When I first heard that one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Dr Who, was being spun off into an adult-themed modern show for a late night audience, a sort of “British X-Files”, I was quite excited. Then I heard that the man who brought Dr Who back from the dead, producer Russel T Davies, would be running the new show, and I despaired.
Davies has done a wonderful job in providing a fresh new look and vision for a Dr Who of the 21st century. But the man can’t write science fiction to save his life. Pretty much every one of his narratives is capped with a deus ex machina ending, and his seeming obsession with his own homosexuality sees every one of his characters behave as a fickle omnisexual activist, intent on porking everything that moves…. and some that don’t. Thank goodness, guest writers were brought on board to write subsequent Dr Who seasons, or Davies would have buried that show in childish mediocrity.
The first season of Torchwood (see, it’s an anagram for “Doctor Who”) was everything I feared it would be. As I discussed in this blog post, everything about the show, except its production quality, seemed forced and amateurish. Need conflict? Make every character a bastard with a dark secret and a chip on his shoulder. Need sexiness? Have every character sleep with every other character within the first 3 episodes.
But probably the silliest aspect of Torchwood is how a show that’s supposedly about a team of super top secret specialists tasked with protecting the Earth from alien invasion is made up of individuals so unbelievably incompetent, unprofessional, untrustworthy, dysfunctional and young that they don’t even seem to know how to work their cell phones. In fact, I know of no work environment in which any one of those characters would have been hired, let alone be permitted to continue without a full psych and competence evaluation.
Who’s writing this crap? Oh yeah… Russel T. Davies.
I wasn’t expecting much from the second season. And yes, I’ve been watching this second season. Why? Because I’m an idiot. But surprisingly, the show has got much much better. Guest appearances by James Marsters (albeit as a predictably incompetent, omnisexual, overacting alien) and the more likable Freema Agyeman have made this season appear more important and grown up.
Memo to Russel T Davies: the secret to making a show “adult” isn’t in making everyone a sex fiend and throwing the word “fuck” around liberally. It’s in letting characters explore a full range of difficult emotions and experience the full repercussions of their actions.
In the first few episodes of the second season, the show is taking chances. A major character has been killed. Then resurrected. But this wasn’t the classic “reset button” of lazy Star Trek storytelling. He’s come back dead, with no functioning physiology. And this change is having repercussions for him and the team. This is good storytelling!
There have been some other excellent storytelling premises, as well. In my favourite thus far, a soldier in WWI is held in stasis and revived every year for one day until a rift in time opens up to return him to the past. This is a tear-jerker of an episode, cleverly told with a great deal of good old fashioned creepiness.
Verdict: season two of Torchwood is miles better than the first season. If you’re a fan of British sci-fi, this might be a show for you.