I entered a blind sweat in the first five minutes of Torchwood this week. There were well-drawn characters having conversations that made sense (Tosh and Captain Jack having a chat in the burgled house) and away from the team formation that most of these things have to go through. And then there were unexplained plot elements to pique interest that didn’t appear to be plot holes (cricket bats in the bedroom; Torchwood attending a random burglary).
This week Torchwood cracked the difficult nut of how to deal with suicide bombers (next week: what is the meaning of life?). A woman discovers herself in the headquarters of the Fifth Emergency Service, unable to remember how burglars died. Soon enough she’s wrestling with her inner sleeper agent, part of a cell who are waking up in unwitting humans to try and destroy the world.
So far, so blah – until we hit the opening interrogation of the lead suspect that suddenly turns Torchwood into a death squad-style judge, jury and executioner. Now Torchwood was always intended to be an off-the-map secret service combating aliens (which is why they drive around in miniature tanks with their name scrawled down the side). But when did they start to act on the public like jack-booted thugs, with no scripted questioning of what they’re doing? The sleeper agent who has no idea what is going on is told to cooperate and not make things difficult. Come on, worker bee! Just comply with the unblinking face of authority and you’ll soon be set free. Possibly. It’s really not up to you, prole.
So Torchwood likes to deal with grown-up themes. What are we learning from this? Torture is okay when executed by attractive people? You can treat those suspected as demi-humans however you so please? ‘Extreme measures’ are fully justified when faced with what may as well have a sign around its neck saying ‘unparalleled threat’? It might as well advertise the BBC Action Line at the end to provide advice on how to surrender your civil liberties.
Still, once we’ve humanised the main enemy character a bit, we can forget all about torturing and win them over with emotion of some guff. Oh, but shoot them anyway. Because it’s Torchwood, and this counts as tortured ethics of some form or another, making ‘hard choices’. Really, the scriptwriters could freelance penning scripts for neo-cons, the way some of this nonsense spins out.
Plus, sleeper agent invasion force was done by Battlestar redux, and obviously done significantly better without the Casualty-esque characterisation. Although one small – and I’m talking small small – credit is due for letting a character get frozen in chamber 007, a number normally avoided for purposes of national security.
So how do you overcome an unstoppable alien force without using more than Jack’s allotted one death per episode? That’s where Torchwood’s ability to have more technological solutions thant the Bat Utility Belt comes in handy. This is largely thanks to Three-Button Toshiko, a woman who can solve any problem anywhere with a two-screen computer and a penetrating gaze. Need a military computer network hacked? Transceiver disabled with an EM pulse (you really would think that at least one advanced alien civilisation would have discovered how to make their technology resistant to EM pulses by now, wouldn’t you?) Then Toshiko is your one-stop shop for plot resolution.
Just to complete my list of groaning, I watched this online and accidentally shut the browser half an hour in. I’ve had to watch this episode one and a half times. That is not good maths. There is some good maths news: the special effects look really quite alright when watched on a six-inch window. Still, the good maths doesn’t outweigh the bad maths (a positive and a negative makes an etc etc).
The ending looks set up to resurrect the sleeper cells, which doesn’t necessarily have to serve as a bad thing – there was potential for them to be quite alright, and suicide cases naturally lend themselves to fast cast rotation. But next time, amputating the attempt to fit both torture and the questioning of self-control by suicide bombers into a 50-minute programme would be welcome.
Read the Torchwood episode 1 series 2 review here.