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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Everything Changes”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood)

Okay, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not watching Torchwood on BBC America, and I won’t be watching it on HDNet, when it debuts there on Monday, September 17. (Hold off on reading here if you haven’t yet seen the premiere episode, cuz there’s lots of spoilers.) This is because my lousy cable company — I won’t name names, but it’s Cablevision — doesn’t carry either channel. Episodes of Torchwood were, ahem, passed on to me as they aired in Great Britain last fall. I didn’t start watching them until recently, though (man, it takes forever to burn DVDs…), and I’m halfway through the initial batch of 13 episodes. (Season Two will begin airing in early 2008 in the U.K.)
So, right off the bat, there’s some CSI nerd saying “fuck” like five minutes into “Everything Changes” — “There’s no procedure anymore, it’s a fuckin’ disgrace,” he sniffs as the “special ops” Torchwood folks show up at his murder scene. And I thought: Hello, this will never make it past the U.S. censors, who have a stick up their butt about the weirdest things. Gwen’s “tough shit” later on would probably be okay, what with shows like Saving Grace getting way more explicit in the language-and-sex department than commercial television in the States has been before. But a “fuck” (or a fuck)? No way. And it keeps getting “worse” in later episodes, enough to convince me that there’s no damn way I’d wanna be watching Torchwood edited for American squeamishness, and damn glad I have access to the British versions. Because some of the sexy stuff is, in particular, in later episodes, so intrinsic to the plot that there’s no way you could excise it.

I adore Gwen. She’s one tenacious gal: even after getting doused with Jack’s forget-about-us drugs, she still can’t let it go. There’s nothing stereotypically “female” — or at least “female character on a TV show” — about her. She doesn’t panic, she doesn’t scream, even when faced with some weird shit… and the shit gets seriously weird in later episodes. Her relationships with men are the reverse of the clichés: she’s got the boyfriend left at home to eat alone the dinner he made while she works late; she got the male cop partner who just wants to laze around and not investigate weird shit. (Eve Myles also played the maid, Gwyneth, in the first-season Doctor Who episode “The Unquiet Dead.” I like to think that Gwen is a descendent of Gwyneth; the suggestion in that episode seems to be that the maid did not have any children, but what girl in the Victorian era would have admitted to having a child out of wedlock?)

Speaking of Gwen’s boyfriend — who seems a real sweetie — it’s interesting that she lies to him from the get-go about Torchwood: no, she wasn’t there for the murder at the city center; no, of course she didn’t see a murdered man rise from the dead, if only for a minute. (Man, that was creepy!) This is what happens when you get involved with people like Captain Jack Harkness, I suspect: you start becoming a different person, and not in the direction of nicer, either.

And how could you not change, for the better or the worse? Here’s a creature almost on a par with the Doctor as far as mysteriousness goes. He can’t die? WTF? (We’ll learn more about this as the current season of Doctor Who, now airing on the Sci Fi Channel, wraps up here in the States, though of course none of those episodes had even aired in the U.K. when Torchwood debuted there last year.) He talks about rifts in time and space running through the city like he was talking about the subway, and about alien weevils living in the sewers like he was talking about rats. How would you not — if you were a smart, inquisitive, bored guy or gal — do whatever you could to keep hanging around him? Even if he weren’t as supernaturally gorgeous as he is? (Oh my god, is John Barrowman beautiful. Like work-of-art beautiful. And still, I find the quirkier and too-skinny David Tennant Doctor infinitely more attractive.)

Is Gwen bored? She doesn’t deny the suggestion, however joking it was, that her boyfriend is stupid for thinking that it’s drugs-in-the-water, mass-hypnosis terrorism responsible for the rash of alien spaceships over London and Cybermen in every house. Did she wonder whether there was more to those events? Though the idea of mass denial of obvious reality is a great one for explaining why life seems to go on as normal in the world of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Maybe everyone thinks it’s all done with mirrors and FX, like the guy in the “mask” in the hospital corridor…

Random thoughts on “Everything Changes”:

• Great quotes: Jack’s “Contraceptives in the rain… Love this planet. Still, at least I won’t get pregnant… never doing that again.” Gwen’s partner’s “CSI: Cardiff, I’d like to see that. They’d be measuring the velocity of a kebab.” Jack again: “It was born on a different world, and it’s real.”

• The hidden entrance to the Torchwood lair reminds me of the secret entrance to the MIB HQ in Men in Black. But of course, I’ve been thinking of this show as Men in Black meets Doctor Who times The X-Files. With sex.

• “All alien technology stays on the base.” Riiight. Just like the Goa’uld never get out of Cheyenne Mountain.

