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Torchwood - Ghost Machine

Well, I would.
Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper. I want her. Now. Jesus.

And so Torchwood continues, with an episode written by Who script editor Helen Raynor. Having adored the first episode, and enjoyed the second whilst recognising its flaws, would this be the episode to cement my love for the series?

Hilariously, the episode starts with a chase through a Cardiff shopping arcade - the very arcade that I spent ages looking through loads of Who memorabilia, which makes me wonder just you'd find if the Torchwood gang had stopped to look through the windows for a while.

After that it's the opening credits - and they drive me up the fucking wall. This series needs a fast-paced montage of images, with huge close-ups of the regulars faces with the credits underneath. Think Buffy. Or, indeed, Power Rangers. What we get is frankly insipid. Variations on the logo, with the credits in tiny text? It smacks of trying too hard to be cool and classy, when what's needed is a a bit of ridiculousness. No doubt this will continue to annoy me each week. Please, for Series 2 - do a title sequence with a bit of balls behind it.

The main plot with the "alien machine of the week" was fine. Nothing special, but fine. It is, of course, pretty much exactly the same plot as Dwarf's Future Echoes - right down to the final point of seeing how you die. Unfortunately, what was groundbreaking for a 1988 BBC2 sitcom is rather less so for a 2006 drama series. On the positive side, the final scene with Jack and Gwen tying the show up worked far better than the tedious moral lesson to the whole sex stuff at the end of Day One - the parallel with everyone having "ghosts of the past" was quite well done.

I thought the character of Ed Morgan (played excellently by Gareth Thomas) was dealt with extremely well. The guilt that he harbours was made obvious; he'd become an absolute wreck through the guilt of what he'd done - and luckily a character didn't feel the need to inform us that "he's become an absolute wreck through the guilt of what he's done". You wouldn't think I'd need to mention that - and yet a constant criticism I have of new Who that has continued into Torchwood is the quality of the dialogue. It's generally good, but there's occasionally an absolute clunker of a line. (See "I think you need a Doctor", which almost managed to wreck the climax of The Parting of the Ways. Or for a Torchwood example - the cock joke in Day One. There's nothing wrong with a good cock joke, but there's a lot wrong with an exceedingly badly-written one. Christ, the Carry On's managed one every five minutes throughout the 60s and 70s - why can't you write a good one today?) It's good to see that the point wasn't hammered into the ground, and Ghost Machine had no clunking dialogue at all, which was nice to see. Let's hope the trend continues.

Characterisation then. So far, we've had very little of Toshiko or Ianto. Three episodes in, I'm not too fussed about that - although I hope we see more of them before too long. Gwen is working marvellously, as far as I'm concerned - Eve Myles is spunky yet vunerable, and makes me want to do a naughty. There have been criticisms of Gwen's home life being hugely boring. I think this is true to an extent - there isn't much going on. On the other hand, it isn't getting a huge amount of screentime, and it's clearly building up into something that will become more significant as the series progresses. It would help if her boyfriend wasn't as dull as fuck - he's more boring than me, and that takes some doing. Clearly they're trying to show the difference between Torchwood and her home life, however, so there is a point to it.

I hear you're a rapist, Father.
Owen Harper, there.

And then there's Owen. I find it extremely interesting that he spent most of the episode doing the old vigilante routine on a rapist - considering his antics in Everything Changes with the alien aphrodisiac spray. A clever bit of character work - that he gets so upset because he recognises a bit too much of himself in Ed Morgan? Or just dodgy characterisation between episodes? I can't help but think that it's probably the latter. In fact, considering his behaviour in this episode, it raises the very pertinent question - what is Owen doing in Torchwood? Admittedly it's only the third episode, and yet time and time again he's as irresponsible as fuck. Clearly he's there to provide someone who will stir things up - and so he's very good dramatically. But from a logical level, you've got to ask - why hasn't Jack got rid of him yet?

