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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

59 Comments

  1. Carey
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:41 am

    "And then there’s Suzie. This twist is, of course, nicked from elsewhere – the fake lead character is a trick Joss Whedon semi-pulls in the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and pulls in a different sense over the first few episodes of Angel. In essence, you include a character who is set up to be a main character in the show, and then brutally kill them off early in the show."

    To be fair to Davies, it's quite likely that he was just as influenced by the first series of [spooks] (or [MI-5] in the US) where a huge amount of publicity was headlined by the actress Lisa Faulkner (at that point the most recognisable actor in the series), only for her character to be brutally killed off in one of the most unpleasant deaths ever seen on tv (she is shoved head first into a restaurant's deep fat fryer) in the second episode.

    But as you say, the bigger twist with Suzy is having her as the villain: which makes me believe that the comparative morality of the other characters is deliberate. Had Davies continued in the role as head writer, I imagine that this would have been dealt with more, er, artfully. But instead it's made with too heavy a hand.

    Having said that, anecdotal I know, but my experience was that Torchwood was more well liked amongst the 18-30 something audience than Doctor Who, which this series was specifically designed for, seeing as that was the part of the audience that seemed o have least interest in watching the parent show.

    For all fandom's complaints about Torchwood, it cannot ever be deemed a failure: it's first series started on BBC3 (with a repeat on BBC2), it's second premiered on BBC2 (with a repeat on it's former channel); it's third series premiered on BBC1; and fourth (and so far final) series premiered on US cable channel STARZ. I find it hard pressed to think of any other tv series that has had that kind of life, possibly ever.

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  2. Ewa Woowa
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:43 am

    "…home secretary David Blunkett ordered that prisoners be machine gunned in a 2002 riot."

    I have to take issue with this. This is a claim made by one man with a grudge against Blunkett (Narey) with no proof or secondary substantiation… That is not journalism and that is not the standard I'd expect from this blog…

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  3. David Anderson
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    Canary Wharf, with an h, as in a place to unload ships.

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  4. mengu
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:34 am

    It's almost sad that the readership of this blog is so much less concerned with the RTD vs Moffat fight than some parts of fandom. Almost. But not really.

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  5. T. Hartwell
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    I'd presume the 'lead character twist' would initially stem from Pyscho, being the earliest and most notorious example of that kind of shock that I can think of.

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  6. ferret
    July 24, 2013 @ 2:08 am

    It's hard to be concerned when RTD and Moffat are not the ones actually doing the fighting – it's just a bunch of child-like people who ironically identify themselves as fans.

    I was going to say there is no more a fight than there was between JNT and RTD, but then JNT died a year before Doctor Who was recommissioned – I wonder what JNT would have have said about these early years of Nu-Who?

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  7. prandeamus
    July 24, 2013 @ 2:46 am

    "and just adding more sex isn’t sufficient"

    Nor, I would add, necessary. I remember feeling, as watched episodes 1 and 2 back to back on BBC3, that RTD had written a reasonable pilot episode.

    Oh no, just because it's adult doesn't mean it's about sex. Blah blah blah. Then, watching "Day One" it's about some sex drug alien thing. It was as if RTD told the other writers not to be naughty while he was out and they promptly ignored it. Crass, pointless, dross.

    According to wikipedia there's an (uncited) RTD quote "when we're launching a new adult science fiction drama, it's kind of inevitable you're going to do the sex monster". It felt to me more like "when launching a new adult show, let's put the sex in as soon as possible because it's easier than being intelligent…"

    I tried for a few episodes of Torchwood after that, but it really didn't work for me. Cyberwoman I can handle, Small Worlds I spent the entire time thinking "WTF?" and after watching Countrycide I just felt … this was a grubby, tawdry misconceived train wreck. I didn't return until Children of Earth which was much better. But, sadly, when Miracle Day came on I just had no enthusiasm.

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  8. Spacewarp
    July 24, 2013 @ 2:47 am

    It's the old question of whether it was a critical failure or a ratings failure. Eastenders is far more successful than Torchwood ever was, and yet it is unlikely that Easties has ever been lauded as a critical success.

    Personally my experience with Torchwood was uncannily similar to when I first saw Twin Peaks. I was blown away by the first episode and told everyone to watch it, only to be profoundly disappointed and embarrassed by the second.

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  9. Lewis Christian
    July 24, 2013 @ 2:47 am

    What's also perhaps interesting, is the sheer amount of "Who-ness" over such a short period of time:

    Torchwood S1 runs from 22 October 2006 to 1 January 2007.

