Friday, February 19, 2010

Torchwood Review: 2x01 - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Review: Holy crap, what a difference a season make. An exciting season opener, with James Marsters as Captain John Hart, which lays the seeds of the overall plot threads of season two and provides excellent screen time for the entire Torchwood team. The plot itself is a fairly straightforward con game, although the exuberance brought to it from all the characters makes it delightful to watch and the revelations at the end of the episode provide a great sense of mystery going forward. The real beginning of must-see Torchwood.

Final verdict: As I said, this is must-see stuff. If you slogged your way through most/all of season one then the improvement in episode quality here will be immediately noticeable and you're likely to never look back. If you're just thinking of checking out Torchwood but don't want to start with the dodgy early stuff, this is a brilliant introduction to the show. Its minor flaws are more than made up for by the engaging acting and a few interesting turns of the story.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete Second Season

Torchwood Review: 1x13 - End of Days

Review: Aaaaand the show, which seemed to have turned a corner a few episodes ago, manages to end the season on a major letdown. The first half of this episode is actually pretty good. A direct outgrowth of the end of the last episode, there's a well-done sense of mystery regarding what opening the rift has done to Cardiff and what dangers the team may be facing. Unfortunately, as the plot starts coming together it turns out to be something pretty lame.

Final verdict: A pretty mediocre story in the end, saved by the emotional catharsis the characters undergo. For all the dysfunctional team dynamics, this is where the resolution begins for the characters. So, definitely worth watching. Just don't let the promise of what the episode could have been get in the way of what it actually is.

Thoughts on Season 1: Well, a pretty variable season.The episodes don't actually start getting good until over halfway through, and even then most of them are still somewhat problematic. Still, RTD's skill which characters shines through here, making even the worst episodes at least somewhat interesting. While I can't recommend absorbing every second of the first season for most, if you have decided to try to go through the entire series, this first season is the first chapter of important character arcs for the Torchwood team.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Torchwood Review: 1x12 - Captain Jack Harkness

Review: Awesome possum! The first real meaty Cap'n Jack story with a genuinely interesting time travel story and a nice little bit of Soap Opera between Cap'n Jack and, er, Captain Jack. A nice little showcase for Tosh too and an excellent example of Jack having a great rapport with another member of the Torchwood team (so, no "Jack and Gwen Show" this episode, not that I really have a problem with it). This episode did come off as a bit flakier the second time around, but it's still one of the most solid entries of the season.

Final verdict: One of the must-watch episodes of the season. Great bit of romance, cool time travel plot and a great setup for the season finale.If you can take the bit of soap opera hokyness in stride, this episode is a pleasure.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Torchwood Review: 1x11 - Combat

Note: I got a little behind on my reviews this week, so I'll be catching up today with multiple reviews at once.

Review: Sort of a letdown after a string of strong entries. Although this is a reasonable character piece for Owen (two in a row!), the actual plot is way, way too derivative of Fight Club. The first time I watched this episode, it didn't seem so bad but the second time it came off much worse. The guest star is irritating as heck and there isn't any tension really successfully built up anywhere in the episode. So, eh.

Final verdict: Might as well catch it if you're running out the season, and it's still better than some of the earlier episodes. But, after some particularly strong stories this one comes off as pretty flat.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Monday, February 15, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x10 - Out of Time

Review: A nice character piece, although it never quite takes off (if you'll pardon the terrible, terrible joke). In terms of character growth, the best piece is really the Owen romantic subplot since it furthers the development of his character quite a bit. The Gwen subplot is okay, although it feels a tad pedestrian. The Jack story is probably the best in terms of telling the actual story of one of the guests of the week; it's both poignant and believable, really making you connect with the guest star.

I think the biggest problem is that the story tries to do too much. They would have been better off dropping of the subplots (Gwen and her charge, most likely) and fleshing out the other two parts of the story a bit. This is another story - like random shoes - which really just uses the sci-fi element of the show to springboard a more interesting story. While this is a fine effort - and of the best episodes of the first season - it's a style that show would get more comfortable with in season two.

Final verdict: Definitely worth watching, even if you're not a hardcore devotee to the show. Very nice character dramas all set in the classic characters-out-of-time plot. Sort of a reverse story to Doctor Who actually. Check it out.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Friday, February 12, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x09 - Random Shoes

Review: Pretty much hands down my favorite episode of the season. Reminiscent of a "Doctor Lite" episode of the parent show, this nifty whodunnit-type story is narrated by the recently-deceased guest star - a nerd who's pretty likable in spite of some of the characteristic "nerd cliches." The mystery of the story is actually extremely engaging and the narrator provides a unique perspective on the Torchwood team. The ending is superb and hits all the right (bittersweet) notes. Life affirming without overplaying its hand.

