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Torchwood is a curiously contentious show. To go by online reactions, a bit of a fool's game to be sure, people seem to either love it or loathe it, both beyond the point of rationality. There really is remarkably little room in the middle, it seems. It's odd, at least to me, that a show that's somewhat dopey but on the whole more good than bad should inspire such extreme reactions. The most obvious comparison I can draw is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off show Angel. Between the two of them, the shows had about twelve seasons, only about four of which are watchable. It's not bad company to be in, but it does illustrate my thoughts on the first season of Torchwood well: a flawed program that means well but has vast room for improvement.
And what Torchwood does well, it does very well (by the same token, when it does badly it's horrible), and its cultural impact and importance shouldn't be overlooked. Geek media, particularly sci-fi, tends towards the reactionary, the misogynistic and the heteronormative. Torchwood gives us a cast of characters of polymorphous sexual identities, and a dashing man of action and derring-do as the lead, played by an openly gay man, in a world in which racial diversity is a given. The grand-pappy of sci-fi TV franchises can't manage more than lesbian titillation, so the historic contributions of Torchwood count for something, despite the missteps in plot and character that frequently mark the first series.
Luckily, in the first two episodes of the second series, a lot of the problems appear to have been, if too soon to say definitively removed, at least acknowledged and ameliorated. In the series premiere, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang a very obvious effort has been made to develop the humorous aspect of the series. If one of the cited flaws of the first series was the skirting around the edges of camp and plausibility ("the world's most famous secret organization", etc.), this episode just runs with it. Starting with an expository blowfish and an infodump for new viewers, writer Chris Chibnall never fails to shy away from the jokes, focusing mainly on character. Both Tosh and Ianto in particular benefit from this, as they show more personality in this episode than in they did in large swaths of the previous season. But all the characters show improvement from the previous series. They are recognizably the same characters, but both the absence of Jack has made them stronger as a team, and developments from the last series are acknowledged and followed up on. Of particular note is the much needed de-angsting of John Barrowman's Jack Harkness character after his foray back into Doctor Who. He's still the somewhat authoritarian Jack of Torchwood but a lighter touch is evident.
A particularly strong element of the episode is James Marsters as 'Captain John Hart,' ex-partner (in every sense of the word) to Captain Jack. Torchwood is often criticized for an apparently adolescent attitude towards sex, and curiously, the lack of 'naughty schoolboy' characterization to Jack that some fans saw in his appearances in Doctor Who. The scene when the Captains meet is tremendous, a near-perfect visual representation of a love/hate relationship between two Future Man action heroes. They can't decide whether they should kiss or fight, so they do both, and clearly enjoy it. Captain John works very well within the context of the episode and the show as a whole: he's an unreconstructed Jack, the Jack that would have been had he never met Rose and the Doctor or come to Torchwood. He's amoral and selfish and essentially a walking Id. As a contrast to Jack he really makes an excellent short-hand for the development of Jack's character, as well as acting as a catalyst for needed interactions and developments with other characters, particularly in the development of Gwen and the Jack/Ianto relationship.
After a strong opening that is heavy on humor but mixed with action, the second episode, James Moran's Sleeper, and its inversion of that formula, might be rightfully viewed with trepidation, but again, a vast improvement in the show's dramatic storytelling is evident here as well. It's structured as a thriller, with the mysterious deaths of two burglars during a home invasion robbery, and escalates into a crisis of genocidal proportions in very plausible way. There is a lot of small but significant character moments here, notably for Ianto and Owen, and Moran brings Gwen forward as the 'heart' of Torchwood, a concept frequently given lip-service to but rarely followed up on, in truly deft ways. Another particularly good guest performance is featured in this episode, this time by Nikki Amuka-Bird as Beth, a woman who discovers a terrifying secret about herself. Her scenes with Eve Myles are heart-wrenching in the way they play off each other, with Beth as the lost woman trying to understand what is happening to her and Gwen's empathy driving her to forge a connection with the woman that is perhaps deeper than is wise.
There is a frustrating aspect to the episode, however, in that for all its drama and emotional gravitas, it never seems to want to follow through on the almost painfully obvious political metaphor at the heart of the story's action. When you have an alien sleeper cell, complete with suicide bombers, and black-bag over the head renditions and torture used to extract confessions, an explicit metaphor to terrorism and the response to terrorism is expected, but it never really materializes. The end result is scenes that feel like they should be adding up to more, but don't quite gel because the heroes are doing things that in a real world context are highly unethical, and the 'terrorist' becomes the most sympathetic character in the story. And while that latter point is central to the story's theme, the effort to keep the regular cast in a heroic mode seems to prevent a deeper exploration of the symbolism. In the end, it's a disappointment born out of me wanting the show to be more than it is. It's not a fair criticism, as the show, at its heart, is escapist entertainment, with a noticeable tendency to not take itself too seriously, even when it delves into serious drama and tragedy. That almost schizophrenic tendency is both the show's strength and weakness.
Dale Lazarov's new book, a collaboration with illustrator Amy Colburn, Manly, is now available for pre-order from Amazon. I've seen some preview pages, and it looks really quite good. Well worth checking out if you're a fan of quality, sophisticated all-male entertainment.
