Talking Torchwood: Series 1, Episodes 1-3: “Everything Changes”, “Day One”, and “Ghost Machine”

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One of my favourite things about Doctor Who is that it’s a family show. Firstly, it’s one of the few shows everyone can sit and watch together on a Saturday night, and everyone can genuinely enjoy. Doctor Who connects people, its found me some of my best friends, and it’s something I can talk about with a lot of people. Even if they haven’t watched it for years or even at all, people know who the Daleks are and what the TARDIS is.

Secondly, and more to the point of this article, I think it makes the show more intelligent. Doctor Who has tackled some tough topics in its 50 year run, particularly in the revival. Stories about depression, death and bereavement, discrimination. Doctor Who can be a powerful teacher when the themes are tackled correctly by the right writers. It can teach some very important things in an accessible, but not patronising, way. Doctor Who does handle its more mature themes with intelligence, and that’s something I genuinely love about the show, why it’s my favourite.

The issue is there is only so much you’re allowed to show at 7pm on a Saturday evening. I don’t think I would say Doctor Who has ever “glammed up” a serious issue “for the sake of the children”, not off the top of my head anyway, but I do think the show must have been restricted in some way tackling certain themes. The show has seen a later airtime in recent years, but as I said, there’s only so much you can get away with, and some people have thought they’ve gone past that already. I would probably disagree, but, what I’m (very poorly) trying to say is that I think post-watershed Doctor Who, on paper, is an interesting idea.

Torchwood’s problem is it has two very different ideas of what post watershed television is, and that’s evident from the first three episodes. In its strongest moments, it’s dark, though still enjoyable, real feeling with a sci-fi twist, and quite thought-provoking. At it’s weakest, it’s immature, silly, and sometimes even downright unpleasant to watch.

I do think on the whole these episodes show Torchwood’s potential, I do like the series and I would call it good, but, it is clear from the start that the show has a lot of problems.

Everything Changes

I like Everything Changes. It’s not a perfect story, and there’s some issues we’ll get to later (mainly what I’ve talked about above), but I do think it’s a perfectly solid opener. On my personal, hypothetical, checklist of what makes a good opening story, it does tick all of the boxes. It establishes the characters and setting rather well, it introduces the theme and tone of the show in a perfectly fine manner, it’s a solid story in its own right, and it does do a good job of establishing itself as a Doctor Who spinoff.

That’s the main praise for this episode I feel. Torchwood definitely does feel at place in the RTD era, along Series 1 and 2, and even 3 (which hadn’t aired at the time, but it definitely feels part of the rebooted Who universe). Why’s this? Well, I think it’s ultimately down to the fact this is a Russell T Davies script, and Russell T Davies is very good at introducing things.

Everything Changes very much plays out like Rose in the sense it’s Gwen’s story, it’s Gwen’s introduction to the universe, and it’s her we spend the most time with. Gwen is a very interesting character already, she gets done really good stuff and is written very well, and Eve Myles is wonderful already, carrying the episode on her own, but also showing good chemistry with the other cast. It’s very clear from the beginning this is her show. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, particularly Burn Gorman and Indira Varma, but this is Gwen’s story, and she’s brilliant in it.

Davies’ apparent, but brilliant style, alongside a couple of small, but vital references to events in Doctor Who series 2, really connects  the show to the parent, adding to the Who universe. As well as the character stuff, which does drive this episode, Davies is very good at intertwining the plot into the episode. It’s paced nicely, and though the ending is a little rushed, it’s tied up nicely at the end. Bar a bit of iffy dialogue, the scene with Suzie and Gwen is very good, her motives prove her to be an interesting character, and there’s definitely an element created of “there must be more of her” created in her final scene (though that could be because I know that there’s an episode called “They Keep Killing Suzie”, which does parallel nicely to this one. The dialogue when they resurrect the victim at the beginning, about seeing darkness in death, that’s cool set up).

The story is very well produced too. The direction and cinematography are lovely, there’s some interesting editing in places, it’s paced rather well bar the slightly rushed ending, and the music in this (and the other two episodes) is top-notch.

The problems. As I said earlier, Torchwood seems to have two ideas on what post-watershed entertainment is. Everything Changes isn’t a particularly adult themed script, and bar the swearing and blood splashes, and that questionable scene with Owen, there’s not much which, with a redraft, couldn’t be edited to fit Doctor Who. As Torchwood is meant for older audiences, surely a darker mystery would have worked better. This just feels like a standard story with added moments solely to achieve 15 rating.

