Watching: Torchwood, Ghost Machine

It’s a Torchwood episode! And it’s written by a woman! “Ghost Machine” written by Helen Raynor feels more like what I anticipated from Torchwood.  The first episode was all setup and the second sex-monster based story seemed very much like it was trying to prove how adult the show was.  “Ghost Machine” is a spooky, nuanced story filled with little gems.

The premise of the story is a machine that converts the energy and electrical signals into visuals.  Essentially the machine opens windows to the past in areas that are fraught with human emotion.  I love how this very simple device is used to show the power of the past, the fragility of human life, and how even the experienced Torchwood team can’t avoid being pulled into human tragedy.  Owen is deeply disturbed by what he sees in the past and drawn into a tragedy from years ago — this episode did a lot in terms of pulling on Owen’s human side and does a tremendous amount to recover Owen’s character from the poor decision in the first episode to show him using an alien artifact to seduce people.

Part way through the episode the team discover that they initially only found half of the alien object.  The other half allows the holder to see into the future.  Gwen has a vision and works desperately hard to stop it from coming true.  She changes the future but the result is still the same.  It’s heartbreaking and the narrative is incredibility well written.

GhostMachineOne of my favourite parts of this episode is a part that isn’t directly tied to the plot – I loved the part where Jack takes the time to show Gwen how to shoot a gun.  The segment is a bit over the top but it establishes Gwen as a quick learner and an essential member of the team.

It also highlights the fundamental differences between policing in North American and Britain.  There is no way a North American police officer wouldn’t know how to use a gun, but that’s the norm in Britain.  I love that they stayed true to this reality in Torchwood.  This scene also plays with the idea of Jack and Gwen as a pairing – it never develops past the flirtation stage but you can feel the tension between the two characters in these early episodes.

This is a great ghost story with layers of revenge and moral challenges on top.  It’s well written and an excellent example of blending bit of SF/F with other genres.  The tiny piece of alien tech is just a stepping stone for a much larger more human story told in this episode.

Watching: Torchwood, Day One

“Day One” the second episode of Torchwood picks up right where the pilot left off – Gwen Cooper has joined the Torchwood team and this episode revolves around her first day.  Of particular interest to current Doctor Who fans this episode was written by future show-runner Chris Chibnall.

To be frank this isn’t the best introduction to Chibnall’s work.  The entire episodes revolves around a gas based sex monster, which given that context the episode can only be expected to do so much.  At times the episode really felt like it was trying to prove how ‘adult’ Torchwood was in comparison to Doctor Who and what better way to do that then focus an entire episode around sex.

Though I do love some of the very sex positive lines given to Captain Jack in this episode.  His line “you people and your quaint little categories” is by far one of my favoruite of the entire Torchwood series.  This is one of the many examples of Jack’s refusal to conform to  (gender or sexuality based binaries.

The episode also positions Gwen as having an amazing snog with the female character possessed by the sex monster – drawing attention to the existence of bisexual people and the range of sexual orientations beyond straight and gay. Plus Gwen actually uses the word snog to describe her actions — which is adorably British and I had a minor squee moment when she talked about it.  The Verity! Podcast episode looking at this episode does a good job of diving into some of the specifics around this and find hints of redemption in the sex monster story.

On a whole I think watching Chibnall’s contributions to Doctor Who proper are a bit more inspiring than this in terms of faith in a showrunner. It’s a sex monster story.  “Day One” is not a bad story – but it is what is.  The Radio Free Skaro Miniscope on Chibnall’s Doctor Who contributions does a great job of looking critically at Chibnall’s contributions but the general assessment of his DW work is positive and highlight the huge range of genres, themes, and ideas Chibnall is capable of carrying. And I think watching Broadchurch is probably a better example of the possibilities of what can happen under Chibnall than this slightly over the top sex monster  and I absolutely loved Broadchurch.

Watching: Torchwood, Everything Changes

The past few weeks I have been working my way through Torchwood.  Given my love of Doctor Who and Captain Jack Harkness as  a character this is probably not surprising.  Despite this love and the fact that Torchwood originally aired starting in 2006 what is probably most surprising is that this is the first time I’ve watched the spin-off.  I saw some of the Torchwood: Miracle Day series when it aired originally and I’ve listened to a number of the Torchwood audiobooks but somehow missed watching the series proper.

Everything Changes” is the first episode of the Torchwood series.  It serves the standard pilot role of introducing all of the main characters, the general premise and setting up the show itself.  The episode is setup from the perspective of Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles) who is a police officer who stumbles upon a Torchwood investigation, finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the alien filled world that is Torchwood, with the episode ultimately ending with Gwen joining the Torchwood team.

The placement of Gwen as an outsider in this episode works well.  It provides an identification character for the audience and allows for the introduction of Torchwood to be done in a logical and easy to comprehend way.  Plus you get to see Gwen’s police work and snooping skills in action.  She is immediately established as someone who cares, who is inquisitive, and as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer.  Gwen is presented as strong female character in this episode and that’s something that carries on throughout the series.

