In previous posts on this thread, we may have given the impression that what had once been seemingly beyond salvaging had become a potentially interesting show. Titles such as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Torchwood“, “Martha Makes Everything Better”, and “I May Not Like The Taste Of Humble Pie But I’ll Happily Eat It” may have given the impression that what once had been the canker sore on the lip of British TV drama had become a soilbed from which challenging and intelligent sci-fi might one day spring.
We now realise that those flawed but interesting moments were an aberration, not a newly established status quo, and the usual standards of the show would be restored as soon as an opening was found. Future post titles such as “If In Doubt, Having A Character Wave A Gun About Will Fill A Minute Of Screentime”, “Dear God, Will Someone Inject Some Dignity Into This Debacle?”, and “Does Anyone On This Show Understand The Concept Of Plagiarism?” will hopefully restore normality to this blog. Thank you for your patience. (Again, apologies to Private Eye.)
I’m in two minds about this. It was great seeing the show stretch a little during the Martha Trilogy, but it wasn’t really enough for it to become “appointment TV” (oh how I hate that phrase), so I felt like the TV village idiot had been rehabilitated Flowers-For-Algernon-style, and I had no one to laugh at and throw rocks at anymore (though we do intend to start watching CSI: Miami again pretty soon). Last week’s “terrestrial” episode, Something Borrowed, was a return to previous shoddy form, giving Meat a run for its money, and brazenly referring to its own unoriginality in its title. Well, I reckon Something Stolen and Ineptly Rehashed would be closer to the mark, but you get my point.
Any seriousness of purpose the show might have built up over the patchy but promising Martha Trilogy was stripped away, replaced with knuckle-chewingly inane comedy, staggering contrivance, a total dismissal of all logic, replacement of human motivation with plot-furthering stupidity, poorly executed Evil Dead homages, and inept action moments. I can’t decide which is worse: Meat, this, or the season opener with James Marsters and his big fat paycheck.
What was so poor about it? Perhaps it was because it was a Gwen-centric episode. I’m really not crazy about the character at all, and couldn’t give two shits for her relationship with Jack. I also find it odd that she is suddenly cast as the comedy relief in the show, being sidelined almost entirely during the ostensibly more dramatic episodes of the Martha Trilogy. Maybe it’s a temporary thing, or just because this was the comedy episode of the season, but her line-readings and gestures were very very peculiar in this, as broad as you can possibly imagine.
Comedy episodes of most dramatic shows are to be avoided, unless of course the show has a strong comedic element already (Buffy, Angel, and Firefly did this better than most). Even a very dramatic show can pull it off. Lost did it with Expose and, arguably, Tricia Tanaka Is Dead, despite the oft-humourless tone of the show. By comparison, Torchwood is obviously under the impression that it’s already very funny, but the odd comedic line is either childish, obvious, or poorly delivered, and sometimes all three at once, so imagine the pain caused by an episode that concentrates solely on this kind of broad silliness. I know appreciation of what is funny or not is subjective, but how anyone could find this ineptly staged juvenile nonsense a joy to watch is a mystery to me.
So, in a effort to ensure that the overall internet opinion about this show doesn’t skew exclusively towards the positive, I present The Ten Worst Things About Something Borrowed, by Admiral Neck, aged 5 1/4.
10. The Pointless Editing In The First Scene.
After flashing back to Jack’s bizarre reaction to Gwen’s engagement from the season opener, we cut to a depressing Cardiff nightclub and two depressingly loud and obnoxious women in cowboy hats greeting Gwen with a depressing song about her having anal sex. Yay, hen nights! Is there anything more entertaining than drunk women talking about sex at the top of their lungs and then cackling? Still, I bet there’s a stripper.
This then cuts to Gwen chasing a shapeshifting alien, which is exciting! And then back to the hen night, where a stripper arrives! And then back to the exciting chase! And then back to the hen night! And then… You get the picture.
Firstly, as Rhys points out later, Jack’s an asshole for sending her out to kill aliens on the night before her wedding. Second, Gwen has friends? When did this happen? Third, while chasing the alien she gets bitten by it, which is the inciting incident. (I can imagine it was referred to as that during script meetings.) This fact is subtly revealed when one of Gwen’s gobby friends asks her what the time is, and Gwen suddenly unveils the biggest pre-wedding bandage you’ve ever seen.
