Sunday, 16 August 2015

From Out of the Rain written by PJ Hammond and directed by Jonathan Fox Bassett

This story in a nutshell: The circus is coming to town...via theatre.

Hunky Hero: Hammond is the one writer that really likes to drive home the fact that Jack has lived through the entire 20th Century, it seems to be an idea that really excites him as it features in both of his episodes. Shots of him in his skimpy underwear working in a circus as the man who cannot die are divine, fully justifying the idea. It is in these glimpses of Jack's past that he is at his most interesting in the show. I could have easily forseen an entire season of adventures that jettisoned the usual Torchwood formula (it is a show that thrives on unexpected format changes) and followed Jack throughout different events in the 20th Century. You could take in all kinds of historical incident, visit different parts of the world and comment on how things developed over a century. If not a season, it would have made a cracking two part story. At least once Children of Earth came along Jack's past wasn't jettisoned, there are important plot implications in both next season and Miracle Day that link back to his waltz through the last century. Jack remembers his time with the circus wistfully, recalling travelling from town to town and trying to find paying customers the right way. A nomad existence, but a memorable one.

Jack's Crew: The one beat of continuity that strikes in From Out of the Rain is the mention of Owen's death. The Ghostmaker attempts to steal his breath only to discover that he has none in him.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Their days were numbered. Cinema may have saved their images but they killed off the travelling shows. Killed them.'
'He's part of this freak show' 'Some things never change.'
'What are you? There's not a breath in your poor, sad body...'
'What worries me is all those long lost pieces of film, tucked away in dusty cellars. The Night Travellers could still be there. Somewhere...'

The Good: PJ Hammond's two episodes are both so tonally different from the rest of Torchwood's content that they truly stand as something rather special. Small Worlds mixed the perverse with the fairytale to create an uncomfortable and yet strangely lyrical episode. The opening scenes of From Out of the Rain feature an exciting but creepy night time circus (complete with very creepy clowns enticing the punters in) that somehow vanishes into thin air. It is an atmospheric and enticing lure into the episode. I love the idea of Hammond writing from Torchwood, bringing his spate of clever and unusual ideas with him and creating something that is completely unique. Hammond's horror (which stretches right back to the superlativeSapphire and Steel) is conceptual and breeds in the mind the more you think about it, being far more subtle than the Torchwood norm. My one disappointment with Children of Earth (and it is probably my only disappointment) is that the season was condensed and it meant the loss of writers such as Hammond and Joe Lidster (and strangely Chris Chibnall) who had proven themselves to be reliable in the second season. How creepy are the shots of the Ghostmaker appearing on the celluloid? The idea of creepy circus folk stepping old of film and haunting the real world is pure Sapphire and Steel. It feels as if the director is completely in tune with the writer and is trying his damndest to fill the screen with as many unique, memorable and striking images as possible. Even the shot of Ianto, Gwen and Owen walking through sheets of rain towards the Electro have a beauty to them. You can see precisely how Hammond might have pitched this idea to Davies; a sinister ghoul dressed in a top hat and tails roaming the streets of Cardiff with an insane mermaid, preying on the public. It's freakish and distinctive, reminding me strongly of the Gentlemen from Buffy (the sinister undertaker gliding through the dark with his creeping, crawling assistant at his heels). They even steal the breath of their victims in a similar way that the Gentleman captured peoples voices. The major difference is how they are played, the Gentlemen were silent grinning cadavers who exhibited personality in how they interacted so politely with each other. The Ghostmaker is being played by Julian Bleach, the go to guy for freaks and waifs in Doctor Who, SJA and Torchwood and he exudes a calm and gentle menace in the way he delivers his dialogue and stares you out with his hypnotic eyes. Bleach is one of those fearless performers who throws himself into everything that he does, no matter how bat shit crazy that role might be. I really admire that. The mermaid has her victims secreted away in the changing rooms of the local swimming baths, a bizarre notion that works because it is so well played and shot. Similarities with Buffy's Hush continue afoot with the notion that breaking the flask will release the breath of the Ghostmaker's victims just as smashing the Gentleman's box released the voices of their muted victims. I love how the climax is staged as a piece of theatre, the owners of the Electro lined up as brain dead audience members to witness the remainder of the circus troupe marching from the screen into reality. It's a hugely atypical Torchwood climax that works because it suggests greater horror to come if the circus isn't stopped rather than agonising over a person decision of one of the regulars. They have to work together as a team to stop them, which has been the case an awful lot in season two and very refreshing. Plus the imagery is marvellous once again, grotesque characters stepping from black and white cine film into Technicolor reality. The circus troupe dissolving into over exposed film, the breaths escaping the flask, Ianto hearing the remaining breath that they managed to save...PJ Hammond packs this episode full of wonderful notions that the director picks up and runs with. I like the fact that only one person survives, it means that they posed a genuine threat but the team can take some solace that they managed to save one child. It could possibly be twee but its rather poignant (especially Ianto's reaction to the breath).

The Bad: How amusing that the climax features Ianto running a relay with the flask.

Result: Cinema killed the travelling show... A rarity, an almost entirely plot driven episode of Torchwood which isn't interested in the personal lives of its regular cast. From Out of the Rain is so atypical for this show that I initially found it hard to get a grasp on but it has aged beautifully as one of the finer examples of how dissimilar Torchwood could be to any other show on television. It is written by PJ Hammond and he has brought all manner of ghoulish ideas and imagery with him and the slower pace allows for a greater sense of atmosphere and chills. It's unique and I love it for that. Season two has seen both the actors and the characters on Torchwood gelling into a fine ensemble and it is with the final stretch of four episodes that you can see how that character repair is really starting to pay off. Technically From Out of the Rain could be an episode of any show because it is completely stand alone and doesn't obsess with any of the characters but a quirky plot of it's own. But that is a massive strength because it thrives on the strength of its excellent storytelling, imagery and ideas. And it shows how solidly the Torchwood team can work together now. For some this might be a little too gentle and unassuming, especially if you are looking to Torchwood for schlocky b-movie goodness (there is plenty of that elsewhere). The truth is that this show is often criticised for being so far out there that it alienated its audience (I am usually the first in line to make that point) but the result of a show that is willing to try anything is that whilst it has its failures, it can also strike upon episodes that are strikingly original and unforgettable. From Out of the Rain is one such example: 9/10

1 comment:

Luís Vitoriano said...

I don't tend to like Torchwood very much, but this story, alongside almost all Series 2, is one of the stories that I felt was worth re-watching from time to time. It is about cinema and the period just before cinema started, and those are two things I'm always interested in.