At the start of last year I wrote a post entitled The Trouble with Torchwood detailing everything I thought was so terribly wrong headed about that show’s first season. The second season finished last night so I thought I’d give my review of how I thought it went. In summary: much, much better.
The second series was less a continuation of the last series as it was a reboot. Pretty much all my criticisms were dealt with. The unremittingly dark tone – ditched. The ugly sex – bye bye Guppy’s bum! Stupid characterisation was replaced with emotional intelligence. And not just one but a whole series of metaplots wove throughout the series, giving each of the characters their day in the sun. One recommendation – to ditch Chris Chibnell – was not taken up but given that he is responsible for all of the other improvements, I don’t think we can really begrudge him that. Well done, Chris.
Not everything was perfect. Reframing Ianto as the bimbo love interest got a bit tiresome after a while, although whether I would have been half as irritated if it had been a female character is a moot point. John Barrowman’s scenery chewing seems to have got worse and he seems to be turning into Jon Culshaw’s caricature of him. Freema Agyeman/Martha Jones guest appearance was largely squandered by having her moping about in the background of two of the three episodes she appeared in, both of which largely focussed on Owen. The second episode Sleeper was well acted but plotwise was utterly derivative (has a single science fiction series ever avoided this stock plotline about sleeper agents being “out there”?). Dead Man Walking seemed to ramble in a way that made little sense to me, focusing on a “myth” which seemed to hinge on us believing that medieval plagues were the result of alien beings rather than viruses. From Out of the Rain was the standout worst episode for me, making very little sense (again with the fairy stories) and it was too dependent on the creepiness of the villains who were frankly not all that.
But overall these are minor gripes which were eclipsed by the high points. With the exception of From Out of the Rain even the weaker episodes were misfires which had several strong points. No longer cyphers, the characters were allowed to grow. At the same time, some of the subplots from the last series that were going nowhere (I’m thinking specifically of Owen and Gwen’s relationship) was allowed to die – to be replaced with a triangle between Jack, Rhys and Gwen and a focus on Tosh’s unrequited feelings for Owen. The latter was particularly strongly handled and ended up underpinning the whole series (for reasons that become clear in the final episode).
The scope of the series has been extended. No longer terrified of touching on Jack’s past for fear of treading on the Doctor Who team’s toes, we got to explore 100 years of Torchwood and his own 51st century childhood. In Fragments, we got to see everyone else’s backstory as well – it’s a shame this episode didn’t come earlier in my view. In Adrift, we some idea both of how the rift affects ordinary lives in Cardiff and about the worlds that lie on the other side.
So where does the series go from here (assuming there is to be a series three)? Well, they’ll need to find two new cast members for one thing. Will Martha Jones get to return as a full time cast member rather than attractive guest cypher? With the Doctor having to juggle three assistants by the end of his new series it seems unlikely he’ll carry on with all of them. There are hints of more guest appearances of “Captain John” and the door has been left partway open for a return of the already undead “King of the Weevils” (but not Tosh). Nobody seems to stay in the Torchwood freezer permanently so expect to see more of Gray.
For me though, I’d like to see the third series spend a little bit more time outside of Cardiff and even Wales. Torchwood Three, in Scotland, was mentioned in the pilot episode and it’s high time we got to see it. It would be nice to see some of these other worlds as well, rather than just hearing about them from mad people. More explanation about the Weevils, and just why they are so polite to dead people, would be nice too.
Here’s a thing. By the end of the last series I was frankly bored to tears with the whole exercise and slightly surprised a second series had been commissioned. By the end of this series I’m imagining future plotlines. That’s got to represent a success in anyone’s book.