They Keep Killing Susie

The title of this episode is reminiscent of an episode of a previous great British TV sf/fantasy series that was produced in the sixties, namely They Keep Killing Stead in The Avengers. Probably this is nothing more than a coincidence, but I wonder if certain bits of iconic TV tend to resonant through our subconscious and, more importantly, through the subconscious of modern filmmakers, including those involved in Torchwood.

 

My biggest criticism of Torchwood so far is its tendency to purport to be a science fiction series while attempting to emulate a fantasy series. The fantasy series in question are, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin off series Angel. This tendency must stem from Russell T. Davies’ own admiration for these two highly successful series. In this episode the theme is death and the resurrection of the dead. It was one of the best stories so far, well paced and plotted with a nice series of twists and turns in the plot that keeps us guessing. The reanimated Susie, played by Indira Varma, holds just the right balance of victim and villian to engage both our sympathy and an increasing dread. There is also some clever technofying of occult elements like; the zombiefication of the mindless killer Alex through the use of drugs, and his use as a Trojan horse to lock down the Torchwood hub by reciting a poem to the computer that recollects an incantation of a spell.

 

The Question is, does this bias towards supernatural fantasy ruin Torchwood as a science fiction series? The answer is, not necessarily. Davies’ writers sprinkle just enough technology and Techno babble into their stories to be able to claim that they are writing science fiction. The Trojan horse Alex has been controlled by drugs, not witchcraft, while Susie is brought back to life by the unknown technology of the alien gauntlet rather than the black arts. It is, if anything, perhaps a little too half-hearted an attempt. Torchwood has the potential to become a great scary science fiction series.

There is a precedent for writing stories about aliens that are so alien that they become, to the limited comprehension of human beings, understood only in terms of the supernatural. As Arthur C. Clarke has stated "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In a similar way we can argue that any sufficiently alien ‘alien’ is indistinguishable from a demon or god. In fact the aliens of science fiction have adopted those roles on a regular basis, but never so uncompromisingly as those created by H. P. Lovecraft. In his hands the alien becomes a thing so alien that the only response for a human being is horror and revulsion, and the only sane action is to go insane. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and it was a concern of Lovecraft’s that as science revealed more about the cold, indifferent, uncaring, Universe humanity would want, one day, to retreat into a new dark age of ignorance and superstition.



3 comments


    God

    December 10, 2006

    Clarke’s comments are actually his ‘Third Law of Prediction’ the first two being:

    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    Of course I actually prefer “Clarke’s 3rd Law Inversed”: Any technology that isn’t indistinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced …

    Within this category of advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic I would have to nominate: the internet, television remote controls, toasters, revolving doors, photocopiers and children but of course I’m a geek (latin: technophilus ignoramus) as opposed to a nerd (latin: technophilus competentis)

    Andrew

    December 10, 2006

    When angel came back in the 5th (???) series of Buffy, didn’t he keep talking about the “creatures in the dark???”

    theagingfanboy

    December 10, 2006

    I love it. I think the main point is that it ISN’T fantasy. It’s a glove which brings the dead back for a couple of minutes. You’ve got it, there is is, so how do you deal with it? The people brought back obviusly don’t recall Heaven or Hell (although they all seem to realise what’s happened), and Susie said that there wasn’t anything after death. Very straight SF; but then she said that there was something out there (spooky). I’m hoping that there will be a sensible (!) explanation for all this. I like the feeling that there’s a slightly beleagured group of teckies down there trying to make sense of what appears to be supernatural elements of life & death. The mast recent episode showed it too – was that a real ghost?

    I think we ought to be told!

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