    Between "Combat" (a Christmas Eve episode!) and "Captain Jack Harkness", we get "The Runaway Bride". And on the same day as the double-banked Torchwood finale (1st Jan), we also get SJA's pilot episode, "Invasion of the Bane".

    So, between 24th December 2006 and 1st January 2007, that's 3 Torchwood episodes, 1 Who episode, and another spin-off pilot episode. Not bad going for a show which is still, for all intents are purposes, still quite new.

    (Agreed with Russell, though, that "Rose Tyler: Earth Defence" would've been a spin-off too far.)

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  10. Scott
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:10 am

    Like I said in an earlier post, from what I can remember of Torchwood (and admittedly I dropped out of it fairly early on, so I freely admit this might be a not-entirely accurate observation), Torchwood to some degree seemed to go a bit too far in the other direction to how Philip describes "Totally Doctor Who" (albeit from the sound of things being much better), in that it was a bit cynically 'adult'. It threw in things like the sex alien and all the gore because it was basically showing off how 'adult' it was and, well, those are the sort of things that adults want.

    Too much of the time, it seemed to have adult stuff but not really mature stuff.

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  11. David Anderson
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:14 am

    Is Torchwood One solidly villanous? All the villainous bits are told, not shown. There is an established plot role in Doctor Who of the basically decent group of people who fail to listen to the Doctor's warnings until it's too late. They fall squarely into that. Hartman says she wants to bring back the Empire, and most viewers of Doctor Who will vaguely be aware that's not the sort of thing we approve of in this television program. But she doesn't actually try to take over any foreign countries on screen. And likewise, she tells the Doctor she's taken him prisoner and he can't leave. But since she's giving him a tour of the place and that's what he wants, on screen she's less obstructive than e.g. the crew of the sand miner in Robots of Death or many other bases under siege. And her final scene in which she betrays the cybermen might be intended as an ironic comment – she was effectively a cyberman already – but it comes over as her devotion to her ideals give her sufficient willpower to save the day.
    Davies may have meant them as solidly villainous. But that's not what we see on screen.

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  12. prandeamus
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:17 am

    I googled the RTD quote and found this

    "When we're launching a new adult science fiction drama it's kind of inevitable you're going to do the sex monster. Right from the start I said there would be something that got down and dirty. That's Chris Chibnall, that's what he came up with, a sex gas orgasm eating monster, how could you not watch that, what a brilliant bit of telly."

    http://www.tv.com/shows/torchwood-declassified/bad-day-at-the-office-962500/

    Assuming that's an accurate transcription, I weep.

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  13. Adam Riggio
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:57 am

    The production circumstances of Torchwood are a fascinating story I'm looking forward to see being covered. My hypothesis going in is that RTD and the other producers for Torchwood: Miracle Day badly misjudged the strategy for capturing an audience on American TV with its very different character from British TV. The progression in its first three seasons was clear. Good ratings on BBC3 gets a second series commissioned and it goes to BBC2. The second series does similarly well in ratings and the third commissioned series is a piece of major special event TV on BBC1.

    "Ok!" says Davies. "I've moved to Los Angeles with my hot reputation from my UK career; let's do it again!" So he gets Miracle Day commissioned at a smaller cable network first, the goal to capture successively larger audiences as future series are made. But all those BBCs the first three series ran on are different channels owned by the same company. Starz's parent company isn't another television station, but a corporate conglomerate.

    And there is almost no original programming on Starz. Nobody really considers Starz a channel to sit down and watch, because for the most part, it's a generic "superstation" that plays movies, sports, and other people's programming. Miracle Day was the most high-profile piece of television Starz has yet made, and they show little interest in the AMC or FX model of producing a few flagship shows that are of high quality, popular with critics and young audiences who get most their tv by streaming and illegally downloading. I don't think Davies realized that signing with Starz was a promotional dead end.

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  14. Adam Riggio
    July 24, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    Also, in the UK, if you pay your licence fee, you get all the BBC channels. Starz is a cable channel (and a lot of people in the USA don't have cable), and it's a mediocre cable channel that isn't necessarily included in a customer's bundle. And if it is, it's never promoted very prominently. One of the biggest shows in Britain tried to move to the USA, and it got stuck in a television ghetto.

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  15. Jesse
    July 24, 2013 @ 4:26 am

    I suspect the goal is to establish Owen as a particularly on-edge and dangerous person

    I remember seeing this as one of several signs that Torchwood was a corrupt institution filled with morally shady people. One thing that interested me about the show, as I entered it, was the fact that I didn't feel I was expected to like the main characters.

