Tag Archives: Television

In defense of Torchwood

From Torchwood: Miracle Day ep 107 "Immortal Sins"

So, Torchwood finished last week and as the show reached its climax, the complaints on this blog slowed to a trickle. Whether that’s because people lost interest or started to get drawn into it, it’s hard to say, but from my point of view – whilst the show didn’t reach the heights of Children of Earth – it was good (I’m not the only one that thinks so).

There’s always a challenge for writers when they decide to ‘reboot’ a show (or, as in this case, are forced to by funding circumstances), and the benefit of shows like Dr Who and even Star Trek – is that when they are rebooted, fans know what to expect. That’s not meant to be the same Doctor, or the same Captain Kirk; the settings are different, the context is different, the cast is different. In this case, Captain Jack and Gwen brought continuity and expectation with them, and so many loyal fans, it seems, found the changes a bridge too far.

I have to admit, as someone that is a big fan of American TV, I’m totally baffled as to some of the criticisms leveled at the show; it was too "Americanized"? Really? Why do you think Spooks, Doctor Who, etc., have got more exciting over the years – because they’ve ignored the conventions of American TV production? I’d argue the opposite is true; the episode lengths dictated by most American TV, the scheduling, all of it – has forced British serial writers to think beyond six episodes to longer story arcs, and learn how to tell stories within the stories.

I’ll freely admit Miracle Day wasn’t perfect. Elements of it were slower moving than they needed to be; the episodic sub-arcs didn’t grip and the overall ‘crisis’ only made marginal sense (which is par for the course with Torchwood, but when you’ve waited ten episodes for the climax… you expect more!), but it seems (and this is reflected in a few of the comments) to have been successful at drawing a new audience in. So perhaps it did what it was designed to do.

We don’t know if there’ll be a season 5 yet, but for more insights into the show production, have a read of this interview with Jane Espenson, one of the writer/producers on the show with Russell T Davies, and a longtime cohort of Joss Whedon. I’m hoping there’ll be more.

The Doctor returns

Doctor Who: Let's Kill HitlerDoctor Who’s return was suitably triumphant and exciting, although as Tom commented to me in person at the weekend, bewildering interwoven with pretty much every episode shown in the earlier part of the season. The number of internal references is truly astonishing and perhaps an indicator of the show growing up, in some sense or another, or perhaps just appropriately intricate for the kind of passionate fans the Doctor attracts.

Time travel does give me a headache, though. I’m sure Doc Brown would agree.

Smallville finale

TOM WELLING 5I watched the Smallville finale the other week. It’s been a pretty average series over the years; moments of ‘alrightness’ interspersed by fairly long tranches of mediocrity. But the cast and story lines have been kind of fun, and I’ve always found it hard to walk away from a DC superhero franchise (I even watched the woeful Green Lantern).

The finale delivered all it promised – the final resolution of the various story lines – and was therefore appropriately triumphant, original John Williams score playing and all. But it was extremely cheap – essentially the same story told every season about how Clark needs to embrace both his Kryptonian and Earth heritage to become the hero he needs to be.

[Worse spoilers follow, so turn away now if you need to…]

Which, by itself is fine. However, the resolution to the ‘final crisis’ in the series involves Clark pushing Apokolips out of orbit.


First, that makes his power scales meaningless. Second, it totally demeans the entire season and half they’ve spent building up Darkseid’s arrival. Also, Oliver Queen taking out Granny Goodness, Desaad and the other avatar of Darkseid who’s clearly not that memorable with a single shot (admittedly of three arrows) seemed a bit too easy… And third – it’s Deus Ex Machina in the extreme. They ran out of TV minutes so they resolved everything stupidly quickly with a meaningless and internally inconsistent display of ‘magical’ powers.

