Monday, July 13, 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth


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When Torchwood started, Spouse and I (and a zillion and one other Dr Who fans I suspect) were really excited. I was, it's true totally miffed when I discovered it was for grown ups, because the kids had all been so entranced by series 2 of Dr Who and knew all about Torchwood, and loved Captain Jack, and then I had to say, no, no kiddies, you can't watch it. I then blogged badtemperedly here, because I felt that Russell T Davies and co were being unfair to their young audience (I have to add the caveat that all my years in children's publishing pre Harry Potter has left me with a big chip on my shoulder about children's audiences being underestimated/ignored).

More importantly though, once we started watching, despite the presence of Captain Jack (who somehow isn't nearly as sexy in Torchwood as he is in Dr Who), a great theme tune and a wonderful concept, Torchwood never lived up to expectations. I found the obsessive shagging just tedious beyond belief (particularly the episode where Gwen bonked Owen - I know it's a given in rom com that characters who hate each other really love one another, but as at that point Gwen and Owen had shown no signs of sexual tension whatsoever, their bonk just didn't make proper narrative sense.), and the storylines in the main seemed silly. The characters were two dimensional, and I just simply didn't care enough about any of them. There were a few redeeming moments - I enjoyed the episode when Suzie came back from the dead and turned nasty, and I also quite liked the one when the people got trapped from the 30s and we got a glimpse that Owen was a bit more then just a shag monster. However, the grim warnings about the Dark coming for Jack never really amounted to much, and I had pretty much lost interest by the end of it all.

Series 2, I have to fess up to enjoying a bit more. I think we only started watching it because we just kept hoping it would be be better and in the main it was. I loved the episode with the spooky fairground which had elements of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comes about it, and Jack bringing Owen back from the dead was really interesting (though there was far too much knockabout comedy in his ability to have body parts knocked off. Just as well they killed him otherwise he'd have ended up like one of Terry Pratchett's Igors.)

The characterisation was better too. Gwen and Rhys' relationship was explored in more depth, and you began to see them as more rounded people, we got an explanation of why Owen is so hard hearted, and how Tosh came to be at Torchwood. We learnt more about Jack's background, and the storyline with his brother turned out to be very moving. Ianto was still the character I couldn't get along with though (although I did find the explanation of how he and Jack first got together very funny), and I didn't feel I knew very much about him.

All in all then, series 2 was a big improvement, and I thought the shocking ending with Tosh and Owen both dying was the first time that Torchwood lived up to its DrWhoForGrownUp credentials. Although, the flaw with it still in my view was that I just didn't care enough for Owen and Tosh dying - compared for example to how I felt at the end of series 4 of Dr Who and what happened to Donna.


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I have to confess therefore, that at the start of last week I wasn't holding out much hope for series 3 being any better then series 2. The general consensus among the folk I chat to about this kind of tv online is that Being Human was what Torchwood should have been, and no way could Torchwood match that.

Which just shows how wrong you can be. It's true that Torchwood in my view wasn't as good as BH (which is the best thing I've seen on TV for ever), but blimey. It ran it a very close second.
I really should have trusted Rusty more...

Episode one started with all the children in the world stopping at a specified time, and chanting We are coming. That in itself was a brilliant idea. So spooky and Midwich Cuckooish. Team Torchwood initially baffled by events, then discover an adult trapped in a mental asylum who is chanting same thing. Gwen despatched to empathise and pull suitable I feel your pain type faces (though, really Torchwood has such crap security. It was so easy for the bad guys to follow her), meanwhile it's clear that some kind of government cover up going on to do with an incident involving 12 kids in 1965, and pretty quickly Jack's name has come up on a list of people to be despatched. Quite who the shadowy government agency who were sent to do the job were (I was confused - I don't think they were UNIT), and how Torchwood doesn't know about them is typical of a lot of the sloppiness that characterises the series. However, that aside, the tension was being ramped up so splendidly, that for once I didn't have time to spot the holes in the plot, so gripped was I by what was happening. This in itself was a revelation. I have never ever felt that way about an episode of Torchwood, but I was on the edge of my seat, and thoroughly unprepared for the discovery that a) the doctor who had been apparently helping and I'd assumed was shaping up as Owen's replacement turned out to be spying on them for the baddies and b) Johnson the kick ass female head of the baddies planting a bomb in Jack's stomach.

What was great about this and subsequent episodes was that you were never ever sure if any of the characters were going to make it out alive. Jack being blown up? How the fuck does he get out of that? (Actually thought the solution that he regrew his body parts and then had an agonising reforming was rather neat myself). I also liked the fact that Jack and Ianto both had to face up to their ruthlessness when, needing children to find out what was happening they were both prepared to use children who were close to them (Ianto with his nephew and niece, Jack with his - totally unexpected - grandson). This, did we but know it hinted at the appalling decision Jack had to make in the final episode, but we were way off being prepared for that...

Unfortunately Tues/Wed last week saw me rather busy so I was frustratedly trying to ignore Twitter and the blogosphere so as not to get spoilered. And boy was I glad I managed it. On Thursday we sat down to watch the episodes we'd missed, and ended up seeing three back to back we were so gripped (not such a good idea to go to bed at 1am though...)

Episode two was just glorious. Suddenly suddenly I got the point of Ianto. I know, I know, diehard Torchwood fans will say he was always this good, but to me he just became a stonking great hero in this episode, in a way that he wasn't before. In fact he and Gwen were both revelations. I loved Gwen's bad ass shooting spree, and going on the run with Rhys. Fantastic. But best of all was the scene when Ianto turned up in a pick up truck to rescue Jack from his concrete block. I was practically cheering.

