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August 30, 2015

Further Thoughts on 'Torchwood,' Plus Podcast Chat on 'Falling Skies,' 'The Hour' and More

by Maureen Ryan, posted Aug 5th 2011 6:30PM
I'm a bit behind in posting updates about the last two podcasts, but we've got packed edition of Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan this week.

In this week's podcast, Ryan McGee and I talk about TNT's 'Falling Skies,' which has its season finale Sunday, 'Torchwood,' which hits the midpoint of its Starz season tonight, and 'The Hour,' an interesting new drama that arrives on BBC America Aug. 17. I am not sure if I'll get a chance to write a full review of 'The Hour' this month, so if you're interested in the period drama, which stars Dominic West of 'The Wire' as a news anchor in mid-'50s London, you might check out our non-spoilery discussion of the show.

In the last segment, I talk about some of the things that have transpired at the Television Critics Association press tour, which I've been attending for the last two weeks.

I've got a bit more to say about the new season of 'Torchwood' further down in this post, and there are running times for the podcast below as well.

First, the running times for this week's podcast:

'Falling Skies': 0 - 11:49

'Torchwood': 11:50 - 26

'The Hour': 20:01 - 33:49

Talking Margo Martindale, AMC, 'Chuck' and other TCA happenings: 33:50 - end.

Don't forget to check out last week's podcast, in which we talked about the shows that hit Comic-Con and the controversy over 'The Walking Dead.'

As always, you can grab the podcast from iTunes (where you can also subscribe) or you can get both of the podcasts from the Talking TV home site. Full archives of every 'Talking TV' podcast are available here. The entire 'Talking TV' archives are also available on iTunes. Our RSS feed is here.

OK, as promised, here are some further thoughts on 'Torchwood.' Of course, you can listen to the podcast for more on what Ryan and I think of the 'Miracle Day' season, and I'd certainly like to get your views on where things stand, especially after tonight's episode airs. Please leave your thoughts in comments now or after Friday's hour ends.

In this brief 'Torchwood' discussion, I won't spoil anything that happens in tonight's episode, which I've seen, but my feeling about the season as a whole can be put very simply: I'm not buying it.

Not much of what is happening in season 4 makes sense to me, on emotional or intellectual levels. Of course, most works of fiction require a suspension of disbelief at some point or another, but the most of the developments in episodes 4 and 5 haven't felt credible. At all.

When I wrote my review of the new season (which was based on having seen the first three episodes), I hoped that certain unfortunate tendencies would not come to the fore as the season progressed. But I haven't been encouraged by what I've seen in subsequent episodes. When it comes to tonight's episode, far from being shocked by certain developments, I simply felt more distressed at the lack of logic, cohesion and focus that the show is displaying.

With a high-concept show, you have to believe the basic concepts and premises for it to work. Nothing the show has done has really helped me believe these premises, and so far most if not all of the characters exist merely to advance the plot -- the new characters are not interesting in their own rights, and the old characters aren't getting any room to breathe and are not adding dimension to their relationships in any meaningful way.

But my main problem is this -- I don't think societies, the world, institutions, governments and the families of sick people would respond to this crisis in the ways depicted in 'Torchwood: Miracle Day.' Almost more importantly, I don't think they'd respond as quickly as they are shown responding here.

One thing I keep thinking about is that it probably takes a hospital months to decide what kind of chairs to buy for their waiting rooms or which brand of tongue depressors to stock -- yet hospitals and governments would readily agree to hand over sick people to Phicorp in a matter of days? No. I don't believe that. Families wouldn't object and want more information about their loved ones' fates before shipping Granny off to random strangers? Of course they would.

Another thing I don't buy: That a major corporation would want a child murderer as one of its spokesmen. No. These are all very basic things that make no sense to me. The fact that the show wants me to just accept these things without justifying these developments to the point that they feel inevitable -- well, it's disappointing, to say the least.

Admittedly, the show is trying to do a lot -- introduce new characters, transfer the action to America, weave Oswald into the story, do some kind of social critique, set up the overall conspiracy, etc. I don't think any of those things are going particularly well (last week and this week, 'Torchwood' gives us one-dimensional characters that come off, frankly, as caricatures). But the way the social critique and the conspiracy have been handled have been particularly mystifying and frustrating.

Let's just say that the depiction of the American political scene in last week's episode was hamfisted at best (I completely agree with Alan Sepinwall's take on the episode). But the overall Big Bad plot is even more disappointing to me. If you've seen the previous seasons of 'Torchwood,' the fact that a big corporation is the bad guy here is not at all surprising -- it's deflating, given how often Russell T Davies has gone to that well in the past. Even if Phicorp is part of a bigger scheme, so far that story line just seems rote, stale and, again, not particularly credible.

