Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Announcing The Official Torchwood Gupta

If my calculations are correct, season two of Torchwood has finished on BBC America, providing that channel's largest ever viewing figures, a statistic that made me pack up some supplies, put on my best hiking shoes, and embark on a quest from pole to pole to find a stairway to Heaven so I could meet God and ask him, "Why?!?!!!?" Screw the meaning of life, I want to know how and why this turgid clusterfuck of a show manages to draw in so many viewers. Of course, this is similar to the other pressing question in my life, i.e. why is CSI: Miami the most popular show in the world when it is ideologically repulsive, ineptly acted, abysmally written, and melodramatic to the point of parody. At least Torchwood's sexual politics are progressive, even though everything else about it is derivative and unadventurous.

Anyway, before we go any further, just to clarify, this was a poll to determine who was the most awful character in Torchwood (from the beginning of season one), which in Shades of Caruso terms means we were looking to come to a consensus on the show Gupta. Here is our definition of that term if you're new here. The results surprised me not a jot.

  • Gwen "Welsh Rarebit" Cooper - 6 (40%)
  • Owen "Dead Asshole" Harper - 3 (20%)
  • Captain Jack "Sex" Harkness - 2 (13%)
  • Toshiko "..." Sato - 1 (6%)
  • Ianto "Suddenly Snarky" Jones - 1 (6%)
  • MARTHA "Awesome" JONES - 1 (6%)
  • The Pterodactyl - 1 (6%)
  • Rhys "Mundane" Williams - 0 (0%)
  • Spacey the Space Whale - 0 (0%)
  • The Weevil of Zenda - 0 (0%)
  • Suzie "Rogue Corpse" Costello - 0 (0%)

  • There was no way Gwen couldn't have won this poll. In the first season, acting as audience surrogate in this new world of ill-thought out alien species, lost-in-time losers, and rampant opportunistic shagging, she was soon unmoored by the wackiness around her and proceeded to cuckold her husband with her colleague Owen, leading to some ill-advised sexxy dialogue and mouth grapplings. Rhys, for all his faults (i.e. being utterly prosaic) didn't deserve the treatment he got, and we strongly disliked the character of Gwen even then. However, at that point, we hated Owen with such sanity-threatening vehemence that Gwen could have strangled puppies and we would have still hated him more. He was once our only choice as show Gupta (scroll down).

    The decision to introduce a dark, miserabilist character was a sound one, but instead of a Mal Reynolds-style loner with anti-social tendencies and animal magnetism, Owen was pitched so far to the obnoxious end of the spectrum that it amazed us anyone would employ him, let alone a team of fuck-knuckles like Torchwood Cymru. Sour, mean, unhinged, addicted to sex and averse to relationships (unless in the presence of flying ladies from the 40s), he was unbearable. And then, season two rolled along, and the writers had obviously realised the character was not working, at which point he became no more grumpy than my old maths teacher. It meant he was less likely to do anything snide or unpleasant, providing Gwen with an open pitch to go crazy on, smashing balls of purified Gupta-essence into the back of the net over and over and over again with astonishing accuracy and speed.

    Throughout season two her stupidity, bitchiness, thoughtlessness, over-zealous emoting, and blinkered attention to her own needs and whims turned an unlikeable character into an unbearable one. Why oh why oh why the writers thought this was a good choice is beyond me. At the same time, Owen's death and peculiar immortality opened up many new and interesting avenues for the character, and by the last episode we had really warmed to him, as well as thrown out our previous objections to Burn Gorman, who was the acme of unlikeability in the first season, only to become quite charming once he was playing a walking corpse. Of course, this meant the showrunner Chris Chibnall chose that moment to kill him for good. Thanks a lot, Chibbers.

    Coming just below Owen (steady on etc.!) we got a couple of votes for Captain Jack, and yes, the character is stupid and nowhere near as likeable as he is on Doctor Who, and John Barrowman seems to have broken the lever that activates his overacting module, and his endless angst is terribly boring to watch, but look at that smile! Phwoarrrr! He can time my agent any day! And I'm straight! Perhaps we just like him because he is often so endearingly silly, but who else could provide a moment as moving as this, after trying and failing to save Spacey the Space Whale from being tragically turned into tasty Spacey Burgers.

    Heart-wrenching stuff.

    On Warren Ellis' Whitechapel forums I note that Tosh has incensed Torchwood viewers to the point of rage many times over. That's their business, not mine. Myself, I can't get worked up about her. As I've said many times over, she's a human-shaped hole on screen, waiting to be filled with whatever personality construct best suits the scene she is in. When her death occurred in the season finale, I was moved not a jot. Of course, once Owen died she had to go too, because without her desperate and pathetic infatuation with him to hold onto, there was nothing else to do.

    I guess this is one of those rare instances where an established character is written out simply because the showrunners had nothing else for her to do, especially as they would have been chased out of TV screenwriting is they had given more scenes of a character grieving for a loved one after trying our patience with Ianto's grief over Liiiiiiiisaaaaa the Cyber-Hottie, which lasted until Jack gave him a good seeing too, and yet seemed to last a lot longer than that. Jesus, at least Cyrano De Bergerac had a big nose (and bigger intellect) to fall back on. This was like watching a shy teenage girl pining for the school bad boy and dropping her text books every time she sees him by her locker. Pffft. Seeya, Tosh. You won't be missed, because you will be forgotten, almost as soon as I click Publish Post.

    Also getting single votes were Ianto and the pterodactyl (yeah, suck on that, you prehistoric asshole), but the single vote for MARTHA JONES leads me to suspect someone accidentally clicked the wrong button on the poll thingy. How else to explain this bizarre vote? The character of MARTHA is, of course, awesomeness personified, a tough and intelligent independent woman with a no-nonsense sense of humour, style, class, and world-saving courage whose name should be a legend from one side of the galaxy to the other, with planets named after her (in Caps Lock, of course). And she's back this weekend in Doctor Who, which is having a better than expected fourth season (though so far not up to the standard of season three). I'm not the only one excited about her return. Best. Companion. Ever. I'm totally serious.

    Thanks to everyone for voting! It was gratifying to see that our opinion of Gwen is shared by a large proportion of our readers. Another poll is coming soon (and Lost viewers, there is still time to vote for your favourite new characters), but until then, as a thank you, here is the worst moment of Torchwood's entire run from the shockingly poor Countrycide, featuring season one Gupta Owen and season two Gupta Gwen locking lips, saying dirty things about orgasms, and bouncing around with their toy guns like extras from Plan 9 From Outer Space 2: Sex Zombies From Space Station 7. Enjoy!

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