I have managed to watch all the Torchwood episodes this week thanks to the magic of Sky +. I must admit I was gripped and had to catch up because of watching open air Shakespeare for a couple of evenings (see other blog entries). It was enormously difficult to avoid spoilers (especially now I twitter, have a Reader and Google alerts ping culture news at me). I’ve also been catching up on Coronation Street and it just made me think that even though I am a great Corrie fan, the format of the soap is so limiting and after 45 years there is so little that can be done with it that would shock. In comparison, Torchwood can move across genre boundaries and do some really exciting interesting things.
In Coronation Street, boy looses girl who goes off with his rival and a married man embarks on an affair with friend’s wife. Torchwood can do all that if it wanted but can do lots more, because in Torchwood all humanity is in danger. In Torchwood, it may feel that when the main character cannot die so there can’t be any sense of danger when assassins get close. We now know that even when Captain Jack (John Barrowman) is blown apart and or even cased in concrete we’ll hear that short anguished gasp as the pain of resurrection kicks in and he returns to life (always followed by a humerous quip). So like Corrie, Torchwood has to work with character development because to make the repetitive interesting, but it has the advantage of being able to introduce aliens, time travel and move out of Cardiff to the rest of the Universe.
The episodes of Torchwood this week were clearly political and the time was ‘out of joint’. Like Doctor Who the programme works with debates and issues in society to develop narrative. Taking a simple concept and creating a threat to the world out of it. In this week’s episodes, our attitudes to School league tables, the care system, political spin and public reputation were questioned. Alongside the global issues, there were the personal stories such as the loan civil servant (played brilliantly by Peter Capaldi) can be indispensable with echoes of the David Kelly affair.
In the five episodes, there was a reflection of the early Torchwood episode ‘Countrycide’ in the five episodes that the real threat was human and not alien. It felt that the danger came from the establishment as it tried to track down Torchwood and destroy all those involved in it. It just didn’t seem that there was a threat from an alien known as the 456. We never really saw the 456, and our view of it was built up through the anguished squeals, the large scaled body that banged against the casement filled with poisonous gas that it lived off. The horror came from the fact that the prime minister (Nicholas Farrell) was willing to give up 10% of the world’s children, that a decision was made to take away the children from the lowest performing schools – ‘because what are the league tables for?’ Gwen (Eve Myles) has glimpsed the end of the world and that’s because of the way the human race behaves as the army tracks down children in hiding, rather that the threat from the alien. The horror was also that Captain Jack had sold out in 1965 and given the twelve orphans to the 456 and that he was willing to sacrifice his own grandson. Would Captain Jack ever be able to live with himself and go back to Torchwood. Had Torchwood been destroyed from within in the end?
I wouldn’t want Coronation Street to go Dynasty and write a storyline where a character is kidnapped and taken up in a space ship. Narratives will always centre around the street. What makes Coronation Street so good is that combination of humour and drama. In some ways it is fine to be predictable, characters like Julie, Becky, and Sean are a joy to watch. This is what I love about Coronation Street. Torchwood can bring the drama the twists the critical look at humanity and they way we live.
After all this, Torchwood is not perfect, and in trying to deal with the questions we are all asking – where is Martha, and where is the Doctor? Was the 456 a minor monster so the Doctor could get on saving the universe somewhere else, but the biggest question was surely Martha Jones didn’t say. ‘I’m on hols and it doesn’t matter who invades the earth, even if it means the end of the world just don’t disturb me!!’ The point is we’re talking about it and that will make the programme last.
Yes, I am ready for my next dose of Torchwood. Please return soon.