    Also: I'm pretty sure you meant to describe Jack as the "sexiest" rogue, not "sexist." (That would be Owen, I guess.)

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  16. Froborr
    July 24, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Things rankle – most obviously Owen, whose casual use of sci-fi rape goes unremarked upon in a way that is absolutely awful. (I suspect the goal is to establish Owen as a particularly on-edge and dangerous person, but it’s completely miscued by dint of the fact that rape is not merely edgy, it’s horrible and wrong and makes him every bit as bad as Suzie. It’s appalling, is easily the worst thing Russell T Davies has ever written, and is in fact considerably worse than anything Moffat has ever written for Doctor Who.)

    And this gets to the reason I found Season Two unwatchable after bravely and barely slogging my way through Season One. Season One established thoroughly that, with the possible exception of Ianto, every single character in this show was a thoroughly reprehensible human being about whom I cared not in the slightest. Season Two expected me to feel sorry for the rapist.

    I've never watched "Children of Earth," which supposedly is actually good? But the season and a half I watched of Torchwood was bitter, cynical, and misanthropic, a joyless slog through horrible people fighting monsters because… that's what you do with monsters, I guess? Which I could handle if the plots were clever enough or if it were making some kind of interesting point… but they're not and it's not. It's just generic, pointless monster-of-the-week by people who seemed to have mistaken darkness, cynicism, and sex for maturity.

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  17. Iain Coleman
    July 24, 2013 @ 5:38 am

    One moment I really appreciated in this episode was when the young man is briefly brought back from the dead, and he cries "There's nothing! Oh my God, there's nothing!" It's very rare for a sci-fi show to be properly atheistic, and this is a moment of properly adult horror: kids aren't yet concerned about their own mortality.

    Of course, the show went on to completely cock up this aspect too, but hey ho. It was good while it lasted.

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  18. Triturus
    July 24, 2013 @ 5:47 am

    The sex alien episode was the first and last Torchwood episode I watched. Just… awful. Awful. Couldn't bring myself to watch it ever again.

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  19. Bennett
    July 24, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    Froborr – "I've never watched "Children of Earth," which supposedly is actually good?"

    Children of Earth has its moments – but most of these come when it's pretending to be a political thriller instead of … you know … Torchwood.

    It's good, but in a watch-it-once-and-be-done-with-it kind of way. The only thing that would convince me to see it again would be an edit that only includes the scenes featuring Peter Capaldi.

    I should mention, though, that it is still just as bitter, cynical and misanthropic.

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  20. elvwood
    July 24, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    I was optimistic about the show after watching Everything Changes, though I was wary about the gore content (I'm not a fan of blood and guts). Day One, however, put me right off it. I still watched every episode (except Adrift, which I missed because they moved it and I was away for a fortnight so didn't see the change to program the PVR accordingly) because I'm a bit of a completist; but I haven't gone back to rewatch any of them except Small Worlds, Random Shoes, From Out of the Rain and Children of Earth.

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  21. Theonlyspiral
    July 24, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    For my brother and I, Torchwood continued to be "Doctor Who with sex and crying" until Children of Earth. Which was absolutely the pinnacle of Torchwood and Captain Jack. Of course, we'll get to the problems and successes of Torchwood as time rolls on.

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  22. Theonlyspiral
    July 24, 2013 @ 6:52 am

    "If it's alien, it's ours!" Is a fairly heinous ideal. The idea that just because it's landed on Earth it becomes the property of the British Empire is strictly villainous within the lens of Doctor Who. They have a lust for knowledge, not for it's own sake, not to celebrate the wonder of the Universe, but to militarize and make war. These are the people who shot down the Sycorax. They put a New-Labour corporate sheen on it, but they are still the same thugs.

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  23. Theonlyspiral
    July 24, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    I disagree. I love Children of Earth and think it holds up very well. It shows what happens when you make compromises and fight aliens with those morally reprehensible methods. I think it's brilliant. I think it's Captain Jack's finest appearance.

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  24. Dave
    July 24, 2013 @ 7:53 am

    I dunno, I was pretty terrified of the idea of oblivion as a kid. I mean, I still am, but I remember that if I thought about it too much I'd get the physical sensation of fear. Couldn't have been more than 10.

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  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 24, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    Fair enough.