Look at the size of those space gnashers! Jack shows up to save Gwen (so he was obviously available for alien hunting, which once more begs the question as to why Gwen was getting into danger), and his reaction to this enormous wound is, “Owen should take a look at that.” You think?
He obviously doesn’t check it very closely, as she ends up getting pregnant from it. Stupid dead doctor. Anyway, though there are several things about this dire opening that annoyed me, it’s the editing that irked me the most. Is it a suspense scene? No, because we keep seeing Gwen alive and relatively healthy during that scene. Is the storytelling device useful for teasing us with hints about Gwen’s night and then paying it off with reveals? No, because we don’t have to wait very long to find out. Is it used to generate the funny? Next question. Is it just another way of showing the contrast between Gwen’s social life, which is the same as most lairy boozed-up people of her age, and her secret life chasing aliens and getting knocked up by them. Almost certainly, but we spent the entire first season doing this, and getting Rhys involved in Torchwood’s affairs should have drawn a veil over that (geddit?). Instead, we’re still banging away at that point. When I realised the show was slipping back into its bad habits I started to hear warning bells about the loss of momentum from the Martha Trilogy. Time elapsed: 3 minutes 15 seconds.
9. Alien Impregnation? Really?
For an start, it’s a cliched idea. Even a show I loved, Angel, featured Cordelia getting knocked up twice by demons (okay, so the second time was a way to get around her real-life pregnancy, and it did bring about the excellent season four arc with Jasmine, but still). Even the relatively tame Star Trek: The Nextest Generation had Troy get pregnantised by a glowing light; a Hallmark Card way to have a character raped.
Just on a personal level, stories about women being impregnated by aliens don’t really appeal to me much, mostly because it reduces the woman to a reproductive system that is vulnerable to invasion, and it’s icky and tasteless and kind of insulting. Admittedly it can be done well (Alien 3 handled it with the appropriate seriousness), but most often it’s done really really badly (I’m thinking Species II here; a despicable film, and poorly made to boot). I get the “appeal” of the concept, and my love of Cronenberg should give you an idea of my stance on body horror (short version; yay!), but done wrong these stories treat something very serious in an exploitative and distasteful way. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.
So imagine how I feel when it’s played for laughs. For fuck’s sake, Gwen has an alien egg in her belly! Only when the team realise childbirth involves her evisceration do they take it seriously. No amount of over-the-top pickle-chomping and high-larious wedding-day tantrum-throwing will disguise the fact that Gwen’s body has been invaded.
8. Gwen’s Desperation About Getting Married Blinding Her To The Consequences Of Such A Decision.
So, Gwen is the host for the egg of a shapeshifting alien. It’s the day of the wedding. Jack is concerned for her health, obviously, as he doesn’t know what the alien gestation is like (useless former Time Agent!), and both he and Owen strongly suggest she postpone the wedding while they figure things out. But Gwen really wants to get married anyway. So they let her.
It’s very generous of everyone to let Gwen do what she wants, and certainly it’s a tradition that the wedding day, while special for everyone, is even more special for the bride, but there’s a line to be drawn there. Right across her enormous pregnant belly. Why would anyone in the world think that this was a good idea? Jack and Owen and Rhys all know this is a bad idea, but she blunders on anyway, using yelling and weird acting tics do her arguing for her.
What’s worse is we tried to give the show the benefit of the doubt, and entertained the idea that this could be explained away as possible brainwashing by the alien in her body, that in its culture the birth demands some kind of ceremony, and it was making Gwen desire a wedding so that it could be born properly. The alternative was that Gwen is a halfwit. Sadly, she really is. She’s just a girl that wants her wedding day and won’t even postpone for a couple of days to sort out the whole possibly-deadly-egg-in-the-belly thing. Even worse, later on Tosh tells her she made the right decision, which means the guys are pragmatic about the whole impregnation thing, but the women are all about the pretty dresses and the wonder of the wedding day princess thing. Those dames sure do love a good wedding!
