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Torchwood - a mismatch of expectations

I haven't actually seen Children of Earth, but I've read all about it.  I might watch it - might not.  And the reason I might not has made me realise something.

We in UKTVLand are very good at producing powerful dramas that come in at around 4 hrs of programming.  Think Lynda La Plante and Prime Suspect - a cracking example.  We're quite good at short series, 5 stories maybe running story arcs over two episodes - Silent Witness, Cold Case, that kind of thing.  We are brilliant at soap operas.

Oddly, it seems what we're not very good at at the moment, is producing long running (non-soap, non comedy) series with an ensemble cast of characters doing hour long stories.  Other than ITV's The Bill, I can't think of one.  We have no CSI, no Law and Order, no Star Trek, no Stargate.  We used to make them, we just don't seem to any more.

So what has happened is that Uncle Rusty iand his team are writing blockbusters.  Whenever they get near TW or DW they are writing Prime Suspect rather than Stargate, because that to them is the better model of programmes.  And because RTD in particular is not quite as good as he thinks he is, we get these endless miscalculations - or rather miscalculated endings.  They are blockbuster endings, but they just don't quite work.

But that it seems is not what the fans want.  It's been very obvious with the reaction to the wierdly relocated DW that the fans want half an hour behind the sofa every saturday, and RTD wants The Quatermass Experiment. Most TW fans seem to want  an alien busting CSI with sex  - what they got was Prime Suspect:The Final Act - a hugely powerful Russian fairytale where everyone dies happily ever after.

I don't watch that kind of programme very often any more.  I've done Quatermass, Doomwatch ( Winter Angel), A for Andromeda.  If I want to watch something depressing, I just turn on the news.  I'd have preferred the early evening version with Freema Agyema and Noel Clarke.

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( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
travels_in_time
12th Jul, 2009 02:03 (UTC)
This is pretty much my opinion on the matter. Not saying I won't watch, but if I don't, then that's why. I can get terminally depressed by watching the news; I don't need it on my "entertainment".
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 02:10 (UTC)
Absolutely. It's not that RTD has 'ruined it', it's that he hasn't written what I want to watch, at least at the moment.
ximeria
12th Jul, 2009 06:45 (UTC)
You've put into words what was bothering me about TW (and DW as well). I do miss what TW was aiming at early on - TW fans seem to want an alien busting CSI with sex - That's what's missing! I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 09:29 (UTC)
It only really came to me last night when a combination of remarks by other people came together in my head.

Of course, I can't say he was wrong to write it - I'm sure it will garner audiences and critical acclaim. But it wasn't what I wanted, or what TW seemed to have set its stall out to do at the start. It felt like what you do to a show (like Doomwatch) that you've got the rights for, but was off air for ages and couldn't come back in its original form as times had changed, some of the actors had got old/fat/died etc. So you do a 3 hour blockbuster with primarily new characters, in the course of which you kill off any original characters where you've coaxed the actor out of retirement, so if it does take off as a series, you've established a nice new shiny cast.
nightporters
12th Jul, 2009 08:13 (UTC)
I won't watch. I've stood on the sidelines and watch the reactions. I've been there with Blakes 7, I don't need it again.

I read and write to escape and yes, alien CSI with Jack and Ianto jumping each other suits me just fine.

Edited at 2009-07-12 08:14 (UTC)
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 09:32 (UTC)
I remember the last ever episode of Blake's 7 as well. And the last ever episode of Ace of Wands.

I just wanted a regular show that I could watch each week. I only needed to watch Quatermass 4 once.
(no subject) - nightporters - 12th Jul, 2009 09:36 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 09:42 (UTC) - Expand
unfeathered
12th Jul, 2009 09:40 (UTC)
*hugs you*

Thank you! This is what I've been trying to say all weekend but haven't managed to find the words for.

I think it's always been the case a little bit that the TW I was watching was not the TW I originally wanted, but this just took it to a whole new level.
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 10:28 (UTC)
I think that's it.

I would think a lot of the aggro being generated (other than from the "OMG they've killed Kenny Ianto" brigade) is from people who didn't go for watching documentaries on the Holacaust, avoided Millenium, and would not have watched TW if they had known what was coming.

What we got was a Russian fairytale, and you really have to be in the right mood to read them.
(no subject) - unfeathered - 12th Jul, 2009 10:32 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 10:34 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - unfeathered - 12th Jul, 2009 10:56 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wren_kt7oz - 12th Jul, 2009 12:21 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 12:35 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wren_kt7oz - 12th Jul, 2009 12:46 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 12:51 (UTC) - Expand
Perfect - reader1 - 15th Jul, 2009 01:27 (UTC) - Expand
Re: Perfect - wren_kt7oz - 15th Jul, 2009 09:24 (UTC) - Expand
Re: Perfect - hellenebright - 16th Jul, 2009 16:37 (UTC) - Expand
wren_kt7oz
12th Jul, 2009 12:09 (UTC)
Have to admit that I'm quite torn over what's going on with both TW and DW.