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  26. David Anderson
    July 24, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    That is a fairly heinous ideal. But it's told not shown; it's an informed attribute. It would only take a slight change of shading in the dialogue to get Warehouse 13. It's not as if we see them doing anything outright evil, such as using alien pheromones as a date rape drug.

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  27. Theonlyspiral
    July 24, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    We saw them blow up a retreating foe. We've seen them performing experiments heedless of the possible dangers. Also being told something is still meaningful. This is stated as a straightforward and core principal by the woman in charge. If she's willing to state it so completely bluntly, then I think we can take her at her word.

    Furthermore one of Davies tricks is to tell not show, and sometimes that is completely viable. We don't have time in the season finale of Doctor Who to get all the way into Torchwood's villainy. There are more important things at play.

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  28. David Anderson
    July 24, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    Children of Earth is Torchwood for people who don't like Torchwood.

    All things being equal I prefer sweet and hopeful to bitter and cynical, and Children of Men is certainly the latter. Still, it's effective bitter and cynical television. Whereas most of the episodes from the first two series of Torchwood were not effective.

    That said, Captain Jack's finest appearance is The Doctor Dances. Moffat is the only person who can write him.

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  29. Alan
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Torchwood wasn't exactly privy to the details of why the Sycorax ship appeared to be leaving (it could easily have been with the intent to "nuke'em from orbit" as far as anyone not in the Doctor's immediate presence knew). Furthermore, they were directed to fire on the ship by the Prime Minister of Great Britain who did so after being told by the Doctor that the Sycorax would otherwise go out into the universe and tell every other potential invader that Earth's sole defense was a dilettante Time Lord who shows up at the last minute in a bathrobe to save the day through some contrived means. Granted, that wasn't the message Ten sought to convey but it was obviously the message Harriet Jones received and Ten would have known that if he weren't tragically oblivious to the effect of his personality on other people.

    I'd love to talk to RTD and ask him whether he thought "Children of Earth" vindicated Harriet Jones, since it was basically the nightmare scenario of what would happen when aliens invade while the Doctor is off taking a nap.

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  30. Alan
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    The only moment where I found Owen remotely likeable was in "Adam" where his entire personality had been remolded by the MotW. In every other episode I found him mildly repellant at best.

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  31. Adam Riggio
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    What I enjoyed about Torchwood when it first started was this combination of very bleak subject matter with an action aesthetic and a wickedly dark and offensive sense of humour. I saw all that promise in Everything Changes: an episode where we at first think we know everything because we've been watching the Torchwood setup on Doctor Who. Then we get to Cardiff and discover that it's actually incredibly weird.

    I think the problem with the show was that a lot of the writers just weren't talented enough to combine the weirdness, terror, darkness, and humour smoothly in a single story simultaneously with revealing character moments. (Flashes of trauma from the Saward era again). Come to think of it, Chibnall in this period reminds me quite a bit of Eric Saward. He had much more experience writing film and television than Saward when the latter started on Doctor Who. But their scripts suffer from the same flaws: simple plots, a dearth of character work, a reliance on action for plot progression and resolution. There was also an over-reliance of scenes where Jack would stand on a building overlooking Cardiff while a very expensive helicopter shot showed how brooding and deep he was, which got excessive and unintentionally funny.

    This is why Torchwood didn't really hold my attention again until Children of Earth hit. They couldn't keep all their plates spinning. It's probably unreasonable to expect this, but after Everything Changes, my hope was that at least the majority of the episodes would be able to keep these in dynamic tension. Instead, the bulk of the episodes in season one became too much of an action show. Too much post-watershed Mind of Evil; not enough post-watershed Claws of Axos; definitely not enough post-watershed Ghost Light, which would have been a wonderful direction to pursue.

    Well, we all live lives of regret.

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  32. Adam Riggio
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:25 am

    Those season one Torchwood episodes that lived up to their potential: Everything Changes, some moments of Ghost Machine, Small Worlds, They Keep Killing Suzie, and Random Shoes (despite its sentimentality).

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  33. Theonlyspiral
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:41 am

    The fact they're willing to blow a retreating ship out of the sky goes a long way to establishing their character. They aren't under the authority of the Prime Minister. She isn't even cleared to know about them. That doesn't fly except as them covering their own asses. Getting a politician to take the fall for them is not something you want in a secret service. The fact it was Harriet Jones' call is not relevant as to the moral fiber of Torchwood. What is relevant is their actions.

