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We stared into the untempered schism and all we saw was this dodgy CSO effect

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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.

11 Comments

  1. Amber Daniels
    October 18, 2013 @ 4:53 am

    Great post. I couldn't agree more with your comparisons regarding Skins and Torchwood (though I never quite noticed them until you pointed them out). The balance between going big and small is where the show really does end up tripping over its own feet and I think it does have a considerable impact on the overall quality of the series. The writers' appear to have a yearning to create something that is both shocking and quite colourful in its approach. At times – for the sake of creating shocking content – it will throw in raunchy sex/drug scenes, main characters getting hit by buses (though, as you so rightly mentioned, this inevitably leads on to some rather fabulous moments during the shows' second season) and even the killing off of Chris in the penultimate episode of series two. Other times the show will try and throw itself down a more loud and brash route; resulting in episodes such as the frequently criticised episode in which the cast venture off to Russia, as well as the over the top party sequences which seem to weave themselves in and out of the program during its entire run. It has a habit of skipping between being a fun, mad program and one which is full of dark and deep content.

    What kept me watching the show, back when it aired, was mainly down to my love of the characters. Whilst the scripts wobbled in regards to its level of doing big and small, it contained a cast who are still highly memorable in my minds' eye (though I haven't watched it since I was 18, so my memory could have reshaped these events in the time that has passed since). The creative team seemed to have crafted out a group of interesting and unique individuals, but when it came to putting those individuals into action, the narrative sometimes seemed to struggle.

    As for the level of authenticity (I'm both British and was a teenager at the same time of the show's release), I'm of the opinion that Skins is how a lot of people of my generation remembered being a teenager. A lot of people will tell you that this is just how their college years went down, and even I have been guilty of making this claim on one or two occasions in the past, but it certainly isn't as over the top and intense as the events which pan out in this show. As I'm sure is the case in most corners of the world, sex, drugs and death did pop up during the teenage lives of many, but never in the manner that was depicted on this show. When I watch Skins, it always comes across as more of a fantasy-based or nostalgic idea of what being a teenager was all about. But I guess seeing as it was a Channel 4 drama which was striving to be edgy, this is something which was not unintentional.

    Reply

  2. Ross
    October 18, 2013 @ 4:53 am

    In this regard, Torchwood is best understood as the new series of Doctor Who with most of the influences of things other than American television for teenagers stripped away. There’s an open question in how that differs from just imitating American television for teenagers, but that’s neither here nor there. It at least gives us an understanding of what Torchwood is supposed to be. Equally, however, most of what Torchwood takes from those American shows is a plot structure: a team of basically stock characters investigates paranormal events weekly over a light soap background.

    There's a number of things in the first season of RTD's Doctor Who that have always struck me as Davies hanging a lampshade on/making fun of/appropriating and reclaiming stuff from the TVM-era.

    The other night, it suddenly occurred to me that the character of Captain Jack — and by extension Torchwood — is on some level a kind of diminished reflection of The Doctor . He's an immortal time traveler, but his hedonism isn't the Doctor's joy at the wonderful diversity of the universe, but rather just about sex; he's self-centered. He shags the co-stars. He's American. He's "pretty". He's action-oriented instead of intellectual. He's a human from the future.

    Basically, Captain Jack is the thing that Doctor Who Fans in 1995 were all terrified that Segal was going to turn the Doctor into, with the possible exception of not literally being played by David Hasslehoff.

    Reply

  3. Adam Riggio
    October 18, 2013 @ 4:55 am

    "The first season gave us a show that can do fascinating and brilliant things. What it didn’t give us is a show that can do them with any reliability, or that can avoid moments of face-palming stupidity."

    Now I can see how those tweets last night about how wretched the episodes Sleeper and Adam were, are just a prologue to what's going to be a difficult experience. When it gets especially tough, just imagine to yourself my imagined version of Torchwood Season Two where James Marsters shows up in every episode either to explicitly make out with Jack or campily steal him away from Ianto while being the secret mastermind behind damn near every adventure plot that happens. As if James Marsters is a Roger Delgado in 1971 who fulfilled the visions of every middle-aged Doctor Who slash fiction ever written.

    Reply

  4. jane
    October 18, 2013 @ 5:49 am

    "Being neither British, a teenager, nor in fact real…"

    Quoted for truth.