Speaking of Jack - he seems to have become a shadow of his former self in Who, and has even been toned down from Everything Changes. This is clearly deliberate - perhaps his exuberance could become annoying after thirteen episodes. Perhaps he would simply overshadow the other characters too much. Or perhaps this is leading up to something, like the Doctor/Rose cockiness did. But whatever the reason, it's taken away a large part of what made the character so enjoyable. Frankly, I want him swaggering about a bit more and being lewd. There's room for subtlety in his character - but he shouldn't be toned down this much.

About the only time he really came alive in this episode was in what can only be described as the gun porn scene. This seems to be the kind of scene that people either love or hate; mainly because it's clearly completely ridiculous, and that just turns some people right off. Me personally? I like ridiculous. I like guns. And I like a pair of nice tight arses. Like the flashing blue lights on the Torchwood gang's Mystery Machine, this scene was clearly done with a sense of its own ridiculousness - and was one of the few parts of the episode that really came alive for me. Pointless, yet fantastic - and so not pointless at all. And a beautiful bit of set design too - I love the glimpses we keep seeing of the disused tube tunnel.

The thing that gets me about Torchwood is that it's an utterly brilliant premise. Sure, it might just be a British CSI: Angel, but since when was that a bad idea for a show? It's beautifully shot, very well acted, and has interesting characters. And despite my complaints - I did find it fun to watch, which is clearly the point. But so far, the first episode aside, they don't seem to be doing anything really interesting with that premise.

Gareth Thomas. I want him.  Now. Jesus.

By this point in New Who, we'd had Rose (which Everything Changes cribs quite a lot from - to very good effect) and The End of the World (fun because it was new Who, but slightly ordinary in retrospect - just as Day One was exciting because it was competent British SF, but also rather too ordinary). Unfortunately, Who then pulled out The Unquiet Dead. By comparison, Ghost Machine just doesn't quite cut it. It's hard to deny that this episode was basically Future Echoes, but not as good. And not even as well thought through - the "potential futures" stuff was far more woolly than the "you saw my son die" ending. A slightly unfair comparison perhaps - I would argue that Future Echoes has become a seminal episode of British television SF - but considering the pedigree behind Torchwood, and the money thrown at it - it's just not quite good enough.

I don't understand some of the hatred expressed towards this series - I really don't. There's nothing to hate in it. It's a fun series. I was never bored. Indeed, it's only when I started writing this review that I started to think of the problems. But the series should be rather more fun than it currently is, and that's a bit of a shame. For a start, there needs to be more humour, I think - I'll forgive anything in a series if it's funny. But the series does need a slight kick up the arse dramatically too. I can't help think they could fit rather more plot into 50 minutes. The series is nearly right - they just need to fix these problems.

But the Next Time trailer does seem to hint that next week might just be the week that Torchwood lives up to the promise of that first episode...

3 Stars

About this entry


One thing that I didn't put in my review because it's not the episode's fault - the BBC THREE dog is driving me fucking *mad*. It keeps distracting me - especially in the dark scenes (see the last screenshot). Why spend all that money on a series, and then bugger it up at the final stage?

It doesn't even serve any point. It's utterly ridiculous.

By John Hoare
October 31, 2006 @ 4:19 am

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By Seb
October 31, 2006 @ 8:22 am

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This is one of many reviews of Torchwood that I've seen mentioning Owen's behaviour in the first episode as being a bit 'rapey'. This surprises me because to be honest I just thought the scenes with the spray he'd nicked were mostly there for comic effect (Captain Jack saying none of the alien artifacts leave the building cutting to the three of them with alien artifacts at home and then later when Owen uses the spray once with the girl and then again with the bloke. Adolescent humour, that bit, but humour all the same). Are people being just a bit over-sensitive here, I wonder? After all that style of joke has been done a gazillion times in films and cartoons with 'magic spells' or 'magic potions' that make people suddenly attractive to everyone around them or with potions. Blimey, even Shakespeare did it in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', albeit with Oberon using love potions for revenge on Titania, and in an attempt to help Demetrius, and then it backfiring. Was it just the overtly sexual nature of the writing that made it seem more sinister in Torchwood, or the character of Owen, or both, I wonder? Or *are* people being over-sensitive?

