Wednesday, 22 April 2015

End of Days written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way

This story in a nutshell: All hell breaks loose in Cardiff…

Hunky Hero: Jack proves that he might not be the best guy for the job when Ianto discovers the answer as to why this chaos is being brewed up right on the nail and his lover tells him to shut up. If I were Ianto I would have said ‘ner ner ne ner ner’ or something of that kind when the danger was over. His management skills leave a lot to be desired too in general when Gwen tries to tell him that even Owen has feelings his dry retort is ‘well you would know’ like a jealous lover. Rule one – when the shit hits the fan you need to try and whip your team into as effective a unit as possible to deal with the crisis and not prey on their insecurities and start pointing the finger. To top off this glorious example of retarded middle management Jack declares that he cannot stop this threat and publicly humiliates Owen in front of all of his colleagues. Is Jack going for the ‘boss of the year’ award? John Barrowman is hilariously bad when he kicks Owen out of Torchwood, taking hammy to a whole new level. I love the fact that Jack grabs a hold of Gwen’s hand and half heartedly tells her that of course Rhys isn’t going to die and then a second later the entire base is bleached in the same red as her homicidal vision. Even dramatic irony is working against him. All the in fighting comes to a head when the Mickey Mouse Torchwood team are sick of Jack standing around posturing impotently and decide to take matters into their own hands. They have basically come to the same conclusion as me that he is a terrible boss and needs to be put down like Old Yeller. When he can’t get his own way he pulls a gun on his staff and threatens to murder them all and starts dissecting all their personality faults. As you do. In hysterical Torchwood fashion Jack finally steps into action by kneeling before the Abaddon like Jesus before the Devil and pours a white light into his ass and kills him. Its all so subtle I can barely perceive what is happening. Jack has been so neutered and perverted as a character it was going to take a massive intervention to try and get him back on track again so the final scene where we hear the TARDIS materialising nearby (tying in with the series three episode Utopia) it offers a glimmer of hope for the guy.

Welsh Babe: It's really nice to open this episode with Gwen watching Rhys sleep contentedly after the roller coaster cheat ride she has been on in season one. Gwen was supposed to be our audience identification character on this show but Davies did some quite perverse in making her more unlikable as the show continued, cheating on her long suffering boyfriend with an absolute asshole. It came to a point where Gwen was literally wretching up snot and tears over pizza on her own in order to connect to the audience and come to terms with what she has done and now we are at the other side of her affair where she has decided that she does love Rhys and wants to make a proper go at it with him. This whole affair malarkey leaves a really bad taste in the mouth as far as Gwen is concerned and in the future when they get married and have a baby it leaves a black cloud just on the horizon of these happy events. I don’t know if Davies thought it would make the character more interesting if she was as promiscuous as the rest of them or whether everybody has to be deeply flawed on this show but it was probably the biggest mistake the show made. Thankfully they seem ready to forget the whole sorry affair and so are we. Gwen has a smile that she uses to try and reassure people that everything is fine even though everything has actually gone to shit and that’s how Andy knows that her talk about time cracks is real. Clearly Gwen knows she is in a science fiction show because when Rhys is killed she starts suggesting they resurrect him with alien technology or that they head back in time to stop it ever occurring. Whilst its nice to know she has picked up something from her job its hardly the most stable response from somebody who has just lost their other half. When the tears do finally come its in true Torchwood style – she flings herself at Jack cussing and swearing and batters his chest as she wails like an out of control banshee. That’s a bit more realistic but without an inch of restraint it leaves Eve Myles looking like a right nana. Gwen moons over Jack’s corpse for an age after the events of the episode come to a head obviously forgetting that in the heat of the moment she threw the praise-worthy insult ‘what’s the fucking point of you?’ at him during the climax.

Dashing Doctor: Finally Owen is accountable for his out of control behaviour and attitude and he looks scared shitless at the fact. Jack has no compunction about protecting him and lays the blame directly on his doorstep. Owen is literally having palpitations as he braces himself to leave Torchwood for the last time – I can’t say that I’ve ever had that much trouble leaving a job. Owen pumps bullets into Jack because ‘he’s sick of people doubting him.’ What the hell were the psychological evaluation team doing during the Torchwood interview process? This is the man who is entrusted with powerful alien technology?

