Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Torchwood: Out of Time

WARNING: Strong language ahead. Also, it is entirely possible I found myself unable to finish rewatching this episode and writing the subsequent review without the aid of not insubstantial amount of Tequila. As with many things done with Tequila, there may be consequences to be faced in the morning.

In its first season, Torchwood really does try a lot of different things. The problem is, it doesn't do many of them well. Out of Time pushes in an interesting direction, though: a pure sci-fi drama, no action, no adventure. Unfortunately, it's a drama that depends on strong character development, good dialogue, subtlety, and careful attention to both period and character details. Out of Time has none of those things.

The set-up isn't bad - in 1953, a plane flies through the Time Rift in Cardiff, appearing in 2007 to the waiting Torchwood team. The team attempts to help them deal with their new lives. It's not original, exactly, but it's a good concept that only awaits whatever special stamp Torchwood can place on it.

There are three characters, who each get more or less paired off with a TW member. Jack works with John (Mark Lewis Jones). John is old-fashioned, which here should be read as an insulting, one-dimensional view of 1950s morality. At one point, he yells at Emma for dancing with her newfound friends because that somehow isn't proper. Dude, young people danced in the 1950s. Also the 1940s, 30s, 20s, 1810s, and any decade since the invention of a drumbeat (or beatbox?) inspired primitive foot-tapping. That's what people do. Jack's not much help, given that he shows all the empathy of an ill-mannered crab.

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Hallinan) frets that she'll have to find a husband right away, because women in the 1950s had no sense of self-worth or any meaning in life beyond marrying and birthing babies. Emma lives down to this stereotype by having no discernible personality beyond that defining cliche. Her moment when it hits her that she will never again see her father or friends or dog should be painful, but it's in the midst of such a horribly written scene that it has no impact. Gwen tries to help Emma by first teaching her Torchwood's vision of sexual politics: fuck everything, constantly.

Actually, she berates Emma for making out with a guy in a club. Emma is shocked at the notion that this guy was interested in more than kissing. Despite being an adult And then Gwen lectures Emma about sex. People had sex in the 1950s. Yes, they were a more conservative time, but unless you were raised in an ultra-religious household - and Emma doesn't seem to have been - you'd have been aware of the seedier side of things. Ultimately, Gwen tries inexplicably to override Emma's decision to find a job and work in London. I don't know that I've ever seen an attempt at dealing with modern feminism so muddled.

At least the bad writing is enlivened by bits of humor and a welcome appearance by Rhys, who's been missing for a few episodes. John's story is a brilliant idea, but executed horribly. John goes to visit his son, who is so old that he can’t even remember his father, and that should be moving, but it’s played so melodramatically, with John crying and composer Ben Foster wringing enough sap to do whatever you do with a lot of sap. (Trap a mosquito and clone a dinosaur?) His last scene has the sort of darkness and underplayed tragedy this show does well on the occasions it goes for it, but it’s too little, too late.

But worst of all is Diane. And it's a shame, because old-timey Aviatrix is one of my favorite stock characters, and Louise Delamore is charming. Unfortunately, as with the rest of her story, the details fail to add up. She's furious because aviation technology has advanced and is all about "pushing buttons"... despite that the plane she was admiring being from the 1950s. People still fly single engines. A lot.

All these little details would be forgivable if the drama was solid, but as with the other two stories, it's awful, and Diane gets the worst of it. She immediately falls in bed with Owen, and I really have to stop there for a moment. Why, in a TV show where the central character is Jack Harkness, is douchebag extraordinaire Owen the guy who sleeps with every female who appears? I mean, isn’t the whole point of Jack that he sleeps with every creature under the sun, and all women (and an unusually high percentage of men, as well as a wide variety of non-Earth species) are instantly attracted to him? So why does everybody go for Owen? Constantly? It isn’t explained or fleshed out, and none of his romances are believably written; it just happens because it happens. I swear, Jack Harkness gets less action on this show than any of his coworkers, and he works with a creeper and a nerd.

Anyway, the "romance" between Owen and Diane makes me long for nails on a chalkboard. It's not just that I hate Owen (and hate that I hate him because Burn Gorman gives brilliant performances every single episode), though that's a major problem.