Hey, who's the poster boy for condescending liberals? Why, Ollie Queen of course!
"Hey, what about the presumption of innocence?" "That's the way The Man does things, my noble savage friend." "You ARE The Man! Asshole."
"And just like the white man 'borrowed' your people's lands!" "I just killed three men with my bare hands, Mr. Arrow, sir...one more life sentence won't make much difference to me."
"That's right! I'm going to college, to major in hotel and restaurant management, and then I'm coming back here to open a casino, and take advantage of your people's vice for profit! And I'll fund my education by selling pot and mushrooms to hippies who think that a weekend of drug use puts them in touch with thousands of years of my culture!" "That's the spirit, kid!"
LITTLE LULU TP VOL 18 THE EXPERT If you had told me a couple of years ago that a collection of Little Lulu reprints would sell well enough to justify eighteen volumes I'd...well, I'd probably nod and smile politely while thinking "what a weirdo Mike is."
FREDDY VS JASON VS ASH #4 (OF 6) (MR) Yet another sign there is no God...
GON VOL 03 Oh, tiny dinosaur, is there no day you cannot salvage through the infliction of horrible violence onto predators?
ANNIHILATION CONQUEST HC BOOK 1 Not enough Rocket Raccoon
ASTONISHING X-MEN #24 Too much Whedon.
WORLD WAR HULK AFTERSMASH DAMAGE CONTROL #1 (OF 3) My dilemma...does McDuffie returning to Damage Control trump the annoyance factor of the cross-over branding?
YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS #1 (OF 6) I wonder if I would still be so enthusiastic about Young Avengers if it came out more often. As it is, it's like a nice little treat when something does show up. More regular appearances, and I might get bored by the cross-over-itis.
COMPLETE METAL GEAR SOLID HC (AUG063391) $55.00 A $55 hard-cover collection for a video-game tie-in comic. A sarcastic comment is unnecessary, I feel.
GARGOYLES TP VOL 1 CLAN BUILDING Over the years, I've learned to be amused by the fanaticism Transformers fans, and occasionally entertained by G.I. Joe fans and their dogmatism. Gargoyles fans though? They actually scare me a little.
GUIN SAGA MANGA TP VOL 02 SEVEN MAGI I just read the first volume. It really was just a cheap, trashy fantasy novel in manga format, the sort of thing that, in book form, just prompts a sigh when I come upon it in bookstores. That sort of thing just about works in manga form, though. At least I can just see the damned eldritch horror, instead of having to read six pages of description.
MILFS ON MARS GN (A) Remember when Eros put out porn books you weren't embarrassed to be in the same building with?
UNCLE SCROOGE #371 WALT DISNEYS COMICS & STORIES #686 Holy Chao! These have August 07 order codes! I never honestly expected to see these in stores again.
CLASSIC MARVEL FIGURINE COLL MAG #25 CYCLOPS I'm going to be in trouble when the DC ones start showing up in Previews. Good thing I have this new apartment that could actually fit a new display case...
24 8 AM JACK BAUER 12-IN CLOTH AF This puts me in mind of "Rob Liefeld's 8 inch Shaft" for no good reason.
HALO PRISONER FINE ART GICLEE $89.00 This is an $89 video-game poster. Again, sarcasm is redundant.
MAD BALLS CLASSIC SERIES 1 Dear Marketers, Not every toy from the '80s needs to come back. Love, Dorian
Still moving, updates still to be spotty, so amuse yourselves with this:
NONA...Nerds Only Need Apply
I was thinking of this while reading a discussion of the new Star Trek film, and how my gut feeling is that the franchise hasn't lain fallow long enough to remove the stigma of being for a hard-core cult audience that a new film version needs to be viable. That, to be truly effective, the franchise needs a Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica length gap between old and new versions; long enough to make the old fans happy it's back, but also long enough to make the wider audience comfortably nostalgic for it. At this point, it doesn't matter how many pretty young men you pack into the film (and boy howdy, are they packing them into this movie...almost as if they're deliberately banking on gay men and slashing fangirls shoring up the box office), the general public's opinion of Star Trek is that it's something for nerds, by nerds, and no one but nerds would have any interest in it.
But, I kind of like that turn of phrase, NONA, even if I must say so myself. And now I'm curious; what else out there in the pop culture spectrum do you think is being hurt (or helped) by the Nerds Only Need Apply attitude of creators?
For a show that has weathered more than its fair share of painfully literal story titles, Voyage of the Damned still manages to feel like a particularly acute name. Even considering that the average fatality rate for Doctor Who is around the 90% rate, writer Russell T. Davies still managed to put out a particularly bleak and down-beat special episode for family-hour Christmas viewing. And remarkably it works quite well. This is largely due to the deft hand Davies has developed on the show in balancing humor and drama. A good portion of that humor in the episode comes from a clever inversion of the usual Doctor Who formula; instead of taking a human into space and exposing them to the wonders of the universe, the Doctor takes aliens to Earth. Kylie Minogue's Astrid is given a particular good moment as an example of this, expressing amazement at the beauty of an ordinary street, much to the Doctor's befuddlement. Davies takes full advantage of Hoka-ish misunderstandings of Earth culture on the part of the "people" of Stow on their journey to Earth for jokes, building engaging personalities for the supporting characters and putting the audience at ease before the horrible things start to happen.
