This weekend past I discovered the BBC Iplayer giving me instant access to much of the best and worst of the BBC's output. So far it's enabled me to do three things, catch up on Torchwood, watch the first part of "World of Fantasy" and finally see "Armstrong and Miller".
Torchwood first. I enjoyed the first series of Torchwood, except the finale, in the sameway I enjoy watching, The Persuaders or UFO or Tom Baker's Dr Who. The first series of Torchwood was hokum, pure hokum. The characters were underdeveloped, fences were sat on in certain issues, the story often revolved around monster of the week cliches which weren't original back in the seventies when I first encountered most of them. But the stories were told with a lot of energy and they weren't set in London so I enjoyed them as escapist fantasy.
This second series has been infinitely grimmer but the stories have grown more out of the characters and so have far more depth. The focus has been on Owen's death and resurrection, his reactions and the reactions of Tosh and Captain Jack. The story has been incidental except in so far as it realises the growth of the characters. Owen is no longer a one dimensional shag monster, being dead is moving him rapidly towards being three dimensional and he's actually becomng likable. His chats with the suicidal woman and the bed ridden Richard Briers showed more nuances to the character than the whole of the previous series. When they killed Owen I was glad at the idea of seeing the back of him, but now he's dead I hope he sticks around. Jack too has changed, primarily because the writers and producers seem to feel viewers are okay with him being gay so they seem to be veering more towards that and away from making him bisexual. As they've done that John Barrowman seems to have become more comfortable with the character. The scene between him and Owen in the Police cell, when he gets quite slushy and then slaps Owen's head to re-assert his manhood is the most touching thing I've seen in the programme since it started. They've also cut back on him standing on roof posing heroically which has got to be a bonus. Finally Tosh, who was the most under developed character in the last series, even more neglected than Gwen's boyfriend, is finally a character rather than a cypher. Her awkward relationship with Owen is so realistic and so easy to relate to, we've all been there at some point, that she's become human over night.
The world of Fantasy was the first part of a three part series looking at, well, the worlds of fantasy. It's started with the child hero, growing out of the current Harry Potter phenomenon but paying, thankfully, little time to it. It followed the evolution of the child hero, from Charles Kingsley's Waterbabies through to Potter with a brief look back at fairy tales through readings from everything from Alice In Wonderland to Alan Garner's books and on to Phillip Pullman. The accompanying imagery was also well thought out. Alongside a few clips from films and BBC TV series there was much original film that wasn't so much an adaptation of the work in question as a distillation of the essence of each book and maintained an almost dreamlike quality that served to unify the source material. The series did do something that is becoming a tradition for this sort of programme which is trot out a succession of opinions from comedians, actors and writers. Happily this time they were from folk who had some bearing and something worthwhile to say. Even Phill Jupiter, who seems to appear on every media and culture related series like this was restrained and intelligent. Worth checking out the remaining two episodes.
Finally, Armstrong and Webb. All I can say about this is it made me laugh. The characters in the sketches didn't rely on freak potential unlike things like Little Britain or the Catherine Tate Show. The show had wit, memorable characters and lines you know are going to appear in conversations soon.