I don't know if the change of format for either or both is being driven by Russell's infamous boredom setting in, or has it been driven by the availability (or lack thereof) of the two leads.

As far as writing is concerned, particularly for CoE - I think your words about a "mismatch" of expectations hold the key. Russell and the team, were, I think, excited at the thought of writing for the new audience that being on BBC1 would expose them to, but the TW fans were expecting that they'd continue writing for them.

The problems with CoE (and there are many, IMO) don't take away from the fact that it was a cracking piece of television. I could hardly tear my eyes away.

If I'd never seen TW before, I would still have been mesmerised.

It's just the long time TW fans whose expectations were dashed so thoroughly.
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 12:30 (UTC)
I think you may be right that availability is as significant as anything else. Freema Agyema's availability (or lack thereof) explains why the BBC gave up on their first idea of a lighter TW with Martha and Micky (which would have worked, but been a completely different product).

And I'm sure it's a cracking piece of work - although a sizeable number of reviews were disappointed by the actual plot resolution.

The problem is that - after Uncle Rusty saying he would never crossover DW and TW - he did just that, so that at the end of Journey's End, the Doctor drops Jack back with Gwen and Ianto, who are now part of the DW world.

It's going on from that to produce CoE which I think has jarred so many people, because Doctor Who and what was essentially a rerun of Quatermass IV cannot exist in the same universe.

I think it would have worked just as well - possibly worked better, because he wouldn't have had to spend any time on the Torchwood characters, he could just have had "the ex-cop who's now a journalist - twist is she's female and pregnant"; "her mate who used to work for some strange government department"; and "the crazy scientist now living in retirement in Cardiff who KNOWS WHAT'S GOING ON, and not had to waste valuable plot time either on relationships or on aftermaths.
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 12:31 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - unfeathered - 12th Jul, 2009 18:45 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 13th Jul, 2009 08:25 (UTC) - Expand
crystalshard
12th Jul, 2009 15:00 (UTC)
If I want to watch something depressing, I just turn on the news.

*nod* That's pretty much exactly what I said after Ep 5 finished. I think that Torchwood, while very well written, went too dark at the end there. That kind of storytelling is why I stopped watching Battlestar Galactica.
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 15:40 (UTC)
And especially after bringing Gwen and Ianto into DW in Journey's End, CoE just doesn't seem to fit into the same universe. In a way, it would have worked better not being a Torchwood story - and it would have had lesss plot holes as well with no backstory to generate them
(no subject) - crystalshard - 12th Jul, 2009 15:53 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 16:07 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 16:18 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crystalshard - 12th Jul, 2009 17:30 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 12th Jul, 2009 17:43 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crystalshard - 12th Jul, 2009 17:44 (UTC) - Expand
love_jackianto
12th Jul, 2009 15:18 (UTC)
'And because RTD in particular is not quite as good as he thinks he is, we get these endless miscalculations - or rather miscalculated endings.'
Thanks for that. I feel the same way.
hellenebright
12th Jul, 2009 15:42 (UTC)
Someone (yeah, I forgot to mem :( ) has written a humorous post claiming that the only two ways RTD can ever defeat an alien is either some kind of telecommunications wave, or else glowy fog. That's a bit harsh, but he does fall back on deus ex machina solutions far too often for my liking.
(no subject) - love_jackianto - 12th Jul, 2009 16:12 (UTC) - Expand
mad_jaks
12th Jul, 2009 18:47 (UTC)
Over here from unfeathered
We have no CSI, no Law and Order, no Star Trek, no Stargate. We used to make them, we just don't seem to any more.
Yes, this.

And this too
an alien busting CSI with sex
I swear this is what I thought I was getting.
hellenebright
13th Jul, 2009 08:43 (UTC)
That was always the problem with TW - the pitch for it wasn't clear enough, and the way TW and DW kept crossing over blurred the lines.

I think this was what Uncle Rusty always wanted to write - the big stories on the lines of the three original Quatermass series - but that can't exist in the same universe as Journey's End.

If the pitch for TW had been - CSI Cardiff, with aliens and sex: show the effects on a team of brilliant people of dealing with the random dark side - or Doomwatch with aliens and sex: dedicated team fights big business, corrupt governments and aliens threatening our environment - or Spooks with aliens and sex: team of nerdy flakes who may be suspect themselves lurch from shambles to crisis, barely keeping the lid on things - this would all have been good, and could have been sustained (the first option especially) for some time.

But linking it to the DW universe (something RTD initially - and wisely - said he was never going to do), left it with less "in-universe" options, making CoE seem jarring and out of line, however good it may have been.
(no subject) - mad_jaks - 13th Jul, 2009 09:00 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hellenebright - 14th Jul, 2009 21:07 (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - hellenebright - 14th Jul, 2009 21:33 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mad_jaks - 14th Jul, 2009 21:56 (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
hellenebright
13th Jul, 2009 08:44 (UTC)
Thank you. I was really just trying to express my own feelings, but it does seem to have struck a chord with some folks.
yinkawills
12th Jul, 2009 20:57 (UTC)
Hi there, here via jane davitt's 'friends' page:)
Your perspective on COE is totally different from much of the outraged comments I've seen whilst surfing. I like it.Its true about Brit tv and long form series.

