Thursday, August 30, 2012

Torchwood: Cyberwoman

Excuse me a moment.


Sorry.  Lost it for a moment there. I'll try to keep a straight face for this.

A good move for a TV spinoff to make when it's struggling a bit to find its feet is to bring in a really solid element of the original series and put its own spin on that.  Take Angel, the spinoff from Buffy (a major influence on Russell T. Davies), for example - the early episodes are pretty good, but Buffy's appearance in I Will Remember You is where the show takes a significant upswing in quality.  It allows the show to use one of the classic elements of the original - the eternally tragic melodrama of the Buffy/Angel romance - and show it from perspectives the original show never really did.  At the same time, it brings out the contrasts between the two shows nicely. (It happens to an even greater extent, of course, when Faith shows up later in the season in Five By Five, and a really good show suddenly gets sensationally awesome.)

So maybe doing an unusual variation on the Cybermen will help the show figure out what it is.  After all, the idea of a half-converted Cyber is fascinating.  The creepiness of the Cybermen largely comes from their insides still being flesh, their heads still containing human brains.  An exploration of someone stuck halfway through the process should make for a terrific horror yarn.  Further, having the Cyberwoman’s boyfriend desperate to save her creates a strong emotional center.  And with Torchwood's more adult approach, they can really dig into some of the more painful and darker elements that Doctor Who, as a family show, can really only hint at.  As with Chinall's Day One, the ideas and approach are right on.  This could have been a fantastic story.

Cyberwoman is not that story.  But it doesn’t just do everything wrong, no.  It goes far beyond that.

First and foremost, there’s Ianto.  Three episodes in, and so far about as many lines.  This is his showcase episode, the one that finally develops this enigma.  What do we learn about him?

So, his girlfriend was half-Cyber-converted and he saved her.  Nice start.  Then, somehow, he dragged not only her but several tons of equipment into Torchwood Three’s basement, and nobody noticed.  In this transfer of equipment, he brought along all the slicing and dicing gizmos used to shred humans, and hooked them up to the power supply.  So he can inexplicably single-handedly sneak thousands of pounds of alien equipment into the base of an organization specifically dedicated to finding said equipment without them finding it.  But he's too stupid to realize that hooking up all the equipment that will turn his girlfriend further into a Cyberwoman and can also convert the rest of the team and, you know, the world.
And he did all of this without telling anyone.  He’s surrounded by pretty much the only people on this earth who could possibly help him, and he didn’t ask them to help because they were there to “destroy aliens”, not help them.  (Which doesn’t add up at all in context, but whatever.) Nevertheless, he hid the Cyberchick right inside their base.

Then, she goes nuts and starts trying to kill everbody (which has its own problems I’ll get to in a moment), and despite seeing her destroy a human life in an astoundingly gory manner and then watching her attempt to kill his friends, he constantly tries to save her.  He even goes so far as to threaten to kill Jack if he doesn’t let him save her.

But okay, fine, maybe Ianto is a lobotomized, unusually wimpy 12-year-old girl in the body of a 30-year-old man.  By the end of the story, he has been directly responsible for two deaths, including a teenage pizza delivery girl.  And what does the Torchwood team to about it?  They give him the choice of whether or not to stay on.  Gwen worries that he’ll choose to leave.

Seriously?  I mean, I get not going the ultra-dark route and having Jack just straight-up shoot him, though under the circumstances, it might be understandable.  But why do they even consider letting him get away completely clean and letting him stay on the Torchwood team?  They could even show tremendous mercy and just give him the established amnesia pills and drop him on the side of the road, but no, they just let him stay like nothing happened.  And they're worried he might be too upset to stay.

But enough about Ianto, because that’s just a black hole of stupidy that could suck us inside forever.  Let’s discuss the other equally impressive black hole of stupidity, the Cyberwoman herself.  First, this is her costume:

The Cyberbikini.  This is supposed to be the Doctor Who spinoff for adults, but The Sarah Jane Adventures was never this childish.  That looks like it was designed by a 13-year-old boy.  Honestly, it probably should have looked closer to the "failed" conversion of the Japanese scientist.

Maybe not that icky, but something a little more visceral along those lines could have worked.  Or something much more subtle.

