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The tragedy of Torchwood

As “Torchwood: Miracle Day” hauls itself agonisingly slowly towards it’s does-anyone-care-anymore? conclusion, Cumbrian Sky has acquired a transcript of a meeting between showrunner Russell T Davis and the show’s American execs, which goes some way towards explaining what the hell happened to one of the best sci-fi shows on TV to leave it a pale, whimpering imitation of its formerly brilliant self.

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Los Angeles, December 2009. Meeting between Russell T Davis (R) and Clint D Showrecker (C)

C: Russ! I can call you Russ, can’t I? Sure I can! Russ! Come in! Sit down! Great to meet you in person after all the emails, you know, put a face to the email address, haha!

R: Yes, thanks… good to meet you too… From what someone told me, it sounds like we have a lot to talk about –

C: Ah, straight down to business! I like that! Ok. Russ. Russ. “Torchwood”. Love it. LOVE it. It’s going to be a fantastic show with our input –

R: Well, it was a pretty good show already –

C: Sure it was! Sure it was! But, hey, you’re in Hollywood now! We can make Torchwood bigger, better, badder! More explosions! More special effects! Bigger budget! You want it, you’ve got it!

R: Sounds great…! You read my script, I take it?

C: Read it? I devoured it Russ! It’s genius! It leaps off the page! It’s like a movie!

R: That’s good to hear, thanks. No changes needed then?

C: Changes? Russ! No! It’s your show! Why would we change it?

R: That’s a relief! You hear such horror stories about UK TV series being changed once they come over here – 

C: No changes. We do have a few suggestions tho. Just little ones, hardly worth bothering you with..!

R: Suggestions? You mean changes –

C: Suggestions, Russ, suggestions!

R: Such as?

C: Well… Russ, we’ve heard all about you, and love what we heard, that’s why you’re here, right? We know all about how you’re a snappy writer, never a word wasted, everything done and said for a reason, right? The master of the wham-bang script! No padding, right?

R: Well, I try… and I think ‘Miracle Day’ will work well in four parts –

C: Four… yeah… four… you see, we think that’s maybe too wham-bang. Too rushed…

R: I’ve written it as a four parter –

C: And it’s brilliant, Russ, it is! But just think how much more brilliant it would be if you made it a little longer… just a little…

R: Five episodes? Hmmm. That might work… there was another story arc I wanted to include but didn’t think there was enough time. With one more episode it might  –

C: Russ! C’mon! You’re selling yourself short! We ‘re thinking more than one little extra episode…

R: How many more..?

C: Just imagine this with me, Russ… imagine the trailers… Introducing “Torchwood – Miracle Day – the ten part television event of the year…!

R: I’m sorry, I could have sworn I just heard you say ‘ten episodes” –

C: That’s right, Russ! Ten brilliant episodes! A whole series of Torchwood set here in the US! It’ll be brilliant!

R: But… that’s too long, far too long! There’s nowhere near enough story to last ten weeks. It won’t work. I’d have to pad it out with a lot of… nothing happening… that’s not what I do!

C: There’s no such thing as ‘nothing happening’ Russ! I know you can write some brilliant, moody, dark, tension-building scenes to link the action together. People love that –

R: No! It won’t work!

C: Russ, it will, trust me. It’s worked before.

R: When? With what?

C: Remember “Lost”?

R: Yes, vaguely, I fell asleep about halfway through, why?

C: Well, that was just going to be two series, but we got the writers to extend it. They weren’t keen either, said it would make it boring, that viewers would get sick of nothing happening, but boy, we proved them wrong, didn’t we?

R: You can’t turn “Torchwood” into Lost! It’s meant to be edgy and quick! Sharp! Its fans don’t want long and drawn-out, they want to see things happening –

C: Maybe some of the fans do… the old ones… the sad ones who buy “I Love Ianto” t-shirts… but we’re going to get millions of NEW fans Russ, you’ll see! Happy, smiling new fans, with good teeth and healthy tans!

R: The loyal fans will hate it –

C: Oh, those old fans can always watch the boxed sets, we don’t have to worry about them. This is a whole new Torchwood! A Torchwood for the whole world to enjoy, not just that little rainy, poor island of yours! 2011 Russell… the year everything changes… You see what I did there?

R: But… it’ll kill it… there’ll be no tension, no drama… I’d have to drag the story out to breaking point, fill it with pointless scenes and dialogue… people will hate it –

C: Awwww, Russ, now come on, people won’t hate it. They might be…surprised by it, challenged by the new format, especially the old ones, but they’ll come round, and if they don’t who cares? This will be a Torchwood for the future!

R: Ten episodes… I really can’t see it working –

C: Well, let’s not get hung up on little details like that. Time is money, Russ! We need to move this meeting on! Right – casting! You’re going to be a very happy man in about a minute Russ, trust me…

R: You got some ‘names’?

C: Did we get some names? Oh boy, Russ, you’re going to give a Rebel Yell when I tell you who we’ve got!

R: Did you get her?

C: Oh yes, Russ, we got her, just as you asked us to.

R: Nana Visitor wants to be in it? In my show?

C: I told you Russ, trust me! She can’t wait to meet you!

R: Wow… Nana Visitor… she’s fantastic… she’ll be great!

C: She will! Just… one slight change with her character Russ…

R: What?

C: We’re killing her off after one episode.

R: What?! She’s meant to be in it for weeks!

C: I know, but this way is better Russ. Always leave them wanting more, you know the saying! But don’t get too hung up on her, wait until you hear who else we’ve got onboard…

R: Who?