Garr. Ah well, it’s done now. What’s the next thing? Running low on series to follow, other than Torchwood (which I still like, despite the fan fall-out on this blog). Doctor Who starts again soon too…

More thoughts on Torchwood: Miracle Day

From Torchwood: Miracle Day ep 105 "The Categories Of Life"I’m beginning to understand* (if not entirely agree with) some of the criticism that’s coming through my Torchwood post about Torchwood: Miracle Day. We’re nearly caught up now (one episode behind) and the pacing of the show doesn’t quite feel right. Where in the earlier seasons Captain Jack was nearly constantly running, he seems to be down to about 20% of the time. This negates some of the energy of the earlier seasons and leaves you slightly confused as to what’s happening the rest of the time.

The reason I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing – and I don’t think its unquestionably a good thing either – is that it allows for more nuanced character development and intricate writing. Of course, some people don’t want that – after all, it’s been years since Captain Jack has knocked an alien unconscious (or vice-versa) – and most of the writing is focussed on the new characters. We’re already familiar with the tortured Captain Jack and the excitement-hunting (albeit family focussed-ish) Gwen Cooper).

Whilst individual episodes don’t hold my attention in the way the old seasons used to, I’m still pretty gripped by the season on the whole. I think the premise is fascinating and the way they’re exploring it is intriguing in the extreme. I think the production values are high and the writing is reasonable. I like the new characters and I’m looking forward to see what they’re doing with them. I’ll grant that the pacing is more LA Law than ER but give it time…

* I really don’t understand the people that have a problem with the gay sex scene. Seriously, its 2011, and the version shown on the BBC is hardly pornographic…

Lord Eddard Stark’s parenting qualities

Eddard-StarkLast night Amanda was away and I was feeling slightly ill – so an evening of extreme vegetation was called for – recorded / downloaded episodes of Chuck and Smallville. A proper veg-out.

Was amused by Chuck’s late season-4 line: "Come on, Eddard, that’s a crazy idea. You can’t let your sons keep direwolves!"

It was a piece of uniquely poor parenting, come to think of it. Eddard, for all his lordly gravitas and honour, caring fatherly looks and love, made a number of poor parenting decisions. Em is never getting a direwolf – maybe a puppy, but that’s where I draw the line!

Here are a few of his parenting highlights:

  • letting all his children, age 4-17, keep direwolves, giant man eating wolves
  • letting his eldest (bastard) son make a permanent, unalterable life choice at the age of 17
  • bringing his two daughters into the most dangerous city in the world

Anyone else pick out any other particularly poor parenting decisions by Lord Stark?

Also, this 16 bit RPG summary of season one of Game of Thrones is brilliant:

Tivo’s return to the UK

TiVo everywhere at the momentI’ve been looking on, with not inconsiderable envy, at the Virgin Media / Tivo adverts that seem to be everywhere at the moment.

We were early fans of the Tivo service, signing up via its then-partner Sky in 2000 for the service. The market wasn’t ready for the expense or complexity of it, however, and despite phenomenal expenditure on PR and marketing (I briefly worked for Sky/Tivo’s then PR agency in 2004 and the campaign was regarded as a massive success).

Now, after years of Sky+ and Freeview PVRs, the market is unquestionably ready. But I still don’t live in a cable area and so am exempted from the service. Damnit.

Still, the fact that Tivo’s back is a good thing. I’m sure that they’ll maintain exclusivity with Virgin for a while but I would pay good money for a Freeview PVR, I think, in spite of the fact that I have a glut of DVB and Freesat receivers via my media centre, TV, and old Sony PVR…

Torchwood-is better than I thought

Torchwood Miracle Day 101_46We watched episode two of Torchwood: Miracle Day on Sunday (still behind, I know, sorry!) and have noted the negative comments appearing on my last post. I’m not sure how fair some of these are – most of them coming from disgruntled longtime fans. Fans: please bear in mind that reinventing a show for a new country, new audience, new production regime, new cast – this is a Hard Thing to do, and I think Russell T Davies et al have been pretty bold with setting up the single premise.

Granted, I’m only two episodes in so don’t know quite how well it’ll sustain itself – the one criticism I thought sounded fair was the idea that the plot of the season might well have washed out happily in a couple of eps – but it feels like its building nicely to me.