The inversions of the usual Who tropes becomes an important point in the story. Davies is fond of foreshadowing character developments far in advance, by happy accident or design. The Doctor's absence in The Christmas Invasion leading to disaster sets up the Utopia, The Sound of Drums, The Last of the Time Lords trilogy. The Doctor and Rose's cavalier attitude towards danger and death sets up their separation in Doomsday; it's the consequence of their flirtation with danger. Donna's comment in The Runaway Bride that the Doctor needs someone him presages Martha's role in the third season, by establishing both the need for a companion and the required personality type. The theme that is hammered home in this episode is, chiefly, that the Doctor in the end is fallible. After the build-up the Doctor has had over three seasons as the "lonely god" and a savior figure, the Doctor is now returned to the role of a single man struggling against fate and inevitability. He's knocked back several notches and humbled in the worst way possible. In the end, to a certain degree, the Doctor can't save people. The wrong people live. The wrong people die. The question of who lives and dies has nothing to do with virtue or worth, but chance. It's an important lesson for the Doctor to learn, and as Mr. Copper tells him, in a thematic continuation of Donna's warning from last year, "If you could decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster."
Kylie Minogue work as an actress isn't familiar to me, but she's charming, and immediately makes alien waitress Astrid an appealing character. Astrid has a loneliness and wanderlust that resonates nicely with David Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor. Clive Swift is also quite good as well-meaning but horrendously mis-informed Earth-tour-guide Mr. Copper, and is the source of most of the misunderstandings of Earth culture humor that worms its way through the episode. In fact, apart from some scenery-chewing from the ultimate villain, which rather undermines the notion of the ultimate banality and selfishness of evil which he represents, the entire cast turns in good performances, ranging from the slightly slimy to the good-hearted but out of depth. It all makes for a very good episode of Doctor Who, easily one of the best of the new series.
Proper phone etiquette when dealing with David Cassidy:
"But my brother Shaun wants to put you in a remake of American Gothic!" "Never call here again!"
Let's see, Shirley Jones is looking away from David, and her hand is covering her mouth...both are "tells" for bad liars... Bless her, that's a considerate mother, trying to reassure the boy that it's not him girls find loathsome...
True writing talent comes from inspirational ideas, vision and creativity. The boring technical stuff can be done by others.
The characters are not there to serve your super-special plot. Rather, your plot should serve the characters. This a fundamental rule of writing in someone else's universe. *I* obey it and I don't even get paid, you fuckwads.
Two different people, two different message boards, two different fandoms. And yet, both very telling about the nature of fandom in general, I think. And you?
It's official; I have no strong opinions about One More Day. This shouldn't be particularly surprising, seeing as how I don't like Spider-Man the character. At all. If I wanted to hear about the life of whiny, neurotic losers, I'd spend more time in bars. Or comic shops. I don't see why I should be expected to pay for the privilege.
The outrage has been fun to watch, though, as it usually is. Nerd rage is highly entertaining after all, especially the more self-important and self-righteous it becomes. For the sake of comparison, the last time I saw raw anger that approached this level it was when Blue Beetle was killed. This eclipses that though, as unlike Blue Beetle, Spider-Man actually is a popular character. I can understand why, even despite my dislike for the character; having Peter Parker sell his soul to Satan in order to avoid the consequences of his actions as Spider-Man really is about as far as you can get from the core concept of the character without rendering him utterly unusable.
I think the thing that gets me is that people are genuinely surprised at the turn the storyline took. I never thought that the Straczynski run was any great shakes to begin with, not from any of the issues I read, and so given that it started badly, with lots of negative reaction from fans, continued badly, with lots of negative reaction from fans, how did people expect it was going to end? In sunshine and lollipops? That the book would be of such fantastic quality that it would cure cancer?
The only interesting thing about the book, to my mind, is the back-and-forth squabbling between Straczynski and Marvel's Editor-In-Cheif, Joe Quesada, over whose bad idea the book was, and to what extent. Not that they're quite phrasing it like that, mind you. It's interesting because, in the early days of Quesada's tenure, Marvel was supposed to be the big-time comic company that let the writers work on corporately owned characters in whatever manner they saw fit, without heavy editorial interference. And those days, apparently, have passed, if editorially mandated rewrites of the book really did happen. Which, again, shouldn't be too surprising, given that Marvel just finished up Act Two of a cross-over cycle that began with Avengers: Disassembled and seems poised to go on for another year or two at least. You simply can't manage, or micro-manage, so many events of such magnitude for an extended period without having a heavy editorial hand. (Or, to look at it another way, it's Marvel once again copying DC's bad ideas...)
And that, after all this, a few foolish people have been seen expressing optimism for the storyline to follow this? Oh, that's the funniest thing of all, really.