The romance between Diane and Owen never feels real, and Owen’s show of kindness feels out of character. And then Owen actually falls for her, and its supposed to be so moving, and it just isn’t. Partly because he’s never been likable in the first place, partly because it’s so overwrought:

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore. This isn’t how it works for me. I’ve slept with enough women, done the fuck-buddies thing, this is not it. I can’t concentrate. All I see is you. All I can think about it what you’re wearing, what you’re thinking, what your face looks like when you come. It’s been, what, a week, and it’s like, when I’m not with you, I’m out of focus.”

Even Gorman can't save that. I do like Owen finally getting some sort of comeuppance when she then abandons him the day after he says all this to her, but again, there’s nothing moving about it. It's briefly interesting to see him reacting to someone aggressively pursuing him, but they go from that to sex so fast Connery's Bond would advise them to slow down a little. The idea that this breaks through his douchiness and exterior so powerfully because he knew this person for, like three days and have the romance of the century is ludicrous and insulting. It's like he's 14. Every moment of this love story is excruciating. I like Diane, though, (or at least her archetype and Delamore's performance) and would like very much to have seen her show up again.  

Unfortunately, she flies off into the timewarp again, presumably hoping to land in an era where people like Owen are too awful to live. And thus goes the best character this show has had.

And finally, how many times do they need to hammer in the theme that Torchwood work overwhelms their lives? This isn't a bad theme, but it’s yet to be done convincingly. Every time they bring it up, there is much wringing of hands and near-tearful monologues, all of them very repetitive and quickly dull. Find a new theme, just once, please. Or at least do this one in a less slap-us-in-the-face manner.

As sci-fi, this is boring - the same old cliches done without originality or wit. And it's terrible drama, despite a couple good moments. And at this point in the show, Torchwood is, at best, a C-rate X-Files ripoff. Yes, there are brief moments of genius, but it's so spread out that it feels like a waste.

Although I'd only rank it third-worst of the season as it lacks the aggressive awfulness of Cyberwoman and Countryside, Out of Time is the Torchwood Season 1 episode I really hate. Those other two are at least good for a laugh and have their moments (even if Cyberwoman's moments are of the Plan 9 variety). Those few praiseworthy moments in Out of Time are crushed by the magnitude of failure surrounding them.

On the upside, it's a long time before Torchwood gets this bad again. But that doesn't mean it gets especially good for a while, either.


  • I hate to rip on Ben Foster too much, because I like his music for Children of Earth and quite a bit of his Torchwood music, actually. And his orchestrations of Murray Gold’s music are spectacular, but this episode is seriously harmed by his music. Numerous scenes would have played infinitely more powerfully without any music at all. Some of this is the director’s fault, sure. The director can always, you know, cut the music. But no, we have to have the same tragic, sad music over every scene so we know just how poignant it is. Granted, the hollow writing makes it much, much worse, but the music doesn’t help.
  •  Geez, Jack, all the sympathy of a crab there smoothing people into the whole "you've missed 60 years" thing.
  • It's glossed over pretty quickly, so it's not the biggest deal, but why do they take everyone right to the Hub? Really, they don't have someplace off-base to take care of these people? Even the outer non-classified areas? I swear, Torchwood is the worst secret agency I've ever seen. The CIA is better than this.
  • Ianto actually comes off well - he pretty much just gets a few sarcastic lines, Gareth David Lloyd knocks them out of the ballpark. Nice to finally see the character sort of work, 10 episodes in.
  • I like the detail about Diane being more awed by bananas than sliding doors since there was a ration when she left, but it's the future so of course there are sliding doors. Are they really that impressive? Still, the part that actually annoys me is when she fondles a TV screen. Not a high-def, just an ordinary TV screen. Those existed in 1953. In fact, 1953 is when everyone in England got one. Anyway, after they saw Torchwood's top-secret base, they really shouldn't be that impressed.  (also, artificial insemination was invented in the 1940s. And I know Owen's a creeper, but when asked how women's rights have improved in the last 65 years, how could that possibly be the only thing he thinks up?)
  • "You can't take away my name!" That's a nice moment, but why did Jack think it was so necessary to change their names to begin with?

1 comment: