Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Favourite Martians

So I've been watching "The Martians and Us," the BBC4 documentary ostensibly about the history and traits of British science fiction. Unfortunately, while the first episode was by far the worst, the whole series got collectively outclassed by the average episode of Prisoners of Gravity. For a start, it has an insufferably smug, jingoistic tone (apparently, Britain invented every single aspect of modern science fiction, and the rest of us are just imitators), which is undermined by the fact that they can't find enough well-known highbrow British sf writers to take part and have to resort to bringing in Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing as examples (presumably justifying this to themselves on the grounds that they're colonials, which is even worse). It also went on about Olaf Stapleton as if he was some amazing forgotten gem of SF, when in fact a) he wasn't that great as an actual writer (A+ for ideas; C- for prose), b) anyone over forty knows who he is anyway, and c) there are plenty of much less well-known British writers out there who deserve a fillip (no Philip George Chadwick? For shame-- then they could have legitimately claimed that British sf writers predicted genetic engineering). Also, there was no mention of the whole New Wave movement-- no Brian Aldiss, no J.G. Ballard-- no mention of modern British sci-fi writers (aside from trotting out Kim Newman, who's really a critic rather than a writer, every five minutes)-- and, most damningly, no Mary Shelley. Here they are, claiming that the Brits invented evolutionary sci-fi... and the first example they give is HG bloody Wells. They mention that the British invented the postapocalyptic novel-- and don't even mention Shelley's The Last Man on Earth. Could it be sexism, or just a sheer ignorance of anything that happened before 1850? If BBC4 really want to gain credibility as a highbrow arts channel, they're going to have to start learning about their material first.


Well, this week’s episode of Torchwood was pretty watchable, for a change; having Toby Whitehouse in was a real breath of fresh air in terms of characterisation and dialogue (namely, he actually provided the characters with both). The problem was, though, that, much like after seeing a fast-paced but ultimately superficial movie, afterwards I found myself with far too many niggles on my mind. So, right after Mary tells her the mindreading pendant can be used for good, Tosh just happens to have it on when a murderer passes. And he turns out to be an actual murderer, not, say, a paranoid schizophrenic off his meds. Yet another Torchwood member commits a breach of security that would get them cashiered in any normal organisation (someone on Tachyon pointed out that “Cyberwoman” contained the equivalent of an MI5 agent smuggling his al-Quaeda girlfriend into the office, and “Greeks Bearing Gifts” is just more of same), and Jack just gives them a stern talking-to and lets them carry on at work. And while I can understand Tosh apologising to Gwen for reading her mind, Owen is such a tosser that I think she would be well within her rights to say to him: “OK, I did wrong there, but one more word about it and everyone, Gwen included, finds out about the date-rape spray incident.”

While we’re on that subject, what is it all these otherwise sensible women have for Owen? He’s not particularly attractive (he reminds me irresistibly of Jude Law made up to play an android in AI, only shorter and more out of shape), he has the sort of obnoxious personality that in real life usually is fitted to the office nuisance (the sort who thinks he’s a massive hit with the laydeeez, and somehow manages not to notice that the laydeeez tend to leave the room when he’s around), and he shows every sign of being seriously disturbed on the sex front (leaving aside the date-rape-spray incident, his idea of courtship is to shove Gwen up against a tree and effectively threaten to rape her—and she goes for it?!), and yet reasonably mentally healthy career women—one a policewoman, for God’s sake-- seem to be continually falling into his arms.

