Talking Torchwood: Series 1, Episodes 4-7: “Cyberwoman”, “Small Worlds”, “Countrycide”, and “Greeks Bearing Gifts”

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First series of TV shows can be a bit hit and miss. This is perfectly natural, the opening series is essentially there to establish everything, and test out what elements of your show work and what elements do not. That way, if your show is lucky enough to get a second series, you can take the elements that work and build on them, hopefully creating a more consistent run of episodes.

This isn’t always the case, I find Series 1 of Doctor Who to be much stronger than the second series, and a very consistent run, but there’s definitkey some TV shows which have a wobbly first season, take notes, and improve for the rest of their run.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s important for a first series to be the best thing ever, because it’s main purpose is to introduce. So long as there’s potential shown for future stories, and room for improvement, I think you’re okay. Hoping for top quality is good, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world if there’s a couple of duds at the beginning.

That being said, when it comes to the first series of Torchwood, the individual episode quality is so diverse, that it actually becomes noticeable. Whenever you get a large group of items together, whether it be songs on an album or biscuits in a Christmas tin, there will always be some which you like more than others. That’s natural.

But the quality jumps from this particular set of episodes? I don’t think this is a case of trial and error, I think this is a case of throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks.

The problem is, here, a lot of the mud is falling right off.

Cyberwoman

There’s not really a lot of positive things I can say about this one. There’s some alright bits, some okay performances, and some passable character stuff, but ultimately, I don’t think this episode works.

This episode is supposed to be Ianto’s time to shine, which on paper is a really good idea, as so far he hasn’t really done much. He was barely in Ghost Machine, and didn’t feel particularly present in the opening two episodes, so I’m glad to finally get a story where he’s at the centre. Some good character stuff, why he’s the way he is, and why he doesn’t feel like he fits in with the rest of the Torchwood team.

On paper, it’s a good idea. The problem is, when I’m actually watching this, the story all about Ianto, I’m preferring the scenes when he’s not actually in it.

It’s not that Gareth David Lloyd is a bad actor, because he’s not. He’s not particularly good here, though he’s not been given the best script to work with, and a bad script can weaken even some really good actors performances. It’s also not that the material he’s been given sucks on paper either. The “I clean up your shit” scene could have been brilliant with the right words (it is a little tell-y). It’s all in the execution, and when it’s not being boring, it’s being incredibly silly.

I like the idea that Ianto has a secret, that he’s keeping it apart from his colleagues because he’s not particularly comfortable around them, and that his secret breaks out and he has to face the consequences. That’s great, I just can’t take it seriously when his secret is in a metallic bikini.

The relationship stuff is very poorly written, the acting is questionable from both parts, and the dialogue is at times atrocious. The whole scene with the pizza delivery girl, featuring great lines such as “when we woke up a dog was p*ssing on our tent” is unintentionally hilarious. This episode is very hard to take seriously. It tries to be dramatic, it tries to be scary, and it tries to have some good character stuff, but it’s really hard to take seriously when there’s a fight with a pterodactyl.

The direction and cinematography really sucks in this one too, to the point I actually find it distracting. All these random zoom ins get really annoying after a while. There’s also some really shit editing here too, and the music is pretty bland, which is a shame, considering how strong it was in episodes 1-3.

I do think this is the weakest episode of the series so far, and I do understand why a lot of people I know gave up after this one. I don’t find much to love here at all. There’s some interesting ideas, and I get what it wants to do, but it fails in its execution massively. It’s not very well made at all.

Small Worlds

Hold on, am I actually watching the same show? Are you sure?

Small Worlds is brilliant. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was a masterpiece, there’s a couple of things I don’t particularly like about it, but out of the seven I have rewatched so far, this is my favourite.

Why? Well, I think that out of all of them, this feels the most like your traditional Doctor Who story. Rework it a bit, and I could probably see Tennant and Piper in this one. I do think that helps. Of course, while I want Torchwood to be somewhat different (otherwise it would have no reason to exist), I also want it to not be too different. It is a Doctor Who spinoff, it should feel like Doctor Who, alongside having aliens and Captain Jack in it.

The characterisation in this story is top notch. This one is the first one to really put Jack at the centre, and he gets some really interesting, and cool, stuff here. You get to know more about him, his past life here, and how this information is executed in the story is really lovely. His relationship with Estelle is really touching, and Barrowman acts the scene when she dies really well. I also love the scene when he’s explaining to Gwen about the fairy petals, how all his colleagues were massacred in the tunnel. Barrowman gives his best performance here, showing some great chemistry with Eve Myles too, who also gets some really good stuff here.

This episode also has a really cool concept too. I love all of the stuff with Jasmine and the fairies, the extent they go to protect their own, and the suffocating with the flower petals is brilliantly gross. The design is pretty creepy too. The CGI scene where they kill Jasmine’s stepdad doesn’t look great, but it’s passable. It’s wonderfully violent though, though I do think the episodes creepiest moment is when the storm occurs in the playground, and Jasmine just stands there, laughing. That’s amazingly disturbing.