Davies can be an inventive, imaginative storyteller and, at his best, can do a fine job of depicting the complex relationships among people in crisis, but those strengths aren't coming through as this season progresses. In the past (certainly at the end of 'Torchwood: Children of Earth'), he's shown a tendency to rush pell-mell through plot points, assuming that the audience would follow him, even if certain things don't particularly make emotional or logical sense.

With this season of 'Torchwood' expanding to 10 hours, it feels like Davies is indulging in that tendency twice as much. What I look forward to in 'Torchwood' is not just the exploration of the edgy central concept but the impact that events have on the characters. But the show is asking too much from me without giving me that kind of character-driven satisfaction in return. What I'm seeing here is simply not rigorous or nuanced enough. 'Torchwood: Miracle Day' is simply too impatient, too slipshod and too overwrought for me to be enjoying it much at this point.

I'll keep watching and I'll keep hoping that the second half of the season will be more satisfying than the first half. And please do let me know what you think below. (There's a chance I'll add some thoughts about Friday's episode in the comment area after the episode airs).

Follow @moryan on Twitter.

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I really haven't enjoyed this season of Torchwood at all because it isn't Torchwood! The things that made me love the first two seasons are totally missing from this season and the last. It's become a political show with some scifi thrown in. I'm really disappointed that Davis has used the Torchwood name to get me to watch a show that's now a rant against Big Business and Big Government. Children of Men asked us to believe that in the face of a powerful, threatening alien race, the government would react by killing the only people with experience fighting aliens. I thought this was really unbelievable and the mini series was a huge disappointment for me. This season is even worse. The new characters aren't particularly likable. There's no humor. The writing is not clever. The show is very grim. And really, where's the Doctor if Earth is really being threatened? I've learned I'm really a Stephen Moffat fan, not a Russell T Davis fan.

August 21 2011 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wiltongarcia Smith

Excellent article I must say.. Simple but really entertaining and engaging.. Keep up the good work!

August 17 2011 at 4:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I fully agree about the credibility of the new season and the timespan as it unfolds.As a UK viewer I can only really comment on the healthcare system in the UK and it has not been my experience that people in the UK abandon their love ones with such expediency.Equally the series did not take it to account crisis measure that are in place to cope with things like an unprecedented pandemic and how to handle the pressures of hospital overload and the higher risk the spread of infection.Equally I question the concept that healthcare professionals would abandon their sense of humanity in such a short space of time.
However what dismays me the most is that a potentially interesting premis has been developed in a sloppy and simplistic manner wih a total lack of innovation.As a social commentary it lacks any in depth analysis and as sci fi it lacks any real creative direction.The original TW may at times may have lacked believabilty but at least it had a charm ,wit and charactor developement which held your interest.
Like you Vera's death left me unmoved which was in part due to the clunky storyline and in part due to the in abilty of the actors to put across what should have been a shocking and tragic moment.To say some of the minor charactors are paper thin is putting it mildly. The new team members lack the charisma and raw interaction of the original team.On top of that Jack and Gwen have also suffered within the scripting.Gwen has become so over the top that it is difficult to take her seriously and CJ just seems to be going through the motions.
Add in the over abundance of explosions,frenetic action scenes and gratuitous sex and TW feels like it has lost the uniqueness which made it a cult series.
Russel T Davies has always been prone to excesses and heavy handed morality and the bigger budget and move to Starz has done nothing to curb these flaws in his writing.What is actually quite astounding is that Davies not only seems to have a juaundiced view of human nature but seems to expect his viewers to have the same gullibilty and lack of intelligence.
The Oswald Danes storyline lacks credibility and does very little to add to the overall production values.I find the PR lady irritating and Bill Pulmans performance laboured.Although i might believe that some people might be taken in enough to overlook his crimes I have enough faith in humanity to believe that this would be the minority but then perhaps I am basing my reactions from a UK perspective and skepticism.
Considering the talent involved in terms of both actors and writers the overall effect is dissapointing and contrived. It feels as if a series of ideas and visual scenes have all been shovelled together into a mixture of genres and and styles which result in poor pacing,a lack of continuity and poor overall presentation. But key to it all is the fact that it fails to engage the viewer either intellectually or emotionally and has minimal entertainment value.

August 15 2011 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Regarding the willingness of a pharma giant using a child rapist/killer as it's chief spokesperson"

I find it creepy and uncomfortable, but non unrealistic. My evidence: The cult and pop culture marketing that is around mass murderer and all around evil guy Che Guevara.

August 08 2011 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After Children of Earth I had high hopes for Miracle Day on Starz. I thought the platform would give the show's writers and producers a lot more leeway to tell a great story. But it's been a colossal disappointment so far. It's sad how boring the story actually is.

August 07 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I couldn't agree more, Mo. Every time I watch an episode, I am reminded of a student screenplay I wrote that had a cobbled-together structure that was full of holes. It's sad, really, because the concept is original, but this feels like echoes of what Davies can actually do. I'm clutching at straws most of the time, hoping for some good Gwen and Jack development, but it's just not happening. I hate to blame the Americanization of the show, but it sure feels like it wants to be an action movie and not a quirky British treat.

