Torchwood - Greeks Bearing Gifts
In the 7th episode of Torchwood, it's Toshikos turn to take the spotlight. Despite her so far exhibiting as much personality as a condom full of soil, it's probably the best episode so far. And it's got her lezzing up with Daniella Denby Ashe, who I've had a crush on since "Kevin & Co" in 1992. Has Torchwood finally found it's feet?
In a word, sort of. This episode is still, to all intents and purposes, a bit daft. One thing that's consistently annoying both about Torchwood and Doctor Who is that even when the shows succeed, it is rarely in the arena of proper sci fi. The sci fi elements always feel underwritten and simplified for the mainstream, and Russell T Patronising has basically admitted that this is the case in interviews. In this episode, Daniella Denby Ashe is a sexy lesbian. Only, she's also actually a big alien who looks like an Axlotl fish, who punches through peoples chests and eats their hearts because the sexy lesbian Daniella Denby Ashe-shaped body which she possesses "needs to eat". Daniella Denby Ashe will only eat human hearts, apparently. If the alien had said that *it* needed to eat human hearts, this episode would have made a lot more sense. Maybe she's just mad. She smokes like a chimney, too. Because she's EVIL. Anyway, once Torchwood realise that Daniella Denby Ashe is actually an Axlotl fish criminal fugitive from another world, they decide to blast her into the centre of the sun.
Like the sci-fi element of Toby Whithouses previous Whoniverse script "School Reunion" (teachers who are actually mad alien bats use childrens brains to try and crack the genome of the UNIVERSE so they can reinvent EVERYTHING EVER), this sounds like an interesting premise, but turns out to be the basically the whole plot.
Thank fuck then, that the characters are doing something interesting for once. This episode is all about Toshiko, and the pendant given to her by Daniella Sexy Lesbian-Fish that allows her to hear other peoples thoughts. It enables her to hear that the other characters think she's fucking weird and boring, for example. Although she could have been listening in on the audience for the past 6 episodes, ha ha ha! That little things the other characters think about Tosh resonate on quite an emotional level is credit to Whithouses work in the script, and almost makes the previous weeks where she's only said things like "I'll have a look on this big old computer, then" seem like appropriate set up for this episode, rather than dastardly lazy scriptwriting. Naoko Mori is fairly OTT as the drunk, enthusiastic Tosh and later, the anguished, crying Tosh, but as the episode is melodramatic tosh (ha ha ha!) anyway it just works, and the marked difference from what we've seen of Tosh in previous episodes is compelling.
Tosh claims that it isn't the thoughts of her co-workers that bother her, but the mad and horrible and depraved things that the whole human race is thinking all the time. Which is weird, because aside from the one murderer she encounters, the whole human race just seems to be thinking about sex and whether or not they've left the kettle on. Also, the bit where Captain Jack realises she's got a psychic pendant doesn't really ring true on a purely logical level. At one point Tosh overhears someone thinking "I know, I'll murder my wife! That'll do the trick" and then goes and stops him, claiming to have heard him muttering. Jack claims that people don't mutter to themselves en route to committing murder, but surely someone mad enough to take a sawn off shotgun to their missus is mad enough to mutter about it a bit? I'm quite sure that "muttering" is a common trait amongst homicidal lunatics, to be honest. I'm nitpicking here, but I can't really think of a show with the production values of Torchwood where people still come out with such daft things every episode. Don't they have time to redraft these things? Doesn't anyone object on set?
And another thing - if the Hub set can be so complex and wonderful and detailed, and the effects clearly cost a bob or two, couldn't they spare some budget for a decent set dresser? Whenever we go back to a characters house or flat, it's always incredibly bland. It's like they all live in those fake kitchens and living rooms in Ikea, and it's one of the few times when the show looks like specifically like something off BBC Three. It drags the whole production down. If they all lived in fairly bare, messy apartments it'd at least underline the fact that they spend too much time at work, but having them all live inside a Better Homes catalogue from 1998 looks tacky and rubbish.
Owen and Gwen and their burgeoning affair are relatively watchable in this episode, with Owen in particular showing some adequate comedy timing. He's at times a cheeky jack the lad, at times insensitive, at times a little vulnerable. This is the character that was described in those fucking terrible "meet the cast" blurbs that were allover the Radio Times for eight months before the series started, but sadly bears little resemblance to the Owen of previous weeks, where the writing simply hasn't been of a high enough standard to create a character of such complexity. Gwens closing speech is a bit patronising but for once, characters have been changed by events, lessons have been learnt and all that. In short, for pretty much the first time since "Everything Changes", the episode had a point. There is of course, the inevitable shot of Captain Jack, standing moodily on a rooftop. He recieves an urgent phone call from Owen and dashes off, and I'd hoped to see a scene afterwards where he goes back up to the rooftop muttering "where was I? Oh, yes" and resumes his proud moody stance, but that didn't happen. Instead he just does his usual trick of showing up at the last five minutes to kill the baddy. He's probably got a schedule up in his office with his meetings, phone conferences, "roof-times" and "6.30pm - kill the baddy" written on it. One of the best scenes in the episode is him having a good-natured chat with Tosh at the end, simply because he's such a charismatic and likeable performer, and his character an enjoyable one to watch. So for fucks sake, give him something more to do!
"Greeks Bearing Gifts" is an enjoyable enough watch for the fan who desperately wants the show to be good, because there's no glaringly awful bits. In trying to write this review though I've been unable to think of that much good to say about it either. It's all very will-this-do, taking a second hand concept like the psychic powers and failing to do anything particularly interesting or convincing with it. And yet again resorting to a sex mad alien presence inhabiting a slender young lady. The premise of Torchwood is fine, the direction is fine (even very good, in parts), the actors are by and large fine, the plots can be engaging despite being fairly shonky, the effects are great, the music is wonderful, and if you get someone like Toby Whithouse to write it, the whole thing can be wrapped up into an engaging and interesting hour of television, not approacing the heights of Who but not embarassing itself by comparison either. But really, this should be an average to weak episode of the series, rather than it's highlight so far.