The tone of Torchwood was also beginning to be established in this episode – it’s witty, dark, and is being established as firmly ‘adult’ television – a marked step away from the family oriented Doctor Who.

One of the things I’ve grown to love about Torchwood as I’ve made my way through the series is the open challenging of sexual boundaries and identities.  That being said, this opening episode had an uncomfortable segment in which Owen uses an alien perfume/glamour to make himself irresistible to the nearest person — removing free will and decision making powers of the impacted person.  Some have likened this instance to date rape and heavily criticized the interaction. It made me uncomfortable. But it also did an excellent job of setting Owen up as a character with a huge range of sexual relationship related challenges and as someone who is that stereotypical ‘player’ archetype. It served it’s purpose but perhaps could have been frame with more sensitivity.

A solid introduction to the series. With more goodness to come.

New Doctor Who Companion

doc who mainOn Saturday Pearl Mackie was officially revealed as the new Doctor Who companion.  Given that 2016 is the year of no new Doctor Who you can imagine the excitement, glee, and anticipation that surrounded this announcement.  I also think it was a pretty brilliant move by BCC to make the announcement during half time of the FA Cup semi-final match between Everton and Manchester United.

I’m willing to bet that typically the overlap between football (soccer) and Doctor Who audiences isn’t normally that great.  But slotting the announcement in at half time exposes different audiences to Doctor Who and potentially ups the viewership of the match itself.  Granted, there were a ton of people who I’m sure just turned in briefly to see the announcement then turned the tv off.  But I still think it was a great marketing move.  Similarly, the using a trailer to introduce Mackie as ‘Bill’ was brilliant and provided so much more fodder than the standard publicity photos.  Seeing Mackie in costume, in character, and engaging with Capaldi on screen was way more than I thought we were going to get with this announcement.  Well played BBC.

That being said, it’s still very early days and who knows what Bill’s character will bring to the show.  I’m definitely looking forward to finding out…even if it is still months and months away.

Watching and Reading: Outlander

Despite it being the year of no Doctor Who, I’m still extremely giddy about all the awesome SF/F and historical fiction television that is starting up again this Spring.  Lets just say there has been a couple of squee moments when I’ve realized that things like Outlander, Orphan Black, and 12 Monkeys have started being recorded by our PVR.

CowlI’m super happy to see that Outlander is back for another season and I’m looking forward to seeing that play out. Though I admit I’m a bit sad to see the show moving on to being set in France.  This sadness is a slightly odd reason — one of my favourite parts of the first season was the amazing costuming of the cast and the beautiful Scottish knits.  With the change in era and country we’re entering a complete different type of costuming, it’s still pretty awesome as far as historical clothing goes, but not quite as ‘wow I want to make that’ as knitwear.  Though all the knitwear from season 1 that I loved is still on my to-knit list, so despite all the inspiration I’m still not quite there.

(Briefly gets distracted by looking at patterns for Outlander inspired knitted cowls for the umpteenth time).

So far I’ve only watched the first episode of season two, but already I’m thinking I need to take another pass at Dragonfly in Amber.  The first book in the Outlander series stuck in my mind fairly well and I remembered enough of it do have a sense of how things were being adapted in the first season.  But after the first book things get a bit fuzzy and the plot starts to blur a bit between books.  I remember reading and liking the books. I can recall the major plot points but the intricacies and the order in which things happen are a bit muddled.

Long story, I’m probably going to reread the books.  I often struggle with tv/film adaptations of books I love and find myself being fairly critical about what is included in the adaptation.  But, the tv show is reminding me how much I enjoyed the books so I think it’s worth rereading even if it does contribute to viewing annoyance later….I just need to remind myself to appreciate the show for it is, that a 300 plus page book is a completely different medium, and that of course the picture in my head is always going to be cooler.

Reading: Chicks Dig Time Lords

The Doctor Who reading continues with Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love it edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea.  It seems appropriate to write about thDigTimeLordsis book on International Women’s Day as the book celebrates female experiences, fandom, and perspectives. Squee and all other kinds of love for Doctor Who are openly embraced in the essays in this book.

Similar to Chicks Unravel Time this book focuses on the female Whovian perspective.  The tone of the book is a bit more casual with more personal reflections on Doctor Who fandom and personal experiences with the show. Unsurprisingly I loved this book. It’s a great mixture of academic style essays and memoir style writings about individual relationships with Doctor Who. The book recreates the sense of community many fans have come to cherish in DW fandom.

I found the online communities discussion interesting – partially because it has changed so much since the launch of new DW and and again since the book was published. I wonder how the authors’ experiences of Doctor Who have changed with streaming, changing online communities, and social media.

Some of the book’s high points for me were Shoshana Magnet’s essay on gender and race in DW; Lynne M. Thomas’ “Marrying Into the TARDIS Tribe”; Johanna Mead’s piece on costuming, and Carole E. Barrowman’s reflection on her brother’s role as Jack Harkness.