RTD and the people he works with on Dr Who and Torchwood have shown 2 interestingly contradictory tendencies in the writing: An interest in the big moral dilemmas, some of the major problems our society faces, and the effects on those who have to make terrible choices as a result. And an adolescent gleeful urge to shock. A kind of 'look at me!' Which can involve needless manipulation of the audience's emotions, and a shallowness/tinge of narcissism that is.. well, irritating.

Both were on display in COE. And the lurch from one approach to another can be jarring.

So, we had the brilliant, believeable, chilling discussion at the COBRA cabinet meeting about which kind of children should be offered up.And the 456 noting that 3000+ children die every second and that is accepted. And the character of Frobisher- Peter Capaldi should be up for a BAFTA-showing how a decent person can carry out evil acts (shades of Nazi bureaucrats who were 'following orders'). And the not brilliant scene where Jack threatens the 456..with no plan/follow up, striking a heroic pose. And Jack suddenly solving the problem in a kids tv/Whoish way - Oooh, last minute fix, now we can all go home for tea!-with no lead up over the previous 4 days to that kind of solution, but a spectacularly nasty sacrificial killing that focuses as much on him crying prettily whilst doing it, as the distraught mother.

The script needed more work. A couple more drafts by someone detached from the main team.

That being said, there was a lot of good, gripping, edge of seat stuff. Carried by a brilliant cast-the casting directors were spot on.Lois! Ms Spears!(Frobisher's PA) The actor playing the PM was.. frightening. Absolutely believable. The female Cabinet Minister who came up with the idea of how to select the children, scared the crap out of me. Peter Capaldi as Frobisher should get a BAFTA, for his depictio of how an ordinary person can get drawn more and more into evil via beaurocratic fiat.

The scary special forces team leader Johnson! Rhiannon! Her feckless but ultimately brave husband-leading the charge against the troops to buy a little time for the kids to escape! PC Andy taking a stand!The character arcs for the subsidiary characters were brilliant.RTD is good at writing ordinary people responding heroically in times of crisis.
When Lois, the temp stood up in the cabinet meeting of COBRA, terrified but resolute, everyone in my house cheered.

The whole way the 456 were depicted was Beeb ingenuity -and stinginess- at its best. None of this costly CGI nonsense, when they could just use our imaginations.

The point of SciFi is to reflect on society and certain trends in society extrapolated to show what they could lead to. This series did that...and then some! Given the hysteria in Britain over asylum seekers, and chavs etc, the 'solution' to the 456's demands was both credible AND evoked chilling echoes of the holocaust-which my teenage son watching with me noted, stunned.

The weakest thing, for me was John Barrowman. He is a gorgeous, sexy man. But I would say his talents lie in comedy or lighter fare. I don't think he has a wide enough range for where they took this emotionally. There are a whole load of British tv actors- Dominic West,Jonathan Rhys Meyers, David Morrisey, John Simm, David Tennant himself, to name but a few- who could do both playboy and monster, and all the shadings in between Barrowman can't.And ultimately, the writing couldnt fully carry it off either, hence the cognitive dissonance many of the audience feel.

Still, it was some brilliant tv! Event indeed.

hellenebright
13th Jul, 2009 08:55 (UTC)
I can't really say how good it was, not having watched it, but I'm sure it was very good. I'm *quite* sure Peter Capaldi acted John Barrowman off the screen - Barrowman's acting has always been a weak point.

I do think it is what RTD originally wanted to write before he got the green light for TW - he always said he wanted to do serious sci-fi. I also think that hitching TW to DW and adding Captain Jack Harkness meant it was probably never going to work, because the pitch was never clear. Quatermass IV and Journey's End cannot exist in the same universe.

From that perspective (and from RTD's perspective - even if this won a Nobel Prize for Literature, it will forever be described as a Doctor Who spinoff) it would I suspect have worked better not as a TW story. Less effort spent on reconciling/glossing over the TW backstory, a better actor than Barrowman to play the lead. And getting rid of "immortal Captain Jack" would I suspect have made the story stronger, focussing in more on how we as 21st century humans would have dealt with the situation (which seems to have been the best parts) rather than faffing around with what is essentially an alien on your own side as well.
karaokegal
13th Jul, 2009 18:23 (UTC)
I wish US television producers were able to do the 8-13 episodes and then stop after two or three great series, with Life On Mars being the perfect example. The thinking here seems to be to keep shows on the air as long as there is money to be wrung out and that leaves us with schedules full of shows that have long exceeded their sell-by dates.

I know the downside is that you're left screaming for more of the good stuff, but I consider that preferable to ER in it's umpteen millionth season.
hellenebright
14th Jul, 2009 21:02 (UTC)
Yeah, I suppose that's the flipside of the argument. What started out brilliant ends up with a rubbish last X seasons.
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