Torchwouldn’t do that in real life

Thursday, November 2, 2006 by

Watching the third episode of Torchwood, things were rolling along quite merrily for me until the moment when Gwen decides to take that week’s alien gizmo home. For some reason I couldn’t get past this point – the same thing had happened during episode one.

I mean, if Torchwood existed for real that wouldn’t happen – it just wouldn’t. Similarly, its agents wouldn’t simply down tools at the end of their shift and go home – there would be protocols, screenings, and – you know – stuff that comes with working for a top secret organisation.

Similarly, one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy series two of Extras was that it also failed to be plausible. Would the BBC really make a mainstream comedy series with wigs, laughter tracks etc that contained a sequence which ended with a character singing the words “covered in shit”? Oh, and would a series still part way through its first run be eligible for a BAFTA at that year’s awards?

But the question is do such things really matter? Should the viewer just simply “go with it” and judge Extras or Torchwood on their respective merits as drama and comedy? I sense there is a school of thought out there that would support this view and would basically categorize those viewers who can’t get past such inaccuracies as stick-in-the-muds. Well, maybe we are, but there are real problems with these breaches of reality – to whit: a) they pull you out of the fiction (it’s quite difficult to care about Gwen arsing around with the alien projector thing when you’re too busy moaning about the fact she would never have been able to take it home in the “real” world); and b) they feel like expediencies to allow the writer to create a situation that couldn’t be constructed in a more elegant manner.

Now of course Torchwood is essentially a telefantasy series, so aren’t we being wilfully nit picky to complain about the obvious lack of an office cleaner, while happily accepting the notion of an invisible lift? That’s not the issue though, the problem with Torchwood is that it doesn’t seem to possess a stable sense of internal reality. We can swallow the fact that Ian Beale has had umpteen wives and Albert Square has the highest murder rate in the country, but that’s because we know EastEnders‘ relationship with reality is consistent. The programme is not very “real” but, crucially, the degree of its not “realness” remains the same from episode to episode, scene to scene (let’s call it reality + 10 per cent).

On the other hand, at points Torchwood seems very much like our world, with (almost) the same laws of pointless bureaucracy and everyday drudgery applying. But then moments later, just when you think you’ve got a hang of which particular adjunct from the real world the programme is occupying, it does something silly like have the other members of the Torchwood team sit around laughing and gawping while one of their number has been lured into a cell by a dangerous sex-mad alien.

This is a legitimate gripe, I think, but I sense it’s one that’s being dismissed by those who think we should just jump on and enjoy the ride. Well I would like to, but not until I know who pays Torchwood’s salaries, and whether or not they have to file a tax return each year.


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