C: John deLancie!

R: Really? Fantastic! He’s a brilliant actor! This will give him a chance to show a more sensitive, quiet side to his character –

C: About that, Russ…

R: Yes?

C: The CIA Chief… we’ve slightly re-written his character –

R: What?

C: He was…we thought… too quiet, too subdued. We thought he’d be better if he was more… acerbic, more confrontational. Arrogant. Smartmouth.

R: So… Q, then.

C: Russ! No! He’ll be nothing like Q!

R: Sounds like Q to me –

C: You’ll love him, you’ll see.

R: Anything else I should know about?

C: Just good things, Russ, just good things! Oh this will be brilliant, I can’t wait to start shooting!

R: Well, at least I’ll be able to show some big budget special effects onscreen this time –

C: Yeah… we’ve been thinking about that too… we’re not going to go overboard on those, keep them to a minimum, you know? As they say, Less is more, Russ, less is more –

R: So what have I got?

C: Well… actually, there are no special effects at all, Russ, all the spacey stuff is implied… the mystery of TV, you know? Oh, tell a lie! We have fire, lots of fire!

R: well that sounds like something –

C: When I say “lots”, I mean one fire… in one cargo container… but it will be a brilliant fire, Russ, you’ll see!

R: So… let me get this straight… the new Torchwood will have no special effects, a story that could be told in five weeks dragged out to ten, and will have lots of pad-out dialogue and unnecessary plot…

C: That’s a very negative view, Russ, I have to say. I’m disappointed.

R: We’re making a new series of the X-Files really, aren’t we?

C: I LOVED the X-Files! Russ, you’re a genius..!!

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Ok, so maybe that’s a bit unfair, but speaking personally I have been absolutely gutted by this new series of “Torchwood”. It doesn’t feel like Torchwood, it doesn’t look or sound like Torchwood, it isn’t Torchwood. I’ve come *this* close to giving up on it, and it’s only been my loyalty to the Dr Who ‘brand’ and my own personal love of the character of Gwen that’s kept me tuning in all these weeks. It certainly hasn’t been the story, which is awful, just awful. There’s the germ of a fantastic idea there, an end to death and the absolute chaos that would cause, but the “Miracle” itself has been so underplayed, kept off-camera so much that it’s become an aside to the backstory of Captain Jack and his erotic conquests through time.

There should be an overwhelming sense of doom pervading the series, as Mankind faces apocalypse through immortality, but it’s just not there. Every now and again someone drops a token reference to the events taking place in the world – a run on the banking system, healthcare falling apart – but no-one seems bothered by that. If “Miracle Day” actually happened, the misery and chaos that would follow would be at Biblical levels, quickly. Now, THAT story could have been told in 5 episodes, but no, they had to drag it out to twice that many, losing all sense of drama and menace in the process.

I’m not stupid. I know things have to change, and evolve, to stay fresh and relevent, and to gain a new audience, but Torchwood must be the only UK show ever to migrate to the US and actually become less exciting in the process. I expected a gripping story, with fantastic effects – or at least effects more striking than those seen in the UK series – and a real gusto and energy about it. But “Miracle Day” has been one of the dreariest, most drawn-out things I’ve seen on TV, it really has. Somewhere along the line someone, somewhere, ripped the hot, beating heart out of a brilliant TV series, with a character all of its own and turned it into something else. It could be an X-Files movie, it really could.

There have been some good bits, to be fair. There has been a lot of humour in the “Brits Abroad” scenes, as Gwen especially struggled to come to terms with how different things, and people, are in the US. And when he’s managed to keep his clothes on Capt Jack has had some fun with the snooty CIA superior types, but I’ve got the impression that John Barrowman has been rather bored by this series himself, there’s no “Capt Jack twinkle” in his eye this time. It’s all looked like a bit of a chore for him.

Eve Myles, of course, has been brilliant, as usual. Gutsy and earthy, with a mean right hook and a big book of sassy put downs always close to hand, she’s been one of the few reasons to keep watching. Not because of her part in the story, which has been disappointing. She started off strongly – I’ll never forget seeing her striding through that cottage on the Welsh shore, baby tucked under her arm as she blasted away with her gun – but since then she’s slowly been turned into some bizarre Welsh version of Minnie The Minx, always looking to bash someone.

These are all just personal views, of course. I’m sure others have loved the show just as much as I’ve been disappointed by it. Fair enough, I’m just very, very disappointed by the whole thing, and feel the need to vent, ok? 🙂

Oh well. Maybe if it comes back for another series, Torchwood will come home, and we can all put its trip to the US behind us. I hope so. I miss Torchwood – the Real Torchwood – and I want it back. I’m sure it will come back. Or maybe I’ll wake up in the shower one morning and all this will just have been a bad dream…

At its best, Torchwood was funny, flirty, exciting, dangerous and gripping. The sooner we say goodbye to this Ganger clone that has taken its place for the past two months, the better.

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3 Responses

  1. For a touch of realism, the American TV execs should refer to the ‘series’ as ‘seasons.’ In the UK you have Dr. Who, series one, two, three and so on. In North America, we have Battlestar Galactica, season one, season two, etc…

  2. Surely, if you are talking about Hollywood it is more realistic to get it wrong?

    I watched the first three minutes of this Torchwood and then realised I had some things that were worth doing.

  3. They did the same thing to Shameless – made an American series with same storyline as original british version set in manchester etc. it was hopelessly bad with unconvincing characters etc. What a waste of time but must admit I didn’t bother watching after the first 2 episodes ditto Torchwood.

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