I had the good fortune tonight to see a preview screening of Auntie Beeb’s glamorous new Cardiff/Alien/Bisexuality trifecta Torchwood, the much-anticipated (amongst those who anticipate this sort of thing, by which I mean me) Doctor Who spin-off.
A brief summary: it’s good stuff.
I’ll get the not-so-good out of the way first: the cheapness shows occasionally. Not in the quality of what you see on screen – which mostly looks gorgeous in High-Def (thankyou, BBC screening people!) – but what you don’t.
Shots are often tightly framed, awkwardly so on occasions, there are obvious cutaways or short-cuts on some of the more panoramic shots, and the whole thing never quite gets to take its time to compose enough of the iconic, lovingly-framed images that you’d like to see. Basically, they’ve done an amazing job on their budget, but they’ve done just a good enough job that you miss the kickass cinematography they’ve kind of lead you to expect. A good fault, I suppose, if it is a fault. Seeing it shortly after Children Of Men probably doesn’t do it any favours, as well.
Also: the editing and soundtrack are a bit too self-consciously yoof; this means a bit too much in the way of throbbing electronic noises and unnecessary edit effects, all of which seem about four years out of date. But hey.
And it’s very much Episode 1. It’s a pilot, which is odd, because it didn’t have to go through a pilot stage. It spends most of its time introducing you to the characters and set-up, and integrating the outsider into the group, and all that stuff you know they have to do but you’ve seen it before. But they do it reasonably gracefully.
Now, the good stuff: Eve Myles is great. Fantastic leading lady, looks like a real human being, and can act proper like. If you remember her from The Unquiet Dead (Doctor Who, Series 1/27, Ep. 3, to its friends) you’ll know that she’s great. She still is.
Captain Jack. They do an outrageous sci-fi-woo thing with Captain Jack. If you thought that bit of hand-grows-back! ret-conning in The Christmas Invasion was cheeky, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Seriously. But he’s still the Jack we know, still an omnisexual con-man from the 51st century (how he got to Cardiff in 2007 is not yet explained), and man, does he know how to wear a long, flappy coat while standing on top of buildings for no apparent reason. Members of Torchwood seem to conduct an unreasonable amount of their business on the tops of buildings, often in rather awkward spots. The logistics of this, I’m fuzzy on; but the helicopter shots are stunning.
Speaking of which, there was a wee speech before the screening, which included the phrase “they made Cardiff look like LA”. I was sceptical, but good God in heaven – it looks amazing from the air. The Cardiff tourist board must be doing one in their trousers.
The rest: the Torchwood team look sound, with one particularly intriguing character and several other potential growers. It’s pleasingly dark at moments, especially the bits involving death. There’s a cool-looking alien race living in Cardiff’s sewers, there are some very nice guns, and there’s swearing. Seriously, it’s a shock to hear swearing in a Doctor Who show. You’ve always known that it was ludicrous, that nobody ever entered the Tardis and just said “fucking hell”. But hearing somebody actually swear, casually, on a Doctor Who-verse show? It’s a pleasant jolt to the system.
As Armand points out that I pointed out: it’s Angel. It really is, for all their publicity talk of “The X-Files meets This Life” – formerly dead American leading man in a long coat moves to a major city to the west and leads an investigation agency? Angel. That’s not a problem. Russell T Davies has always been open about his love for Joss Whedon; and if he and his team can do with Torchwood what Angel did to the Buffyverse, then there could be many happy (but daaaark) seasons of Welsh alien-hunting ahead. Certainly, I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it in episode 2 – their first ‘proper’ episode – on Sunday…