The accusation that Torchwood is essentially Scooby Doo with more blood (and other bodily fluids) has been levelled against it regularly since it began, but I don’t think I ever really got it until this week’s episode. Maybe it was the cartoon villain. Perhaps it was the Acme way of capturing them on film to destroy them. It could have been because it was a Ianto episode, who is near-enough 2D as it is.
Still, From Out of the Rain was quite a nice rambling diversion – a sci-fi Countryfile, if you will – the entire plot of which could have been derived from the trailer for it. It followed some old circus folk who were living in reels of cinema film (actually, it was never explained how they got in there), who then escape and start stealing people’s life force to force people to watch their show. Jeremy Clarkson does something similar.
Like all things on film from the turn of the century, the circus folk were terrifying. No great kudos for the programme there – BBC Two could have screened Le Voyage de la Lune and made the nation collectively cack their pants. The ringmaster and Pearl, though, were a wonderfully creepy couple, full of Edwardian sleaze (something I didn’t even know could be done) and an effective menace. Although was I the only one left wondering what precisely Pearl’s circus talent was, besides standing near water and wafting her arms about? Still, that aside, good work on the menace front.
But that menace comes at a price in Torchwood, making it a typically front-heavy programme. There’s always that moment 40 minutes into an episode that you start wondering whether it’s supposed to be a double ep, because there’s so much stuff still to cover. This was no different. We got fine detail about the circus in its hey day, as well as the reopening of the cinema. There was a fair bit of people going missing from Hope Street before we saw much of why. That meant there was only enough time for the circus folk to be harmlessly caught on film and destroyed without any risk to life or limb. Dullo.
Also, endings: having realised that they had stumbled upon one of those kind of villains who are scary but commonplace – exactly like the statues in Who’s Blink – they tagged on an identical ending of trying to beat the viewer with a stick into being afraid of their villain beyond the confines of the programme. It didn’t work, though, because the villains aren’t the same. Blink took something that is everyday and vaguely scary in a way you can’t put your figure on, and then made it terrifying by creating an exceptionally intricate episode. From Out of the Rain took something that is bloody terrifying and just served it up as such.
Similarly, talk of capturing ‘life force’ and then occasionally substituting it in conversation with waffle about your last breath will make you sound like the Gillian McKeith of metaphysics.
Still, making a convincingly creepy programme villain is an achievement in itself. Here’s to more of it next week. Although seeing as it’s a Gwen episode, that’s probably creepy enough as it is.