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SHELLEY ViSiON: You just wood not believe it..

Byline: JIM SHELLEY

FIVE episodes in, and it's still hard to understand who Torchwood is meant to appeal to.

Going out at 9pm on BBC2, Russell T Davies's spin-off is too late for the younger Doctor Who fans - the only viewers who might have the imagination to accept most of the frankly corny action on offer, or believe in a secret anti-alien organisation operating out of Cardiff.

At the same time, so far Torchwood's been too tame and zany for adult fans of seriously scary sci-fi - programmes such as Lost and The X-Files.

Last week's episode, for example, was about fairies. Captain Jack believed that all fairies were "bad" - an OK idea, except that the band of scary fairies he was up against looked like a dance troupe from Brighton.

Given that the bad fairies were targeting paedophiles and people bullying children, it was hard to side with him anyway.

Captain Jack's team are basically mediocre teenage pin-ups - seemingly cast for their resemblance to Charlotte Church, Johnny Vaughan and Mickey Miller from EastEnders.

A BIGGER problem is John Barrowman whose face is so bland and plastic he looks more like John Inverdale than an enigmatic, time-travelling alien-catcher.

Barrowman obviously thinks he's the new Tom Cruise but in Captain Jack's white T-shirt, braces, and RAF greatcoat looks more like the singer from a naff mid-80s band trying to be Echo & The Bunnymen. ("Torchwood" sounds like the title of A Flock of Seagulls' CD.)

Captain Jack's history is too schmaltzy, the humour too wacky, and Gwen, his Billie Piper-esque assistant neither as interesting nor as sexy as she should be. Other minor irritations include the stupid pterodactyl flying round Torchwood HQ and so many shots of Cardiff's ring-road system you'd think it was a Florentine sunset. The meaningless sci-fi babble that is perfect for Doctor Who simply doesn't work for a more adult audience.

"The 21st century is when everything changes," Jack blusters. "And you've got to be ready."

His boast that Torchwood is "separate from the government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations" makes it sound like a Nazi militia.

In order to justify its scheduling after the watershed, instead of any seriously scary aliens, Davies has gone for lots of gay snogging and a bit of inter-alien bestiality (yawn.).

The show is also irritatingly inconsistent. In the first episode, for example, the members of Torchwood had a range of tricks such as the ability to make themselves invisible and a glove that could bring the dead back to life. This was strangely missing when the nasty fairies claimed Jack's beloved Estelle last week. Bizarrely, the story ended with Jack handing over a child the fairies regarded as "chosen".

This meant the child's mother was forced to witness the loss of her only child and her fiance (death by fairies). Some hero! "What else could I do?" Jack whined. I dunno, you thought. Use a special screwdriver or something?!

BY the way, younger Doctor Who fans would be advised to miss this week's episode (which will be shown tomorrow on BBC2), which doesn't really have any creatures that look like aliens at all.

Instead it's a gratuitously unpleasant, violent storyline - Wolf Creek, a variation on horror movies such as The Hill Have Eyes.

I can't help thinking there's something inappropriate about a Doctor Who spin-off where one character asks another, "When was the last time you came so hard, you forgot where you were?"

It's further proof that Davies just couldn't decide what sort of show Torchwood was meant to be.

Funnily enough, when one of the team goes missing, the name they call out - "Tosh! Tosh! Tosh!" - is exactly the word I would use to describe it.

CAPTION(S):

SCIENCE FRICTION: Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Gwen (Eve Myles)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2006
Words:630
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