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  34. Kyle
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    Torchwood, specifically this episode, was actually my introduction to Doctor Who universe. Don't get me wrong, I knew about Doctor Who (I lived in Europe as a kid in the 90's and attended a school that was mostly populated with the British children of expats), but I had never actually seen it and had no way to watch it, nor did I really care about watching it because I didn't know a whole lot about it.

    But then I heard of this science fiction show that not only had a gay (well, pansexual) main character (which is still a huge deal today, because I can't think of any other sci-fi show that has an LGBT main character), but one of the main characters was also Sarah (Naoko Mori) from Absolutely Fabulous (aka my favorite TV show).

    So I came into "Everything Changes" not knowing anything about the Doctor Who mythos, with no idea that Torchwood was at one time sinister, or what Jack was doing with that weird hand in a jar, or why he was able to die and then come back to life. And for the most part, I enjoyed it. Sure, there were stupid episodes (I'm talking about the sex gas episode, of course, but also that random finale), but for the most part I enjoyed the first season – "Greeks Bearing Gifts" and "Captain Jack Harkness" and "They Keep Killing Suzie" were some of my favorites. The show was not quite as enjoyable on rewatch, but it does hold a special place in my heart for getting me into Doctor Who in the first place. (For the record, after finishing season 1 of Torchwood, the next thing I watched was the pilot episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, then Martha's season of Doctor Who, then seasons 1 and 2 in order). I didn't find season two of Torchwood as entertaining, mostly because of the fact that they killed off Goddess Toshiko, but there were some great episodes – the one with Toshiko and the soldier comes to mind, as well as the one with Owen and the girl on top of the roof when you think they're both going to kill themselves.

    I didn't have a huge problem with Children of Earth – there were some truly terrifying parts, specifically the government sitting around deciding who to sacrifice, but Miracle Day was a mess. Esther (and Rex, to a lesser extent) was a great character, but the show over all was overly long, way too cynical, and it suffered from not introducing the villains until the last episode.

    Torchwood definitely had some problems, but I still enjoyed it. I think it helped to come into it as a newcomer – after I watched all of the spin offs, it became my least favorite of the three shows, even though it's the only one I've seen all of the episodes of.

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  35. Jesse
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    I've never watched "Children of Earth," which supposedly is actually good?

    Yes — it and "Captain Jack Harkness" are the only Torchwood episodes I ever recommend to people.

    In fairness, I gave up on the show during season two, and while I eventually watched Children of Earth on hearing it was worth a look I never went back to watch the episodes I missed. So for all I know there's a gem hidden in there somewhere.

    After the horror that was Miracle Day, I'm not sure I can be persuaded to come back yet again should the program ever return.

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  36. David Anderson
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    It's clear from The Christmas Invasion that we're supposed to agree that shooting down the Sycorax ship is wrong. I think we're also supposed to believe that it's not as morally wrong as the Doctor says it is. Harriet Jones is not otherwise presented as someone who would make an outright villainous decision. So if it's not villainous for her to want to shoot the ship down, it can't be villainous of Torchwood to shoot the ship down.

    There are certainly times when telling is better than showing. But there are reasons why show not tell is the more general maxim.

    Phil says in the West Wing episode that it doesn't matter that viewers follow what's said in the dialogue so long as they understand how the characters are reacting to what's said. Just as well for modern Doctor Who since between actors, director, and the score, no writer should count on the audience actually hearing any given line. And I don't think anyone who didn't catch Hartman's actual words, but merely went on the feel of the scene, would gather that Hartman is supposed to be a straight villain. The Doctor doesn't react as he would to a straight villain. Up to this point, whenever Davies has wanted us to think someone is a straight villain he's rammed the point home with a siege engine.

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  37. Pen Name Pending
    July 24, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

    Yay, Torchwood! I've been really looking forward to this because I'm not very familiar with the series, having only seen some of Children of Earth because BBC America was playing it and I left it on when my friends were over and we found ourselves engrossed; and "Everything Changes", which I watched that night. The description of the second episode has kept me from seriously pursuing it for a couple years.

    That said, I had been generally aware of it as the "Captain Jack and associated adult content" spin-off of Doctor Who, and I knew about Jack and Ianto and Gwen and Rhys, and all the major deaths. So I knew about Jack's invincibility and Suzi's, and I never really absorbed or bought into the fact that you were supposed to believe she was a member of the main cast. I did, however, see the Whedon influence when watching Buffy and Angel. (Is Angel perhaps an influence, at least in the sense of it being a "more adult spin-off"?)

