Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Torchwood Reclassified

When you watch a show like Doctor Who or Torchwood, it feels very slick. Like a big-budget, American-style, cinematic job. It's a far cry from the old Red Dwarf II era, when the BBC would shy away from sci-fi because it was invariably both very cheap-looking and very expensive. (Ask Ben why they don't do it now.)

The BBC, of course, still don't have huge amounts of money to spend on these shows. That's why we have Brainbox Challenge. The reason these shows look so good is the huge amount of effort that goes into making them as good as they can be without spending a year and twenty million pounds on each one. And you don't really appreciate that until you watch the little documentaries they show afterwards. You get to see even little scenes you barely noticed in great detail, and even those have been painstakingly crafted by people who actually care about the show.

(A few weeks ago on one of these little documentaries, after Owen was shot in Torchwood, Russell T Davies said he'd had to be shot because it was important that the audience realise that "almost any of their heroes can die at almost any moment". This amused me, because of course Jack can't die at any moment, but now it's starting to annoy me, because months later Owen is still here, and in fact has been in it more since being killed than he was before, and this week was even strolling up and down not breathing saying, "these people should be dead. This is impossible," with no trace of irony.)

And so when I see all this effort poured into making a programme look and feel and sound as real and as gripping, as immersive and as good as it possibly possibly can, it just makes me sad that all that effort was wasted -- all because the plot of this week's Torchwood was such unadulterated crap.

For those that missed it (and I use the term "missed" generously), I shall summarise.
  • The monster was a Creepy Travelling Circus Ringleader Guy and his friend, Pearl The Strange Sideshow Woman Who Needs A Lot Of Water For No Stated Reason.
  • These two were trapped on a reel of film (somehow) and escaped (somehow) after sneaking it into a projector (somehow) and now they're running around Cardiff "stealing people's last breaths" (somehow and whatever that means) and sealing them in a silver flask (somehow). It is never explained what they are, where they came from or how they ended up trapped on videotape, much like those tiny green flies in The X-Files only infinitely less plausible.
  • Their victims go into coma-like states. If their breath is returned they recover; if it is lost, they die.
  • Eventually, Jack kills them by videotaping them, thus trapping them again (since obviously that is what would happen), and leaving the tape in his car until they turned into Freddie Mercury (or was that something else?). When Jack announces this plan, Ianto turns to him as if he's just said something really profound and says, in a state of total awe, "a film of a film..." as if someone who films a film has anything more deeply impressive than two films. That said, this would explain why the people at the cinema are so keen that I don't video the movies, and in any case it was nice to hear Ianto say something for a change. I was beginning to suspect he was just a particularly well-dressed extra. When (if) they finally do get rid of Owen properly, they won't need to draft in a new character -- just let Ianto speak sometimes.
I mean, come on. Torchwood is sci-fi. Everyone knows that. Look at Wikipedia:

Torchwood is a British science fiction drama television programme, created by Russell T Davies and stars John Barrowman and Eve Myles. [See, they don't think Ianto is a real character either.]

So why doesn't Peter J Hammond know that? He clearly wrote a fantasy episode -- and bad fantasy at that. I mean, the plot made no sense, and I object to that because when the setup and the crisis make no sense, there's no reason for the resolution to make any sense, and when the resolution isn't obliged to make any sense, there's no tension because I've no real sense that anyone's in any danger (least of all Jack or Owen), because they could easily be saved at any moment by even the most preposterous Deus Ex Machina, and so no situation is even close to the level of apparent hopelessness you need to build up to make the audience fear the worst. And not only that -- not only could Hammond have picked almost any random combination of words and pictures, bolted it onto the episode and called it a resolution -- but the resolution he eventually chose was both totally predictable and stupid.

Seriously, Torchwood. This won't do. Where's Steven Moffat when you need him? Well, let's check Wikipedia again, shall we?

Steven Moffat (born 1961 in Paisley, Scotland) is a British comedy/drama writer who has contributed to television series since the late 1980s. He is married to Sue Vertue, a television producer.

His best known works include Press Gang, Coupling and some episodes of the revival of Doctor Who. He is currently scripting a trilogy of Tintin films for directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Er... okay then. (I was skeptical when I heard about Jekyll and can only assume he enjoys a challenge.)

But you know what? We don't need him. We just need someone who writes better plots than "an unspecified monster breaks out of a video and kills people in a needlessly impossible way until someone points a camera at him." (CCTV apparently doesn't count.) I could do that. You know what? I'll do it for free. Seriously. Me, Euan and Ben can each write an episode of Torchwood or Doctor Who, and the BBC can pick the ones they like, and if they like none of them, sod it; they've only lost a couple of hours' reading -- and they have a whole department just for that anyway. They get free scripts that are doubtless better than From The Rain, Last Of The Time Lords and Love And Monsters (because they'll make sense), and I get to impress slightly-geeky girls with my shiny new Doctor Who writing credit. Everybody wins, except perhaps the bad writers, and even they will at least have something decent to watch on TV as they sit at home all day without a job.

I mean, really it seems almost petty to rant at Torchwood for one bad episode (even if it was a really bad episode) when there are entire series that don't even get that good at their absolute peaks, but the point is that I can simply choose not to watch those series, whereas a bad episode of a good series not only wastes 45 minutes of my life, but it does so when I thought I would be watching something good. That's not fair.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Worried About Ray (Mears)

I was watching Dave this morning (the channel, not my neighbour), and among all the Top Gear repeats was one of Ray Mear's survival programs. In this enthralling episode, he was describing how a tribe in Africa pull out a type of poisonous vegetable, drain out all the cyanide and then eat it. He then had a taste. Then, he described how the fry larvae and consume them. He also had a little nibble. Num num num.

Something then concerned me. They didn't show any of the tribe eating these snacks. What if Ray Mears wasn't watching them prepare food, but watching them prepare wallpaper paste? And what would happen if they weren't frying the bugs to eat them, but frying them to sort out the bug infestation in their village? How annoyed would you be if you were trying to sort out an infestation problem in your house, and some hairy guy walked in and started eating the flies off the flypaper? I'd be very annoyed. Well, not annoyed. Concerned.