The music is good here too, the direction works, and the pacing is actually perfect for once. It doesn’t rush, it doesn’t drag, it goes at my tempo, and I love it.

I do think it goes into unpleasant territory at times. I don’t see why the man who upset the fairies at the beginning had to be a pervert, and her stepdad is a bit OTT at times. I know it’s acting and not real, but even on TV, referring to a small child as a “b*tch” really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall though, a Small Worlds is a creepy, dark, character filled piece which stays mostly mature, and has some great stuff behind the scenes.

I love it.

Countrycide

I think if I would describe anything as good but unspectacular, Countrycide fits the bill for me personally. I can see why a lot of people love this one, for the most part it’s pretty good, but it’s not my cup of tea.

There’s not too much I can find which is wrong about it. There’s some really bad dialogue in places, the Gwen/Owen forest scene springs to mind instantly, and a few issues with pacing, but it’s pretty good, I’m just not especially into it.

I do really like the build up in this story. From the stealing of the van, to the finding of the house, it does keep you guessing a lot of the time. The direction is really good at creating tension, and the low lighting, and decent dialogue for the most part, makes the episode feel naturally scary. The reveal of the body parts in the fridge has got to be the episodes highlight I think. Sure, I knew it was coming, that’s the downside to a rewatch, but it still made me uncomfortable in a good way. The reveal that these ads humans that did all this, really is an interesting reveal. The idea that “humans are the greatest monsters of them all” is a common theme in the Davies era, so it does work that the scariest, and most gruesome episode so far has humans responsible for it.

The character stuff here is pretty good too. I love the references to Cyberwoman, both on Ianto’s behalf and Gwen/Owen’s, and I love the scenes (Bar “Forrest Hump”, as I’m now going to refer to it) with them together, particularly the second where Owen has to operate on Gwen after she gets shot. The final scene with Gwen is pretty strong too.

And who can not love that ruddy great tractor scene?

I guess it’s just personal taste really. I’ve never been the biggest horror fan, so this isn’t going to appeal to me as much, but, it’s a very interesting and unique addition to the show so far.

Greeks Bearing Gifts

I’m not quite sure how they did it, but Whithouse and Co managed to make an episode which was far more unpleasant and difficult to watch than the one about cannibals.

Greek’s Bearing Gifts is essentially a “Greatest Shits” compilation of the worst things about Torchwood so far. Pretty much everything I have disliked about the show so far is present in this script, and it’s a lot worse here than before. There’s some good moments scattered around, which I’ll get to later, but for the most part, I’m really not a fan.

Firstly, there’s the overuse of sexual dialogue here. Torchwood has always had it’s fairshare of conversation concerning sex and sexual relationships, but here I don’t think we can go two scenes without someone bringing up an unnecessary reference. I’m not against sex talk on TV and movies, it can, if written well, can be quite sweet, touching, and add to character development. The problem with Torchwood, especially here, it’s in it because apparently a 15 certificate is a coveted prize. Here, it just gets a bit distracting, quite awkward to watch, as it’s poorly written, but not so poorly written, it’s actually funny. We don’t need a minute long conversation on how Owen and Gwen are now sleeping together, we saw that at the end of the last episode, and we don’t need to hear the dirty thoughts of the Cardiff public. It doesn’t add anything, and considering this one is nearly 50 minutes long, I think a lot could have been cut with no difference made to character or story.

Secondly, this one is really unpleasant. Firstly, there’s the disgusting transphobia, which is awful and should be cut from all future versions, because it’s vile and as far from the point trying to be made as they can get. Secondly, there’s that scene with man, trying to kill his son and his mother. I get what they wanted to do, showing Tosh using the pendant, but, did we really want to go that far.

Thirdly, and finally, there’s a waste of good potential. A story with Tosh is great, the concept of the pendant is great, and Mary, if she was rewritten slightly, could have been an interesting villain. But instead of a story concerning Tosh and her relationship with her co-workers, let’s have sex jokes, unpleasantness, and lack of story galore.

That’s the main problem with Torchwood, sex and swearing is considered more important than stories, and honestly, it’s kinda sad.

Competent acting, direction, and music save it from being the worst of the series, but nothing leaves a bad taste in my mouth like this one does.

Overall: Torchwood is still finding it’s feet, yes, and there is plenty to like here, plenty to appreciate, but also plenty of problems. These four episodes really do show the inconsistency of the show in it’s early stages, and while it makes it interesting from reviewing standpoint, it’s not always fun to watch.

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
4. Cyberwoman (I get what it’s trying to do, but it’s executed really poorly) 3/10
5. Small Worlds (Creepy and full of character, a fantastic story) 9/10
6. Countrycide (A pretty good horror story with good tension and great direction) 7/10
7. Greeks Bearing Gifts (A complete load of tosh) 4/10

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