it’s not really that pat, even though it seems like it. Quite nasty and un-Torchwood really.

  • The dialogue would have been fine in S&S, because they weren’t human and didn’t act or talk like they were. That was one of the things that made it all so eerie. But the Torchwood team are human — increasingly so in this series — and not fixing the dialogue to reflect that, because ‘he’s PJ Hammond and he wrote Sapphire & Steel, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy’, isn’t on, really.
    And if there had been any acknowledgment that the boy would be screwed up for life (it’s the sort of thing you’d expect Gwen, Tosh or Ianto to say), it would have been OK. But nobody seemed to care. S&S wouldn’t have cared, but Peter, you aren’t writing Sapphire & Steel.

  • The assumption, of course, being that the production team, including Gary Russell, Chris Chibnall, the director, et al, did in fact film the original script as is with no alterations for feasibility, budget, etc and that the director or editor didn’t cut a scene for time, pacing, etc.
    I agree that those elements should have been in there, but blaming the writer for not writing a script exactly according to the current series map isn’t really on, when that’s someone else’s job. RTD is quite proud of the fact there’s no series bible, for example.

  • That is what I was getting at. I get the feeling that Hammond is given a pass by the production team out of respect for his record, but that script needed a good going-over just to make the characters sound right. You could get away with Hammond’s fantasy tropes if there’s a line dropped in about how lost all these scientists are when Something Else comes into play. Otherwise they’ve just changed the rules of the show with a shuddering crash, and if the writer isn’t going to address it, then the production team should.

  • Still, nice to see Julian Bleach. I understand we’ll be seeing him again, around the middle of June.

  • Ooh, I think we’ve just about agreed. All we need to do is come up with a scapegoat – I propose… Chris Chibnall. Any objections?
    “Nice to see Julian Bleach. I understand we’ll be seeing him again, around the middle of June.”
    I hear that, too.

  • “And the ending? Well, everyone’s dead. The boy’s family is dead.”
    I though that! I was meant to put it in my TVScoop review but forgot. Horrific ending aside, it was just all so bland, so obvious and so familiar.

  • kaballa

    Dunno if you are an Amazon affiliate but Zavvi currently have S&S boxset for £32.99, which is 15 quid cheaper than Amazon.

  • MediumRob

    Ooh, cool. Never heard of Zavvi before and as far as I know, they don’t have a plug-in for Movable Type which makes these piccies and links very easy to do for me. And I’m fundamentally lazy.
    Plus if I can make a few tiny pennies back from Amazon towards the monthly expenditure for hosting this blog ($10.95 per month plus $10 extra this month to cover the cost of a sudden descent of Sean Maguire fans, sucking me – and my bandwith limit – dry), I don’t think anyone should begrudge me that, particularly if they end up watching some fine TV or films as a result of my recommendations.

  • MediumRob

    I must be inured to PJ Hammonds’ typical mass murder of the innocents not to have found that worthy of remark. I remember being more surprised he let the child live, but then I realised that was actually nastier: now he has to live without his family. Good old PJ.
    Still, maybe I was a little lenient on him – not one of his best scripts, I must admit. But, horrific ending, a few good new concepts (The Ghostmaker – what a name! – and the mermaid lady) and the chance to liberate Torchwood from its sci-fi chains are all good in my book.
    Incidentally, watching the remarkably bad “Adrift” on my iPod, the point about the lack of comment on the poor kid’s fate is now less valid since everyone’s portrayed as having hardened up in that episode. Maybe they wouldn’t mention it, since they’ve got used to everyone dying now.

  • Maybe I’m thick, but one point that could have been cleared up earlier was the fact that the projectionist was the son of the Electro’s owners. I never caught that, but I’m thinking back now it may have come up during “Where is he with the film?” dialogue at the beginning.
    I would have expected the old lady to be the same young woman who appeared at the beginning of the episode when the travelling show disappeared with her sister? daughter? (Shades of “Chinatown”!) But the old lady’s story invalidated that idea.
    The episode seemed to be a mash-up of “Purple Rose Of Cairo” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, and was enjoyable so long as I didn’t start thinking about the points you all brought up. Ha!
    And I’m one who has no problem with the idea of Torchwood dealing with fantasy as well as sci-fi, so that didn’t bother me at all.
    Still it was a creepy idea that could have been more effective if everything had been fully thought out and dealt with in editing the script….

  • Isn’t Zavvi basically Virgin as was?

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