Seems like the writer, Phil Ford (more on him later) was aware that he was making Gwen do stupid things, as Gwen suddenly realises (after telling her parents that she is pregnant and then realising they’re excited about a grandchild that will never exist) that perhaps she is doing the wrong thing, but bringing attention to it doesn’t get rid of the fact that the episode was written to show a wedding framed within the format of Torchwood, using the alien pregnancy as a heavy-handed way to metaphorically dramatise the effect of Gwen’s wedding ceremony on our characters, and to get to that point it was necessary to remove all semblance of logical human behaviour from the show. It’s contrivance, pure and simple, and is utterly unforgivable. By now I realised the show was back to its usual dreadful state, and the scene that convinced me, featuring Gwen’s overjoyed parents and her sudden realisation that she’s made a mistake, is only eleven minutes into the episode, and the worst is yet to come.
7. Comedy Relief!
Gwen and Rhys’ friends are clumsily introduced (though I think I remember Rhys referring to Mervyn or Banana Boat in a previous episode. I should remember, as I usually hang on his every word), mostly to fill the cast out a bit, but also to provide laughs in this most amusing of comedy episodes.
All of them are lecherous jerks, which means they’ll probably be joining the Torchwood team very soon. It was all very depressing for the actors, especially Jonathan Lewis Owen, who plays Banana Boat as a cross between Prince William, a Welsh chav, and a lobotomised sex-addict.
He had to bumble through some awful dialogue, which wasn’t his fault, but I so dearly wanted him to die horribly. Sorry Jonathan Lewis Owen! I’m sure you’re a lovely chap in real life. However, he kept chatting up Tosh (of all people), and even managed to molest her while trapped inside a web of bin bags weaved by the alien. Here are the bin bags…
So, men are mindless sex-obsessed beered-up pigs, and women want to get married despite alien inpregnation, the heartbreak of their parents, and terrible danger. They will also happily damage the gonads of any man in range. And gay men?
They buy wedding dresses. I can bet the Stonewall Awards judges will be thrilled.
(Yes yes, this is all played for laughs, and if I was going to be really generous I would say it could be an un-PC spoof of the show’s usual admirably PC stance, but I think they were just going for easy gags. Let’s not go overestimating the intelligence of anyone involved in making Torchwood, okay?)
In Mad Men, Betty Draper memorably (and anvilliciously) asked a pertinent question about her husband; “Who is Don Draper?” (The answer to which is, “Don Draper is Dick Whitman!”) Well, I ask, who is Tosh? And should I care? (The answer to which is, “no”.) Early on in the episode she stalks Owen again, in an attempt to get him to attend the wedding. She keeps on that it isn’t a date, but obviously she thinks it is, what with her continual simpering and annoying passive-aggressiveness.
Oh my God! It’s like McKee says! Reveal the true character through action and not dialogue! So she’s a tough guy at heart, really. Except she’s all jittery and sentimental when she’s talking to Gwen about the wedding.
So what is Tosh? Whatever the scene needs at any given point. She’s just a cipher, and as such means nothing. That’s a criticism of Tosh and the lack of show bible that I’ve already gone on about in the past, and not a criticism of Naoki Mori. Rumour has it she’s being written out at the end of the season. Hopefully in future she’ll get a chance to bring to life a coherent character instead of this nebulous gap where a recognisable human should be.
5. What To Do With Dead Owen.
Having turned Owen into the only character other than Jack that’s not just a boring human who’s obsessed with sex, the show ran riot with the concept for two episodes (one of which was okay, the other was less so but still littered with interesting moments). Now? Well, it was a Gwen episode, so there wasn’t really anything for him to do. Other than wear badges for no apparent reason.
I can understand it. I don’t really have a problem with it, and the rumour about Tosh leaving extends to him too. A shame, as Burn Gorman has been growing on us, and we won’t get to experience his gun machismo. It’s often the episode highlight.
I really have to find a way to get his Countrycide effort on here. It was the funniest thing on TV in 2007 that didn’t include Alec Baldwin or Tracy Morgan.
4. Worst. Shapechanging Carnivorous Alien Antagonist. Ever.
Annoying enough that Cap’n Jack’s alien expertise is so incomplete that he doesn’t immediately realise the nature of the creature they’re up against despite having been alive for hundreds or dozens or however many years he’s been around, thus putting Gwen and her family in danger (yet more obnoxious contrivance). It’s up to Owen and his badges to figure out that it is a Nostrovite, which will kill Gwen to get hold of the egg.
