Unacceptable. • 21 January 2008 • The SnowBlog



A member of the Torchwood writing staff

Do I dare trust myself to write a post about BBC flagship-show Torchwood? Probably not. Let's hide it behind the cut just in case mention of its name discombobulates my brain and crazy talk ensues. First off, well done James Marsters. In the first episode of season two he was turning sows' ears into satin-finish rayon purses at a rate of knots. But the introduction of an actor with real range, presence and mature confidence just made it look as though most of the rest of the cast were standing around watching him, waiting for an opportunity to ask him how he does it. Here's the premise of Torchwood: tell the viewer that they are watching an elite team tackle alien incursions, but never show them doing any such thing or even acting as a team - and if they do take action to sort out an alien menace, make sure it was entirely their fault in the first place so that it's clear that disbanding the team is the only solution that makes sense. In fact ideally have every episode centre around the bickering and mutual loathing of the team members until it starts to seem quite logical that they would endanger the Earth and shoot each other more or less on a weekly basis. This innovative concept has all the appeal of the X-Files if Scully and Mulder did nothing but bicker viciously while in the background monsters romped. Or original Star Trek, if Kirk, Spock and McCoy argued, got drunk and then had a fight every week. And make sure the whole thing is done with dialogue that swerves between ludicrously bombastic, childishly clichéd and things nicked from American TV that sound silly when transplanted to Cardiff. Torchwood isn't bad. It's a disgrace. It suggests cluelessness of staggering levels. It looks as though a group of people with no writing experience put it together. My favourite example of what's wrong with it comes from the worst piece of television I have ever seen: season one episode six, Countrycide. After five weeks of bumbling and bickering, causing problems instead of solving them, hating themselves and each other, the team is disarmed and captured by cannibals. Even though the team have guns, they are outclassed. Their enemy is able to sneak up behind them, even when they are alert and it's broad daylight, and knock them unconscious. Who are these unbeatable fiends? Well, someone thought it would be a cool sixth-form sort of twist to attribute their evil not to alien possession, but simply human depravity. Which means that Torchwood were defeated by middle-aged Welsh farmers with no special training. There is literally no one on Earth who couldn't outsmart or outfight Torchwood. And the team don't even want to be doing what they're doing so badly. In fact they never waste an opportunity to bemoan their lot. My suggestion? A new Torchwood team and a new writing staff. And just to smooth the handover process I have worked out what could happen to the existing characters. They're called in for perfomance appraisals and informed that they're a massive and embarrassing liability to the planet. Then Tosh can move to being IT manager for a local call centre. Gwen can go back to being a police officer, a job she will also struggle with, though not as badly. Owen can drive a mini-cab for a while before his tendency to get into fights leads him into trouble with the police. Ianto can finish university and go backpacking until he figures out what he wants to do next. And Cap'n Jack (a name that always seemed to me lifted straight from Pirates of the Caribbean) can go back to Doctor Who, where he's fun, rather than spending time in Cardiff which clearly depresses the hell out of him, just as it does me (at least when it's in the company of Torchwood). While the U.S. Writers' Strike continues, the BBC have an opportunity to borrow all the best names in American screenwriting, hire them for a month at a time and get them to teach their British counterparts how it's done. And if they don't think it's necessary, I suggest they watch Torchwood: Season One again and make notes. This is a golden opportunity - and would provide a bit of income to excellent American writers who are living on their savings at the moment. In the new spirit of BBC Glasnost, the corporation should admit when it's in over its head and hire in some talent. That way James Marsters won't be left trying to salvage an entire TV series all by himself. Though it's fun watching him try. (And if anyone wonders why I don't, as they say in the youthful vernacular, 'get a life', it's because in a couple more years I'd like to write for TV, and a healthy sci-fi franchise or two would be a perfect venue to aspire to. But it's all a bit pointless if the end-product is wasted cash and red faces all round. The UK should make one fifth as many good, action shows as the US - based on our population. I don't think it's anywhere near that number at the moment.)


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