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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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

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