Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Torchwood Returns!

Russell T. Davies - the complex genius who breathed new life into the Doctor Who franchise - is both a hero and a nemesis of mine. It's hard to ignore the fact that he created a visionary new imagining of one of my most beloved TV shows - but it's also hard to ignore the fact that he took that triumph and thoroughly smooshed it into the ground with spin-off monstrosity Torchwood.

Torchwood: Where plot and characterization fail to collide

Yet despite the cruel words I've had to say about Torchwood, I was insanely excited to hear star John Barrowman tweet that the ill-fated alien detection agency was returning for a forth season. Almost immediately, I've got high hopes about the return - after all, all the annoying characters have been killed off and I'm enough of a Barrowman aficionado to watch it purely for him.

However, I can't help thinking it also has the intense capacity to suck.

And that's the great contradiction with Russell T. Davies - everything he creates winds up in the annals of awesomeness or the slimepits of suck and there's never any 'middle ground.'

In that respect, he strongly reminds me of another science fiction legend - the great Joss Whedon. Whedon is the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly (and used to live in my home city of Winchester, no less.) Both are chubby, poorly dressed and have the ill-fated capacity to bring brilliance or banality to whatever enterprise they touch.

Case in point, in Joss Whedon's example, is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Simply the most sublime TV show ever, Whedon perfectly balanced comedy, horror and action for seven seasons, before finally wrapping the series up in a climax that saw the town of Sunnydale literally consumed by the Earth (explaining why California business insurance is so high - even with all the earthquakes!)

That triumph mirrors Russell T. Davies, who brought Doctor Who back from relative obscurity and created a brand new formula that made a forty-year-old TV show more relevant than it had ever been.

But while they both hit home runs, they also struck out with the follow-ups.

For Joss Whedon, that follow-up was Angel - which followed the adventures of Buffy's former paramour Angelus, as he tried to make a living solving mysteries in Los Angeles. Originally, I blamed the show's failure on star David Boreanz - but after watching him excel in the current TV series Bones I realize that the shortfall was firmly in the hands of Whedon.

Meanwhile, increasing the business insurance rate of everybody who lives in Cardiff, Russell T. Davies mirrored Whedon's exploits with Torchwood - a spin-off show that followed the adventures of what was arguably his greatest creation: Captain Jack Harkness.

But despite being arguably unsinkable (Captain Jack, played by John Barrowman, is so charismatic even I'd question my heterosexuality around him) Torchwood was a convoluted mess that spent far too much time pontificating about Davies' political opinions (Welsh devolution, gay marriage) than preventing alien invasions.

It's finally time for residents of Cardiff to check their insurance information and prepare for another alien invasion now that a new series is being commissioned.

And for us beleaguered sci-fi fans, we're left wondering whether Russell T. Davies will decide to emulate Whedon's best with this new series - the simply astounding Firefly - or the worst - the nonsensical mess that was Dollhouse.

Whatever the result, it's worthwhile acknowledging that Whedon is no less than two sci-fi series ahead of Davies - yet has ultimately failed to hit commercial gold.

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