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Torchwood: series one and two
Torchwood is an adult-oriented spin-off of family sci-fi show Doctor Who. It is also – in its first season at least – arguably the worst thing to come out of the BBC in the last two years. And that includes the pipeline from their toilets.

Hyperbole? Only just. The first season of Torchwood (the name is an anagram of Doctor Who, and that’s the closest thing you’ll get to clever here) is exactly what you’d get if you asked a 14-year-old to write an ‘adult’ version of Men In Black. So our quintet of alien-hunting anti-heroes – from left to right: the bloke, the girl, the nerd, the horrible bloke and the other nerd – strut through the rain-slicked streets of Wales shouting, shooting and showing more flesh than we’d like, essentially at random.

Random isn’t hyperbole: the show’s characters are so uniformly bitchy, bland and prone to changing their personalities from week to week that it’s hard to know why they do what they do, and what we’re supposed to feel about any of it. It’s not just the broad strokes that are fudged either: everything, right down the same alien prop being used in two completely different ways, stinks. It’s horrifically bad, with the nadir being ‘Cyber-woman’, in which the writers somehow manage to miss the ludicrous – and glorious – humour inherent in a cyborg wearing a metal bikini and high heels.

That’s probably the biggest fault of Torchwood’s first season, actually. Strip out the painfully forced gore, swearing and snogging and you have a series that’s as ludicrous as Doctor Who, but without the camp and humour that made that show so endearing.

Thankfully someone at the Beeb was paying attention, because the show returned for its second season having undergone some heavy retooling. For a start, the protagonists – the biggest tools in the show by far – got an overhaul that stripped out most of the self-conscious grit and replaced it with both a sense of humour and recognisable human emotions. Better still, the show embraced its latent campness with an increased lightness of tone, so that even some of the more self-consciously gritty episodes (‘Sleeper’ and ‘Meat’, particularly) at least get a few good lines and the odd knowing wink.

It’s not quite enough, though, and ‘watchable’ isn’t the same as ‘worth buying’. Perhaps, if they continue to tinker with the show, the producers will make something truly decent instead of merely acceptable. Until then, give this one a miss.

James Wilkinson. Available in stores.

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