Writing all that down, it also occurs to me to say that this episode made me realise that Torchwood has a really, really unhealthy attitude to sexuality. I can’t think of a single example of a positive sexual relationship, whoever the participants, in the entire series. Even the one-off, bit-part ones: we’ve had a married couple where the husband wants to kill the wife this week, cannibal yokels last week, a teenage girl shagging men in nightclubs a few weeks back, Roj Blake the rape-murderer… hell, even Jack’s ex-girlfriend in “Small Worlds” is someone who’s apparently been pining for her boyfriend for decades, and he ultimately gets her killed. Just once, I’d like to see a healthy, loving, friendly relationship where both parties gain support and strength from each other on Torchwood. I don’t care if it’s gay, straight, polyamorous or even human/nonhuman, just so long as I don’t come away from the episode feeling like all relationships are either evil or doomed, and/or that the writing team have got some serious issues to work through.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Last night I watched Doomwatch on BBC4. Unfortunately it was "Tomorrow, the Rat" again (can't they show any other episodes? I'd love to see "The Plastic Eaters" or something else for a change), which I remember finding risible last time I watched it. But the pathetic thing is that, even including the legendarily awful "rat trousers" special (sic) effect, it was still miles better than at least five of the last Torchwood episodes I've seen. It was:
  • Wittier (in that there were at least three lines that gave me a chuckle)
  • More interesting (in that the plot actually started, finished and kept me watching in between)
  • More relevant (in that it dealt with a real issue, genetic engineering, and one which is still pertinent today, if not more so)
  • More convincingly performed (need I explain?)
  • More credible in its portrayal of the relationship between governments and thinktanks (yes, the Doomwatch team have to fill out forms and deal with obstreperous Ministers-- I'd love to see the Torchwood lot do that)
  • More mature in its attitude to sex (seriously-- I believed the relationship between the lady scientist and the office Lothario considerably more than I believe, say, Gwen/Owen or Ianto/Circuit Breaker from the Transformers Comic)

God, you know it's time to give up when you're outclassed by a series which is legendary as a byword for lousy early-seventies eco-sci-fi, basically the early Pertwee era without the jokes. I'm going to watch "The Invasion" this weekend and hope it restores my faith in the franchise.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Torchwood or Scooby Doo?

I mean, think about it:

Leader: Cute, muscular and smart American guy;
Female Lead: Cute, feminine, supposedly professional but actually a bit dippy and inclined to mess things up
Techno-bod: Nerdy girl with glasses who almost never gets to do anything interesting (ETA: And she's a crypto-lesbian)
Laddish Sort: Fashionably-haired gent who's thick as two short planks and obsessed with indulging his carnal appetites
Comedy Character: A dogsbody, or dog's body if you prefer.

ETA2: this one appears to have been picked up on by Tachyon, and thence to Charlie Brooker. I'm viral!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


After last week's B-movie spectacular, this week's Torchwood did a 180 and actually produced an episode which I would consider good by any show's standards. Suspenseful, well-planned, and which, most importantly, actually uses something which people associate with Cardiff/Wales (myths about fairies, in this case) to good effect, rather than trying to pretend Cardiff is Los Angeles. I mean, seriously. Setting a couple of stories in Cardiff worked OK in DW new series 1 (S27, whatever), because in both cases all the characters were aware of the reputation of Cardiff as a backwater and took the mick out of it relentlessly. A similar thing could work quite well in Torchwood: e.g., making the explanation for why they seem capable of getting away with murder the fact that nobody in London cares what goes on in Cardiff (cf Boom Town), or focusing stories on local but relevant issues (unemployment in industry; the media boom; Welsh devolution etc., and if you don't think it can be done well in a sci-fi setting, check out Life on Mars and The Omega Factor). But doing all these Angel-style urban night shots just looks pretentious. Come on, guys, I want to like this series!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Who are you, and what have you done with our Russell T. Davies?!

I was planning on blogging this week about how Torchwood isn't really an adult show (as the BBC keeps claiming incessantly), but a family show with swearwords and sex scenes in (seriously: watch the first few episodes, and, if you cut out the swearing, make the rape-murder in Episode 3 an ordinary murder, and tone down the lesbian-snog scene in Episode 2 somewhat, you don't have anything I wouldn't show to a reasonably bright ten-year-old). But daaaaamn. That "Cyberwoman" episode not only crossed the border into B-movie territory, it smashed down the border crossing, molested the customs guards and claimed the land for the Queen of Spain while it was at it. I haven't laughed so much since the last time I watched White Zombie (which, BTW, the lovely folks at POE-TV have made available in its entirety for download) starring a clearly desperate Bela Lugosi. If the rest of Torchwood keeps up this standard, I'll be a massive fan, but not quite for the reasons I initially assumed I'd be.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RIP Nigel Kneale

And the pool of talented TV writers in this country just gets smaller and smaller.

By a weird coincidence, my first reaction to this week's Torchwood was "Oh my God! It's The Stone Tape!"