By Sue
October 31, 2006 @ 9:42 am

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I think part of the problem is Owen's general demeanor - he comes across as slightly creepy anyway. If another character had done the same thing, people wouldn't be questioning it. Also, part of the problem is that he obviously did it purely to have sex - love potions are usually used in a rather more innocent context.

Yeah, I agree it was definitely *intended* in the way you describe - and yes, I think I'm being slightly over-sensitive. In fact, I'm not hugely *offended* by any of it, or disturbed. I just find the moral implications of the joke rather interesting on a character level, and I found them especially interesting given his behaviour in this episode...

By John Hoare
October 31, 2006 @ 9:47 am

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Please ignore the extra 'or with potions' bit in the comment above. My editing skills are non-existent this morning. I need more tea.

By Sue
October 31, 2006 @ 9:55 am

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Gareth Thomas the Welsh three-quarter ?

I still can't get past the fact that it seems like a kids show that they go back over and add in some swearing and sex, it all feels so forced. As John says, it's fun though.

I do think the Owen thing was, at best, misjudged.

By Andy M
October 31, 2006 @ 10:46 am

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1) Sexual magnetism virus/alien Lynx's a weird one. It bugs me more as I get older, so maybe it's old fart's syndrome. I think writers see it as okay because you're drugging YOURSELF, not the other person. So it's the same morality as an aftershave commercial; or of copping off with someone who's got themselves drunk. Apparently. I'm not sure.

Certainly Buffy knew how this SHOULD be handled - Xander does a love spell, but when everyone starts to hit on him, he resists them all, knowing they're not in their right mind. (And in fact, five series later when a guy starts attracting the female Scoobies with an enchanted jacket, it's presented as a deeply unimpessive and dangerous thing.)

2) I've no probem with the 'how to we dodge prophecy?' idea, it's just how bland and old-hat the execution was. Even when Red Dwarf rehashed Future Echoes, it was at least with a nifty twist - that the technology that did the predcting had its own vested interest in that future. It's like Ben Elton's script for We Will Rock You - if you don't understand science fiction, don't write it. Certainly go and find out if it's been done before. In both cases you end up with 'ideas' that sharper minds had come up with a decade or two before, and executed more interestingly.

It's like writing horror without knowing there was a slasher sub-genre; or an innuendo-led comedy without having heard of the Carry Ons. It's adds an arrogance - 'I'm the first one to do this' or, worse 'I don't need to know how anyone else did it'.

3) How LONG did it take to figure all this stuff out? Again, a story that could have been done in 30 minutes gets stretched. This has, of course, also been true on new Who - and again I say that shows who know their genre better would have made this the A plot of a two- or three-strand story.

4) Helen Raynor was the woman who got me my first non-Dwarf writing gig, so dissing the episode gives me no pleasure at all. She's lovely.

5) Though the fetishising of weapons bothers me, I'd have let Jack do anything he wanted to me after a scene like that. Also, how cool was it that they have Weevil targets done in the same style as the usual human ones? (And how not-cool to shove the Torchwood logo on everything, including the ear-defenders?)

By Andrew
October 31, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

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I thought this was a big improvement from Episode 2 and it was heading for four stars until that stupid stabbing misstep at the end. 3/5.

By Rad
October 31, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

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I have no problem with the stabbing at the end. It was clearly Ed committing suicide as he knew he'd been found out, and makes logical sense.

I agree Andrew - the idea just wasn't originally executed, and there was far too little plot. I'm still enjoying the series - but it needs to come alive rather more in the upcoming weeks. I'm confident it will do, however. So far, the first episode has only been the one that's really hit the mark for me.

