Tag Archives: bbc

In defense of Torchwood

From Torchwood: Miracle Day ep 107 "Immortal Sins"

So, Torchwood finished last week and as the show reached its climax, the complaints on this blog slowed to a trickle. Whether that’s because people lost interest or started to get drawn into it, it’s hard to say, but from my point of view – whilst the show didn’t reach the heights of Children of Earth – it was good (I’m not the only one that thinks so).

There’s always a challenge for writers when they decide to ‘reboot’ a show (or, as in this case, are forced to by funding circumstances), and the benefit of shows like Dr Who and even Star Trek – is that when they are rebooted, fans know what to expect. That’s not meant to be the same Doctor, or the same Captain Kirk; the settings are different, the context is different, the cast is different. In this case, Captain Jack and Gwen brought continuity and expectation with them, and so many loyal fans, it seems, found the changes a bridge too far.

I have to admit, as someone that is a big fan of American TV, I’m totally baffled as to some of the criticisms leveled at the show; it was too "Americanized"? Really? Why do you think Spooks, Doctor Who, etc., have got more exciting over the years – because they’ve ignored the conventions of American TV production? I’d argue the opposite is true; the episode lengths dictated by most American TV, the scheduling, all of it – has forced British serial writers to think beyond six episodes to longer story arcs, and learn how to tell stories within the stories.

I’ll freely admit Miracle Day wasn’t perfect. Elements of it were slower moving than they needed to be; the episodic sub-arcs didn’t grip and the overall ‘crisis’ only made marginal sense (which is par for the course with Torchwood, but when you’ve waited ten episodes for the climax… you expect more!), but it seems (and this is reflected in a few of the comments) to have been successful at drawing a new audience in. So perhaps it did what it was designed to do.

We don’t know if there’ll be a season 5 yet, but for more insights into the show production, have a read of this interview with Jane Espenson, one of the writer/producers on the show with Russell T Davies, and a longtime cohort of Joss Whedon. I’m hoping there’ll be more.

Dealing with negative commenters

One of the consequences of the BBC’s redirecting a large swathe of the discussion around its television shows to bloggers writing about them is that instead of the BBC having to manage the comments and discussion around the shows, people like me do. Unlike the BBC, I don’t have a massively evolved comments policy – before I wrote about Outcasts, I’d had a total of 500 comments on my blog in 8 years, most of them from me, replying to the occasional comment from someone random.

Then my blog posts about Outcasts and its cancellation and the Apprentice came and I tripled the number of comments on my blog in a few months. And it wasn’t a problem, as for the most part people were quite  nice – venting mutually in their upset over the Outcasts cancellation or offering an opinion on Lord Sugar’s judgments, mostly ignoring what I’d written, often tacitly thinking or hoping the BBC would read their comment here (no evidence of this as yet) or whatever. Again, no issues.

But now I’ve written about Torchwood, a show that’s upset some people because of a number of (not particularly graphic) scenes of gay sex, arguably slow pacing and a distinct lack of a single dramatic monster-shaped climax each week (I’ll write a defense of the show soon, because I think its better than people are giving it credit for, but want to see it play out first).

But the comments situation has me scratching my head… a significant number of the comments are prefaced with "I’m not a homophobe, but…," a few are straight out "gay sex is wrong my kids can’t watch that" (despite Torchwood being a post-watershed adult-targeted programme). Do I let these comments through? Do I bin them? After all, even if some of these people are narrow-minded (IMHO) conservatives, they have a right to an opinion, don’t they? Then part of me thinks "this is my site, and I can control it all however I like. Bwahahahaha…"

Truth be told, I don’t have enough time to moderate these comments carefully enough, and the nuances of what constitutes hate speech are probably beyond the spare minute or two I have to go back through the comments and delete stuff. But for those uncertain, I’d like Currybet’s rule for news website commenting to apply here. The golden rule: “don’t be a dick.” This is a nice place, for nice people to have reasoned discussion. Follow Mr Bet’s helpful flowchart to check if you are being a dick, in case you’re not sure. A minority of you on the Torchwood posts? You’re definitely being dicks.

The heartening thing in all of this is that there are a number of stalwart defenders of the show and the choices its made calling people out for being narrow-minded et al. Hoorah for you, good people*. You’ve helped me maintain my faith in the Interwebs.

The ease of anonymity and the impersonal nature of website commenting still makes it too easy for people to Troll or vent in unpleasant ways they wouldn’t do in real life. I’m open to suggestions on how to make this harder on here… Facebook comments/true name policy only/non disposable identities only?

* I should flag: I am very happy for people to take any of my opinions and the show (or anything else I write about) to task; that’s why I enable comments. The world is made of differing opinions. But I don’t have time or the emotional energy to deal with people being dicks, so please abide by that rule if you can.