Even worse was that the first shapeshifter they go up against is easily killed by a bullet and the second one becomes enraged with an alien babycraziness that makes it almost invincible, which is the sort of empty and contrived expositional nonsense used to justify plot developments that I often refer to as Reason X (“If we’re going to save the President’s daughter we have to disguise ourselves as nuns because [Reason X]!”). It’s like a MacGuffin, but even more contrived.
Worst of all is just how crap the alien is, convenient invulnerability notwithstanding. It’s killed one person and trapped two others in its non-biodegradable web, so does it change shape in order to ensure it will not be caught? Nope. It stands around with the same face, making no effort to find the woman carrying its child, and when confronted by human intervention in the shape of Tosh, it does this. Also, note that even though Jack and Tosh are equipped with normal guns, for some reason they sound like the old toy gun I had as a kid that had four different laser sound settings.
It then gives itself away by turning into someone at the wedding, i.e. Rhys’ mother, played by Nerys Hughes, abandoning all her dignity to run around with fake gnashers and bad fingers. It would be a good ploy, to become someone that the host of its egg knows so it can get closer to her. Sadly, it doesn’t go after Gwen, choosing instead to mingle and chat with Gwen’s mother, though Jack and co. assume it would go after Gwen. Because that makes sense. Instead, it just sets up this case of mistaken identity, which might be the worst ninety seconds of TV this year.
“Come to Mama!” That, my friends, is Nostrovite for EPIC FAIL!
3. Jack And Gwen, Sitting In A Tree…
I used a hammer on my head to try to unremember the first season of Torchwood, so I might be wrong here, but did Jack and Gwen spend as much time drooling over each other as they do in the second season?
It seems to be the emotional core of the show, this love story between the human and the immortal ::coughCordyandAngelcough::, and it’s worked in other shows, so why not here? Well, because they have no chemistry, and Jack’s got a cavalier attitude to relationships anyway which undermines his sudden sadness here, and Gwen is now happily betraying her husband while pretending to be loyal which makes her seem less like a sympathetic and tortured heroine and more like a bit of a cow, and Jack is frigging immortal and should have higher standards. For God’s sake, he was in love with the Doctor! He’s the ideal man for him, because they are equally galactic. You’re telling me Jack’s been around the cosmos and he’s getting depressed because a Suzi Quatro lookalike is getting married to this guy?
No accounting for taste, I guess. Still, that’s a failure of the series in general, but in this episode she barely acknowledges her lovepain for Jack until defending her decision to get married with an egg in her belly, where she says something along the lines of, “I’m marrying Rhys because he will have me and no one else will. No one. Right? No one at all. Eh Jack? No one at all.” Rhys is standing there the whole time and misses the coded signals and thinks she’s saying nice things about him, which proves what a dope he is. Even stupider, this entire scene, where Gwen seems to forget that speech about loving Rhys with barely any prompting, which leads to this hair-eating insanity.
Best thing I can say about it is that it gives John Barrowman his best acting opportunities, as shown by his inner turmoil here.
2. Cliche, Plagiarism, and Laziness.
I’ve already pointed out that alien impregnation has been done before, and alien shapechangers or chameleons are staples of sci-fi, so if you’re willing to be generous to the show (and I know a lot of people are), you could say it’s unfair to criticise the show for using these popular plots. Okay. I’ll grudgingly give you that. But can I please rail against the wedding sequence in the middle of the episode, where Jack, Ianto and Owen race to the wedding to save Gwen from the Nostrovite and Jack bursts in two seconds after the vicar asks if anyone has any objection to the marriage going ahead? Can I? Please? Because that shit is just unacceptable.
If only there was a Wikipedia page listing all the times that plot development has been used, though I wonder if there is enough server space in the world. Pretty much every soap wedding features this moment, as well as every crappy romantic comedy made between 1980 and 1999, at the very least. It’s like littering. Just because everyone does it every so often doesn’t make it right. (For the record, I don’t litter. Not even that one time when I hid the polybag down the side of a Tube seat. That was someone else entirely.)
