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July 07, 2009

Kiddie Fiddling

I haven't got enough time to review each and every episode of this week's Torchwood marathon. I've still got my head in the clouds and I spend most of my spare time these days getting Kilimanjaro out of my system. However, after spending two years kicking sand in Torchwood's face, it seems churlish not to post a short review now that the show has actually delivered something impressive.

Children of Earth: Day One

Tw3 Let's skip to the chase: the scene of the possessed children in the school playgrounds is bloody brilliant. It has a classic feel to it even though it was only broadcast a few hours ago. Is that even possible? The decision is focus on one girl's face in particular (see right) was a masterstroke; there's an oddness to that image that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I firmly believe that it's one of the best, and most iconic, moments that either Torchwood or Doctor Who have delivered this century. Frank has already mentioned the Wyndham and Quatermass connections in his (much better) review, but finally, here we have a moment in our franchise that truly deserves to be uttered in the same breath as the all-time greats.

The new fat-free Torchwood seem perfectly suited to deal with this inexplicable "weirdness of the week" (they've stopped bickering and have become semi-professional between seasons) but the big twist this week (the whole week!) is that the threat is global rather than Welsh, and therefore the big boys have sat up and taken notice. Under normal circumstances we might have seen Jack high-tailing it to help the Doctor and UNIT sort this mess out, while Ianto and Gwen sat back and quipped over coffee, but because the British government are somehow culpable in this abhorrent freakery, Torchwood discover that they are nothing more than an expendable "pain in the arse". What's even better is that they don't realise this until its far too late.

Tw1It's hard not to root for the bad guys (C19, perhaps?) who demonstrated quite a bit of panache in their nefarious schemes. I applaud their decision to stick a bomb in Jack's chest before allowing him to return to the hub to detonate it but why would they want to blow up all of Torchwood's alien technology? Isn't that throwing the baby out with the bathwater? I guess that the "blank page" refers to absolutely everything related to Jack, no matter how handy it might be in a future invasion (which happen practically every other week now, remember). Still, it came as something of a shock to go from a plot about Torchwood swelling its ranks, ready for season 4, to a scene where everything is completely and utterly destroyed. I just hope Terry the Pterodactyl got out alive...

But wouldn't it be marvellous if we only saw Captain Jack as a hideously disfigured face in a jar from now on? Or as someone on Twitter put it, The Face of Boe: The Wonder Years. If Jack can magically reconstitute himself from a million different pieces then his invulnerability will go from the vampiric to the godlike - literally overnight. At least you could decapitate Spike and Angel.

It might sound silly but I'm only really happy when Torchwood are being set upon like this. It's hard for me to feel much empathy for a team of smug, wise-cracking ghostbusters (unless, of course, I'm watching Ghostbusters) and while Jack and Ianto's "coupling" subplot is just asking for trouble, Gwen's pregnancy only serves one purpose as far as I can tell: so we care whether she lives or dies. Because before she has this news confirmed - via a flatbed scanner (?) - it really is difficult to warm to a character who is permanently stuck on the "kooky" setting (like Jo Grant but without the naivety). Her "grooming" of Rupesh drove me to despair and she appears to be channeling Nessa from Gavin and Stacey more than usual.

Tw2 Thankfully, the supporting cast are, without exception, wonderful. Peter Copely is good in practically everything, Nicholas Farrell was great as Bill Nighy playing the Prime Minister, and Katy Wix as Ianto's sister was strangely alluring. And while it's decidedly odd watching Peter Capaldi striding around Whitehall without yelling obscenities ("tell the ****ing 456 that I can count to ****ing 10, the ****s!"), the guilt-ridden civil servant Frobisher is a fascinating creation. Charles Abomeli's universe-weary Colonel Oduya is an absolute hoot, too, and he should be the permanent face of UNIT from now on.

However, you have to admit there's a serious problem when the best thing about your show is practically everything except but the main characters.

There have been some complaints about the show's pacing and gratuitous padding in some quarters (is this so the overseas market can trim the fat when they broadcast it with commercials?) but I like the fact that the show isn't in a hurry to spill its beans. It just adds to the 1970s conspiracy thriller vibe.

Which reminds me, Euro Lynn's direction is superb. Somebody really should give this chap a big-screen feature film to direct...

Anyway, it's all very intriguing. Who are the 456? What kind of weird deal did the British make with them back in 1965? DId we actually trade technology for children!? Is this how the British Space Programme reached Mars in the early 1970s? Naughty, naughty.

And while the plot is littered with things that either don't make sense or are contrived to the point of being bizarre - the nurse filming Clement's fit and emailing it to the police (not Sky News?) seemed a little desperate - I have to confess that I was really impressed with Children of Earth's opening salvo. Believe it or not, I'm actually excited about watching the next installment in a few hours time.

Finally, here is a show that lives up to its (admittedly daft) premise. Can it keep it up?

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