So, the well-trailled Dr Who spin-off aired tonight, though what with the teasers and the bus posters and the web site, I kind of felt as though I’d seen it already. Billed as an adult drama rather than a childrens’ show, it promised… what, exactly? Something in the style of the X-Files? Strong language? Adult situations? Sex and violence of the sort that Dr Who has always eschewed?
As it turns out, the answer is yes to all of the above. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. There was blood, there were acts of violence, there was plenty of sex, but it was all done with a sort of gratuitous, heavy-handed obviousness, as if the makers had a checklist of things they wanted to include in the first episodes just to prove that they could: spurting blood? Check. Characters saying “Fuck” and “Bollocks”? Check. Gay kissing? Check. Gun shot wounds? Check. The show wears its “adult” label a bit too blatantly on the sleeve of its dashing military overcoat.
The X Files is an interesting comparison; way back at the start of that show, before they had to invent ever more ludicrous plot convolutions, we were presented with charismatic leads, and a storyline which hinted strongly that there was More Going On than Met The Eye. It was intriguing enough to draw you in; Torchwood, by contrast, rushes to explain everything as quickly as it can, achieving ambiguity only by omission (how does Captain Jack come to be in Cardiff, given where we saw him last in Dr Who? Where and when is he really from?). Maybe future episodes will introduce more elements of mystery, and perhaps some arcs which span more than one episode, if the makers can get past trying so hard to prove their grown-up credentials. As it stands, Torchwood is a bit like a teenager who wants to be cool and grown-up; it wears lots of black and hangs around moodily, but it hasn’t yet quite grasped that swearing and trying to shock aren’t really the key to the thing.