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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Cyberwoman” (aka “The Trouble With Lisa”)

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 3: “Ghost Machine”)

See, this is what happens when you treat the tea boy like, well, he’s the tea boy.

On the other hand, when your girlfriend gets mutated into a sexy-metal-bikini-wearing alien cyborg, sometimes you just have to let her go.

*sigh*
Ianto complains that no one notices him — “When did you last ask me anything about my life?” — and yet he also tells the pizza place, “My boss says I don’t eat enough vegetables.” So Jack, at least, is paying some attention to Ianto. In a later episode, though, there are hints that Jack and Ianto get much closer, and I think this is the beginning of that. Not that there aren’t some obstacles to get over: “You like to think you’re a hero,” Ianto tells Jack, “but you’re the biggest monster of all.” It’s hard to be pals with someone you see as monstrous.

Thing is, I don’t think Jack thinks he is a hero at all — I think Jack believes himself to be something of a monster, too. There’s a lot of lonely all over this episode — Ianto’s desperation to save his girlfriend, Rhys off on his own for a night out without Gwen — but Jack’s is still the most plaintive. Ianto isn’t quite right when he suggests that Jack doesn’t know what love is — as next week’s episode will show — but it’s pretty clear in this episode that Jack’s big problem is that he’s become numb to emotion: “Just for a second there I felt so alive,” says Jack about being in the grips of the Cyberwoman. Ironic that he feels dead because he can’t die. He doesn’t generally experience the same thing that, say, Gwen and Owen were feeling in the freezer drawer, when a passionate kiss seems like the right reaction to the threat of imminent death. You can almost imagine that Jack is a bit jealous of Ianto’s intense emotion, putting aside, of course, the danger he put all of Torchwood in by hiding Lisa in the basement.

Which brings up a ton of questions! Lisa worked for Torchwood in London, obviously, or she wouldn’t have been present at Torchwood Tower at Canary Wharf to get “upgraded” by the Cybermen there. But did Ianto work for Torchwood, too? I’m guessing he must have, if he was there to rescue Lisa. But what did he do? What special skills beyond making the tea and cleaning up everyone’s messes does he have, if any? I mean, it’s not that that latter isn’t a necessary job, considering Torchwood’s business — but that skill set suggests a more nefarious background than we might suspect from the tea boy. Ianto’s suddenly a whole lot more intriguing, and not just because he was keeping his own personal Frankenstein robogirl in the dungeon.

And how did Ianto get Lisa to Cardiff? Where was she in the interim between Canary Wharf and Cardiff? (Jack says in the Doctor Who episode “The Sound of Drums” that he rebuilt Torchwood in Cardiff after Canary Wharf in honor of the Doctor’s ideals. Which suggests at least a little time passed between the disaster in London and the opening of the Torchwood Hub in Cardiff. Where was Lisa during that time? In Ianto’s flat?)

What else in going on the subsubsubbasements of the Hub that Jack — and we — don’t know about? I love this aspect of the show, the urban fantasy, the we-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-in-those-city-nooks-and-crannies. Torchwood is like Beauty and the Beast, that 80s TV show, in some ways…

Random thoughts on “Cyberwoman”:

• That basketball scene at the beginning is right outta Firefly

• “Can you make it two pepperoni feasts tonight? And a tub of cold slaw?” Cold slaw with pizza? Eww, disgusting! What is wrong with these people?

• At the bar, Jack is telling an anecdote about someone who said: “Do you know how difficult it is to find a man in this city? He had a nice flat, all his own hair, so frankly, a couple of…” What? Tusks? Does Jack say, “Tusks”? What the hell?

• At that bar, Jack is drinking only water. We’ve seen him drink scotch back at Torchwood, though. Is he afraid of cutting loose out in the wild? He needs the safety of the Torchwood base?

• The name “Ianto” means, apparently, “God is gracious.” Hmmm, not so much toward this Ianto, I’m thinking…

• I love the idea that there are aliens who are “so boring” that they’re not worth talking to. We don’t usually get to meet them — I suppose they wouldn’t make for particularly interesting drama…

(next: Episode 5: “Small Worlds”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • For me, this is where Torchwood jumped the shark.

    OK, I’m being slightly facetious. Next week’s ‘Small Worlds’, is an absolute belter, as is episode 10, ‘Out of Time’, and there are several quite entertaining episodes littered among series one.

    But ‘Cyberwoman’… Jeez! If Edward D Wood was working in television today, I imagine he might come up with the Lisa-punches-a-pterodacyl scene. Or better yet, the do-it-yourself brain transplant and unintentionally hilarious “dog pissing on our tent” monologue.

    I’m sorry, really I am. I wanted to love Torchwood but its flaws (which I won’t list here, as the same criticisms have been repeated ad nauseum on every other site that’s discussed the show) are just too glaring.

    At a convention in London in the spring, even Peter Davison said words to the effect of: “Russell T Davies has done wonders with Doctor Who, but what on earth was he thinking when he made Torchwood?” Colin Baker, sitting next to him on stage, chipped in with a pointed comment about “that episode where there’s a Cyberwoman hidden in a cave and nobody’s noticed”.