Eye Candy: I’m always happy for a show to add depth to their current episodes by referencing the past except when the past episode mentioned is Cyberwoman. Don’t do it again. We don’t need to have our memory’s refreshed that Torchwood was dishing out such ineptitude in its opening episodes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I can see the whole of history but I don’t exist anywhere within it…’ – Billis Manger remains far more interesting than anything else in this episode.

The Good:
  • Finally we get a good idea of what a danger the Rift could be to the world and there are number of gorgeous Sapphire and Steel-esque horrors that burst from its recently opened maw and threaten the planet. Cue all the devastatingly epic scenes you would imagine from a finale from a show created by Russell T Davies – UFOs hovering over the Taj Mahal, Roundheads on the streets of London firing on the police, Romans hacking and slashing in Penarth and a general stir of panic and talk of the ‘end of days.’ It’s a great dramatic start for an episode that promises an awful lot. Whilst it has a touch of Army of Ghosts about it there is a simple visual of the spider web of time fractures bleeding out from the Rift that points the finger directly at Torchwood (specifically Owen) being responsible for all of this madness.
  • Billis Manger was such an interesting character in Captain Jack Harkness precisely because he was so ambiguous (and menacingly camp which really marked him out as something a bit different) and it is definitely a point in this episodes favour that he returned so soon. Operating a horologists shop in Cardiff is a lovely touch and it would have been lovely if this character could have become a recurring menace for the Torchwood team. When he pops off into time to the sound of a ticking clock I was hoping that was going to be the last we saw of him until his next mysterious visit but alas his story on television was to end here. He had a future in a Gary Russell novel but that’s a fate no character worth this much deserves.
  • The best thing this episode has to offer is the technical ability of its production team. I wont blame Ashley Way for the over dramatic script he is being asked to bring to life (he did a marvellous job with Captain Jack Harkness) and he does the best with what he is given. Whilst Rhys’ death might be dramatically vacant it is exquisitely filmed in a throbbing blood red light. When the conclusion threatens to tip the Earth into hell Way is on the ball offering slow motion savagery from the Weevils, screaming Romans and shattering windows. Its this imagery that sticks in the mind far more than the narrative itself.
  • There is a beat of character that rings true at the end. I’m not sure that I buy everybody falling into Jack’s arms as soon as he is resurrected but when Owen breaks down in his arms I actually felt something for one of these characters for the first time in 45 minutes. Angel pulled off a similar trick with the character of Faith in the episode Five by Five when she had committed such terrible acts she breaks down in Angel’s arms and begs for forgiveness. One of the advantages of taking Owen to such ridiculous extremes is that his redemption begins here and it is genuinely affecting.

