Dancing At The Ritz with Captain Jack.
‘Captain Jack Harkness’ Episode Review
By Patsy Newton-Carline
The episode ' Captain Jack Harkness ' is one of my favourites - the revealing of more fascinating facts of the life of Captain Jack is always popular but to discover the real Captain Jack and in the romantic setting of the Ritz 'Palais de Danse' during the 1941 Cardiff blitz, with Jack and Tosh trapped on the wrong side of the rift, has all the ingredients of true drama - add to that Owen and Ianto battling over the right or wrong of trying to reopen the rift, given that Owen is thinking with his heart, (or possibly his trousers), and you just know this dish will turn into a right royal banquet!
As the story lines unroll and the threads reweave themselves into the various segments of the whole, we find ourselves spun backwards and forwards through the rift, following the two sections of the team desperately trying to be reunited on the right side of a firmly closed rift.
And this is where I think the production misses a real opportunity to create a stunning time-jump impact! The 'extras feature' shows the sad 21st century reality of an unwanted and glamourless 1930s gem - which they promptly gave the do-up treatment! But how much bigger the impact if they had done a quick tidy round, checked all was safe then filmed all the shots which took place in the public areas of the 21st century Ritz immediately - there were not that many - then given the place the do-up treatment. When the sounds of 1941 drifted into the 21st century dereliction the contrast would have added considerable tension to an already dramatic story and would have added even more true, as opposed to 'Hollywood', glamour to the scenes in the Palais itself where the gleam of gilding and the sparkle of crystal set the romantic tone, and even more tension would have been generated by Gwen's voice passing back echoing with the hollowness of the now derelict building.
The 'do-up' on the Palais was great and rather reminded me of the Hammersmith Palais in the late 1950s - but again it was too perfect, too Hollywood - the Palais had been open about 10 years and for the last 2 there had been a war on - in real terms this meant no redecoration and very few cleaners, with the best will in the world it could not have looked perfect - again, a touch of tiredness would have added a deeper sense of romance and glamour, hard won and really earned. For future reference remember we are Woodies and Whovians and we don't want Hollywood, by gum we don't, we need a sense of reality; against that overdone, (in my view) 'glamour', the real glamour of the time and place was diluted and without the acting skills of John and Matt, the brief love story of the two Jacks would have lost that sense of reality that we expect and would have just become a hype - an excuse for two guys to snog on screen.
I was impressed that the Palais girls were dressed in original as opposed to 'authentic' '40s clothes but not so impressed that all were 'perfect' because of the HiDef cameras - oops, Hollywood strikes again! A few years ago I was lucky enough to be a guest on location with a long running sitcom and I was even luckier to be shown by one of the UKs top TV cameramen, how to use and to have a try-out with a HiDef camera and it really blew me away! I've been a photographer most of my life but this was truly 'real' - capable of showing life as it 'really' is - and in the Palais with those glamorous girls and guys, the real glamour was lost - everything and everybody was too perfect! Please understand, I was not alive in 1941 but my adult family members were and I did my growing up in the 1950s, when for most people little had changed, just that there were no bombs any more - except a few that had failed to go off on landing - and everything was even more tired looking. And a lot of prewar and wartime clothes were still being worn by our sort of people (yes, working class!) - my Aunt Kath had a beautiful coat which she had made in 1942, it was blue velour - a sort of heavy cotton velvet - and had originally been a pair of curtains made in 1932 - she wore that coat until about 1955! And that, my friends, was the real glamour of the Ritz Palais in Cardiff in 1941.
Those gorgeous, glamorous Cardiff girls worked for a living, in shops, offices and factories or in the dockyards -and they worked 12 hour shifts and they got damn-little pay - but they still looked fabulous! This is how it works - that now 3 year old best dress is carefully ironed and has maybe had a tweek or two by adding some ribbon or lace or some prettier buttons, your jacket, coat or cardigan likewise and your best shoes are kept mended and are well polished - stage one complete, make-up is easy, a touch of lipstick, probably red for an evening out, a dab of rouge, a whisk of powder - and if you are really daring, a whisper of mascara! Now for the hair - well, Hair by Sally or Gwen or whatever your best friend or sister's name is - it has been set on curlers or rags with sugar and water setting lotion, then carefully arranged into a style as close as possible to that seen on the movie star in your latest movie star magazine. Now we are almost there - first, the fine dark gravy-browning line up the back of the leg, disappearing tantalizingly up under the skirt, then a touch or three of. Coty l'Aimant or your favourite perfume, add a few strings of pearls or diamonds by Woolworth and the transformation is complete - Cardiff's answer to Hollywood stardom links arms with her friends and steps into the Palais, ready to dance the night away in the arms of a prince - or the guy in the uniform with the brylcreemed hair, tbe sharp creases in his trousers and his well-polished shoes. The real glamour comes from inside, from really knowing you look fabulous - that you have earned it and because no flaming Hitler can take it away from you - and against that background we don't have to suspend 'reality' to believe in the sudden, mind-blowing love which hits both Captain Jacks between the eyes and which our Jack will carry with him, possibly for eternity.
The one thing that was perfect was the band and the music - amazingly, the singer looked exactly right - perfect provincial city glamour, easily three steps up from what the local girls could afford - but not to London standard, that she could not afford! The band and the singer were very, very good - and they were Cardiff-good, not 'Cafe de Paris, London West End' good - the sound and atmosphere it created was very real, again, perfect background to the 2 Jacks theme.
For future reference, our marvelous production crew, please remember, to us Woodies and Whovians, Torchwood has its own reality and we relate closely to its characters and environments, just as fans of various 'soaps' do. So please leave Hollywood where it belongs - as they said in the war, 'over there, with the flashy Yanks!!!' and use the HiDef to illuminate and enhance reality - let our people be people, let them have zits, and dandruff and stray hairs on the collar - because that's how we are, and our heroes are very human - even if they cannot die!
Till next time