    And before you ask why I keep watching, MaryAnn (as you did with another poster a few weeks ago), its because (i) I’m a Doctor Who completist, (ii) occasionally Torchwood surpasses itself and (iii) I accept that series one was a rush job and hope for better things next year.

  • MaryAnn

    This isn’t one of *Torchwood*’s better episodes, and there are several coming up that are absolutely mindblowing. This one is worth watching for the character stuff going on.

  • Katie

    Early spoilers out from the filming of S2 claim that we’re going to learn more about Ianto’s backstory. And I certainly hope so because he became a whole new person in ‘Cyberwoman’, someone I really really want to know more about.

    And I completely agree with you regarding Jack.

    Every now and then I’m reminded of just how different US television and UK television are. When Gwen and Owen stumble out of the freezer drawer and Gwen says “I could feel your hard on” was one of those moments. I just can’t imagine a character on US television saying that. The restrictions put on US television ridiculous.

    This episode isn’t the best (could they have “sexed up” a Cyberman anymore?) but it was great character wise for pretty much everyone. Well, except Tosh. Poor Tosh. We need more Tosh.

  • A criticism that detractors like me make is that lines such as “I can feel your hard on” sound as if they were written by a horny 14-year-old boy. (This is one of the reasons I was less able to take Torchood seriously after ‘Cyberwoman’: it was juvenalia brought to life, complete with a torpedo-breasted cyborg.) Maybe in the US, it’s refreshing to hear that kind of stuff on TV. In the UK, a lot of people reacted to the show’s self-conscious sexiness in a more jaded way, possibly because it’s not quite such a novelty over here.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up now. If others appreciate Torchwood more than I do, good for them. I just hope that the show can iron out its problems in series two, then perhaps I too can geek out, rather than going into picky critic mode.

  • MaryAnn

    A criticism that detractors like me make is that lines such as “I can feel your hard on” sound as if they were written by a horny 14-year-old boy. (This is one of the reasons I was less able to take Torchood seriously after ‘Cyberwoman’: it was juvenalia brought to life, complete with a torpedo-breasted cyborg.) Maybe in the US, it’s refreshing to hear that kind of stuff on TV. In the UK, a lot of people reacted to the show’s self-conscious sexiness in a more jaded way, possibly because it’s not quite such a novelty over here.

    I’ll give you the torpedo breasts, but the sexiness of the show is not at all juvenile — it’s exactly the opposite. There’s a lot of adult complexity in the sexuality of the characters and how they express themselves sexually (though I may be thinking more of episodes to come than what’s already aired here). The show is interesting not because the characters say naughty words like “hard-on” — that would be completely boring without the context of the complicated *adult* characters who say the things they say.

    It’s true that we don’t see enough of this on American TV, though.

  • Lucy Gillam

    On the name “Ianto”: it’s the Welsh form of “John,” which, of course, is also what “Jack” is derived from. I kind of like that – a bit like the Angel/Liam/Spike/William thing from Angel.

  • MaryAnn

    And of course “Owen” is in the same “Ioan/Ian” family that is supposedly related to “John,” too…

  • t6

    Just finished watching this episode. I know people are complaining about the sexed-up nature of the cyberwoman, but while watching the edited down version of SciFi, there was an interesting behind the scenes clip.

    They were talking to Russell Davies who mentioned the history of neumatic sexy women in sci-fi…and then of course I felt stupid. Because this sexed up cyberwoman is the robot Maria from Metropolis. They look almost the same…except this cyberwoman has some flesh as she isn’t completely robot yet. In that context, I wasn’t all that bothered. Especially since I think we were getting a subtle commentary about objectification all throughout it, but especially when the scientist was putting his hands on her because she was just an object for him, and Ianto was looking decidedly uncomfortable.

    As for the Pterodactyl/Cyberwoman match up, Russell Davies mentioned that that idea made them laugh for a week. I’m thinking that perhaps they were having a bit of fun there, mixing in a bit of the old style sci-fi.

    I don’t think the shows creators are 100% serious all the time and they mix a bit of whimsy with their drama, they mix a few homages to older sci-fi, and not always the classics.

    So far, I’m grooving on Torchwood and not bothered yet. Though I want Gwen to be a bit more Cop like–though I love her dearly. And Owen, who seemed to come off like a real get when introduced, was clearly really effected by the Ghosts in the Machine episode where he felt what is was like for a woman to be frightened, raped and murdered.

    After four episodes, I’m very excited by Torchwood.

    My big question is, are the US DVDs edited? Or do we get all the scenes and all the language? Does anyone know?

  • MaryAnn

    I think we were getting a subtle commentary about objectification all throughout it

    I never quite buy this explanation: “We’re not being exploitive! We’re *satirizing* exploitation!”

    Right.

  • t6

    Well, it is a bit of a conundrum. I do think they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. I think they do want comment on the sexed up nature of our society…but in the process of commenting on, they are also exploiting it. And their commentary is so subtle are mixed-messagy that it probably undercuts the message completely. But I do think there is an undercurrent of discomfort with the exploitation of our society happening in the show…but the discomfort is probably outweighed by the pandering.

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