Even worse than that, the show plagiarises itself! A few weeks back, in Reset, Owen has to use a nifty gadget called a Singularity Scalpel to burn away the insects infesting Martha’s body, though he is not entirely sure how to use the machine. After a couple of near misses that blow up things around him, he succeeds in destroying the lifeform without blowing out her spine. This week, because his one hand is knackered (a consequence of his continuing status as a dead person), he can’t operate the scalpel, and has to hand it over to Rhys. The set up is acceptable, and it’s a nice reference to Owen’s new shortcomings, so I have no trouble with that. What does annoy me is that this means Rhys has to go through exactly the same thing Owen did just three episodes previously, with the panic and near-misses. Does BBC Wales think we have amnesia?
Just to make things even more annoying, during the dance scene at the end, Jack cuts in on Gwen and Rhys’ dance just so he can have a moment alone with her, which is yet another convention of this kind of plot, and then Ianto shows up to cut in as well, but he doesn’t ask for Gwen’s hand. He wants to dance with his boyfriend! It’s not the most amazing moment ever, but it’s easily the episode highlight, and a pleasing twist on that cliche.
So they can do it if they try. One of the best things about Buffy and Angel is that it would set up the potentially cliched plot early on, and then subvert it at least once if not more during the episode. It amazed me that they could keep doing that on a weekly basis. If the Torchwood showrunners are going to steal anything from Mutant Enemy, why can’t they steal that philosophy? It would instantly improve the show 1000%.
2.5. Ripping Off The Evil Dead.
Connected to that complaint, another pop culture legend stolen by the show came toward the end, with Rhys preparing to attack the shapeshifter, disguised as his mother, with a chainsaw, prior to it being blown up by Jack and his big gun, leading to black blood goop flying everywhere. Sounds like The Evil Dead? Jack agrees.
It definitely seems that this episode was meant to be a homage to that hyper-real Sam Raimi style of horror comedy, as well as the big silly sci-fi B-movies I grew up with, and I’ll bet Phil Ford is a fan of such and figured this was his chance to pay homage to that with over-the-top action, sex jokes, violence and exploding bodies. Of course, that’s all well and good in practice, but 1) pointing it out in dialogue is a failure of nerve, and 2) the show might have the confidence to think it can pull something like this off, but it doesn’t have the ability.
It’s the kind of amateurish stuff teenagers dream of filming, and I know when I was young I imagined myself as a West Midlands Peter Jackson, making horror movies with lots of aliens exploding and men standing around posing with big guns, because that’s what happened in all of my favourite films. There are so many of these plagiaristic films made on shoestring budgets littering the sci-fi/horror sections of HMV’s DVD shelves that we really really don’t need any more, especially if they have nothing new to offer. This certainly didn’t. And that gun looks stupid. And even if it didn’t look stupid, no one on this show looks cool with guns.
Torchwood showrunners, watch Planet Terror to see how it’s done. I may have parted ways with Robert Rodriguez in recent years, but that was a massive return to form, and exactly the kind of crazy horror blow-out Torchwood thought it was for one whole week. The gulf in quality between the two is vast, and it’s not a consequence of the BBC show having a smaller budget. It’s the lack of imagination that dooms the show, not the lack of pounds.
1. The Retcon Finale.
At the end of the episode, much to Jack’s displeasure, Gwen finally gets to have her happy moment with Rhys, alien egg disintegrated and everything back to a semblance of normality. The families watch with joyous faces as Gwen and Rhys share their vows, and Canyon and I assumed Jack had gone around to everyone with Retcon pills and erased their memories of the terrible day. BTW, I know the Retcon pills are a dreadful ripoff of the Neuraliser from Men In Black, but boldly calling them Retcon pills made me very happy as a comic nerd, reminding me of Dan Slott’s boldly named Retroactive Cannon (AKA Ret-Can) from She-Hulk.
We then cut to everyone having the dance and meal afterwards, and everything seems hunkydory, until suddenly the assembled guests start falling asleep. Turns out Jack has administered the retcon pills after the wedding ceremony, and not before.
