Review: Torchwood 2×11 – Adrift

Bad old reliable old Chris Chibnall


There are two things you can rely on in life:

  1. The BBC messing around with its schedules. Gits. As Stu_N points out elsewhere, it looks like they’re clearing the decks for an April 5th start to series four of Doctor Who, so that means accelerating the broadcast of Torchwood. So BBC3’s showing episode 12 tonight and the finale’s next Friday, with a similar BBC2 schedule, which screws up my carefully planned out schedule. So screw it, I’ll review them as they come out on BBC3. There’s always the iPlayer if you haven’t got Freeview.
  2. Chris Chibnall. Occasionally, he might produce something that’s acceptable, providing he sticks within his limits. But when he tries to show range (why, Chris? You’re off to do Law and Order: London. You’re going to be doing the same script, every episode, for the next 15 years, if you’re lucky), he produces something absurdly bad, like Adrift.

When a local teenager disappears Gwen is drawn into an investigation that reveals a darker side of Torchwood. Hundreds of people have disappeared without trace, but why is Jack obstructing attempts to find them? The answer seems to lie in the rift. Literally. And as Gwen follows the trail, she makes a shocking discovery.

Was it any good?
Ooh, so bad. So very, very bad. 

Old Chibnall is very much an "insert tab A in slot B" kind of writer. I imagine that although he’s never met another human being – or at least never observed any interact – he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of every movie plot and interaction every depicted in every B- and direct-to-DVD movie ever written. He then uses that to knowledge to create scripts by assembling the pieces together to simulate those human beings he’s heard so much about.

So you take the simple premise that things are being taken through the rift as well as coming through. Fair enough. We’ve already seen that Gwen and co think that’s possible in Chibnall’s own Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. Then we pretend that they didn’t think that at all, for no good reason other than the script requires it. Then we need drama, so we need a cover-up, even though there’s no real reason for it and the episode would be over after a couple of minutes if there weren’t.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Gwen goes investigating, but can’t tell PC Andy (hooray! It’s PC Andy!) what’s going on – because the plot demands it, of course, even though Gwen has no problem telling everyone else. PC Andy, of course, since standard character and plot interaction #67 in the Chibnallpaedia requires it, has feelings for Gwen, it turns out. He also, since he’s dumb (#87) and doesn’t suspect Gwen will betray him by sending him off on an errand (#93), is incapable of hiring a boat for himself – in Cardiff Bay of all places – and investigating on his own. BTW, Gwen – how long have you lived in Cardiff and not realised that you need to wrap up warm if you go on a boat in the middle of Winter?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Then, it turns out, that Jack has set up a secret facility for looking after people who have come back through the rift. So why the cover-up? That’s quite nice of him. Is it because he’s using the ill-gotten gains of terrorism and DVD piracy to fund it? Is it because it wouldn’t pass an NHS quality inspection since he stupidly put it in a dungeon? Or is it because the plot demands it?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Gwen then finds the missing boy she’s been looking for, except he’s all grown up now thanks to the rift. And he screams 20 hours a day, which is apparently a really, really upsetting and emotive thing, rather than dull and annoying after 10 seconds. But 20 hours a day, in one burst? Doesn’t he need to breathe in any more? You try screaming for five minutes and see if you pass out or not. Of course, we all know that the Torchwood writers don’t really understand this ‘breathing’ thing. And would we like to find the exact page in the DSM, Chris, for the condition with symptoms fitting: perfectly lucid for four hours, screams for 20 hours, doesn’t need to sleep the rest of the time? Don’t think there is one. Or are we just going with "He’s a mentalist. Who understands mentalists? Let’s stick ’em in a dungeon. That’s good enough"?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Then, Ness from Gavin and Stacey – aka mum of missing boy – realises she’d rather not have known her son was still alive and like this. If ever there was a moment for retconning, it was now. But Gwen chooses not to, even though it would be a mercy and erase her memory of aliens, Torchwood, etc.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

All the way through the relentlessly dumb plot, we have the standard Chibnall movie references (eg Beautiful Mind/anything else with someone studying lots of pictures on wall while the camera zooms round them), the standard ‘revelations’ (hands up anyone who wasn’t expecting hundreds to turn up at the missing persons meeting? Welcome from the island, my friends, let me demonstrate this new ‘television’ thing to you then), the standard requirements of people being moved into place and doing things because the plot structure now requires them to, not because they actually would (everyone refusing to believe Gwen as though they’ve never heard anything so outlandish; the Gwen-Rhys arguments; and so on). It’s all so tedious. 

Only the occasional glimmer of Chibnall OTT-ness (Gwen bursting in on Ianto and Jack) suggested some possible fun and originality, although I did like Jack demanding that Gwen actually come up with an idea about what to do with her discovery other than whinge. While simultaneously complaining to Rhys about being overworked, she suddenly decides to branch into social services? Prioritise, love. Delegate. No wonder you never passed your sergeant’s exam if you try to do everything yourself.

Let’s not forget everything else though: acting – rough and sub-standard, particularly among the regulars; direction – derivative and uninspiring; music – wouldn’t have been out-of-place in a 1950s US soap opera or in a big box marked "obvious melodrama". Urk.

Still, awful as it was, you can at least say one good thing about it – it wasn’t as bad as a Helen Raynor script.

Next episode (which is on tonight on BBC3): everyone’s about to die, except for Jack and Owen obviously, but their lives – and how they joined Torchwood – flash before their eyes anyway. Oh goody, it’s another Chibnallathon. 


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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