Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Torchwood (first look)

I just watched the first two episodes of Torchwood. It made me wonder what people who have never seen the new Doctor Who would think of it - not just because it's an official spin-off, but because the premise for both is very similar: an ordinary young woman meets a charming, enigmatic man and discovers the existence of a secret universe. (I even thought that the two actresses who play the characters of Rose and Gwen resemble each other, but that may only be because they have to spend so much of their time with identical expressions of wide-eyed amazement on their faces.)

In the first episode, one of the characters asks, "Why does Earth always get the nasty aliens? Aren't there any nice ones out there? Or do we attract the filth because we are filth?" It's a disturbing question (even if you don't believe in aliens; then the question becomes, "why do we only tell stories about nasty aliens?") and very typical of the new Dr. Who as well as TW.

But the shows' creator, Mr. Davies, doesn't answer the question - he just puts it out there. In this he resembles the creator of the new Battlestar Galactica, who says that his goal is to ask tough questions, not (usually) to answer them. I happen to think that BSG is more sophisticated. At the very least, it has managed to avoid the SF TV formula of "each week we encounter a new alien life form, and kill it." Torchwood seems like it will cling to the formula.

However, Torchwood is a very strange combination of the awkward and the sophisticated. It's almost enough to make one wonder if the sophistication only happens by accident, if it's a trick of asking questions without any thought behind them at all. But somehow I don't think so.

The second episode is a perfect example of this. It's about an alien which feeds on the "life force" of human beings - an idea which has been done over and over. The twist is that this alien uses sex to extract its nourishment - and the sex is graphically depicted. Lots of people, apparently, can't see past the sex scenes. But there is more than that going on. (In other words: graphic depictions of sex can appear "sophisticated" to people who usually don't get to see such things. But it's more sophisticated to look beneath the surface.)

In fact, despite all evidence to the contrary, I assert that the creators of Torchwood are not obsessed with sex. They're obsessed with emotion. That's a lot more interesting, and it does, perhaps, account for many of the plot holes and general clumsiness to be found in the show. A certain amount of implausibility doesn't matter, because we, the audience, want to see the characters interacting with each other, triumphing against impossible odds, and generally having adventures. That's it.

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