    When watching "Everything Changes", I did notice how it paralleled the typical companion introduction story, at least from the new series. But because I hadn't watched this in the appropriate order with Doctor Who, I completely missed how out-of-sync it is regarding Torchwood and Jack. Thanks for that. It's interesting.

    Oh, and the ridiculously spurting blood from the Weevil is rather unsettling to someone who is used to watching American post-watershed shows, which are still relatively censored.

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  38. Pen Name Pending
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

    For the record, the Wikipedia quote is sourced to the Declassified episode; the ref is just placed at the end of the appropriate section (before it switches to things that are referenced by the episode's DVD commentary).

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  39. Pen Name Pending
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

    Hey, I wonder if we're going to cover the almost-made American version of Torchwood? Aside from following the tiresome footsteps of remaking British shows when American audiences are perfectly capable of watching them, supposedly Fox passed on the series because they were uncomfortable with Jack being omnisexual.

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  40. Adam Riggio
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    I remember following all the Torchwood press as they were rolling it out, and Suzie was always treated clearly as a lead character in all the press materials. I think she was even billed above Tosh and Ianto, but my memory can't be sure. I was open-mouth shocked and impressed when she was basically killed off. It was some of the best audience manipulation I had ever seen, and I was considerably impressed.

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  41. Pen Name Pending
    July 24, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

    Yeah…that kind of thing is what is lost when watching something as it did not air. I'd never seen promotional material with Suzie. RTD was really good at being in touch with the public, but that effect is lost when looking at things from a future perspective (see: The End of Time).

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  42. BerserkRL
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    I think Owen was my favourite Torchwood character. Not as a person but as a character. The casting certainly helped; apparently the original plan was to cast a hunk.

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  43. BerserkRL
    July 24, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    One mistake of sequencing, I thought, was to show the implicitly pro-afterlife "Random Shoes" immediately after the implicitly anti-afterlife "They Keep Killing Suzie." It's too jarring; they should have had a couple of episodes in between.

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  44. Matthew Blanchette
    July 24, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

    Hell, even Moffat pointed that out recently in his Nerd HQ appearance:

    "But, then again, I think the great thing about, uh, Doctor Who's, I think, "I don't want to go", and then he's pratting around, complaining about his chin a moment later. And if I'd been Bernard Cribbins in that little, that thing, I'd be saying, "Doctor, I'm actually going to die, you're gonna get a bit younger and stupider hair, okay? Between the two of us, you can let me out, and you can get a refit, all right? Ya selfish bastard." "

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  45. Ununnilium
    July 24, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

    Yeah, as an eight-year-old, the idea of oblivion was really thoroughly chilling, one of the things I could be kept up at night thinking about.

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  46. Iain Coleman
    July 24, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

    The casting certainly helped: Burn Gorman is a seriously good actor, and manages to make a pretty repellent charater interesting.

    Try as I might, I can't see what the problem is with seeing Owen using the magic alien attracto-spray. He's a cunt. Of course he's going to do that.

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  47. Callum Leemkuil
    July 24, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

    I personally thought the best episode of season 1 (and possibly the whole show) by a long shot was "Small Worlds" (which actually got me into Sapphire and Steel, which as you know is great), and that overall season 2 hung together better than season 1. Children of Earth I felt started really really well but ended badly.

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  48. Spacewarp
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

    What comes over most about Torchwood One (at least for me) is smugness and hubris. They have an unshakeable faith in the fact that they are right in their beliefs. Unfortunately they take little responsibility for their actions, which sets them up for their big fall later on. In a funny way this almost parallels the "hubris and arrogance" arc the whole series allegedly has for the Doctor and Rose. Doomsday therefore ends with two misguided "people" (the Doctor and Torchwood) getting their comeuppance.

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  49. Spacewarp
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

    I've watched all of Torchwood, and over the years I've tried to analyze what is wrong with it. Because there is a lot wrong with it. Some stories just work, and others just don't, but the series as a whole…has a "wrongness" about it. I think for me it's down to the fact that the characters are so flawed. Too flawed than is normal for a TV series. We have our standard characters in TV – the damaged detective, the tart with a heart, the unsufferable jobsworth, the list is endless – and most ensemble casts are made up of an assortment of types who somehow work together. In most drama a character's flaws enable the drama, either by creating plot conflict that other characters have to solve (and thereby teaching the flawed character a valuable lesson), or by resolving an already extant plot (and thereby showing that some flaws can be beneficial). A perfect example of this is Mr Spock's half-human aspect, which at different times has hampered him and allowed him to save the day.

