Torchwood, BBC4's 'adult' 'Doctor Who' spin-off was launched to a record UK digital television audience on Sunday. If you weren't able to tune in and watch the television event of the year then - *please* - pity those of us who did.
Oh God, where to start. We say 'adult' although, apart from the odd splash of blood and some gratuitous sex scenes, it would have insulted the intelligence of a six-year-old.
In putting the show together, writer and producer Russell T Davies has stolen the best elements from around a dozen other shows and movies and combined them into what he thinks is a rich, compulsive broth.
Let's see. We have a team of disparate personalities investigating mysteries (See Buffy, Angel or Scooby Doo - Torchwood even have a stupid van they travel around in). They have a charismatic leader (see CSIs Las Vegas, Miami *and* New York). They're top secret ('We're separate from your Government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations,' says team leader and Doctor Who refugee Captain Jack Harkness) and chase aliens (like the 'Men in Black' - they even have a way of wiping people's memories). The plots play out like any number of police procedurals from 'Hill Street Blues' to 'The Shield'. The team's Cardiff-based underground bunker has the cluttered and dingy stylings of Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'.
They have a row of cells, in which they imprison their quarry, which is *exactly* like the row of cells in 'Silence of the Lambs'. Although, the show not having that movie's budget, the cells' Perspex windows are very thin - you expect the buck-toothed alien in the end cell to burst out at any second. They also, for reasons unexplained, have an impressive CGI pet pterodactyl roosting in the roof. We're not told why the place isn't littered with dinosaur guano or whose job it is to clean it up. (They also let it out to fly around Cardiff where it seemingly goes unnoticed by the general population.)
Yes, the ingredients are the finest available. The trouble is, they don't complement each other. Imagine a soup made from the best filet mignon, a dollop of Beluga caviar, a splash of Chanel No.5, a grated Miles Davies CD and one of Pele's football boots. Would you eat it? It's all the more galling coming from a man of Davies' manifest talents. We are talking, after all, about a writer who even managed to turn Christopher Eccleston into a convincing Mancunian Jesus in 'The Second Coming'.
Then there's the characters themselves. A member of the Torchwood team is revealed (in a *hilarious* scene) in the opening episode as a bisexual rapist who traps his victims using an alien aftershave he's borrowed from work that makes him irresistible. That he's played by the rat-faced bloke who was also the unsettling Mr Guppy in the recent BBC adaptation of 'Bleak House' and who we later see naked didn't help either. Oh yes, we'll be rooting for him in the coming weeks, won't we?
The characters are so poorly drawn too. One scene even went to great lengths to explain that none of the team members have partners or lives outside of their day jobs. No messy back stories required there then. The ex-copper new recruit (the 'emotional heart' of the show, if you like, through whose eyes we view proceedings) has a dopey boyfriend who does something boring. No doubt he'll come in useful later for a bit of peril or emotional impact when they get around to killing him off.
In 'Doctor Who', Captain Jack was the puckish pan-sexual secret agent from the future, as likely to try and shag you as shoot you. Now he's stranded in the 21st century he mopes about the place like a lovesick schoolgirl, his whole appeal stripped away. In another of the show's many visual non-sequiturs, he's taken to standing on the tops of very tall buildings for no good reason, like Batman, broodingly staring into the distance. The many, *many* impressive aerial shots of the city that pad out the episodes must have cost a fortune (see also the computer-generated pterodactyl) while advancing the plot not one jot. Wouldn't the money have been better spent on the script?
Take the plot of the second episode, for example, which was lifted wholesale from 'The Wire' episode of the last series of 'Doctor Who'. Except now the villain isn't an alien, trapped inside a television, that feeds on the electrical energy of the human brain, it's an alien trapped in the body of a jailbait teenage girl who shags people to death in order to absorb their 'orgasmic energy'. Really. Torchwood duly capture her and lock her up. The naïve new girl goes down to the cells for a chat and, affected by the alluring pheremones the alien gives off to attract its prey, ends up in some hot girl-on-girl action. The rest of the team look on amusedly via CCTV seemingly forgetful that their colleague is frenching a deadly alien parasite.
If you hadn't seen the last two series of 'Doctor Who' you must have wondered what the Hell was going on. Torchwood is littered with nods to its parent series. Why does Jack lovingly tend to a severed hand in a jar? (It's the Doctor's that was chopped off in the Christmas Special. Don't worry, a convoluted plot device allowed him to grow another.) They have an elevator that comes up in the street which nobody else notices (something to do with the Tardis once having landed in the exact same spot). Why is Captain Jack now immortal? Because after being exterminated by Daleks at the end of the Christopher Eccleston series he was resurrected by the Doctor's assistant who had looked into the Heart of Tardis (please bear with us) and therefore had the power of Creation at her fingertips.
From the trailer, it looks like next week's episode is going to be a re-run of 'Minority Report' where the characters are given the ability to see into the near future. We bet they don't do anything even remotely interesting with the power like use it to win the lottery or find out who wins 'Strictly Come Dancing'.
See, aren't you glad you missed it?