By John Hoare
October 31, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

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The point about weapons fetishising is an interesting one. The whole Owen stuff makes me feel uncomfortable - but I have no problem with the weapons stuff. It's the whole seperating fantasy from reality thing - I can see weapons as fun in a fantasy show, but not in real life.

So by the same token, should I just see the Owen stuff as a bit of fun, even though it would be dodgy in real life?

By John Hoare
October 31, 2006 @ 1:45 pm

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The guns thing...depends on the reality of the movie for me. It's fine in Bond, or a lovely bit of Bruckheimer nonsense, but I get very uncomfortable when they get used this way in shows ike this.

Why? Well, maybe because there IS a real world all around Torchwood. A gun in Gwen's home, say, would make me fear for her husband. Because when you have a real gun in a real home, the odds of an injury or death shoot up.

(Again, not to get my needle stuck, but Buffy really knew how to show them as they are for me - objects of fear and death. Interesting that Firefly's much greater use was both acceptible by being part of the Western genre, and yet still not really a safe thing to be near. Lost, too, is great at understanding the power that sits there, and the reluctant necessity - yes, you read right, I complimented Lost. You may gasp now.)

By choosing to operate with one foot firmly in our world, the gun thing is hard to show as simply 'another fun thing'. Indeed, I'm now more afraid of someone getting shot than being attacked by an Alien. Which, for all I know, might be intentional.

(THAT has some cool dramatic potential, but I'm not expecting it. Indeed, the scene felt like one of those fill-time which Eccleston's Who season kept having to do - scenes which, in fact, often ended up being highlights, but could never impact the full episode of season.)

Of course, as a Who spin-off, all this may also be informed by The Doctor's reluctance to use guns...

Still, better this than the anaemic Robin Hood!

By Andrew
October 31, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

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IMO one of the best things about Torchwood is how Owen is a dark screwed up character that you couldn't really have as a main character of a 7pm show, and how Jack is maybe on a death-wish mission of his own. This is your primary male lead who wants to die. People were like 'what's with the over-dramatic cheesy shot of Jack standing on the edge of a building' well consider the idea that when it cut away he may have thrown himself from it, or at least wanted to. And, more interestingly, at the beginning of episode 1 where he asks the guy what happens when you die. A fine bit of scripting from RTD that was.

I think this episode deserved 4 stars. You're just gonna have to get over the fact that Torchwood is going to steal concepts from every show under the Sun. So fucking what. At least we're getting a good British show.

By performingmonkey
October 31, 2006 @ 10:29 pm

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Amazingly - in what is becoming a somewhat scary trend - I agreed with the whole of that first monkey paragraph.

Not the second one, though. Two and a half stars. Tops. Not for the stealing, for the execution.

(Jack's current lower-key emotional position, for me, is akin to Sarah-Jane's - post-Doctor, nobody's life is the same. He was happy-go-lucky and reckless. Then he found a cause...and died for it. Now, he's been reduced to simply actual-size-of-life. Excellent!)

By Andrew
October 31, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

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The problem with reducing Jack down to size is that you're taking away a large part of what made the character entertaining in the first place. I'm sure it's obviously deliberate, but there seems little point giving such a great character a show of his own and then toning him down so much.

Tortured Jack is fine... but not throughout the *entire* episode.

By John Hoare
October 31, 2006 @ 11:20 pm

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*finishes watching episode*

This one was a bit lame, wasn't it?

All I have to say is that I'm glad I don't live in Cardiff, seeing as "full poice training" doesn't even involve a basic course in firearms.

Gwen is clearly the worst police officer in history.

Alien device found in someone's pocket? I think I'll press the button and see what it does.


Unfortunately that didn't happen, but I'm sure you see my point.

By Jeffrey Lee
November 01, 2006 @ 12:27 am

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I'm pleased that nobody has disagreed with my comment that Future Echoes is "a seminal piece of British television SF". I do honestly think that.

