Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Torchwood: Greeks Bearing Gifts

Ooh, I kind of like this episode. Mind you, it falls to pieces on examination, but like Peter J. Hammond from Small Worlds, Toby Whithouse actually seems to have an idea of what to do with this show. You know, with aliens and humor and character development and stuff. Granted, he’s ultimately defeated by the show itself – most of the characters are pretty unsympathetic, even if he does a much better job writing them than most. This means that it takes a good while to get into the story, but once it does, it’s actually entertaining. Like Hammond, he’s definitely on the right track.

This is finally Tosh’s episode, and at last, we get a bit of character development beyond the “Asian, therefore computer person, therefore nerd” sterotype she’s been stuck in on the rare occasions her existence was acknowledged. Whithouse is a bit constricted by it, but at least he does it well, digging into her loneliness and emotional fragility with real depth and feeling. Even though her character has been a total blank this entire series until now, Naoko Mori has given consistently good performances, however weak her material. With some good writing, she nails it.

For a show about an organization that hunts aliens, it’s strange that up until now, the seventh episode, there’s only really been one actual alien (that sex-crazed gas in Day One). Now, finally, there’s a good alien. Daniela Denby-Ashe is a lovely actress, and the effects crew seem determined to make the alien version of her every bit as beautiful, and they pretty much succeed.

Whithouse does a great job with Jack. He doesn’t give us any real revelations, but he goes over the ground very nicely. Ianto still does little but wallow in despair, but at least it’s kept to a minimum. Whithouse can’t undo the affair between Gwen and Owen, but again, he pulls it off with wit and depth. Owen finally comes across as a competent guy in his own areas, and someone who might actually be useful to Torchwood. Whithouse also tempers his douchebaggery with a sort of rougishness that at least makes it vaguely plausible that Gwen would fall for him.

There is, of course, the expected smut, as Tosh and the alien have their own affair, but even though Whithouse can’t raise the material above smut, he at least makes it entertaining.  That's a lot of the problem with the series under Chibnall: on the one hand, he wants to make an ambitious and compelling story, and on the other hand, he turns to bawdy sexploitation at every turn - and immature, PG-13 sexploitation, at that.  The smuttiness tends to undermine the drama - it takes the tremendously steady hand of a Paul Verhoeven or a Jess Fink to do both simultaneously - and the self-serious, highly emotional tone sucks all the fun out of the tendency for all the characters to have sex with each other or whatever cropped up this episode. (or, at the very least, wear a metal bikini for no reason)

The plot itself isn’t terribly original, but it’s not bad. The whole “reading people’s thoughts can be depressing” theme is pretty ordinary, but it is an improvement on what we’ve been getting so far. The climax is nicely done, too, with a good little bit of Jack darkness.

That said, while some of the dialogue is good, it feels like Chibnall got his hands on the script and upped the soap opera dialogue. There are times when the dialogue is genuinely good, which is why the occasional flashes of the usual sort of dialogue ring even more false than usual. And it is a bit slow to draw you in and get going, though again, Withouse is constrained by what the show itself has been doing so far.

In the end, it isn’t great, but it’s decent and fairly entertaining, if not quite compelling. Like Small Worlds, it shows that there’s a good show hiding in here. And unlike that one, at least this isn’t going to be followed by (shudder) another Chibnoll-written episode.  We're actually getting to very watchable episodes in a row.  Normally, I'd still probably stick this with the dreaded "not actually bad, but not good, either" two-and-a-half stars, but after realizing I'm pretty much the only person who found the weak plotting and characterization of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship to overwhelm the sheer whimsy and joy of the overload of concepts, I'm feeling generous.

Besides, I like Tosh.  We need more Tosh episodes.  Heck, if they somehow managed to make a Torchwood Season 5 starring Tosh, I really could care less about the infinite continuity horror it would create.


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  • Much as I like Tosh and the episode, it's worth noting that it's Tosh's fault that this gets out of control.  That fact that it's actually handled really well for once makes me want to ignore it, but they really do go to the well of the team screwing up and causing the plot a little too often. I suspect this was entirely unintentional, but by the end of the season it gets hilariously out of hand.
    • Number of plots caused by the incompetence of the Torchwood team: 5/7.

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