Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
A second series of Torchwood was not a forgone conclusion. Although it drew a regular audience on BBC3, the show’s first incarnation failed to achieve widespread acclaim (its BAFTA for “Least Whistle-able Theme Tune” notwithstanding). Instead of settling in, Torchwood’s second run is tasked with playing to strengths not always exploited in the original.
Right from the start, the Executive Team stressed that Torchwood Series Two would be very much the same show, and have been true to their word, with a consistent cast and scenario. The certainty of a pre-watershed transmission hasn’t brought the show visibly any closer to its parent programme, with Captain Jack’s opaque references to “my Doctor” pointedly retained. However, there’s been some tinkering with the details. While the Roald Dahl Plas concealed paving-slab lift is retained, there’s no mention of its TARDIS-imbued invisibly. Showrunner Chris Chibnall’s tweaking of the programme is quite subtle: Ianto is quietly promoted to fieldwork, while Toshiko receives a magical omnipotent PDA to make her more useful outside the Hub. The approach taken to reintroducing the audience to the show is instructive- explanation of Jack’s immortality is deemed unnecessary, but the script is carefully structured to show the location of the Hub, Torchwood’s interaction with police & local community and the temporal disturbances stemming from the rift. More so than first time around, the production team appear to be hoping that the Doctor Who audience will follow Jack into the show.
Most of Chibnall’s Series One episodes followed a similar pattern: tightly plotted thrillers, which were comprehensively kneecapped by the production team’s errors. Day One lost its way amidst uncertainty over whether to play the orgasm monster for laughs or horror, while Cyberwoman and Countrycide had their credibility shot by cyber-heels and John Barrowman’s tractor rampage. There are no such mistakes here, and the result is fast moving and consistent. This is just as well, as the episode doesn’t really have a plot to speak of. I’ve been trying to put together a concise summary of events, but every time I have to use the words “space diamond”, my concentration wanders and I have to start again. Bizarrely enough, this is an improvement on the original series opener. Everything Changes took the viewer through a gentle introduction to the world of Torchwood, only to hit them over the head with a complex murder mystery in the last five minutes. And then build an entire episode out of it. There’s no grinding change of gears here, and the light-hearted fun continues all the way through. Chibnall sometimes receives stick for his dialogue, (despite the fact that it was actually Russell T Davies who gave us the immortal “weevils and bollocks and shit”), but the script is strong in this respect. The only moment when the speech falls flat is Gwen’s “We keep coming back stronger” claim in the morgue, but the fault here rests with the director- the camera is far more interested in what Captain John is up to than listening to Cooper grandstanding.
Speaking of the guest star, there’s little praise to be given that hasn’t already been awarded elsewhere. Although giving life to a one-dimensional sociopath, James Masters makes it obvious that he was doing this sort of thing long before Torchwood was a gleam in a Welshman’s eye. Impossibly, Masters keeps John enjoyable to watch at all times, despite his casually KILLING THE MAIN CHARACTER STONE DEAD. When the Doctor asked Donna and Astrid to come with him, the audience winced. In contrast, Jack’s veto on John’s bid to become a regular is met with a disappointed sigh. His return can’t come soon enough.
With much of Series One written back-to-back, it was left to Chibnall alone to introduce character development and ongoing threads. For the show’s first run, the fictional Torchwood website was essential reading, as the emails between the characters fleshed out their interpersonal relationships in a way absent from the programme itself- for instance, Toshiko’s crush on Owen was previously only referred to in this additional fiction, not manifested in transmitted episodes. Here, the greater gestation time enjoyed by the second series is evident, with two new story stands emerging- John’s information on the status on the Time Agency and Gwen’s engagement. The former will be of particular interest to Doctor Who fans, being first time that a concept from the nineties spin-off novels has been incorporated wholesale into the new series (Presumably, it helped that the Agency evolved gradually, with no specific “creator”). The latter, however, will hopefully be expanded on as the series continues. The most obvious flaw in Series One was the failure to give the team consistent interaction with an individual outside Jack’s employment, and as yet, there’s no sign of a solution to this problem. Disappointingly, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang continues the unwelcome habit of shoehorning Gwen’s boyfriend Rhys into the action on the other end of a mobile. The Torchwood spin-off books have proved that the character can be included in the story in a meaningful way- it shouldn’t be necessary to force his presence when the plot doesn’t demand it. The same is true of Cardiff PC Andy, who continues to repeat the lines used every time he appears.
Everything Changes and Smith and Jones show how foolhardy it is to draw conclusions on an Upper Boat series based on its first episode alone. For now, only one judgement can be made: Torchwood can thrive without plot.