August 07 2011 at 5:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been very disappointed in this series of Torchwood. The main reason I watch the show is because of Jack & Gwen and their chemistry, and they've spent so little time together this season. The new characters aren't just uninteresting, they're so badly written it's almost impossible to find them at all believable or sympathize with them. (I don't care how junior of an operative/agent you are, you'd know not to communicate with family in such a situation.) As for the politics of it, while I sympathize with many of RTD's concerns, I don't like being beaten over the head with them. I get it - corporations are evil, people are sheep that can't think for themselves, people can have relationships with whomever they want, etc. Oh, and what the heck with the burning? They've made it a point over and over that no matter how damaged the body, it remains sentient. Remember the eyeball in the crushed car? So are all the little bits of ash conscious, too? I feel like the passage of time has been a little weird. One minute they're on the east coast, the next they're getting out of a car in Venice Beach. So, I'm not entirely clear on exactly how much time has passed.

August 07 2011 at 2:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bulldog Porkchop

Totally disagree. I am buying this season of Torchwood. To say that burning people is not scary enough is a scary thought posters, hello ... remember Nazi prison camps. What is says is that humanity has not learned from its past mistakes and that is scary indeed. The show is thought provoking and that's enough entertainment for me.

August 06 2011 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have a few points: there may be spoilers so be warned!
1.) This season's arc/big bad is so not working for me at all. Episode 4 C.Thomas Howell's character hints at someone Jack knew in the past, an alien type force perhaps, and then gets shot. Really? And Jack can't come up with anything? The episodes feel slow or stretched or something. Set ups for nothing. Episode 5 was supposed to be this big super reveal thing, right? They revealed nothing. Burning people alive? Really, after feeding childrens to aliens this is a big let down. Not scary enough.

2.) This does not feel like Torchwood at all. These people have no cohesion, and the characters are not themselves. Jack and Gwen are not the people I have tuned into for 3 Seasons. Esther and Rex may be intersting, but the scenes with their families trying to make me buy into them felt forced and been there and done that. I get there's no secret base and all, but no gadets, no thinking, no action. What have they been doing all this time becuase I feel "Torchwood" has done nothing but set up computers.

3.) Oswald...what in the world is he supposed to be? I don't get him, his purpose, his whole thing. Pullman creeps me out no question, but what purpose to the story does he serve?

4.) I have suspended my belief about the camps and stuff, but I will say there are people ouot there that believe everything they are told on TV and don't question a thing. So if the government says I have to drop my family off at a camp, it must be ok, because Diane Sawyer said so. Sorry but I think average Americans are stupid and don't think for themselves. Also, I work in healthcare and you would be surprised at what some facilities would do with their patients. Maybe not the well known hospitals but those little community hospitals. Just saying it happens so I'm not shocked at that.

I just feel like this show is going through the motions, trying to get viewers for next season or something. Because if there is a Season 5 and it's more of the same, you can forget it. Also, I'm tired of the Wales vs. U.S. thing. Those lines were so done in episode 2.
They have 5 more episodes to wow my socks off and I don't see that happening.

Totally with you Mo :)

August 06 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't think you well recall the egg from which Torchwood hatched--the Doctor Who genre, which is miles away from a well-constructed "true" sci fi context. When Torchwood was originally spun off, it aspired to be a Doctor Who type show interwoven with adult themes. It never aspired to shed itself of camp or fantastical nonsequiturs. What we got was Doctor Who with more adult situations and eye candy. Mission accomplished, if you ask me. Torchwood is to Doctor Who as Farscape & Lexx are to Star Trek. When I tune into these shows, it's usually because my mind is mush, and I want to divert it with light, fun material that grazes (but doesn't dig deeply into) some thought provoking topics. More heady material is great--when that's what you want, but sometimes I just want some cotton candy. If critiques like yours had effect, hugely successful but ligthhearted shows (Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, Doctor Who, etc.) would never be produced.

Maybe you were misled by Torchwood's physical setting (the long shadows and gloomy skies of British filming locations) or the amount and darker shades of clothing typically donned by Cardiff locals. Maybe your antennae went up when you saw these things, and you were hoping for another "The Wire." But, honestly, didn't the sewer-as-office backdrop tip you off a bit to the campy unreality of Torchwood?

It would be fantastic, of course, but it wouldn't disappoint me one bit if the dark force behind Miracle Day turns out to be none other than the alien 456 species of the Children of Earth story arc. Perhaps the 456 get two things from Miracle Day: 1st, they get revenge on Jack (turning him mortal so they can kill him) and 2nd, they harness the pleasure-giving life force of all the Category 1 people burned in the modules for their drugs. After all, the 456 were drug dealers. One logical straw could be that because they were accustomed to trading in drugs, the 456 would be at home in the driver's seat behind PhiCorp.

August 06 2011 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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