• The pizzas! Russell Davies must have heard the urban legend — or is it? — about how the pizza places around the Pentagon and White House always know when something’s up, cuz more pizzas are ordered for workers burning midnight oil then.

• Owen with his pheremone spray: what a stud. And he’s bi! I bet that bit gets cropped out of the squeamish-American version.

• Do they really let the pterodactyl out to fly around Cardiff airspace?

(next: Episode 2: “Day One”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • They left the “bi bit” in – pretty sure any use of “fuck” was cut, and now I’m really bummed to think about what else I might be missing – but they did leave in Owen’s sidewalk snog with a man and it was very clear what those three were off to do next!

  • Frank Sugino

    For those of you who want to see the bona fide Brit version and don’t mind watching on your computer, check out [redacted by MAJ] . It’s a nice place to catch up on other Brit shows, too. Most are DivX encoded and look decent blown up to full screen size.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, guys, while I’m a big proponent of the fact that copyright laws are in desperate need of updating for the digital age, the fact remains that some courts of law frown rather harshly on people who promote downloads of things that some people feel we shouldn’t be downloading. That’s why I’ve redacted the URL in Frank’s comment above. I’d rather not take the chance of being thrown in Guantanamo Bay over a matter of promoting the sin of ungodly downloading.

    Google is your friend, folks. It makes Baby Jeebus cry that naughty things like copyrighted material can be found on teh Intarweb, but Google is your friend.

  • Katie

    Oh I have such love for this show! While my love of Gwen lessens a bit as the season goes on I absolutely adore her in this episode because how can you not relate to her? You spend your days delivering coffee (oh Ianto!) and breaking up bar fights when you stumble upon a group of “special ops” resurrecting someone…how are you not going to do everything in your power to find out more? How are you not going to do everything in your power to remember what you learned even if you had your memory wiped (and how creepy is it that they can do that and that Jack has no trouble telling his “victim” he’s doing it)? Of course you’re going to do everything you can to learn more.

    I spend way too much time at work hoping and praying and wondering why in the hell I can’t run into Captain Jack Harness. Because this gorgeous man can seduce me into his world and his bed whenever he wants. Sooner would be preferable to later.

    I always find it interesting how dark this show is but if you’re not really paying attention (at least in the first few episodes) you miss it. When they resurrect the murder victim and Jack asks him what he saw when he died and he says he there’s nothing…that’s dark. How Suzie “kills” Jack – her boss and supposed friend without blinking and eye…and that’s just off the top of my head for the first episode. Just wait till we get further into the season.

    One moment that I love about this episode: when Jack is walking away after drugging Gwen he walks past a modern phone booth. I love that and couldn’t help but giggle. I wonder if the production put the phone booth their or if Cardiff still has them.

    Owen’s a tosser but I can’t help adore him, Tosh is lovely and we need more of her and Ianto is so painfully underused. Oh, and I love the pterodactyl.

    Off to watch more episodes now. :-)

  • well, being more than halfway through the season, i have to say i actually grow to like gwen more and more, as she gets a bit dark herself.

    if anyone has a chance to go to YouTube and see the deleted scenes from Episode One, she has a great little speech which she delivers to Jack about what life is… it’s really great and gives a good insight to her character and why she decides to join Torchwood…

  • MaryAnn

    When they resurrect the murder victim and Jack asks him what he saw when he died and he says he there’s nothing…that’s dark.

    Obviously, Jack is fascinated by the glove and the revived murder victims because they’re seeing something he fears he will never see: whatever comes after death. Knowing that Russell Davies is an atheist lends all sorts of new overtones to the misery of an immortal man: Is it a good thing not to die if there’s nothing else, or is a bad thing to be out of reach of the only escape there is?

  • Katie

    “well, being more than halfway through the season, i have to say i actually grow to like gwen more and more, as she gets a bit dark herself.”

    I find that my growing dislike for Gwen is twofold:

    1) She’s continually pushed front and center at the expense of other characters who I want to learn more about (Ianto and Tosh specifically). As we go further in the season we need her as the “everywoman”, our way into this world, a bit less and so her prominence seems a bit forced sometimes.

    2) Her continued naivety, despite the things she sees AND the things she does (she’s been lying to Rhys since day one – not to mention the other things – so why is she continually so surprised at the dark, sometimes evil things humans are capable of? She starts to appear a bit stupid and in denial rather than someone who is naive and “good”. It just began to wear on me.

    “Jack is fascinated by the glove…the misery of an immortal man: Is it a good thing not to die if there’s nothing else, or is a bad thing to be out of reach of the only escape there is?”