Final verdict:
I've hesitated to say too much in the review, just because it's really an episode worth letting unfold on its own. This is simply must-watch television and stands as easily one of the best Torchwood episodes of any season. Watching it a second time, I was even more impressed. Nearly perfect.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x08 - They Keep Killing Suzie

Review: This is what they call in the common vernacular "a turning point." Picking up on threads from the first episode of the series, this is the first episode of Torchwood which really (nearly) seamlessly blends the primary plot with the dramatic character stuff and presents it all as one package. We get the first hints of a story arc which will be touched on throughout the rest of the season and we get to see what Torchwood does to (some) people.

While this is a good story - and don't get me wrong, it is quite good -  it's not perfect. I couldn't totally buy into the idea that Gwen would so quickly get on board with helping the woman who tried to kill her in episode one. Despite that, it was still an exciting story with a few interesting little twists and turns. The very ending of the episode is the first bit in the show which makes you feel like the series is capable of something deeper and more interesting than simply going around and killing sex aliens and redneck cannibals all the time.

Final verdict: A really, really solid episode. It isn't perfect, but from here on out the show (mostly) escapes its sub-Buffy beginnings. This is a good episode for the casual and hardcore alike. I just wish it didn't take until episode eight to get here.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x07 - Greeks Bearing Gifts

Review: Another one I'm not totally sure how much I want to dissect. It's not really a bad episode (although Tosh's lesbian relationship comes off as a bit like spectacle, since there aren't any hints before or after this episode that she's bisexual), and does a reasonably job exploring some of the motivations and concerns which drive Tosh. The way that the alien-of-the-week manipulates Tosh every step of the way is mostly quite well done - and clever to use a mind-reading device to throw her off her guard - although I think it's fair to say that the view could see the big "reveal" about her character coming for a country mile (I'm not totally clear if it's supposed to be a surprise or what). So, the end feels like a little bit of a letdown, but it's not a bad journey to get there.

Again, as with most of Torchwood, the real strengths of this episode aren't in the alien-of-the-week particulars but in the interpersonal dramas which are unfolding in the series. If you focus on those and try not to hang your hat too much on the random alien, it makes for a mostly satisfying experience. Oh, and bonus points for showing the same alien species on The Sarah Jane Adventures. I live little in-universe continuity nods like that.

Final verdict: This is still definitely a season one episode, in that it's rather uneven with the characteristic "good ideas not fully executed" problem which plagues most of these first season episodes. That said, it's a good watch both for those watching the program casually or trying to catch every episode.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x06 - Countrycide

Review: I won't lie, I kinda like this one. Despite generally being panned as one of the weakest episodes of the series, I can't help but take a certain delight in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre pastiche. It's one of the first episodes of the season which really gives each team member close to equal billing, and we see the start of an important (if terrible) relationship between Gwen and Owen begin. There's some fairly enjoyable banter between the team and it's just kinda nice to see them in a different environment than the hub and city. And ultimately there's just something I kinda like about cannibal hillbillies and their various trials and tribulations.

Final verdict: This ain't high art, it's not even close. But if you ever thought to yourself "Torchwood is pretty good, but you know who needs to get involved in it? John Carpenter" then this episode is for you. If you're willing to accept the episode for what it is, it can be great fun.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Monday, February 08, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x05 - Small Worlds

Review: Not a bad little episode, although it seems a bit silly upon repeated viewings. I like the sense that the episode gives of expanding the history and mythology of the world the show takes place in. It's also nice to see some more background on Jack. And the ending feels like something of a dry run for Children of Earth. The guest stars mostly come off as unlikeable or dumb or both, so it makes it tough to get too caught up in caring what happens to folks.

Final verdict: Another one of those "not bad if you catch it and random but no need to seek it out" episodes. That said, if you're watching in sequence, this will seem like something of a breath of fresh air after the last few episodes.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x04 - Cyberwoman

Review: One of the more, uh, infamous episodes of the series; when I first watched it I shelved the show and wouldn't return to it until the friend who turned me onto the show in the first place (occasional poster and arch nemesis Gene Mayes) harassed me enough that I grudgingly picked it up again (glad I did, too). That said, after watching this episode a second time, it didn't come off quite so badly. I think there are a few reasons for this: 1) I better appreciated that in one scene there is a cyborg fighting a dinosaur, 2) this episode, more than any other on Torchwood, benefits from watching the parent program Doctor Who. I would highly recommend catching the relevant season 2 episodes of that show before catching this one, 3) As clumsy as it is, this is really ground zero of Ianto's live and loves on the show. So much of his character really starts here, and if you're a fan of Ianto (and who isn't?), you're gonna wanna see the first defining moment for his character.

