Torchwood: Season 2 (US - BD)
Gabe enjoys the goofy adventures of Doctor Who's friends despite himself
Again I’m diving into a new television series without much of a frame of reference, but this time I don’t feel lost. Perhaps seeing the first season of the new Doctor Who helped me, but I don’t think familiarity with concept and a single character is really enough to prepare someone for a partially serialized television series. Almost everything about this second season of Torchwood feels like an introduction to a world and characters. Most of the missing character elements are filled in as the season progresses. The plot problems would still be there for any series fan that missed previous seasons of Doctor Who anyway. Despite many problems, I really can’t get down on this series for being too difficult for new viewers to approach headfirst.
Torchwood is pretty stupid, but it seems to laugh at its daft streak along with its audience. It’s seemingly self-aware soap opera sap, and because it’s willing to embrace itself, it’s almost impossible not to just go along with the ride. The writers don’t quite approach the lowest common denominator of sit-com romance, and rip-off, freak of the week sci-fi, but they definitely take things to often visited places. I complained about Supernatural reminding me too much of stuff like Men in Black, The Night Stalker and X-Files, but that was nothing compared to Torchwood. The show obviously gets away with a lot of its ‘adaptation’ because it’s a known spin-off of the most long standing sci-fi series in the history of television, but the police agency elements rob the show of a lot of Doctor Who’s oddball logic, which often allows that show to come across as more of a statement on tropes than a mindless purveyor. The sheer audacity helps a lot (the show really should be called ‘Deus Ex Machina a Minute’), but often not enough.
The cast works hard through the arch nature of their characters, and are largely familiar for the show’s somewhat addicting drama, drama that continues to work in spite of itself. The romantic aspects really shouldn’t work at all, but some inescapably fantastic performances ground the familiar aspects of unrequited love, and in the case of Kai Owen as Gwen’s fiancé Rhys, undying love. The isn’t, to my mind, a single bad actor in this bunch, though not all of them can charm their way out of some sub- Prequel Trilogy dialogue. Two of the three major season threads work pretty well. The Gwen and Rhys relationship works because of the believable relationship between the actors, and the silly fun of the wedding episode. On the other end of the spectrum, the events that befall Owen (which I won’t go in to for spoiler reasons) are genuinely affecting in an emotional sense, and get a major boost from Naoko Mori’s impossibly sweet performance. The arc that doesn’t work is that of Captain Jack’s past coming back to him. Here the drama feels forced in too serious a sense, and Jack doesn’t affect as a dramatic character.
I can’t find a lot of specific information on the budgets and time allotments for each episode, but it seems to be pretty low for the scope (something like one million dollars per episode). I suppose the rougher look might be intended, and there’s something to be said for keeping some of the cheese of Doctor Who, and it doesn’t honestly bother me, but if I’m gonna be honest about the quality of this 1080p video I have to make some negative points. It’s clear that this is HD video based on brightness and overall detail, but videophiles are going to be disappointed with the sheer volume of digital noise and grain. I don’t know enough about the technical aspects of filming in digital HD, but I imagine the use of source lighting, and the continuously moving camera, aren’t the best ways to ensure the highest quality image. The show’s aggressive colour pallet is delightfully bright, but often the hues either blend roughly, or dance with digital blocking. The intense blue LEDs on a lot of Torchwood machinery overwhelms the lenses on several occasions (which I kind of like, honestly), and the usually deep blacks occasionally pick up the colours around him. Still, there are some relatively still outdoor shots that are positively perfect, worthy of a Discovery nature doc, so it’s not a wash.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation is just as uneven as the 1080p video, and it’s also unclear to me whether this is due to budgetary constraints, or if it’s related to the stylistic choices made by the producers. The inconsistencies are most obvious at the top of each episode, when the opening title music and narration nearly blows the speakers out. As soon as the promo is finished volume levels drop drastically. Occasionally an episode will feature a noisy creature, or a big shootout, so the surround channels aren’t wasted by any means, but even the centric dialogue wavers in clarity and volume. The show’s music is delightfully overwrought throughout the series, blaring with action cue intensity and wavering with sloppy schmaltz with relative consistency. Usually these loveably daft melodies are the loudest element on the entire mix, and make the track worth its weight.
The supplemental material starts with a series of making-of featurettes. Each episode gets it’s own ‘ Torchwood[i]: Declassified’, a collection of talent interviews, raw on-set footage, footage from the episode, and behind the scenes special effects stuff, all of which originally aired on BBC2. The quality varies a bit, but overall these are informative and brisk enough to entertain. These are all presented in anamorphic standard definition video, and slightly vary in runtime, but are all around ten minutes. ‘The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack’ (22:00, SD) is an additional ‘Declassified’ entry aimed at filling in some of the complicated history of the show’s lead character. This bit was good for me, who missed almost all of [i]Doctor Who beyond the first season, along with the whole of Torchwood season one. Extras end with some deleted scenes, some bloopers, and some BBC release trailers.
So again, Torchwood is stupid, and no one can make me think otherwise, but I still enjoyed season two on the whole. Critically I assume the stupidness is all in purposeful fun, and good performances help pull things clear of the gutter. I hear word that the show’s pseudo third season (elongated mini-series, whatever) is a step up in quality, and I look forward to catching it soon. This second season collection features a very uneven A/V presentation thanks to lower budgets and compressed timelines, and doesn’t feature many impressive extras, but series fans won’t be too disappointed, and will probably be happier with a Blu-ray over a DVD. Sorry I’m behind on this review guys, I’ll keep trying to catch up.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Torchwood: Declassified, The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Cast: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 628 minutes
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