The Doctor returns

Doctor Who: Let's Kill HitlerDoctor Who’s return was suitably triumphant and exciting, although as Tom commented to me in person at the weekend, bewildering interwoven with pretty much every episode shown in the earlier part of the season. The number of internal references is truly astonishing and perhaps an indicator of the show growing up, in some sense or another, or perhaps just appropriately intricate for the kind of passionate fans the Doctor attracts.

Time travel does give me a headache, though. I’m sure Doc Brown would agree.

Torchwood-is better than I thought

Torchwood Miracle Day 101_46We watched episode two of Torchwood: Miracle Day on Sunday (still behind, I know, sorry!) and have noted the negative comments appearing on my last post. I’m not sure how fair some of these are – most of them coming from disgruntled longtime fans. Fans: please bear in mind that reinventing a show for a new country, new audience, new production regime, new cast – this is a Hard Thing to do, and I think Russell T Davies et al have been pretty bold with setting up the single premise.

Granted, I’m only two episodes in so don’t know quite how well it’ll sustain itself – the one criticism I thought sounded fair was the idea that the plot of the season might well have washed out happily in a couple of eps – but it feels like its building nicely to me.

Exposition in the early days of a lot of new television series is often slightly painful (it doesn’t need to be but its hard to avoid). The premise needs playing out, the characters need developing, the universe needs staging. It’s understandably frustrating seeing this happen with a show you already know, characters you’ve followed for years. This is one of the reasons that novel adaptations are often (not always) regarded as inferior to the original – they are necessarily different to meet the demands of the new medium – and I think American TV does count as a new medium in some respects.

If we cast our minds back to the early seasons of Torchwood, if we’re being fair, we’ll remember that it was a pretty dire thing that the Beeb had made. And yet it matured by season three into a thing with millions of fans. We’re only up to episode three of the new series – give it a chance, it feels like it’ll weather well.

That said, none of the negative comments indicate people are going to stop watching, so perhaps you are all giving it a chance – just needing a place to vent and lament the passing of the Torchwood of old. To you, I say, if you wanted it to stay made in Britain, you should have been willing to pay a bigger license fee! The BBC couldn’t afford to produce a show like this by itself; heck, even Dr Who only got 1.5 seasons worth of television this year. Auntie is hurting, and admittedly it is a slightly bureaucratic mess at times, but its output is remarkable and I’ll be sad if its star wanes with the cuts we have ahead of us.

FWIW, I’m loving the Beeb’s co-production strategy. I think change is good, if unsettling, and we’ll see a whole new breed of television that works in a way we simply couldn’t manage if we were left to our own devices.

Torchwood: Miracle Day premier – first thoughts

Torchwood Miracle Day 101_27

We finally watched the season premier of the new Torchwood.

I wasn’t as blown away as I’d hoped. The premise of the show is great and well-advertised (death stops working), and the reveal of the specifics of this within the show is pretty entertaining (and surprisingly gory for a Doctor Who spin-off).

They’ve successfully introduced the new cast – a mobile phone addicted Mekhi Phifer and a generic young, female, attractive CIA agent amongst them, and a creepy paedophile. But the majority of the episode was spent revealing what you probably knew if you’d watched any of the trailers: death has stopped happening and its going to cause problems for planet Earth. And it has something to do with Torchwood.

That said; the production values are ridiculous compared to previous seasons and some of the sequences are fantastic. Jeep vs helicopter on a seaside car chase? Bet on the jeep, every time.

I’m hoping that the show picks up its pace now that the initial unveiling is done. I guess that it had to be from first principles, given that the cable tie-up (the show is co-produced by American cable TV network, Starz, which also co-produced Camelot) will bring it to new audiences in the US. Although I’m not looking forward to seeing Captain Jack’s willy as some are (or not, as the case may be).

Still, looking forward to the next one.

Torchwood returns with Miracle Day

Torchwood Miracle Day 403 BBC Promo_06Excited to see that Torchwood has returned. Despite a shaky start in the early seasons, the Dr Who spin off has grown up and I’m led to understand that many of the new production team – a collaboration between BBC Wales and a US cable network – are very excellent people indeed. The trailers I’ve seen set the pace nicely and I’m looking forward to catching up on the return of Captain Jack (I missed the premier last week – thank the BBC for iPlayer!).

Anyway, no spoilers please (I already know that nobody dies). Trailer:

@bbcapprentice ep 11–on business plans and production lines


Episode 11 of the Apprentice went pretty much as expected. The team with the stupid people lost, and the stupid person with the bad attitude was fired.

It’s astonishing that – on week 11 of a 12 week exercise to showcase your business acumen – that Jim and co didn’t think a business plan was worthwhile. It’s a simple set of calculations to work out margins, estimate how many of which you can sell per hour, etc. but they simply didn’t consider the need for it – it seemed to be treated as a game to design the prettiest store.

