Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Meat Beat Manifesto

[I was intending to do a post at some point soon where I cleverly compared season 2 of Torchwood with a script written by a fan. Unfortunately, the script was written for season 1 of the series and couldn't really be mistaken for the latest series, so my intention to point out that the fan script was in many ways an improvement on the professional ones has died still-born. The fan script was, however, as good as all but three episodes of season 1 and significantly better than at least three of them.]

The other day, someone asked if there was a worse single episode of sf/fantasy television worse than the Blake's 7 story, The Keeper.

I pointed out that The Keeper wasn't even the worst episode of B7 (that 'honour' belongs to Animals if you ask me) and in any case there were quite a few worse bits of genre tv than anything which ever appeared on B7.

Specifically, I suggested The Witch from series two of Survivors; Gridlock from season 29 of Doctor Who; and the truly execrable Darkness of Light from the otherwise non-fantasy Wire in the Blood.

All three of those, however, pale into insignificance beside the season 2 episode of Torchwood, Meat, which has forced me to stop watching Torchwood altogether on the grounds that there will be a reckoning someday and I will have to explain the extent to which I wasted chunks of my life on undeniable shit.

On every conceivable level, watching this is horrendous and painful experience, even with the low expectations I had going in. It's the televisual equivalent of going to some crappy amusements in the rain and discovering that virtually every ride is either boarded up or covered in AIDS-riddled junkie puke, and those few that are open have been themed to feature dead babies being eaten by bloody-jawed Tiggers.

Seriously, it's so bad that actual English doesn't cover it. It is Teh worst RitN, acted & diRctD TV progrm eva. It sux.

And how does it suck? Let us count (some of) the ways.

1. The characterisation

Are the meat harvesting types the stupidest people in the world? They don't realise that a hundred foot long kebab with a massive eye which you can cut into at will and which can live in a handy factory isn't in fact a bloody big fish? It doesn't cross their minds at all to wonder where it came from? Not one person - not even the scientist guy - considered that it might, you know, be some kind of big alien?

Rhys too - presumably he never watches television except for the rugby, or reads a paper except to glance at the page 3 stunna? Otherwise he might have heard about the alien spaceship crashing into Big Ben, the army of ghost Cybermen, the Daleks at Canary Wharf, the Thames being sucked into the centre of the Earth or the spaceship Titanic. Maybe they only get Welsh news in Wales, now that they have an Assembly of their own?

And the rest of the team? The usual mishmash of inconsistency and incompetence, leavened by lashings of bad acting.

2. The Effects

Is the meat creature the most amateur effect in the new Whoniverse? I'd include a screencap but you can't do it's crappiness justice in a static image.

3. The Writing

Holy crap, Catherine Treganna wrote this? If I wasn't for the mighty reputation for accuracy that Wikipedia has gained over the years, I wouldn't believe that was possible. Her scripts for season 1 of Torchwood hit the heady heights of 'quite good' and I'd just assumed that this was either Chris 'Clogger' Chibnall script or came from the pen of arch-nepotist Joe Lidster.

The dialogue in particular has a real Chibnall/Lidster ring to it: "What have they done to you, my poor friend" directed at the giant kebab would be a stretch even in the mouth of an actual actor : in the mouth of John Barrowman it's enough to make your toes curl.

Burn Gorman does what he can with the scene in which he apologises to the meat creature for killing it, but he's not superman and there's only so much he can do to invest the line with anything more than giggle-worthy levels of bathos.

Oh, and let's not forget the amnesia pill - a plot device rapidly taking on Sonic Screwdriver levels of ubiquity in Torchwood. How does that work then? Is it a pill that knows how much of your memory it needs to wipe? How else to explain the fact that the same pill that cold wipe someone's memory of the last half hour could also seemingly wipe Rhys memories of the previous day? It's just lazy and shoddy and thoughtless, folks, that's what it is - and therefore it perfectly fits the ethos of the whole show. Any old crap will do, in any department, because the fans will watch it anyway - why bother trying to produce something with any quality?

4. The Acting

Everybody in this is rubbish, with the exceptions of Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto and to a lesser extent Kai Owen as Rhys. It's genuinely difficult to sum up just how inept both Barrowman and Naoko Mori as Tosh are...

This is Barrowman reacting with horror, pity and anguish at the suffering of the meat creature.

Or Barrowman demonstrating his 'The Horn' face for Ianto.

Or Barrowman doing happy. Who can tell?

"I'm sorry" (that they made you act with both a dull and badly done CGI monster and the meat creature)

I might go back to Torchwood (not least because there's an event at the end of the series I'd like to see), but not for a while. I need to digest this rancid Meat first...

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Blogger IZP said...

And now on BBC 1 a terribly knowing rewrite of King Lear in Space that actually maanges to be even worse than that sounds.

Next week. the one we spent the money on.

6:23 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Dear god, that sounds so dreadful I find my initial uplifting decision, back at the end of Season 1, to just dispense with watching any more Torchwood given new lease of life. :)

10:27 pm  
Blogger SK said...

I thought it was generally agreed to be 'The Harvest of Kairos'?

Anyway, 'Meat', yes, the main story is terrible in all respects -- but on the other hand I thought the Gwen/Rhys scenes, especially the first argument, showed some of the old-school Tregenna and restored my opinion in Torchwood to its previous not-very-high level, from the (up until then) nadir it had reached after three utterly pointless episodes.