What other Dwarf episodes count? Dimension Jump? Back To Reality?

By John Hoare
November 01, 2006 @ 10:07 am

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Series VII was certainly seminal for me, but that was more to do with the casting of Chloë Annett than anything else...

By Jonathan Capps
November 01, 2006 @ 10:14 am

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'I have no problem with the stabbing at the end. It was clearly Ed committing suicide as he knew he'd been found out, and makes logical sense.'

Just felt like an overly convenient conclusion to me, I was really enjoying this episode and I felt it could have gone to another level at that point. It's mainly because after Suzie Costello died in Episode One I don't yet expect Torchwood to return exactly to where we started at the end of an episode.

Also, Robin Hood has been a disappointment. I thought after a very good Episode One it was going to be a joyous, heroic, funny and camp adventure but these dodgy political parallels it keeps making are irritating and its become rather repetitive very quickly.

By Rad
November 01, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

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> > 'I have no problem with the stabbing at the end. It was clearly Ed committing suicide as he knew he'd been found out, and makes logical sense.'

> Just felt like an overly convenient conclusion to me

I agree - it's so blatantly a tying up of loose ends, while at the same time utterly unencumbered by any interesting moral questions. He was a rapist and murderer, he was suicidal - once you've set all that up, everything we know about bog-standard film and TV tells you he's going to wind up dead by his own hand. But...

A more complex storyteller might have left him alive. When Torchwood doesn't deal in courtrooms and evidence, they're powerless to punish him. There's an interesting point to be made there. Or, even, HAVE Owen kill the guy - why not? Torchwood's nature means he's unlikely to be caught by the regular authorities, and it leaves those same question marks over the nature of their organisation; they end up protecting a killer.

All these grey areas, as Rad said, were ignored in favour of just pushing the rest button and restoring the status quo.

By Andrew
November 01, 2006 @ 7:58 pm

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Maybe leaving Ed alive would have been more interesting.

But have Owen kill the guy? That wouldn't work. All that would mean then was that his position in Torchwood would be utterly untenble. I'm *already* wondering why Jack doesn't just sack him - if Owen had murdered Ed and Jack continued to allow him in Torchwood, it would just be utterly ridiculous, and lose all credibility.

By John Hoare
November 02, 2006 @ 5:11 am

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> But have Owen kill the guy? That wouldn't work.

I disagree; it depends on the (ahem) execution.

Say it was done like The Untouchables. Arrested at the top of a building - but, with nobody around, Owen hurls him off the building. Then claims he jumped. The gang have suspicions, but no proof.

Not suggesting that way, especially, but I DO think there were 17 better ways to bring that thread to conclusion, some of which might have involved a more deliberate death for the character.

By Andrew
November 02, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

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Yes, that would have worked.

You would be changing the premise of the show though - you're effectively making Owen a baddie. There's no grey areas there - you'd be turning him into a murderer. This perhaps goes against the obvious wish-fufillment thing they're trying to do witth the series - to make you *want* to hang around these people...

By John Hoare
November 02, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

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Fair point...but I think there's a genre get-out clause. Murder - as innumerable TV series and movies - 'prove', is okay if you're killing a killer. Apparently it's fine. Which suggests audiences find the suggested morality more important than the legality.

Which is to say - they might just like Owen MORE for having the gumption to do what was perceived as 'just'...

(Constant quote-marks intended to distance my opinion from a hypothetical one.)

By Andrew
November 02, 2006 @ 8:01 pm

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Without wishing to appear to be an argumentative bastard - surely then you're just trading one set of genre cliches for another?

I do agree that the current ending could have been better. It's just I haven't seen anyone come up with one yet...

By John Hoare
November 03, 2006 @ 8:37 am

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i thought that that particular episode was "fantastic" lol

By sophie
June 08, 2007 @ 10:13 pm

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i thought that that particular episode was "fantastic" lol

By sophie
June 08, 2007 @ 10:13 pm

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