Posts tagged Russell T Davies

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Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×10 The Blood Line – Review

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Warning: Contains mild spoilers

Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s series finale, “The Blood Line,” contains moments sublime, absurd and WTF-worthy. What it lacks, is the sense that this is a closed and complete series. This may be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it.

I’ll say this: throughout all ten episodes, the performances from John Barrowman and Eve Myles have been taken to the next level. In prior series of TW, Barrowman was often the bearer of the glib and facile quips, while Myles was saddled with far more angst than anybody should be. Gwen Cooper has grown up to be a pragmatic badass, complete with a sense of her own failings. Jack Harkness has grown up as well, and mortality has given him shading and depth.

TBL is the endgame writ large, with explosives. Lots of them. There is also one incredibly spoilery surprise that may represent a game-changing canon discontinuity with Doctor Who, and there are a lot of dangling threads. Since we’ve yet to see whether we’ll get a fifth series, let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

For all that, this is a great episode to watch. The cast, working from a script by Jane Espenson and Russell T. Davies, are given a lot of really fantastic moments that make TBL a joy. Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson stop being annoying and finally make sense in context. Frances Fisher and Lauren Ambrose are delightfully evil, and Bill Pullman gets to make a meal out of ham and cheese. We also get some beautifully underplayed moments from Kai Owen and Tom Price. It all comes down to Gwen and Jack, though. From Jack revealing to Oswald Danes that he’s from the future, and that the future is,”being written right now,” to Gwen’s gut-wrenching decision to shoot Jack, these characters remain the heart of Torchwood.

There’s a lot of palaver about antipodal lines and the frankly disturbing visual of The Blessing, (the center of the world resembles a mashup between Georgia O’Keefe and Edvard Munch, IMO,) but that’s not really what TBL is about. It’s about choices and conscience. The Blessing reflects who you really are back at you. For Gwen, there is, “Enough guilt to last me a lifetime. But that’s okay, I’m a working mother; I don’t need The Blessing to tell me that.” For Jack, “I’ve lived so many lives and now I can see them all. Hey: not so bad.” There are choices about sacrifice, choices about embracing the self, and choices about the needs of the few versus the needs of the many.

There’s a chilling moment when Danes asks Jack who he is, saying, “I know the smile of a man who’s done terrible things,” getting under Jack’s skin by saying, “Your friends. . . sometimes they like you, sometimes they love you, and sometimes, glittering away in those tiny gaps: they fear you.” It provides a much deeper and subtler contrast between Jack’s moral ambiguity and accountability, and the monstrosity that is Oswald Danes as Jack tells him, “You’ve made your life so small.”

For all that Russell T. Davies swore that he didn’t owe Torchwood fans answers about why, answers have been woven throughout the entirety of TW: MD. I came into this series with trepidation, and I’m leaving it wanting more. At the top of its game, the series has had interesting things to say about the manipulation of desperate populations, the way bureaucrats and politicians participate in fomenting a mob mentality, and the corporate puppetmasters pulling the strings. These are things that are familiar to most of us these days. In centering the machinations in the three families, and specifically in Frances Fisher as The Mother Colasanto (a dangling thread if I ever saw one,) Davies has left a web in place that could become a major arc with standalone episodes in future series.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Mekhi Phifer and Alexa Havins taken off the leash, in a manner of speaking: Rex Matheson is suddenly less of a jerk and more of a confident operative, while Esther Drummond is no longer a river of tears but competent and sure in her actions. If these characters had existed as complete and complex from the beginning instead of serving as proxies for Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato, the entire series would have been stronger. Havins proves that she’s capable of carrying no-nonsense material while Phifer’s talent isn’t restricted to being a smartass.

There is heroism and nihilism and betrayal, and there’s a lot of asskicking awesome to be had.

Thinking back over this series which has been both incredibly flawed and yet incredibly vital television, it seems that for as much as Davies wants to embrace the miniseries format, he’s also attempting to set up the future of Torchwood as something that belongs to no country, no government, no power except itself. With this tenth episode, the villains are vanquished (for now) and the status quo has been returned to the human race (mostly) but the questions remain: Who pulls the strings and why? Will we go like sheep to the slaughter or deliver our neighbors to the wolves at the door? Are we worth saving if we won’t save each other?

Perhaps, with a fifth series, we might get a little closer to the answers.

I look forward to it.

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Torchwood: Casualties, Context, and the Future of Genre Television

Editor’s Note: This article was written as a collaboration between Kristen McHugh and Stephanie Wooten.  We apologize for the length but we hope you enjoy the read and can provide your thoughts on this matter as well.  Kristen did an amazing job putting together our hodge-podge of ideas so at the very least it deserves a read because of Kristen’s awesome writing skills.  Thanks!