All that said, the plot is still excuciatingly awful. Throughout it all, you pretty much know how it all has to end and there's really no proper sense of tension. Cap'n Jack going around talking about "executing people" is also some of the worst dialogue ever written in the Whoniverse (and I'm counting 1963-present). So, yeah.

Final verdict: It pains me to recommend this one, but I'm gonna have to bite the bullet and do it. There's important enough character development that watching this one early on will lead to rewarding payoffs down the road. Also, and I don't know if I can stress this enough, there is a fight between a cyborg and a dinosaur. Just remember that this is possibly the worst episode of the entire series, and once you get it done it's all uphill from here (even if there is a lot of uphill to climb).

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x03 - Ghost Machine

Review: After the seriously lousy previous episode, this one comes up as something of a breath of fresh air. You see a neat little alien gadget, and the creepy and sometimes tragic visions they bring. There's also some playing around with the ideas of pre-destiny and free will and all that, as well as trying to entice the audience along into figuring out how the visions of the future are going to play out. We also have a few more scenes were Gwen is further integrating into Torchwood (she's loves to shoot guns, sweet). All that said, while this episode is reasonably interesting, it doesn't really explore any of the concepts it touches on enough to be a real winner of an episode. This is a common problem throughout the the first season.

Final verdict: It would have been a lot better if they'd taken one "angle" of the story and really hammered it home. Instead this is an episode of a few decent (if not particularly groundbreaking) ideas that don't go anywhere interspersed with scenes of Own acting kinda tortured. It's actually not that bad, and if you're watching the series in order you'll be glad you caught it, but for the casual viewer this isn't a must see. Not that it has to be avoided, tho, if you see it on repeat while channel surfing I'd say go for it.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Friday, February 05, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x02 - Day One

Review: Okay, after a pretty solid start we're looking forward to episode 2. And they decide to go with a... sex alien. Awesome. Okay, so I'm actually not against the sex alien story per se. My feeling is that every single series of this type (your X-Files and Buffys and such) get to have ONE sex alien/monster/creature episode for their entire run. Bold move for the Torchwood creative team to turn in that chip for episode two. So, yeah, sort of a bad way to get the series rolling.

The plot itself is mediocre - about as good as you'd hope a sex alien story to be without actually turning it into softcore porn (so, in other words, not that good). It could technically have been worse, I guess. There are a few interesting "team dynamic" moments and I think Eve Myles is already starting to shine in making her character so expressive. But this is all stretching it for compliments.

Final verdict: A terrible letdown after the solid first episode. I kind of can't believe I actually watched this twice. I'd only recommend this if you're really committed to watching every episode of the show.

Available on: Torchwood - The Complete First Season

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Torchwood Review: 1x01 - Everything Changes

Review: Not a bad way to start the series, certainly better than I remember from my first viewing (I think my memories were colored by some of the following episodes). I think the episode does a good job making the viewer share Gwen's sense of mystery as she steps into a new world. It's worth noting that when I first watched this series I hadn't seen any Doctor Who, but upon revisiting these episodes - after having watched the 2005-2010 era of Doctor Who - I can pick up more subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to the parent program, which is a nice bonus.

One thing worth mentioning is that I like how this episode essentially presented two narratives: Gwen (and the viewer) learning about Torchwood, aliens, etc. and then a second narrative which is essentally a whodunnit murder mystery. I actually like RTD's style of keeping the second strain of the show simmering on the backburner and then thrusting it to the foreground towards the end of the episode. It makes for an exciting ending and keeps the focus on the mystery of the organization, which I prefer to just introducing all this stuff and then having Gwen get down to business-as-usual detectiving (which would have been silly).

Final verdict: A nice start for the show, introducing most all of the basic elements which would define the first two seasons of Torchwood. I'd definitely recommend this episode to anyone interested in watching more of the series than just Children of Earth.

Available on: Torchwood: The Complete First Season

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Why do Daleks like Apples?

Because an apple a day keeps The Doctor away.

...aaaand this blog reaches a new low. Sorry folks.