    Reply

  5. Theonlyspiral
    October 18, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    Your existence is not impossible but it's also not very likely.

    Reply

  6. Daibhid C
    October 18, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    Skins is a show I regarded as doubtlessly well made and designed to appeal to the target audience … which was manifestly not me (I was 31, and I wasn't even a teenager when I was a teenager), so I never watched it. So I don't have anything to say about that.

    I just want to appreciate the (accidental?) pun of a character buying cannabis "making a hash of it".

    Reply

  7. brownstudy
    October 18, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    "(Indeed, I’m not entirely certain there exists a plot resolution worse than “the main character gets hit by a bus.”) "

    The legendary National Lampoon and SNL writer Michael O'Donoghue would dispute this. See his Section #2 on "The Ending": http://www.workableweb.com/_pages/tips_how_to_write_good.htm

    And the rest of the essay is a treat, too.

    Reply

  8. sorrywehurtyourfield
    October 18, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    Ah. Ahhh. I think this post might actually explain the first two season of Torchwood better than anything else I’ve ever read. The idea of “adult” meaning “for teenagers” isn’t something I’d really thought of, but it makes sense of a lot of things. This perhaps gets to the root of why the series has often had such a mixed reception from the main Who fandom – I think the moment they announced an “adult” spin-off, much of fandom (possibly not a demographic that watches all that much teen-targeted television) instantly assumed a definition of “adult” that was more along the lines of “weighty, serious drama with moral issues and dilemmas”, and subsequently found a sense of disappointment with the reality of what Torchwood was trying to do that seemed impossible to shift.

    Mind you, doing a teen spin-off of a mainstream show aimed at a broader audience is a tricky business. I’ve just been doing some research on Spooks: Code 9, the dodgy youth spin-off of Spooks, and found out that despite it being explicitly pitched to the 16-24 age bracket, it inadvertently attracted most of its audience from the over-30s demographic already watching the parent series. And watching some episodes, I’m really not surprised it didn’t take off with teen audiences, as it really is the most patronising conception of what’s “down with the kids” imaginable – take a standard BBC 1 format and do it less competently, but with lots of scenes where trendy youth protagonists go out clubbing. You can almost feel the contempt of whoever commissioned it.

    This also helps me understand what felt so radically different about Children of Earth, because it’s clearly a complete disavowal of the teen model of “adult” and an embrace of, well, the other model of “adult”. It’s entirely BBC 1-ised, with the addition of Britishness, state-of-the nation political drama and a Respectable Grown-Up Co-Star in Capaldi. Combined with the sheer glee with which it utterly eradicates the format of Torchwood to date, it seems pitched almost directly at the older adults who might previously have sneered at the series, and almost at the expense of people who’d enjoyed what it was up until that point. It makes me wonder if the people who reacted in outrage over the death of Ianto might have been responding to a broader perceived punch in the gut that they couldn’t quite express. I really like Children of Earth, but I still think it was an absolutely bizarre thing to do with Torchwood, almost kicking out one target audience in favour of another – probably the grumpy adults who watched Spooks. It feels almost like a direct vote-of-no-confidence in the show up until that point on the part of somebody, and it’s tempting to speculate Davies himself given his much more hands-on role in the writing. Oh, but this is getting ahead of things…

    Reply

  9. Josh Marsfelder
    October 18, 2013 @ 10:18 am

    "Being neither British, a teenager, nor in fact real…"

    This is my favourite post of yours in ages and I don't even watch this show.

    Reply

  10. Triturus
    October 18, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    I wasn't expecting Skins to turn up on this blog! My objectivity is shot right through because I know one of the show's creators, but I do genuinely like the show, and I know how hard they tried to get it right (e.g. taking care over the slang right, so that they didn't end up with teenagers saying the equivalent of "Hey Daddio, that's one hot potato").

    If Skins is a teen drama for adults and Torchwood is an adult drama for teens, then Skins has to win if for nothing other than its refreshing lack of sex aliens.

    Reply

  11. Josherick3
    October 19, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    In terms of Skins' relation to 70s children's sci-fi, this little segment by Stewart Lee might be of interest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWcpkNbIJZg

    Reply

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