2MTL 225: Defending Torchwood's First Season and Reviewing "Escape to L.A." (Time Dilation)

(Torchwood being Torchwood, and Jack Harkness being Jack Harkness, this podcast is slightly more explicit than usual.)

Archivist and Chicks Dig Time Lords co-editor Lynne Thomas joins me as we discuss the merits of the frequently-derided first season of Torchwood — thus bucking the conventional wisdom that it only "got good" with Children of Earth. Lynne contributed her essay on the subject, "Camp Noir," to Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?'s anthology Time Unincorporated 3.

Also: Miracle Day Episode 4, "Escape to L.A." is reviewed.

Thanks to Radio Free Skaro for the "conventional wisdom" excerpts.

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  1. YAY…brave enough to claim Torchwood 1&2! Makes me happy, I enjoyed both those series, and the word is 'enjoyed' they were over-top just the right amount to make me smile. Thank you, I don't feel so alone anymore.

  2. I think there is a preportion of the fandom that dislike TWMD because it has departed so drastically from the original series including S1/2.
    For my part season one was patchy but it had some superb episodes, Countyside for example but also agree it set the tone for a new style of camp which appealed to both straight and gay communities.That was the innovative approach which attracted the initial viewers and turned it into a cult show.It was witty ,sexy and quirky in a way that sc fi shows are not.Yes perhaps it was lacking in reality but the group of actors involved played it for real and they had a charismic interaction which was watchable and compelling.
    Season two saw it develop in its consistency and we had the beginnings of an overarching story which was both intriguing and moving.
    COE developed the dark side but in my opinion lost alot of what made TW the innovative show it was.Take out the sit on the edge of your seat suspense and shock value and you had a lot of repetitious sequences and a show which seemed less about TW and more about politics.In the process it lost its charm and became a run of the mill conspiracy drama.
    MD seems to have gone one step further and in the process of creating a block buster multi themed drama has lost the pacing which created the suspense in COE. It goes off on two many tangents which become a distraction and we are presented with too many scenes which heavy handed in outlining the premis and literally spoon feed the viewer in a tedious manner.

    Couple with that the charm and wit which was present in the the first 2 series has dissaperaed and we are left with a mess of confused genres which seem to be trying to hard to be to many things and fails atall of them.The humour is cliched from the gay air steward jokes to the butch biker who turns out to be gay.How many times have we seen that before.
    I also feel the charactors are not as well defined and more predictable.I never felt CJ and Gwen were the stars of TW it was the ensemble playing which held my interest and it is apparent in MD that they are not intersting enough to hold the show together.Added to that much of if it seems to be recycled from the first 3 seasons and other shows.The idea of camps is has been pretty well covered before in other shows including DW and unlike the reviewer I have yet to have an emotional reaction to any of the episodes.
    The Oswald Danes storyline is not plausible and just leaves me gob smacked at its simplicity.
    So although i do not rate COE as highly as many reviewers at least it held my interest. MD is just a mess of genres,styles and repetitive themes.I only stay with it because it is TW and part of me wants to believe it will regain some of its old magic.
    Love the comments about linear and divergent-it really helps me to understand why i often feel in the minority when it comes to COE.Also the comparisons between CJ/Ianto and Gwen/RHYS made sense.This was a great podcast and a good analysis of the 4 seasons.Very refreshing in its outlook as it goes beyond alot of what is actually being written about TW at the moment.

  3. When I was about eight years old, I got my first music album. It was a hand-me-down from my older sister. The year was about 1986, the tail end of the era of vinyl records. It was huge compared to the cassette tapes I had seen. It seemed strange, mysterious and most of all dangerous. It was solid black with a large glossy pentagram on it. I was familiar with the "mark of the devil", satanic cult stories were very popular in the media at that time. I took this exotic, forbidden thing back to my bedroom to examine it. It was a fold out album, hidden behind the flat black cover was a brightly colored picture of the musicians. Nothing could have been more surprising. They looked like transvestite warriors from some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. They stood glaring at the camera with fire behind them, daring you to judge them.
    I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I knew it wasn't socially acceptable, but at the same time it was brazenly unashamed.
    I carefully took the record from its sleeve and put it on the turntable.
    The music didn't start right away, there was just the scratchy ambiance and popping of a well worn album.
    Slowly an unsettling sound faded in, frightening.
    A distorted voice began speaking in the archaic meter of a bible verse. Then, at its climax the music started.
    I've loved Mötley Crüe ever since that night.
    Time rolled on like it always does. As I became an adult my interests broadened and became more sophisticated. It wasn't long before liking Mötley Crüe seemed childish and stupid. Of course I tried to justify it intellectually. I concocted all kinds of arguments about how their use of "glam" was a commentary on our consumer society, how they challenged our concepts of good and evil, etc.
    I thought that if I liked something that was stupid, then I was stupid.
    It took years for me to realize that this wasn't so.
    I like some things that are bad. It doesn't mean that I have bad taste, I just like it!
    The first season of Torchwood is bad. There's just no way around the fact.
    If you love it any way, that's perfectly fine. It doesn't reflect on you negatively.
    Stand proud and look them right in the eye like Mötley Crüe did, and shout it to the heavens!
    "I love some things that don't have a lot of artistic integrity, deal with it!"
    It feels good.

