Torchwood - Day One
Russell T Davies' first Who spin-off series continues with this shitly titled second episode, and a chance for the viewer to sample a mouthful of Torchwood lead writer Chris Chibnall. Did I spit out those juices in disgust or lap them up greedily? Well, wouldn't you just like to know.
The title 'Day One' says it all, really. No matter what's going in the plot of this episode, it's designed to be about Gwen, Torchwood's new recruit. In this instance, it's a baptism of fire, as Gwen royally fucks up by lobbing a sharp object at a newly grounded 'asteroid', thus releasing a sex crazed alien gas type thing into the populace of Cardiff.
Like I say, the actual plot doesn't really matter so much, so long as Gwen's story is told... and so Chris decides that the best way to show us that this is an adult show is to throw in as much gratuitous sex as possible. Classy. The perfectly sweet but rather plain host of this Sex Alien Gas basically starts shagging anything with a cock, to the point of disintergration, as is *alarmingly* shown by a scene in a club bathroom. From that point on, Gwen vows to fix her mess and the Torchwood team get investigating.
It's not terribly original, but the main story is perfectly acceptable for what is essentially the second half of the show's pilot. However, taking this episode as a litmus test of the feel of the rest of the series (and considering it's written by the head writer, it is a fair test) it does raise quite a few worries. When Russell T Davies writes sci-fi he seems to love grounding it all in stark reality, presumably in an attempt to provide some interesting contrast, and also because he can't seem to bear to leave is grass routes behind. This is fair enough I suppose, and even though it's not to some's taste, he normally pulls this off well, and it certainly worked decently in Doctor Who. However, Chris Chibnall seems to be doing the same thing, but with even less subtlety than RTD (if that's even possible). I feel like yelling FUCK OFF at the TV whenever we're forced to endure another of Gwen's home scenes, and the crow-barring in of her being the 'human touch' to the Torchwood team. Fuck normality, I want sci-fi and more sci-fi. I don't want one of our main heroes tied down by some bloody husband and her 'normal life' because this is an extra-ordinary show, with extra-ordinary happenings, so forcing an 'ordinary' character down our necks with all the subtly of a fist up the arse could easily turn out to be distracting and frustrating.
Having said that, Gwen *is* a great character when she's actually in full swing and Eve Myles does a brilliant job. However, the supporting cast are a tad shaky at best. Toshiko especially (even though she's not had much to do) tends to deliver her lines in a very stilted way, and she's certainly a disappointment after the pretty decent showing in 'Aliens of London' last year.
The most interesting character points in this episode revolve around Jack, however, with some very nicely done details thrown in here and there. There's the obvious affection that Jack has for the mysterious hand in a jar, and it proves to be his fatal weakness, as the alien uses it to distract him as she gets away. It's clearly the Doctor's the hand, but it's unclear how much significance it will have in te rest of the series... some, I hope. On top of that, Jack's strict rules on using alien technology in the outside world is a nice nod back to his first Doctor Who story 'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances', when his actions regarding a Chula ambulance almost wiped out the human race. The device used to trap the smoke at the end of the episode is clearly Chula, too. Either that, or The Mill couldn't be bothered to find a new 'force field' effect to te one they used in TEC...
So, in conclusion, the story is certainly nothing to get excited about, but I think it wont be too indicative of later episodes, as we're still getting to know these characters, and that has to take the fore in the first few episodes. However, Chris' painfully simplistic, heavy handed and often clichéd interpretation of sci-fi (some of Jack's techno-babble is frankly embarrassing) could prove to be a worrying factor later in the series.