Sunday, 10 May 2015

Adam written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Andy Goddard

This story in a nutshell: Just who is this new member of the Torchwood team who seems to have been around forever?

Hunky Hero: After two episodes where Jack is more or less underwritten, John Barrowman struggles with the melodrama inherent in this episode. He doesn't look convincing rushing to Gwen's house to save her or leaping from the sewers after suffering a claustrophobic attack. Barrowman is such a large personality anyway that it is only when he is written delicately that his characters truly shines. Moments of frenzy see the actor going madly over the top and provokes laughter. Jack buried the memories of his brother being killed over 150 years ago. It's nice to probe a little deeper into this characters past. Never before have we had the opportunity to look further back than the point where the Time Agency stole a year of his life. His 'history' usually consists of his slow stroll through the 20th Century. In the 51st Century, the Boeshane Peninsula lived under the threat of invasion. We never learn what the screaming creatures are but they sound absolutely terrifying.

Welsh Babe: There is a clever use of before (Gwen and Rhys playing about on the bed) and after (Gwen thinking that Rhys is a stalker and coming at him with a knife and a gun) to highlight how dramatic the alterations in memory are. Rhys wondering whether Jack is trying to phase him out of Gwen's life is a fair comment, especially after he almost suffered a memory wipe in the previous episode. It does descend into a little too much hysteria for my tastes though. Rhys fears that if Gwen forgets him now what with everything else that is going on in her life that she wouldn't look twice at him. This is a chance for Gwen re-discover their relationship and it would be a great time to put to rest those wandering eyes of hers.

Dangerous Doctor: I love this geeked up version of Owen. It might be favourite interpretation of the character in his two years on the show (tying with his walking dead persona from A Day in the Death). Burn Gorman gets to play some sweet comedy for a change and drop all the attitude and it is remarkable how likeable Owen is under these conditions. The specs are the perfect shorthand for the changes in his personality. The old Owen wouldn't think twice about shagging his colleagues in the autopsy bay but the new one can barely contemplate the idea of having a beer whilst on duty. Bless him.

Brainiac: 'Just what I need, a small rodent looking at me while I work...' Within his fiction, Adam and Tosh have been enjoying a work romance on and off, sharing the odd kiss when nobody is looking. She's dressing up for him and is more confident for his presence. In this jiggled up format Toshiko is the insensitive one, not aware of Owen's feelings for her. That's a smart role reversal.

The Butler: 'My hands on her throat...and it felt so good.' Giving Ianto memories of murdering a woman is a vicious reaction on Adam's part to being exposed. It gives Gareth David-Lloyd the chance to play something really meaty that isn't associated with an ex-girlfriend turned Cyberwoman. This new nightmarish version of Ianto stalks women at night down rainy alleys and slaughters them. It doesn't measure up with Ianto's sense of self and the resulting confusion causes his brain to meltdown in the most disturbing of ways. Ianto screaming in the rain-soaked alley is one of the most disturbing things I have seen in the show to date, going for the psychological jugular.

The Good: Dropping Adam into the team almost invisibly is hard act to pull off but Catherine Treganna manages to pull it off by having the rest of Torchwood simply behave as though he has always been there. Including clips of him in the credits is inspired. For somebody switching onto this show for the first time they would be completely fooled into thinking this is the status least until the episode starts pointing out otherwise. Frankly Adam fits in better with the gang at the beginning of this episode than half of the actual team did for the majority of the first year. Quick edits show how Adama infiltrates peoples memories when they don't recognise him, slipping himself into their timelines as though he has always been there. Bryan Dick approaches the part of Adam quite cunningly, almost inconspicuous in his portrayal until the script chooses to point him out. If the character had been written and played as the most vital, wonderful member of the team his infiltration might have been too extreme but instead he exists as an amiable, functioning member of Torchwood. Not drawing too much attention to himself. I'm not sure if Dick is the strongest actor the show has ever featured (when he has to play an out and out baddie he doesn't convince) but he does very well within this insidious but cautious role. Kudos to the effects team for the memorable image of the Boeshane Peninsula, a cuboid habitation just off the coast. If you can't trust your memory then Treganna needs proof of Adam's penetration into Torchwood and Ianto's diary is a smart way of pointing out his recent arrival. He's a vampire, feeding himself on peoples memories to make space for himself. As long as people believe that he exists, it is so. The group therapy session should be the height of embarrassment but Treganna uses it as an opportunity to drop in lots of nuggets of information about the regulars (Owen's mum loved him but didn't like him, Tosh finds maths so reliable when so little in the world is, Ianto remembers falling in love and losing Lisa, Gwen admitting her feelings for Jack) and the director shoots it in a genuinely hypnotic manner. It is a chance for them to get close to each other just as we get close to them. For once there is plenty of physical closeness on this show but it is all affection.  I've never been entirely convinced by the ret-con as a plot device but Treganna has finally found a decent use for it, using it delete the last 48 hours and wiping Adam from their minds. I love Adam's last ditch attempt to plant himself in Jack's childhood. It was always going to happen but Jack can't resist one last peek at his family regardless. Who could blame him? Having all the characters aware of the loss of the last 48 hours at the end of the episode but not being able to figure out why is a great reversal of the Red Dwarf episode Thanks for the Memory that plays the same trick in reverse. This time the memory loss is part of the solution, in Red Dwarf it was the mystery that kick started the episode.

The Bad: Everybody is waving guns around and screaming in the Hub again. Hysterical lot. Tosh's meltdown isn't remotely convincing, I don't think Naoko Mori is up to the task.

Foreshadowing: Jack has a flash of an image of Grey, his brother, which could be excused as being part and parcel of the Adam experience but is actually an important moment in his past that is about to effect his near future. At first I wondered if it was supposed to be a younger Adam incorporated into his timeline. Inserting in these images of Gray in an episode where everybody's memories are altered is a great way of slipping them in under the radar.

Result: Clever, imaginative and probing, if a little too hysterical for my tastes at times. What I really like about Adam is how it manages to tell a smart standalone story whilst also being a fine ensemble piece, giving all of the regulars a reasonable share of the action and a journey of their own to go on. It is a great chance to mix things up and show different shades of the same characters. Ianto is psychologically unstable rather than the stalwart butler of old, Owen has embraced his inner geek and is far more personable as a result and Toshiko has had some confidence injected into her thanks to a long term relationship with Adam. In all of these cases the characters are more exaggerated and yet intriguingly more enjoyable as a result (although it is surprisingly how unlikable Tosh is with a little assurance). By giving the characters a fiction to live and allowing them to re-discover themselves it gives us a chance to get to know them all a little better and for them to get closer to each other too. The memory vampire is an inspired notion and one that is done full justice in Adam. The titular character is fascinating and it might have been interesting to have seen his inclusion in several episodes before highlighting and dealing with his infiltration. I thought Burn Gorman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd really brought their A-game this week but the work of John Barrowman, Naoko Mori and Bryan Dick was mixed, stumbling when the script pushed too hard. A strong story that is confidently brought to life by Andy Goddard, Adam only suffers when it strays into the Torchwood extremes of feverishness. It is those moments that keep it from being a classic but it is courageous and ingenious storytelling regardless. None of the last three episodes has been perfect but it has been a string of very good instalments nonetheless, marking a level of consistent storytelling the show hasn't yet experienced: 8/10

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