  4. Way to assume your opinion is fact, Draculasaurus.

    I agree with a great deal of what Lynne had to say about the first series of "Torchwood". There were low points as the writers, actors, and production team found their footing. There were also high points: "Ghost in the Machine" giving us a sense that there were things that would get under Owen's façade; hints of Jack's expediency in "Small Worlds", building toward a solid series conclusion with "Captain Jack Harkness" and "End of Days".

    Just because you think it's bad does not make it so. It means you personally didn't like it. Next time justify the opinion with some details as to why you didn't like it instead of waxing poetic about childhood tastes and how you grew out of them.

  5. You're right Mrs. 2MTL, I don't make a solid argument against the show.
    The thing is, I do like Torchwood season one, I also think it's deeply flawed. I don't see this as a contradiction at all.
    Season one is inconsistent in tone and characterization, both sides of the argument agree on that point.
    The viewer can either see this as a flaw or a very unconventional benefit. I see it as a flaw.
    It's hard for me to imagine how anyone can really think the show benefited from the inconsistencies.
    I've certainly never heard anyone complain that the characterization in season two was too consistent, and that they yearned for the uneven characters of season one.

    In the end I think Torchwood is a lot like Mötley Crüe, fun, energetic, too sexy for its own good, and a little immature.
    I like them both, but I think arguing that either is flawless is just trying to justify our irrational, human likes and dislikes.
    That was the point I was trying to make.

  6. I don't think either Lynne or I was saying that the first season was "flawless". Certainly there were weaknesses. But I wouldn't go to the other extreme and slap it with a "bad" label the way a number of people do. Too many of those who see "Children of Earth" as the epitome of the show so far (and therefore are whining about "Miracle Day" because it has room to be silly as well as serious) have been dismissing the first series instead of being grateful that it was good enough to earn a second series and therefore more stories in its universe.

    I will not watch "Children of Earth", ever. I can't handle the constant drumbeat of child endangerment or just how far Jack's expediency takes him without a balance of humor and silliness and character interaction. But I'm not going to say it was bad television. Because I know that's not accurate. It's a powerful story, a powerful statement. But it's not to my tastes. Much of Season 1 was.

    (And while Mötley Crüe has never been to my tastes, I will state that I admire that a guy can play drums upside down.)

  7. Your review oversells Captain Jack's bisexuality. How bisexual is he when it is made clear in the narrative that every 'straight' relationship Jack appears to have had was brief and a very, very long time ago. If his bisexuality is a mirage what basis is there for your admiration? The producers should have just allowed him to be gay.

  8. Marg – I don't think we can dismiss his straight relationships, which we know include a marriage, and fathering a daughter in the 1970s. There are also references in the show which make it clear that Jack is currently interested in women, from his UST with Gwen to Tosh's remark that "I've watched him in action. He'll shag anything if it's gorgeous enough." (But Jack's sex life has long been a bit of a puzzle – he talks about it a lot, but we have very little, erm, hard data.)

  9. There was also a marriage during the early 20th century, judging by the clothing in the picture seen in the episode "Something Borrowed". So the main same-sex instances have been with Ianto and the probably one-night stand with Alonso at the end of Tennant's Who run. I think half the reason Jack's emphasizing his gay side in "Miracle Day" is because he knows it annoys Rex.

  10. Yup, that was the marriage I was thinking of – it's too long ago to be the relationship which produced Alice. I think you're right about Jack annoying Rex, too – and with hilarious results. XD

    One of these days I should go through the DVDs and make a list of every reference there's ever been to Jack's sex life… oh, surely someone's already beaten me to that! 🙂

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