The Bad:
  • In typical Torchwood fashion it is a case of ‘why have one really good threat when you can have a hundred barely dealt with ones?’ Roman soldiers on the streets would have been iconic had we seen some kind of pitch battle or an episode watching Owen trying to tackle the Black Death which is spreading around the world. Bigger isn’t always better but this episode keeps assaulting the viewer with more and more dangers until now of them seem to matter any more because the whole situation is unmanageable. You know that because things have become so out of control that there is going to be one great big reset button (on loan from Star Trek Voyager) that will make all of this go away. My personal favourite season finale for all of the NuWho seasons is The Big Bang because it doesn’t try and be as epic as possible but instead looks inwards at the season that has preceded it and focuses tightly on the characters. End of Days is the antithesis of that – a loud, insane, resource stretching blockbuster that is trying to bring Armageddon to Wales in as epic a way as it can possibly manage on a TV budget. Let’s hope they calm it all down a bit at the end of season two. Appropriately enough the most memorable ending to a Torchwood season is the advent of the death of a child – something as simple as that.
  • When absolutely anything can happen like Tosh getting a cryptic ghostly message from her mother (what the hell was all that about?) and Billis Manger turning up and vanishing randomly nothing seems to matter. There doesn’t seem to be a plot in place but a random selection of things that happen that our heroes (and I use that term loosely at this point) react to.
  • Owen asks what will happen when a disease from the future comes through that they don’t know how to handle. Its always a shame when an idea is touted as a throwaway line that would make a better episode than the one you are watching. I can see an escalating threat when a disease strikes that allows the human race to exploit their psychic abilities with Miracle Day style handling of the concept with big business trying to exploit people, people realising their abilities (telekinesis, telepathy…)  in unexpected ways, children attacking their parents, etc, etc…
  • ‘Who the fuck are you anyway?’ What precisely does the swear word bring to that sentence?
  • Unbelievably the world is literally being torn apart by something that has emanated from Torchwood and instead of trying to deal with the problem they all stand around in the Hub screaming at each of histrionically and dealing with a HR issue! I can’t think why nobody found this organisation credible in their first year!
  • I honestly do not understand why halfway through the episode Chibnall is introducing yet more dangers for the team to deal with. Suddenly the focus is away from the historical horrors that are striking the Earth and we are focussing entirely on the death of Rhys. Ultimately this turns out to mean nothing at all because the big fat red reset button is pushed so its inclusion baffles me. Time wasting shocks that have no substance aren’t clever. Besides, since Gwen saw Rhys dead in both the flat and at the Hub in her vision why did she taser him and take him from one location to the other? Surely the best thing to do would be to get him out of town altogether? This is the second time Rhys has been told the truth about Torchwood and the second time that that information has been wiped from his brain. Considering he finds out for good in four episodes time anyway what is the point of these constant rehearsals. By the time we reach Meat its lost its shock value. More to the point why does Billis Manger kill Rhys? Because he’s a villain and that’s what they do? To make sure the vision he gave Gwen came true? Because this is an end of season finale and that’s the sort of thing you expect to happen? Since we never see Billis again I guess you can choose one of the above for yourself.
  • I’m not certain why Davies chose to go down such a positive route for Doctor Who and the Sarah Jane Adventures (both shows suggest that there are wondrous adventures to be had out in space and on Earth and a wealth of goodies to discover) and such a negative one with Torchwood (if you join this organisation you are going to wind up alone, depressed, memory wiped or dead. Usually dead). Its not even as if the latter one is the more realistic approach, its just bringing the audience down for the sake of it. Why the hell would anybody want to join Torchwood?
  • ‘From out of the darkness he is come! The sound of the great beast! Cast out before time, chained in rock and imprisoned beneath the Rift…’ All hail Abaddon! The giant CGI monstrosity that looks about as convincing as the Loch Ness Monster and the invasion of the dinosaurs did in the day. Its not just that the effects are clearly not up to scratch or that this is practically a final nail in the coffin of Torchwood’s credibility to put something this ridiculous as its end of season threat. Oh no. Its that he has never been mentioned before or since, we learn sod all about him and he is dispatched as simply as swatting a fly. He’s a big grey roaring joke of a monster that comes from nowhere and goes back to nowhere. Its just another untidy element thrown into an untidy script. What makes me laugh more than anything is the focus on the road sweeper who stares up in horror and takes about five seconds to react and run away!
  • All those climactic dangers that were so important in the early scenes are just whisked away like nothing ever happened. How satisfying!
The Shallow Bit: Rhys wobbles his considerable backside at Gwen in the first scene! Well this is Torchwood after all!

Result: Tone it down a bit Torchwood! Just because this is supposed to be a end of season spectacular it doesn’t mean that everything has to be turned up to a factor of 100! There is so much thrown at you in End of Days that halfway through the episode my brain just switched off and stopped taking it all in and it wasn’t helped that the characterisation of the regulars (which had started to come together since Random Shoes) is at its all time worst here. Jack is the worst offender who proves himself to be a terrible leader and bad friend but they all get a moment to make you cringe. Clearly the cast have been given the finale pep talk and told how to give end of season performances so everybody is screaming (Eve Myles’ ‘Rhhhhhhyyyssssss!’ as she rushes to save him deserves an award) and pulling deadly serious poses and really focussing on their devastating reaction shots – the net result is a team of regulars that you cannot take seriously for a second. The fact that the episode promotes a wealth of dangers in its opening scenes and then proceeds to ignore them all in favour of in fighting amongst the characters goes to show that Chibnall does not have the writing chops to pull of such an important episode. That the ultimate threat from the Rift is a giant unconvincing CGI monster was enough to convince a friend of mine’s husband that he was never going to watch this show again. Torchwood survived its first series and whilst I don’t want to be too hard on a show that has produced episodes as good as Ghost Machine, Random Shoes, Out of Time and Captain Jack Harkness somebody desperately needed to take a good, long look at this show and iron out its manifest of problems. The primary one is epitomised by this episode which is that it is too too…too busy, too hysterical, too graphic, too lurid and too morally bankrupt. Restraint simply does not exist in the world of Torchwood. Pulling back a bit from some of these extremes would make this series (and certainly this episode) a far more enjoyable experience: 3/10


Jonathan said...

He had a future in a Gary Russell novel but that’s a fate no character worth this much deserves.

That was uncalled for

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