(Of course t was soon to fall even farther, what with the absolutely awful episode with the island, flashback episode and final episode).

8:26 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

IZP: "I thought it was generally agreed to be 'The Harvest of Kairos'?"

No, no - Harvest if bad, but Animals - Animals wasn't even written for the cast it used!

IZP: "I thought the Gwen/Rhys scenes, especially the first argument, showed some of the old-school Tregenna"

The problem with the Gwen/Rhys rows is that they only look good in context of the poor quality of the rest of the script. In a decently written episode of any reasonable show, they'd be seen as basic competence, not stand-out gems of sparkling dialogue.

8:35 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "just dispense with watching any more Torchwood"

Wise words there, sf fans!

8:36 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Oops - should have said 'SK' not 'IZP'...

8:36 am  
Blogger IZP said...

I only saw the last ten miutes of Meat, and can't comment other than it didn't give me any desire to see the earlier bits. I'm afraid that for me despite the odd glimmer or two Torchwood 2 was a deal worse than series 1, which had, I thought, about 4 or 5 pretty good episodes.

For me the absolute nadir is definitely the terrible 'lock up the missing driven mad by time travel' episode. Fantasy fiction has a long tradition of being crass and offensive about mental illness but this one really took the biscuit for me.
Chuck in the internally inconsistent state of Owen and you've a recipe for me despairing from about halfway into the season.

It's still The Keeper though, hands down.

10:00 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

IZP: "I only saw the last ten miutes of Meat,"

Probably best to see it in small chunks, though those ten minutes feel like entire hours spent watching Barrowman trying to emote and instead merely looking badly constipated.

IZP: "It's still The Keeper though, hands down."

I'm tempted to ignore that insane suggestion once again, but I can't keep letting it pass. The Keeper has Vila as Court Jester and Jenna as Queen of the Cave, plus the great 'cells just down stairs' with the decrepit father in them. It gets major brownie points simply for being like nothing else in B7.

And in that run of episodes, Voice from the Past is the real clunker (even if the big reveal is actually quite funny).

10:20 am  
Blogger IZP said...

I didn't see all of Blake's 7 series 2 either. I think it clashed with The Old Grey Whistle Test and my dad usually went for that.

Similarly, I think I've only seen about half of every Sapphire and Steel because unless I'm getting terminally confused evey second episode clashed with Top of the Pops which I wanted to see.

Look how music lured me, look how I still ended up a sad fantasy spod.

I have a vivid (and thus probably false) memory of flicking between a spooky bit in S&S Adventure 1 in which the rhyme "goosey goosey gander" was somehow bringing scenes from the English Civil War to a present day staircase and Gary Numan all video effect bleached out singing Are 'Friends' Electric?" on TOTP.
I didn't know which I found more excitingly weirdy-creepy.

One day I'll see all of Blake's 7 and Sapphire and Steel, but it can wait. I saw how they ended.

12:21 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

IZP: "One day I'll see all of Blake's 7 and Sapphire and Steel, but it can wait. I saw how they ended."

They ended in proper 70s miserablist fashion - on a total downer.

All tv shows should end like that if you ask me.

Even comedies (think how much better the end of Hi De Hi would have been if Peggy had slaughtered everyone then taken her own life on the ballroom dance floor).

12:34 pm  
Blogger IZP said...

Think how much the start of Hi de Hi would have been if...

12:46 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

IZP: "Think how much [better] the start of Hi de Hi would have been if..."

Good point well made, that man.

I'm not a big fan of 80s sitcoms - odd how the quality of what you might call mainstream sitcom dipped after the 70s ended (Dad's Army to Hi De Hi is some dip!)

12:50 pm  
Blogger Philip said...

Meat's not the worst Torchwood episode by some considerable distance. Although it's certainly the worst by the otherwise reliable Tregenna. I've not watched enough Blake's 7 to comment there.

(Gridlock's great, of course. It's got Martha in it.)

1:23 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Phil: "Meat's not the worst Torchwood episode by some considerable distance."

There's a scary thought. Do you mean not the worst of season 2 or not the worst in general (I'll give you Cyberwoman in the latter case)

Phil: "(Gridlock's great, of course. It's got Martha in it.)"

Hey - someone tell Phil that Jonn Elledge has hijacked his account!

1:28 pm  
Blogger SK said...

It's not the worst of season two. The one mentioned by IZP is easily far far far far worse.

Also the last two, the flashback episode and the Return Of Spike.

1:47 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "It's not the worst of season two. The one mentioned by IZP is easily far far far far worse."

Which one is that though? I've been told that 'Adam' is the best of the series but which is this one I should skip?

1:58 pm  
Blogger SK said...

I'll have to look it up. It's called... 'Adrift'.

2:06 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "I'll have to look it up. It's called... 'Adrift'."

Ah, it's a Chibnall. Should've guessed really.

2:10 pm  
Blogger Philip said...

Adrift is very poor, but Countrycide still ranks as the worst Torchwood ever, for me. Most of the other very bad ones are equally Chibnallian. It's difficult to imagine how anyone thought some of those scripts were of televisable standard.

9:40 am  
Blogger SK said...

You do have to wonder why some of these people get paid to write for television and others, well, don't.

12:18 am  

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