And so Torchwood is back, on BBC2 now, and let’s see if they can get it right this time. I lost interest about halfway through the last series, having coasted along up till then on the show’s energy and on its wild eclecticism. It may be spun off from Doctor Who, but it also contains a huge amount of plagiarism of Buffy (the Hellmouth being relocated to Cardiff), a little touch of Kolchak for viewers old enough to remember that classic, and, as Charlie Brooker pointed out, more than a hint of Scooby-Doo, with our intrepid team of paranormal investigators zooming around town in their SUV. And for all that, it didn’t quite work.
So there are three things I want from a new series of Torchwood. First, it has to be funnier. I know it’s supposed to be the “adult” spin-off of Who, but that seems to have translated into being “dark”. Much as I love classic noir, and modern noir if it’s done well, I bloody hate this current craze for everything being “dark”. To take a comics analogy, Batman is dark and Daredevil is dark, but if you’re making the Fantastic Four dark then you’re missing the point. (Though tell that to Marvel, who seem to have thought turning one of their few happy-go-lucky heroes into Dark Speedball was a dandy idea. I think it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.) But to get back to Torchwood, I suppose it’s lumbered with a noir visual style, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fair bit of humour. I mean to say, if you have an essentially panto character like Captain Jack in the lead, played by West End song and dance man John Barrowman, you’re on a hiding to nothing making him dour. You’re not making Taggart here.
Which leads me to my second point, that it should be gayer. Again, with the combination of Russell T Davies and John Barrowman, this should be a no-brainer. Part of my problem with Who these days is that it tends to be a little too camp, not least in the episodes Russell T writes himself. But for all the bisexual snogging in Torchwood, I detect a lack of gay sensibility. It’s good to have gay and bisexual characters, but a more overtly gay sci-fi show could be a lot more interesting.
And finally, it should be Welsher. You have the advantage of using the Cardiff setting, unlike Who which has to pretend Cardiff is really London. You have the fabulous Eve Myles as the female lead. You have some great Welsh accents. There’s really nothing to be lost by Welshing it up and using the local flavour, so it looks a bit less like a show set in a generic provincial city.
So how did I like the first episode of series two? Well, I rather enjoyed it, not least because Russell T acknowledged his Whedon influence by bringing in James Marsters (Spike, of Buffy fame) as a rogue Time Agent. The plot was confusing, but the action was relatively efficient. The supporting cast, even if they still aren’t as fleshed out as I would like, had stuff to do. But what was best was Barrowman and Marsters bitching away at each other like an old gay couple, which it was implied was what they were. More of that sort of thing please, and less of the Reservoir Dogs formation saunters down dark streets. We’ve already established it gets dark at night.