    Which makes what comes later in both Torchwood and Doctor Who even more interesting. Especially the Doctor’s reaction to Jack (Don’t want to spoil anyone) And that’s a very good question in general and one that I’ll probably spend a decent amount of time contemplating on the Metro ride to work. :-)

  • “She’s continually pushed front and center at the expense of other characters who I want to learn more about (Ianto and Tosh specifically).”

    that’s what fan fiction is for, katie.

  • MaryAnn

    Plus, what the writers do to the characters is not the characters’ fault. Blame the writers for pushing Gwen to the front — don’t blame Gwen for that.

  • Two episodes and I bailed out of this one. The first episode is fine except for the fact that RTD only bothered to rewrite his first Dr. Who episode – couldn’t come up with anything more original. The second episode is excreble, choosing teenage boy level naughtiness and forced bisexual giggles in the place of story logic and character development. I followed the show’s progress in hopes of seeing something that would convince me it shaped up at some point, but don’t see that it happened. It’s a sex and monster show for 13 year old pimply boys . . . and not a very good one. It’s the first thing by RTD that I’ve ever despised.

  • MaryAnn

    Not everything that’s sexual in nature is juvenile.

  • Owen with his pheremone spray: what a stud. And he’s bi! I bet that bit gets cropped out of the squeamish-American version.

    I just got around to watching the first episode of Torchwood, and I was disgusted at this part. Nice to know that in the world of Torchwood, it’s okay to be a rapist as long as you’re bi!

    Yeah, rapist. In my mind, using a pheromone to make someone who wouldn’t normally want to have sex with you have sex with you is rape, plain and simple.

  • MaryAnn

    Nice to know that in the world of Torchwood, it’s okay to be a rapist as long as you’re bi!

    Well, that’s an interesting distortion of what I said, and what that scene depicts.

    Do you honestly see that as rape? If so, then any act of sex we engage in that is motivated by a purely physical reaction is rape, isn’t it? Some people are naturally overwhelmingly sexually attractive — are they committing rape when they “take advantage” of their naturally irresistability, of how others are drawn to them?

    Owen does not force anyone to do anything with him. Maybe he cheats at the game, stacks the deck in his favor, but those two characters could have chosen not to go off with him no matter how attractive they thought he was. But if they’re not answerable for their own behavior in that circumstance, then neither is anyone else who finds him- or herself emotionally or hormonally swept away, either. Do we really want to go there?

  • Owen does not force anyone to do anything with him.

    That’s not how I saw the scene. The girl, who has a boyfriend, clearly indicated that she was not interested in Owen at all. Then he sprays the magic pheremones and voila! Now she wants to sleep with him! The boyfriend’s situation is even clearer–first he’s angry to the point of violence with him, then magical spray later, and now he wants to sleep with Owen!

    The way I saw the scene, what Owen did is no different, morally, than if he slipped some roofies into the girl’s drink and later had sex with her.

    If so, then any act of sex we engage in that is motivated by a purely physical reaction is rape, isn’t it?

    Not really. If what Owen had was described as a “mind control drug” rather than a “super-pheromone”, wouldn’t you have a different reaction? Don’t you find anything at all morally questionable about the way he acted?

  • I also feel obligated to point out that, problems with that scene with Owen aside, I greatly enjoyed the first episode of Torchwood, plan on watching the rest, and am pretty sure that Captain Jack Harkness would make me re-think the whole “being straight” thing if I ever met him…

  • MaryAnn

    Don’t you find anything at all morally questionable about the way he acted?

    I do. I just don’t think it crosses the line into rape. Would it be any different, morally speaking, if he had spent hours wooing her, breaking down her defenses, till she was charmed enough to go to bed with him? If so, what would the difference be? What’s the difference between wheedling and lying to someone to get them to change their mind about going to bed with you, and spritzing yourself — not someone else, yourself — with a pheremone that makes you irresistible? If that kind of seduction is not rape, then why is this?

  • Would it be any different, morally speaking, if he had spent hours wooing her, breaking down her defenses, till she was charmed enough to go to bed with him? If so, what would the difference be?

    I think the difference would be that he was using persuasion, not a hyped up alien drug. To be akin to what Owen did, in addition to spending hours wooing her, he’d also be buying her drinks and making sure she drank them all night.

    At this point, might as well agree to disagree, because we clearly saw what happened in different ways. I will be interested in seeing how Owen’s character develops in subsequent episodes.

  • hayleigh

    torchwood is da best

  • MaryAnn

    Ah, well, there you go, then. Indisputable proof that Torchwood is da best.

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