Meantime the message from the aliens who were taking over the children was that they were not only coming, but they were coming tomorrow. By episode 3 we were shocked to the core to discover that not only had their previous visit been covered up by the British government (Peter Capaldi's fine performance as the civil servant charged with sorting out the mess, and the sinister Mr Dekker played by Ian Gelder portrayed this beautifully), but oh my god. Another revelation of Jack's apparent ruthlessness. He was the person who gave the twelve children away, in order for the world to receive a flu vaccine which would save 25 million people. In the meantime, a pregnant Gwen has made contact with Lois, a temp working in Frobisher's office, which allows Torchwood visual access to the first meeting with the 456 (the alien is named after the radio frequency it communicates through). Leaving aside the relative ease with which a temp is able to access such sensitive information, Lois is shaping up to be a definite contender for Torchwood employee of the month should there be another series. And I loved the hideous cynicism of the government as they debated giving 10% of the nation's children to the 456. Eek. Horrible and you could imagine the justifcations of that so easily.

The fourth episode was possibly the best of the lot. With the government increasingly being painted into a corner, Jack and co resort to blackmail to try and ensure that they don't get away with it. Johnson has Jack's daughter and grandson, but Gwen and Rhys have the video evidence provided for them by Lois, which allows Jack and Ianto access to the 456 (who it turns out use the children as a drug, quite quite horrible). They make a stand agains the 456 in a swaggering macho gun toting display, only for it all to go horribly wrong as the 456 releases a deadly virus which kills everyone, except Jack. This was a truly shocking moment. Just as I'd fallen in love with Ianto he had to go and die on me. I felt sure till the very last minute he'd come round, or Jack would save him, but no. There he was at the start of episode 5 dead, dead, dead. (Please don't bring him back though Rusty. Heartbroken as I am it was such brilliant tv, you can't reverse that decision.)

Inevitably episode 5 felt a little flat. Apart from the fact Rusty isn't so good at tying the ends up, there was a little bit of a hiatus with Jack and Gwen both being so stunned by events they just gave up, and the first twenty minutes felt a little bit nothingy. Having said that, though, this is the first time I've seen a Rusty ending which really did keep me on my toes. From the moment when Frobisher realised that the evil bastard PM Green, who was trying to keep his own reputation squeaky clean, was going to insist that Frobisher's children were sacrificed to the 456, it became apparent that the gloves were off and anything could happen. As indeed it did...

Peter Capaldi's depiction of Frobisher was heartbreaking. All the way through he had become more and more morally compromised, and then having done all the dirty work, he had to pay a terrible price. The scene when he let his PA know that he wanted a gun was brilliantly understated, and the shooting of his wife and family off camera was just desperate. It wasn't the first tear jerking moment of the episode either. Gwen telling Rhys she'd abort the baby the world was so cruel was also terrible.

But the humdinger of course was the finale. With Gwen and Rhy fleeing the soldiers sent to capture the children they'd rescued, I had a moment where I thought, fuck, even they might die. It was brilliantly cut against Jack's horrific realisation that the only way to defeat the 456 was to use his grandson to send the 456 frequency back at them, even though in doing so Steven would die. It's the sort of dilemma, that in Doctor Who ends up with a now get out of that sleight of hand, which can often lead to an unsatisfying ending. But here, in the bravest bit of TV drama I've seen in a very very long time, Jack did what he had to, and lost his grandson in the process. It was appalling. Dreadful. But darkly brilliant too. The makers and writers of Torchwood are to be commended on that ending, because dark times would call for dark solutions and boy, that was one.

So now, having not cared much about Torchwood I am in the odd position of being desperate to see a series 4, although with Jack disappearing into space, and Gwen off to have a baby this may be a natural way to end. But if they do come back, I predict Rhys will be a house husband, so Gwen can work, Jack will return from a time travelling healing jaunt, and Lois will start as their secretary. They could probably use Johnson as kick ass sidekick too. She was very cool. Maybe Jack's daughter can find some healing in working there too. And they have to get Mickey in on the act, surely?

Whatever happens though, I hope this isn't the last we see of Torchwood, because in series 3 it feels for the first time as if this was how it was meant to be...

PS Anyone else think as I did that everytime the 456 thumped the glass it was lobbing children at the wall????

3 comments:

marathonmummy said...

It was fab, wasn't it? I think if we were to go back and watch series 1 and 2 now, they'd look like jokes in comparison to that. I came to the same conclusion about Rhys being a house husbsnd, etc, for series 4. I'd like Martha in there too, but I don't think there's much chance of seeing her or Mickey, somehow.

Nic said...

Do you know, I was SOOOO disappointed they were stripping 5 episodes instead of giving 13 weekly stories, but by golly, this story needed to be stripped. All else stopped in our house at 9pm last week. It was truly tremendous and as much as I cried, I loved the way they didn't flinch from the appalling choices that needed to be made. Peter Capaldi deserves a BAFTA for that performance, surely? And Stephen.... how could he? And how could he not?

But I can't see how there can be any more - much as I want it. This ending looks pretty final to me.

Jane Henry said...

It was great MM (by the way that was my ephitet when I was training, I've given up my marathon mum website, so you can have it!!) Think Noel Clarke too busy now, and probably Freema Ageyman too, but there has to be a Torchwood 4!

Nic, hi! Nice to see you again. Agree Peter Capaldi was brilliant. I think the whole thing should get a Bafta, particularly episode 4.

Oh I can see lots of ways they could revive it. Start again with new characters. Have Gwen in charge. Bring Lois back. Get Jack back after a hiatus. Lose all the weevils in the sewers of Cardiff...
But think it needs to move out of Cardiff more often. Much more sense of grand scale when not just stuck there. Bit like Oxford and all those murders in Morse.