And that’s the beginning of Torchwood’s problems.

Day One

Day One isn’t an awful story, not below the surface anyway. It’s hardly a great story there, but it’s definitely a lot better when you see it as the story of Carys instead of “The One with the Sex Monster”, (which would have been a more suitable title).

There’s definitely some good stuff here. The characterisation of Gwen is pretty good, Eve Myles continues to be brilliant, getting some good lines, and I do like the scene where she wants to take responsibility for everything which has happened. The pacing’s pretty good, though we have a rushed ending again, and the direction and music are excellent. There’s potential for an interesting story here, and credit where credits due, I suppose a sex monster story could have gone at lot worse.

The problem is, the way this one feels, it does feel like the show is proud for having a sex related story.

On paper, no, I’m not against a sex related Doctor Who story. It’s an everyday part of adult life, and that’s what Doctor Who does, take things from the real world. Also, sex related stories can have important messages and morale to say. Easy A, one of my favourite films, while primarily a comedy, has some great themes such as the double standards for promiscuity concerning men and women. It’s an intelligent, well written, hilarious movie. This just feels like the team had a list of sex related things and decided to cross them off one by one. This feels like a sex story for the sake of a sex story, and a pretty immature and uncomfortable one at that. The scene with the security guard made me feel rather awkward. It didn’t add anything to the script, it felt thrown in, and I think that lies the problem. It mistakes the benefits of a post watershed Who to tell normal stories filled with crude moments.

It does tone down as the episode goes along, for a bit, but the whole package does feel very immature. If I was 12 (and I mean if I was 12, not assuming the maturity of the nation’s 12 year olds. I wasn’t one) I would have probably loved this, but I do think it’s really quite poor, now I don’t find any mention of the word “sex” hilarious.

I can see why people stopped watching after this. As I said, it’s not atrocious when you look at it past the surface, the problem is the show doesn’t wat you too, instead it wants to wave it’s 15 certificate in front of your face.

Ghost Machine

Now this one I really like. For a start, it actually builds on the show’s potential. It’s a dark story, with a really interesting concept, and some great character moments. Not just from Gwen, but from the rest of the team (Bar Ianto, who has like 2 lines).

I love the concept of the Ghost Machine, the two halves, how it’s introduced, and his it’s played throughout the story. The scene at the beginning where Gwen is “transported” back to WW2, is really intriguing, as are the scenes following it. The concept, of the machine itself and how it affects its users are genuinely compelling. I love the scene after Owen witnesses the murder of Lizzie Lewis. For the previous two episodes, Owen is presented as an arse, after this scene he’s presented as an arse, but that little moment, that moment where he feels upset and scared at what he’s seen, is amazing, and wonderfully acted by Gorman.

Gorman is brilliant in this episode by the way, giving Eve Myles (who is still at the centre of the story) a run for her money. The scene where he interrogates Ed Morgan is the episode’s strongest. Paired with some great cinematography and editing, Gorman’s performance is really tense here.

I do love how the Ghost Machine is used regarding on that character. It’s interesting how Gwen sees an evacuee, a boy away from home for the first time, as she is away from home, or normal life, for the first time as she joins Torchwood. Owen is disturbed by a man sexually abusing a woman, despite him doing something similar in the first episode. There’s some really interesting characterisation here.

I do love stories about ghosts, past and future, and how people who know the future “can’t just sit and look at it”. That’s a really interesting idea, one which has been used well in Doctor Who before.

Ghost Machine is a rather dark script. There are some silly moments, like that Chase scene, but for the most part the story handles the idea of “ghosts”, how people can’t just look at the future, the importance of past and future actions, in a rather dark, adult, but ultimately mature way. It’s an excellent, well written script, with great caharctersiation and an interesting concept, and easily the best story out of the three.

Interestingly, checking the BBFC website, this one’s only rated 12.

Overall
Torchwood definitely has potential. There’s some good ideas, some interesting characters, and some really great scenes and moments here or there. It is at times a great show, an interesting addition to the Whoniverse, a series which does have quite a bit to offer, when it’s not telling you how adult it is.

Scores
1. Everything Changes (A very good, but imperfect, introduction to Torchwood) 8/10
2. Day One (A ridiculous, often OTT story, but there’s definitely some things to praise) 4/10
3. Ghost Machine (Fantastic concepts and great production, definitely shows the potential of a post watershed Who) 9/10

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