We've been catching up on the BBC's Doctor Who spinoff series "Torchwood" and are currently about halfway through the second season. Here's some of my thoughts on the series in general as tempered by those of my wife and kids--
The family consensus: this show is frustrating. It's frustrating because it's difficult to think of another example of a television show that swings so wildly between episodes that are sublime to those that are just plain awful. This show is incredibly erratic.
Much of the blame for this falls on series creator Russell T Davies. A lot of Who fans dislike Davies and credit him with some of the worst episodes of that show. The most frequent criticism is that Davies has a tendency to sway into ham-fisted melodrama and the lack of science fiction in much of his science fiction.
While this is true to a degree, I find it hard to hold much of a grudge against Davies. More than anyone else he's responsible for the revival of Doctor Who, a show that occasionally borders on fantastic. To my way of thinking he's earned the right to toss a few lemons at us.
Where Davies really drops the ball in Torchwood is in his envisioning of the main character of Captain Jack Harkness played by John Barrowman. As the character was introduced in Doctor Who he is an immortal, omnisexual imp from some sort of future Time Police. In "Torchwood" Harkness is more of an angry, omnisexual curmudgeon. The character's humor has been largely exercised for dramatic reasons to make him more of a brooding hero slumping under the weight of some dark secret involving his brother.
Here are my two favorite episodes of the series and why I think they work--
Episode 1x5: "Small Worlds." - The team investigates "fairies" who are protecting a small child. I especially love the subplot in this which touches very deftly on Jack's immortality and it's consequences but the fairies were menacing as a force of nature not entirely good or evil.
Episode 1x6: "Countrycide." - The team investigates a series of disappearances in the woods. Naturally it turns out to be a local village who slaughter and eat travellers every 10 years. A big rip off of American horror films but scary just the same.
Probably the two biggest clunkers of episdodes in my estimation --
Episode 2x4: "Meat." The team rescues a giant, regenerating sentient alien being kept alive in a warehouse so that a meat company can cut off chunks and sell them. Ham-fisted message and the alien looked horrible even by BBC standards.
Episode 1x12: "Captain Jack Harkness." Jack and Tosh are thrown back in time to a dancehall in WW2 England. Jack falls for the real Air Force Captain Jack Harkness from which he had stolen his name. The episode ends with a groanworthy scene in which the two Jacks dance in front of a room full of WW2 servicemen culminating in a romantic kiss that made no sense under the bland dialog between the two characters leading up to that moment.