Helen was very impressive on that front, carrying all the margins in her head, and I think moves even more decisively into the lead for the win.

Messing up the production line, as Jim did, I think was a more understandable error. Time was short, he’d clearly never given any thought to how restaurants were actually run, and whilst under that pressure he simply didn’t think through the implications.  Not to say they shouldn’t have tried to fix it, but I think they underestimated quite how labour intensive the creation of  fajita would be. Which is odd, as anyone who’s ever made them at home from one of those kits knows that it takes a bit of faff.

@bbcapprentice–the pitch takes the biscuit


Three observations from last night’s episode of the Apprentice.

  1. If the pitch feels incoherent to you, you really can’t expect buyers to get it. "After school treat for anytime-" – that makes no sense.
  2. Absolute bullshit is apparently acceptable – Jim’s ludicrous ‘we’ll get Harry Potter to do TV advertising for you Asda’ pitch shouldn’t have worked. I suspect the only reason they managed to make the sale was because Asda felt the product could appeal to some of their shoppers that maybe put a higher premium on shutting the kids up with sugary treats than they did on the specifics of the sales pitch.
  3. One of the teams still hadn’t learnt the lesson of defining a target audience. It was Every Dog all over again in that first BixMixPitch.

I genuinely wasn’t sure which way this one would lean, but once team BixMix got left in the boardroom both Amanda and I thought Zoe might be in the line of fire (although I thought Tom might be for it too).

I’m finding it increasingly uncomfortable watching a few of the candidates in action; Melody for her general overbearing ignorance, Susan for her idiocy, and Jim for his total BS-talent. But I guess that’s what makes the show compelling…

No sign of Bix Mix or Special Stars on eBay this time… I guess those had a shorter shelf life than the magazines

Panorama – always finding scandal

Jeremy Vine presenter of Panorama

Caught a few minutes of Panorama the other night, investigating medical equipment labelled ‘made in the UK’ but actually manufactured by poverty-stricken (but surprisingly well-trained) metalworkers on the streets of Pakistan.

What I want to know is: how come these guys always find a scandal? I mean, every now and then they find one that isn’t there and overdramatize it – the wifi story from a few years back springs to mind, ditto the Primark story from 2008 – but I’d love to hear some of the stories they have to reject:

"How about this one… all Dyson hand dryers are actually a portal to another universe?"
"What’s the source?"
"A professor of some science I can’t pronounce,"
"Sounds good to me, look into it."

"Hello Mr Dyson? Is it true that your hand dryers spiral underage disabled workers into a parallel universe made entirely of cheese?"
"I WISH. But no."
"Oh ok. We’ll go then."

I’d love to know how that editorial process works.

A cynical part of me thinks they must reject some stories that are ‘important’, but not sympathetic or controversial enough to work on the programme. But that’s a separate issue….

Travails in France and Market Research 101 – @bbcapprentice

homepage_tx8_1I was surprised and caught up in the success of the the Apprentices this week. I honestly thought (being a man with no sense of style) that they’d struggle to sell ANY lamps, and in honesty – those universal grips – always offend me as pieces of pointless, expensive wire and plastic. But they did a pretty good job, all in, and both teams managed to make some reasonable sales – although I do note that La Redoute doesn’t currently stock a transforming car seat – in the UK, anyway – so I’m doubtful as to the honesty of the process.

The losing team suffered on all sorts of counts, but I have two key lessons for Melody, in particular:

  1. If you’re doing market research, you have to be aware of something called ‘sample bias.’ It’s reasonably unsurprising that in the course of interviewing Metro commuters you get the impression that people in Paris don’t like to drive. Just looking around – as she eventually did – revealed the scope of the traffic situation in Paris and answered that question.
  2. If you are biased, you can ask questions to get the answers you want. I suspect Melody knows this one already, but to take a lesson from an even more epic BBC programme, Yes Prime Minister (quotes from here):

"Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?" 
"Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?" 
"Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?" 
"Do they respond to a challenge?" 
"Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?" 

Now onto Survey 2

"Mr. Woolley are you worried about the danger of war?" 
"Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?" 
"Do you think there’s a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?" 
"Do you think its wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?" 
"Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?" 


Stuart Baggs on the BBC Blog has a fantastic perspective on Melody’s delivery of the primary market research too:

Her linguistic skills are applaudable, although I’m 97% certain her "selective translation" skills may cause a global war at the UN one day. She should seek treatment for what I call Internal Chinese Whispers, whereby a statement in French such as "Yes I think its a good idea" becomes "She said it’s OK".

A final note: Susan, seriously. "Do French people love their families…?" – that is a whole new level of idiocy that even I didn’t expect to see demonstrated. Just goes to show – given her sales impact – you really don’t need to be clever to get ahead in business.