Warning: If you’ve never seen Torchwood or been on the internet with Torchwood fans. . . you know the drill.

Let’s begin at the beginning: Stephanie and I came to Torchwood in different ways. I came into it from the BBC America premiere, as an avid Whovian. Stephanie stumbled into the TW: CoE panel at SDCC 2008, already familiar with Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, but not aware of how much darker its spin-off was, or would become.

No, this is not another rant about Ianto. Well, it is a little bit. Creators have the right to determine what happens and what’s at stake in their universes. Taking the whims of fandom into account is a recipe for disaster and can shred the creative vision faster than a piranha shreds a steak.

And yet. . . creating successful television for the long-term necessitates knowing your audience, persuading them to invest in each season and getting them to tell their friends. If you’ve got a finite story to tell, then you know how long you’re hoping they invest. If you haven’t got a set endpoint for the narrative, the trick is keeping it both fresh and familiar.

Russell T. Davies would be right if he said that Torchwood: Children of Earth was the most successful series of TW to date. He’d also be guilty of profound disingenuousness if he ascribed that purely to the TW: CoE narrative.  The format helped to keep the audience hooked. It’s a lot easier to keep an audience interested for five straight days than it is to keep them coming back each week over three months.  There’s data on all TW series to date, but – check out one of only TWO negative reviews: Ginia Bellafante apparently JUST HATES GEEKY THINGS. Here’s also a link to nielsen data.

To give CoE credit: it was brilliant storytelling. Tightly-paced, relentlessly tense narrative full of moral complexity and a lot of living in shades of grey, rather than black and white. That doesn’t mean Davies didn’t break his fanbase, and I know a number of people who won’t be back for Miracle Day.

Much has been made of the Jack/Ianto fangirls/shippers and how they represent the, “Broken (fan)base,” of Torchwood. The thing is, while they’ve been the most vocal, they’re not alone in being broken. Some of us just have slightly different rationales for why investing in Miracle Day seems risky.

This is what Stephanie and I decided to hash out: Why did we feel betrayed by Russell T. Davies? What could have been done differently to keep from alienating fans? Should it have been done differently?

Via twitter, email and text, we’ve given a lot of thought to this. What we’ve concluded is pretty simple: Davies keeps killing off the people we’re supposed to be invested in, but never lets us mourn. This is a bad practice in a period of downturn in the fortunes of genre programming in general. Outside of Syfy, (which has axed BSG/Caprica/SGA) there’s not a lot of sci-fi & fantasy genre programming on the air at the moment. Yes, we have Supernatural, Fringe, True Blood, & Game of Thrones (not counting the few remaining SyFy original programs) but when one considers the large number of television stations and countless hours of programming, it seems to be a pretty small number in comparison to the number of criminal procedurals and/or reality shows.  Only a few genre-related pilots were picked up by the networks. Outside of premium or dedicated cable channels, Doctor Who is the only consistently performing or growing show in the genre category. As geeks, we’d like to see more quality genre programming and we’d like it to last more than a few episodes.

Returning to TW, yes, people die in real life. Yes, characters die in fiction. However, there is something to be said for acknowledging that a character not only means something to the people in-universe, but to the audience. RTD hasn’t given his audience that chance as seems clear in multiple interviews.

Stephanie and I both have two huge sticking points, beyond Davies’ tendency to gloss over the value of the audience when speaking to the press.

1. In-universe grief is where?
2. When the only way to raise the stakes is killing characters, how hard are you really trying?

There are times when a senseless death that comes out of nowhere works in a narrative. Joss Whedon is a master of this. Joyce Summers’ (Kristine Sutherland) death led to one of the most powerful examinations of mortality in a universe where death and risk was a constant. “The Body” is starkly powerful, and I (Kristen) have had a similar experience in real life. That episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer devastated me. Just as it devastated the characters and the audience.

Mini-spoiler alert: If you have not seen Serenity or later seasons of Buffy, skip the next paragraph. 

Tara Maclay’s (Amber Benson) death is another example of BtVS dealing with the aftermath of a senseless and unintended death. The metaphor may not have been perfectly executed but Willow’s extreme anger at the world over the loss of a loved one is a common reaction to death (see: Xander punching the wall in “The Body”). Hoban “Wash” Washburne’s (Alan Tudyk) death in Serenity further illustrates that it is entirely possible to kill a beloved character for absolutely no reason and have it work.

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