    But the Torchwood characters are all damaged, far more so than is usual in an effective ensemble cast. At first we think we understand the team: Jack's the "Captain Kirk-ish" boss, Owen the brilliant but misogynistic Doctor, Tosh the brilliant but mousey scientist. Suzie and Tosh are driven by their desire for knowledge, while Owen is driven by his desire for pleasure. Ianto is basically the only decent character, and Gwen arrives as the Conscience of the group. So far so good. But as the series unfolds Jack becomes petulant and unlikeable, Gwen has a guilty affair with Owen, Suzie is paranoid beyond belief, and even Ianto betrays us with his guilty Cyberwoman secret.

    The whole cast effectively lets us down, and none of them every really redeems themselves, at least not in the way that feels right. Every time one of them appears to make a selfless act, the show throws it back in our faces. Owen saves Tosh and Jack by opening the Rift, but Jack refuses to acknowledge it and never says thanks. Owen himself appears to get his just desserts when the glove brings him back undead, but this doesn't cause any kind of character reassessment on his part. Instead he just becomes more miserable, but with his misogynist teeth effectively pulled.

    Torchwood's lesson appears to be that working here will corrupt you and ruin you, and you will eventually die unthanked, unloved, and unremembered…and nobody is strong enough to resist this fate. Not even an immortal man who really should know better.

    "Children of Earth" is possibly Torchwood's finest hour (well, 5 hours) because it plays far more like how we expected Torchwood to be and wasn't. The 456 are unambiguously villainous, the UK government is unambiguously complicit, and the 3 remaining Torchwood members are unambiguously Good. Now imagine the first two series played the same way. In fact imagine the other extreme as the episode "Adam". If Torchwood had been pitched somewhere between the two, I think it would have worked far better.

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  50. David Anderson
    July 25, 2013 @ 12:02 am

    I think Davies is on record as saying that Angel was the model they were thinking about as they did it. I think it was a risky model to follow: Angel often achieved brilliance but never quite settled down into something consistently successful.

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  51. Jesse
    July 25, 2013 @ 5:19 am

    The 456 are unambiguously villainous, the UK government is unambiguously complicit, and the 3 remaining Torchwood members are unambiguously Good.

    I would not say the ending of that miniseries was unambiguously good. The fact that Jack has to make an ambiguously good decision is part of the point, isn't it?

    To your larger point: The fact that the characters were all so damaged was part of what I initially liked about the series. Doctor Who loves to play with the idea that the Doctor is bad for the people he encounters, but as Phil has pointed out the show can't embrace that idea without destroying its premise. Torchwood looked like a chance to really explore the concept without flinching. I think that's a great idea for a show. I just didn't think the writing was good enough to execute the concept properly.

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  52. Theonlyspiral
    July 25, 2013 @ 7:11 am

    While Harriet Jones might not make an outright villainous choice, she can make one that is morally bankrupt. And that makes no bearing on Torchwood because they do not answer to her. Harriet Jones is not even cleared to know they exist. They do what she wants because then they don't have to accept responsibility for their actions. The architect of England's golden age…a patsy for an Imperialist dingbat.

    Here Tell don't Show is much better. The episode has more important things going on than Torchwood. Specifically Rose being separated from the Doctor. While it might have been more satisfying to get a huge in depth exploration of the destructive and exploitative activities Torchwood undertakes, we need expediency here to keep the episode moving.

    Hartman is villainous, but she's a small minded tyrant. While she is capable of evil, she's very much in the vein of a Robert Holmes villain. She's in over her head. A corporate CEO playing with the walls between reality. She's not Davros, she's someone who's pettiness of scope causes almost incalculable harm and does not really care. In a serial without Cybermen or the Daleks she'd take center stage. With them she just doesn't have the narrative room and is therefore consumed by the Cybermen.

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  53. David Anderson
    July 25, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    I agree that there could be a Doctor Who story in which Torchwood One were the villains. However, as you say Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday is about daleks and cybermen and the Doctor losing Rose. And so Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday is not that Doctor Who story. It's not even that Hartman doesn't have narrative room to be the central villain. She's pushed out of the villain role altogether. If you replaced Torchwood One with more morally sympathetic characters you'd get exactly the same plot and almost exactly the same emotional beats. In fact, the emotional beats work better if you see Hartman as someone with a tragic flaw.