So what they’re saying is that once the Nostrovite was defeated and Gwen returned to non-pregnant normality, the guests just accepted this turn of events, and went about celebrating the wedding. Even though they had been terrorised by a shapechanging alien threatening to kill the mother of the bride. Even though several of the guests had been running around with guns. Even though the best man’s dismembered corpse was lying in pieces in a room upstairs!!!
To make things worse, Jack’s use of the retcon pills robs everyone of their memories of the wedding. Perhaps there is a way for them to talk to the guests and make them think they saw it, as shown in Men In Black when J and K interrogate people post-neuralisation, but still, why not do it before the ceremony so that they can still have the full memory of the wedding and forget the gunfights and shootings and aliens and half-eaten best men for fuck’s sake!?!?!? There is no reason other than monumental stupidity on the part of the writer, director and showrunner. How can this be considered logical or defensible? How is this not insulting the intelligence of the viewers? I call super-colossal-gigantic BULLSHIT on the whole thing.
The thing that makes me most angry, though, is that this was written by Phil Ford, who was pretty much solely responsible for the scripts on the recent excellent revamp of Captain Scarlet, which was the most interesting and intelligent early-teen-targeted show on TV until ITV predictably got cold feet and cancelled it. Those scripts were tight and serious and sometimes shocking. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone.
I’ll grant that this episode was obviously conceived as a way to comment on real life using the trappings of sci-fi in the same way that Buffy and Angel used horror conventions to do the same thing, and as such Something Borrowed was chock-full of metaphors for marriage-as-horror-nightmare, but they were either crashingly obvious (mother-in-law jokes), half-baked (could the shapeshifter have represented the way your friends change their opinion of you once you get into a relationship? Or am I giving the show too much credit?), or severely malfunctioning (the impregnation could have represented the second thoughts she was having about marrying Rhys because of her love for Jack, but why dramatise that as subtext when it comes up as text over and over again towards the end of the episode?). That said, even if it did work, that contrivance at the end with the retcon pill kills the episode deader than dead. It’s just unforgivable.
So, once more, any fans wandering in here will ask why I’m still watching. Well, the next episode, already screened on BBC Three, is written by P.J. Hammond, who I’ve gone on about before. The preview looked peculiar, which is what we want and what he does very very well (if you get a chance, watch his wholly original sci-fi/horror series Sapphire and Steel to see him at full quirky strength). I have high hopes for it. But the next three episodes? All written by Chris Chibnall? Let’s just say I’m looking forward to them for different reasons. Look away if you don’t want to see the spoilers from the BBC Press Office.
When a local teenager disappears, Gwen is drawn into an investigation that reveals a darker side of Torchwood, as Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies’s award-winning drama continues. Hundreds of people have disappeared without trace, but Jack is 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.
That sounds intriguing, I have to say, but Chibnall will find a way to screw it up. Making it another Gwen-centric episode is already a bad start. As for the next episode…
A booby-trapped building explodes and knocks the team unconscious, as Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies’s award-winning drama continues. As each team member’s life flashes before their eyes, viewers learn how each of them was recruited to Torchwood: Captain Jack was initiated into a shocked Victorian Torchwood in 1899; Toshiko went on a daring mission to trade alien technology for her mother’s life; Ianto wooed Jack with coffee and a flair for alien-catching; and Owen had a medical revelation that changed how he saw the world.
…::coughOutofGasfromFireflycough:: Also, Ianto woos Jack with coffee? I can’t wait for that! I wonder if he will mention his girlfriend Lisa, who got cybermanned in the first season. I seem to recall him mourning her for the majority of that season. If she doesn’t get even namechecked, I will certainly poke fun of it here. Oh boy, a special treat for the finale!
Captain John Hart returns to have his revenge on Torchwood in the concluding episode of Doctor Who writer Russell Davies’s award-winning drama. Taking Captain Jack prisoner, he sends him back in time for a long overdue reunion. Without their leader, Torchwood are faced with a city flooded with Weevils, on the brink of destruction. But who is Captain John really working for? Can anyone trust him? And how great a price must Torchwood pay to save the city?
Weevils everywhere! James Marsters! A great price to be paid that might feature the removal of two major characters if the rumours I heard are true! Don’t forget, it’s on tomorrow night and Good Friday. Set your PVRs, Torchwood fans!