Okay, so, the Japanese guy that dies 10 minutes in and is never mentioned again comes in and switches down the Cyber parts.  She then seems to wake up and be herself again.  Then, five minutes later, the Cyber has abruptly taken over for no reason, and she starts killing, and that’s the end of this exploration.  Chibnall's concept I think is that she's faking the humanity, but that just makes it dramatically flatter.  For all my complaints about Who largely forgetting the interesting aspects of the Cybermen, I have to admit it almost always does a better job with them.  Like, the conflict actually make some sort of internal logic.  Here, it just changes at the whims of the script.  There's no real inner conflict, just the set-up for conflict.

What about the other characters?
Jack does his thing and gets killed and resurrected several times.  Otherwise, he’s given dialogue so atrocious that even the charismatic Barroman can’t save it much of the time.  He does a good job with his climactic moment, threatening Ianto with his gun... and then yet again proving himself a terrible leader by sending Ianto in alone to kill the Cyberwoman after Ianto threatened to kill off the rest of the team.  Like, as though Ianto seriously has the ability to take that thing down, let alone the balls. 

Toshiko’s here, too, I guess, but we’re now four episodes in and not a glimmer of personality or character.  Gwen and Owen are mostly just in the episode so they can be locked in a vent together while the Cyberwoman (who has super-sensitive hearing) is looking for them.  And then Owen starts making out with her.  Later (while the Cyberwoman is still running around), they casually “banter” about it:

“What was that?”
“Snogging me?”
“Last kiss of a condemned man.  Bit embarrassing given that we’re still alive.  What?  It’s not like I fancy you or anything.”
“I was on top of you.  I could feel your hard-on.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t exactly struggle, did you?”

“I could feel your hard-on.”  That’s what passes for wit in this show.  Savor it.

By the time Cyberwoman has a fight with the CGI Pteradactyl, the whole thing is so awful it almost loops around to so bad it's funny, but it fails even there by seeming like it's trying to be so bad it's funny in the midst of otherwise taking itself pretty seriously.  The show in general has had problems with tone, bouncing erratically from jokey to dead serious and lacking the wit for the former and the intelligence for the latter.  Like, for example, the moment near the beginning where the hilariously over-dramatic electric guitar music plays over the tragedy of Ianto kissing his half-cyber girlfriend in a moment that's supposed to be really serious, followed by a shot of the Japanese scientist doing a double-take directly into the camera. 

Although, to be fair, his face does kinda say it all.

 I guess it's going for a Buffy-ish vibe, but Buffy was built on a groundwork of solid characters, genuinely brilliant dialogue, and good storytelling, both on a small scale and a large.  Torchwood has a cyberbikini.

Seriously, that thing's worse than Bat-nipples.
The final nail in the coffin is the pizza delivery girl.  The security here is so low-tech (or such an incompetent usage of high-technology) that she manages to walk right inside.  Which isn't the most believable thing anyway, but let's roll with it for a second.  She's mildly impressed with the half-destroyed hub, but neither the fact that there's a massive underground base nor the fact that it's obviously been recently torn apart violently seems to faze her.  So far, just the usual poorly-thought-out writing.

But she goes downstairs to the basement, where Lisa/Cyberwoman murders her.

Nobody mentions this girl.  She's a complete innocent who was killed entirely because of Ianto's poor decisions.  Even if we make a stretch and say the dead scientist was evil and Chibnall just failed to express that properly, there's no question of this girl's innocence.  And if the show was willing to acknowledge this, it could have a pretty powerful statement on its hands.  But she's basically forgotten.  Ianto doesn't get shot, or retconned, or even mildly disciplined.  Everyone's too busy wringing their hands over whether or not he might quit.  The pizza delivery girl is ignored and forgotten by both characters and writer.

Nobody faces any consequences.  They just pretend none of it ever happened.

You know, while the last couple episodes weren’t good by any means, they were all at least watchable.  This is just garbage.  Pure garbage.  And we’re only four episode in.  This show is going to be torture.




  • Torchwood Incompetence Plots Counter: 3/4.


  1. Good post! You caught most of what I disliked about this episode, and more. As a costumer by trade, the cyberbikini was the focus of my loathing. Heck, it doesn't make sense at all! As if the Cybermen, devoted to eliminating the weakness of emotion and individuality, would spend time making a cyber bra in the first place! Probably would have removed any such obstacles with the first whisks of those whirling knives, IMO. There had been no sign of any gender assignment in any of the earlier female victims of assimilation in Doctor Who. The Alternative Jackie comes to mind, as well as Yvonne Hartman, the director of Torchwood in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday in Season Two. Stay with the canon, boys, it just makes you look stupid!

  2. Whoo, another review about an episode I actually watched. Yeah I stopped watching Torchwood somewhere around this one, it just wasn't that much fun.