    Reply

  54. Spacewarp
    July 25, 2013 @ 11:01 am

    You can have extremely damaged characters, but you have to have some relatively good ones to balance it out. Like a D&D troupe, for every Chaotic fighter you need a Paladin for contrast. Each brings out the best (narratively speaking) in the other. The first ever Torchwood story promised us that balance, at least in Gwen and Jack (who we had a right to expect decent behaviour of, if we knew him from Doctor Who). But it pretty much becomes clear that Jack has hardly any moral compass left, while Gwen's is easily swayed by Owen's magnetic personality (see what I did there?).

    Jack's decision to sacrifice his own Grandchild wasn't that ambiguous. It was no decision at all. Faced with the choice between one child and millions, Kirk, Picard, and even the Doctor would have made the same decision. It was the right decision. It was only the presence of his daughter (the boy's mother) that made it a harrowing decision…but it wasn't a wrong one.

    All through Children of Earth the Torchwood team behaved exemplarily, with none of the self-serving bitchiness we'd seen in the preceding seasons. They may have made the wrong decisions at times, but they made them for all the right reasons. In short they behaved like heroes.

    Reply

  55. David Anderson
    July 25, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    Jack is doing the wrong thing in the flashback. (To be honest, it's hard to see how that can be reconciled with the Jack we see in Doctor Who from Season Three onwards.) But yes, modern Jack is doing the right thing, although I'd argue that kind of decision ought to be harrowing even if you grant it's no decision at all.

    Reply

  56. Ross
    July 26, 2013 @ 3:38 am

    Jack's decision to sacrifice his own Grandchild wasn't that ambiguous. It was no decision at all. Faced with the choice between one child and millions, Kirk, Picard, and even the Doctor would have made the same decision. It was the right decision. It was only the presence of his daughter (the boy's mother) that made it a harrowing decision…but it wasn't a wrong one.

    The Doctor wouldn't. The Doctor would have pulled something out of his ass to save the day without sacrificing anyone. It's the law of the Doctor's narrative universe and it's the promise of his name.

    (I mean, frankly, so would Kirk and Picard, because it's the law of their narrative universes just as much as it's the law of The Doctor's narrative universe. But it's not specifically a character trait for them the way it is for The Doctor.)

    (This, vis a vis Star Trek, annoyed the hell out of me in that one late-TNG episode. Deanna takes the command officer's exam, and she keeps failing the not-the-Kobyashi-Maru test because she keeps trying to find a way to save the ship without sacrificing Geordi, and the point of the test is to see if you're willing to order one of your crew to their death for the greater good. Which is fine, except that literally every time a comparable scenario comes up in the actual-reality of the show, they find another way and don't send a regular to their death. Outside of the simulation, the narrative laws of the universe mean you would NEVER send Geordi to his death. The closest might be that you'd order him not to go to his death, and he'd disobey orders and go anway, nobly sacrificing himself. And even then, it'd only be in a movie, possibly a season finale, not just some random episode.)

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  57. Theonlyspiral
    July 26, 2013 @ 6:40 am

    No you wouldn't. That's not how stories are put together. If you had a more morally together set of characters you'd have a completely different feel to it. YMMV on looking at her as flawed, but I personally can't stand her imperialist tripe.

    Reply

  58. cardboardrobot
    August 1, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

    In reply to Adam, who said, "Miracle Day was the most high-profile piece of television Starz has yet made, and they show little interest in the AMC or FX model of producing a few flagship shows that are of high quality, popular with critics and young audiences…."

    To be fair, Starz has actually shown quite a bit of interest in following HBO and Showtime by developing a few flagship shows. It's just that they're terrible at it.

    Their next attempt at a big series is Ronald D. Moore's adaptation of the Outlander/Cross Stitch novels.

    Also, I would argue Miracle Day is not most high-profile thing that Starz has made so far. That would be Spartacus, which lasted three seasons. It didn't exactly get blockbuster ratings, but it did better than anything else on Starz — admittedly not saying much — and got critical acclaim. It was from former Buffy writer Steven S. DeKnight and producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi. I've only seen the first six episodes but it's much better than you would expect, and starts getting really interesting a few episodes in.

    One of the biggest problems is that Starz is a third-rate premium movie channel at best. It costs something like an extra $15 a month just for the Starz package and that's nobody's first choice over HBO or Showtime.

    Reply

  59. Andy
    December 16, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

    Almost sad, are you kidding? Apart from Philip's excellent writing, I come here partly to get away from silly RTD v Moffat infighting. It's pathetic, tiresome and entirely unnecessary.

    Reply

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