I’m following up this selection by reading Anything Goes by John and Carole Barrowman.  So far it’s a light read and a wit filled autobiography.

Reading: Chicks Unravel Time

cut_cover-web-194x300As I mentioned earlier my Doctor Who love has recently ratcheted up into overdrive and I’ve been on a consume all the cool Doctor Who things.  Well, maybe not all the things as there is a huge world of fandom and a unbelievable number of official/unofficial writings, comics, and audio recordings relating to Doctor Who.

A few years ago I got hooked on via a Doctor Who bundle. Until recently that handful of books were the only ones I read that related to Doctor Who.  This limited reading was recently expanded when I picked up Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who.  I came across this book via the Verity Podcast which I can’t speak highly enough of. Chicks Unravel Time is a collection edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles which brings together female writers to examine each season of new and classic Doctor Who from individual perspectives.  The book features essays by award-winning authors, media professionals, and academics.  I was particularly impressed by the range of perspectives in this book and the different ways women have experienced and reflected on Doctor Who.

Some of the highlights for me included “The Doctor’s Balls” by Diana Gabaldon where she describes how campaign Jamie McCrimmon inspired her Outlander series; Jennifer Pelland’s challenging and thought provoking essay on “The Problem With Peri”; the humorous look at the sexualization and objectification of the Doctor in “David Tennant’s Bum” by Laura Mead; and Emily Kausalik’s look at the use of stock audio and the importance of music in season five in her essay “The Sound’s the Star.”

I didn’t love every essay in the book – but I appreciate the breadth of viewpoints shared and the ability of the collection to look at Doctor Who critically from so many different perspectives and the integration of so many distinct female voices. I can see myself returning to some of the essays in the future as I continue to learn more about Doctor Who and continue to watch more classic Who. In the meantime I’ve just started to read Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It. 

Radio Dramas: Torchwood

Lost_SoulsAs I mentioned a few posts ago, my love for Doctor Who is relatively new and up until now it has primarily been restricted to religiously watching the television series and occasionally diving into some of the classic episodes.  However recently at work I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts talking about Doctor Who and I’ve started exploring fan created literature around the show.  Fandom sequels might be appropriate here.

I spend a lot of time in my car – at minimum ten hours a week.  Given this abundance of time trapped in a steel people carrier rambling down hwy 17 I often listen to CBC and satellite radio.  But I recently discovered that via Overdrive (the Ontario library ebook and audio book provider) that I can download Doctor Who and Torchwood content to listen to. There’s not a complete run of the content but there’s enough to keep me busy for awhile.

I just finished listening to the Torchwood BBC Radio Dramas.  These short one hour dramas are set between series two and three of Torchwood and feature the voices of the actors associated with the Torchwood series, namely John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper, and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones. The short nature of the episodes means that they are fairly fast paced and it’s been a long time since I’ve listening to any drama that was designed exclusively for radio.

It is definitely different than something written for print then read aloud.  I really enjoyed this set of dramas.  It made me think about classic radio before the invention of TV and the prevalence of high quality radio dramas in days gone by.  It also reminded me how much I love Captain Jack as a character and what a great job John Barrowman does in that role.

Listening: Verity and Doctor Who

While working on repetitive tasks I often listen to music, podcasts, or audio books.  One of my favourite podcasts is Verity! which features six women talking about Doctor Who.  Many episodes focus on a specific episode with the participants discussing their take, likes, and dislikes of the episode.  Recently, they re-watched and discussed “Rose” the first episode in the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who.  Much of this particular Verity! episode focused on reactions to the re-boot and reactions to seeing that first Doctor Who episode after the lengthy hiatus.

This got me to thinking about my personal discovery of Doctor Who.  Despite my love of all things fantasy, history, and sci-fi I came relatively late to the game.  I don’t remember ever seeing the show while growing up and I didn’t start watching immediately in 2005.  I came upon it by chance.  I was away for work and surfing channels in the hotel room.  Stumbled across a Christoper Eccleston era episode on TV and was enthralled. I have no recollection of what episode it was but I do remember that it was a two part episode.  While talking to Andrew on the phone that night I was like “I was watching this thing….can you please record the other half of this thing called Doctor Who.”  For me it was like discovering this brand new amazing thing.

For Andrew this moment wasn’t nearly as memorable and was more like “Oh, I know that show… it terrified us as children. But yeah, I’ll PVR it for you.  Which from what I’ve read Andrew’s response was fairly typical of a lot of people his age in Ontario.  Apparently Doctor Who aired on TVO for many years and often immediately followed children’s programming.  So the end of the Polka Dot Door would transition in the eerie sounds of the Doctor Who theme without much warning. The video below illustrates the terrifying blending of children’s programming with Doctor Who.  Seems a bit jarring.

TVO Polka Dot Door Outro Dr Who Intro by Retrontario

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