Well it was bound to happen. One thing I’ve learned over years of TV viewing is that the Brits tend to tell a story and if that story can be done with 3 episodes, or 5, or 6… they tell it and they’re done. The US has season quotas so they might have a story that could be told in 6 episodes but if they have to fill a 10-episode season quota… well, the story gets prolonged no matter the cost.
Dead of Night opens up well enough with some fun commentary on the various differences between American and British lingo. Pants are trousers in the UK, gas stations are petrol stations and chips are crisps. And lemonade is flat here but fizzy there. Perfect episode to review such things when it’s also the first one to go over how to create filler for an episode; something you just don’t get much of from the Brits. And why do I feel this was filler?
Oswald gets to a diner only to be tracked, escape his pursuers, then find cops to help him… and then get beaten by those same cops who don’t like the pedophile any more than the audience does. The only payoff to this is so Oswald knows to tell some thugs to beat up Jack but “don’t touch the face… that’s how it’s done these days”. Was that necessary? If he hadn’t been beaten up, would the outcome have really been any different? Or what about Rex breaking into Dr. Juarez’s home? He’s got a hole in his chest and passes out looking for help, but we were able to get a little sex scene into the episode between him and his doctor. (Huh? When did the romance start?) Meanwhile Jack loses sight of the plot to hang out in a gay bar and, concurrent with Rex, we get to see him having sex with his latest conquest. Ironically, this one has a payoff but it entails knowing the rest of the series. Jack is often a… pardon the pun… jackass. He likes to show he’s the star of the show. He calls Gwen from the bed of his conquest to get Gwen to agree that “we don’t need anyone”. It’s his subtle way of dominating Gwen and making her forget her husband. But the moment Gwen sees her husband and child on the video call, she hangs up on Jack without saying a word to him, leaving him hanging. Jack is no longer the star of the show. Rex is.
Now, these filler scenes aren’t the only mistake and Jacks sexuality is another casualty of the series becoming a joint production. Jack, throughout Doctor Who, was what I called “omnisexual”; male, female, human, alien, bug… it didn’t matter. Jack was willing to be with anyone. I applauded that; it was open minded and not species-ist or racist or sexist. He found pleasure and joy in all life. But bring the series to the US and none of that makes a lot of sense; people need binary simplicity, so Jack points out that Rex “doesn’t like his jokes too gay”. But that’s the problem! Jack wasn’t gay; he was omnisexual. Did we just throw out years of character development because someone only watched clips before writing an episode? Did no one do a bit of research or was that the price of a joint production?
Oh, I like the continuity of the contact lenses or the reference to Ianto, but a few little things like that don’t make up for destroying a character as profoundly enjoyable as Jack. Thank goodness Juarez, Esther and Rex are so well written. Even Jilly is fun to watch; not sure if I like her yet, but she is fun. Gwen isn’t herself, but she’s still good. The benefit of her being forcibly separated from her family is that it would make for an obvious motivation for her change so I can appreciate that. Jack, however, is harder to accept. Yeah, we can assume his connection with Ianto changed him… if he were even slightly mortal. (Well… prior to this season, that is!) He’s lived so long, I can’t imagine any one person would move him to such a major change of personality. I mean, this is a man who has been married before and has had a kid. Ianto meant something to him, but if the continuity is to be believed, right after Ianto died, he was already with (Alons-y) Alonso! So, no, I don’t buy it. It’s a blatant disregard for character development.
On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of commentary in this episode. Pharmaceutical firms is one target I found tedious. Contrary to what some people believe, pharmaceutical firms aren’t the enemy and the whole commentary track feels played out. (Some people also believe in Bigfoot, so… what does that tell you?) There’s also this: “I was a catholic too once. I got better!” Is Jane Espenson, the writer of this episode, just having a dig at anything she can? Maybe focusing on those easy targets, just because she can – since, after all, science fiction gives us a little leeway to do that. And what am I to say about the “soulless”; the people who have lost their souls because they can’t die. Seems like a poorly masked commentary on the public at large. (Then again, this might be another timely series for me to be re-watching, as we near an election!)
And once again, Oswald Danes is a center of attention and he’s a horrible man. I don’t understand how anyone can fall for his rhetoric and I can’t grasp what the writer was doing with this character. Are we to appreciate him because he’s trying to make drugs accessible to all? Oh, who cares that he raped and murdered a child; he’s giving us free drugs! If that’s the message, you lost me! (Although, I can’t fault Pullman for the portrayal even if I despise the character. He delivers his description to Jack with alarming sincerity. I often think if I were an actor, there would be some things I couldn’t do. Smoking is one of those things. Playing Oswald Danes is another.)
Well, 7 episodes to go, but after just two strong episodes I can’t believe we’ve come off the rails already. Right now all we know for sure is that whoever is at the other end of the red phone is causing Team Torchwood to go on a merry chase which should help fill a couple of episodes at least. ML