Exposition in the early days of a lot of new television series is often slightly painful (it doesn’t need to be but its hard to avoid). The premise needs playing out, the characters need developing, the universe needs staging. It’s understandably frustrating seeing this happen with a show you already know, characters you’ve followed for years. This is one of the reasons that novel adaptations are often (not always) regarded as inferior to the original – they are necessarily different to meet the demands of the new medium – and I think American TV does count as a new medium in some respects.

If we cast our minds back to the early seasons of Torchwood, if we’re being fair, we’ll remember that it was a pretty dire thing that the Beeb had made. And yet it matured by season three into a thing with millions of fans. We’re only up to episode three of the new series – give it a chance, it feels like it’ll weather well.

That said, none of the negative comments indicate people are going to stop watching, so perhaps you are all giving it a chance – just needing a place to vent and lament the passing of the Torchwood of old. To you, I say, if you wanted it to stay made in Britain, you should have been willing to pay a bigger license fee! The BBC couldn’t afford to produce a show like this by itself; heck, even Dr Who only got 1.5 seasons worth of television this year. Auntie is hurting, and admittedly it is a slightly bureaucratic mess at times, but its output is remarkable and I’ll be sad if its star wanes with the cuts we have ahead of us.

FWIW, I’m loving the Beeb’s co-production strategy. I think change is good, if unsettling, and we’ll see a whole new breed of television that works in a way we simply couldn’t manage if we were left to our own devices.

Torchwood: Miracle Day premier – first thoughts

Torchwood Miracle Day 101_27

We finally watched the season premier of the new Torchwood.

I wasn’t as blown away as I’d hoped. The premise of the show is great and well-advertised (death stops working), and the reveal of the specifics of this within the show is pretty entertaining (and surprisingly gory for a Doctor Who spin-off).

They’ve successfully introduced the new cast – a mobile phone addicted Mekhi Phifer and a generic young, female, attractive CIA agent amongst them, and a creepy paedophile. But the majority of the episode was spent revealing what you probably knew if you’d watched any of the trailers: death has stopped happening and its going to cause problems for planet Earth. And it has something to do with Torchwood.

That said; the production values are ridiculous compared to previous seasons and some of the sequences are fantastic. Jeep vs helicopter on a seaside car chase? Bet on the jeep, every time.

I’m hoping that the show picks up its pace now that the initial unveiling is done. I guess that it had to be from first principles, given that the cable tie-up (the show is co-produced by American cable TV network, Starz, which also co-produced Camelot) will bring it to new audiences in the US. Although I’m not looking forward to seeing Captain Jack’s willy as some are (or not, as the case may be).

Still, looking forward to the next one.

Torchwood returns with Miracle Day

Torchwood Miracle Day 403 BBC Promo_06Excited to see that Torchwood has returned. Despite a shaky start in the early seasons, the Dr Who spin off has grown up and I’m led to understand that many of the new production team – a collaboration between BBC Wales and a US cable network – are very excellent people indeed. The trailers I’ve seen set the pace nicely and I’m looking forward to catching up on the return of Captain Jack (I missed the premier last week – thank the BBC for iPlayer!).

Anyway, no spoilers please (I already know that nobody dies). Trailer:

@bbcapprentice ep 11–on business plans and production lines


Episode 11 of the Apprentice went pretty much as expected. The team with the stupid people lost, and the stupid person with the bad attitude was fired.

It’s astonishing that – on week 11 of a 12 week exercise to showcase your business acumen – that Jim and co didn’t think a business plan was worthwhile. It’s a simple set of calculations to work out margins, estimate how many of which you can sell per hour, etc. but they simply didn’t consider the need for it – it seemed to be treated as a game to design the prettiest store.

Helen was very impressive on that front, carrying all the margins in her head, and I think moves even more decisively into the lead for the win.

Messing up the production line, as Jim did, I think was a more understandable error. Time was short, he’d clearly never given any thought to how restaurants were actually run, and whilst under that pressure he simply didn’t think through the implications.  Not to say they shouldn’t have tried to fix it, but I think they underestimated quite how labour intensive the creation of  fajita would be. Which is odd, as anyone who’s ever made them at home from one of those kits knows that it takes a bit of faff.