All entries for Monday 25 February 2008

February 25, 2008

In Defense of: Torchwood

Lets not get confused here. This isn’t part of my irregular “Shows you should be watching series”. I’m not saying Torchwood is a good show. I’m not even saying you should bother watching it. I’m just frustrated and angry with the people that use it as shorthand for ‘bad television’. Especially if they follow it up by talking about how great Doctor Who is.

See, when you make an ‘adult’ spin-off of a traditionally silly show, you can go down two routes. First is the Battlestar Galactica method of making a touching, gripping, deep, shocking drama that has little but names and a single concept in common with the original. Note that this is almost impossible to do when the show you are spinning off is still on air. Especially if said show’s title character is an ultra-powerful timelord that provides an easy way to Deus Ex your way out of any bleak plot. Basically, it wouldn’t work.

So you go down the second route. You acknowledge that Doctor Who is a fun, silly program, and that it’s world and setting are not conducive to high drama. But you also look at all the older kids and adults that profess thier love of Doctor Who and instead decide to to make a second silly, knockabout adventure show with a slightly more adult feel. And by that I mean with swearing and shagging. Torchwood is ‘mature’ in the same way that the Grand Theft Auto games are – they may both carry 18 certificates but they’re both utterly childish.

But that isn’t a bad thing is it? Doctor Who is childish and we like that. But no, Doctor Who gets away with it purely because it’s a kids show. It might be watched by millions of adults who just want a silly little adventure show, something relaxing that won’t require them to tax thier brains at all but will provide a fun way of passing forty-five minutes. But they can only justify watching it by virtue of it being a kids show. Transplant those silly ideas and over-the-top characters into something that isn’t a kids show, and suddenly it’s drowned under the weight of expectation.

Sidenote: I’m not saying the scriptwriting and performances on Torchwood are as good as Doctor Who. They’re not. But nor are they that much worse.

This is what I term the Harry Potter effect. The Harry Potter books are mediocre pieces of writing at best. But millions read them. Many of these people just want a simple, average piece of writing. More power to them. But many more will read the Harry Potter books with pride but wouldn’t be seen dead with a Mills and Boon or a Jeffrey Archer novel. Even though they’re all just silly fun little books with fairly average writing.

Because at the end of the day, sometimes we don’t want to have our perceptions on society challenged by The Wire, we don’t want to have our minds torn in new directions by the latest Iain Banks novel, we don’t want to have to carefully listen to an album 5 times in a row until all it’s depths and secrets are revealed to us. Sometimes we just want the perfect 3-minute pop song, sometimes we just want the flowing and easy prose of a Buffy spin-off novel, sometimes we just want Torchwood.

But most of us won’t admit it. We’re too entrenched in our snobbery. So we disguise it. We can make excuses for Harry Potter and Doctor Who and Britney Spears because “well they’re for kids aren’t they” or even worse “I’m getting back in touch with my inner child”. But when we’re given what we want without the ‘this is for kids’ caveat we shy away from it or even worse, attack it because we’re embarassed that it’ll let out the secret that we sort of like it.

So Torchwood then. The writing is sometimes clunky, most of the characters are fairly unlikeable and the whole thing smells of early 90s ‘technological thriller’ B.U.G.S but it’s hardly the worse thing on TV. Don’t buy the DVD. Don’t cancel your plans to fit in watching it. But don’t go ranting and raving about how awful it is. It’s got more imagination, brilliance and downright fun in one episode than the entire combined output of everything Ant and Dec have ever done. Except for Byker Grove. That was ace.


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