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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Day One”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 1: “Everything Changes”)

Talk about first contact.

It’s almost glaring now, when you look back, the utter absence of anything even approaching the sexual in the old Doctor Who — of anything even approaching the sensual in any way. Surely part of the thrill of traveling through space and time with the Doctor would be the chance to taste new foods, quaff new drinks, and try new drugs, and — oh yeah — shagging sexy creatures you’d never even imagined before. It might not always be fun or turn out quite the way you’d want it to — not just the shagging but the food and the drink and the rest — but it would always be interesting.
And I say “Doctor Who” quite deliberately, because it becomes very clear as this debut season of Torchwood unravels that these are Who stories, beyond the fact that they’re taking place in the same universe as Who: Jack is the Doctor, Gwen is the companion, and the rest of the team is, collectively, the tin dog. And these would be Who stories if they weren’t so damn, well, hot.

Like this one: Alien lands on Earth, wreaks some havoc, gets taken care of by the good guys. We’ve seen this story before — it just so happens that the havoc this particular alien is wreaking involves orgasms, the human variety of which, we learn here, are just about the most delicious kind to be found in the universe. (That’s not too much of an ego boost, eh? We’re the best bang since the big one? Woo-hoo!) Now, it’s impossible not to imagine — and fanfic writers have been imagining this kind of stuff for decades — that the Doctor has encountered sexually voracious aliens before, or sexually irresistible aliens, and, you know, has probably not resisted himself. (Maybe the Doctor likes humans so much because we’re “the best hit there is.”) But we can’t let the kiddies see that, even on the new Who, so this case gets turned over to Captain Jack and Co.

Jack is alien to our culture, though, however human he may be, so he still gets to make the snide and funny comments on our weird hangups, still gets to serve as the contrast that makes a point. “You people and your quaint little categories…” The debate among the team about whether Jack is gay or straight or bi or what becomes almost its own antithesis, and not just because Tosh gets to say, “He’ll shag anything as long as it’s gorgeous enough.” Jack is, by the example of just being what he is and not being categorizable, holds up our prejudices about how narrowly we label people.

And then the really ironic thing about Jack is that, for all his banter about sex, he’s so unconnected to the rest of his team. Except… there’s a moment at the end of the episode, when Gwen kisses Jack, and there’s no passion in it — the kiss is all about gratitude and friendship. It’s only a thank-you, and yet Jack seems particularly moved by it. Is the something special in that kiss merely genuine feeling — not that it’s romantic feeling but just human feeling?

Like the Doctor, Jack is lonely… really lonely. Who knows how long it’s been since he really connected with someone else?

Random thoughts on “Day One”:

• Scariest thing about this episode? That the blanket surveillance of the city isn’t part of the science fiction — it’s a real part of life in the U.K. in the 21st century.

• Jack has the Doctor’s severed hand! And it’s important to him! Interesting…

• Great quotes: “Sometimes a bit of technobabble is good for the soul.” — Jack. “Period military is not the dress code of a straight man.” –Owen.

• The inflatable cell reminds me of the ghost trap in Ghostbusters

(next: Episode 3: “Ghost Machine”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]

MPAA: not rated

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