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July 07, 2009

The Thick of It.

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day One

Blimey, that was good.
 
KidsAren’t children terrifying?  I’ve always thought so, which is probably why I haven’t become a teacher or helped to make any myself yet (well one of the reasons).  Individually they’re fine.  They spend most their time eating, sleeping, burping and playing with their Wii.  But on mass, walking the streets with their mobile phones, playing football and shoplifting, they’re a menace.  And they’re even more terrifying if you are a parent or teacher I expect because they’re in your care and anything could happen to them when they're not within sight, or if they’re not eating, sleeping, burping and too tired to play with their Wii.  To then have them collectively cease all function on mass and begin chanting in unison (and not at a designated holiday with a collecting tin being passed around) taps into your/our deepest fears that their function might be even deeper than simply growing up to become people like us.

At the close of my radio review trilogy and I suggested that anything could happen in the next five hours.  If the first hour of Children of Earth is anything to go by I was right, righter in fact than anything in my short life, including Obama winning (because he had to didn’t he?  Really?).  After a brilliantly entertaining first fifty minutes the show tipped over into gripping and by the conclusion, despite the coincidental reveal of Jack’s predicament (forgivable because of the thematic subtext new life/old death) I was clamouring for the next episode of this Doctor Who spin-off like never before.  Potentially the best hour the show’s ever perpetrated, the promise and premise of Everything Changes finally reaching fruition, this is the Torchwood I at least had hoped and expected and it’s being broadcast in the 9pm drama slot on BBC One for a whole working week.  Can you believe it?

It’s as though Russell T Davies has taken his original premise and re-engineered it from the bottom up.  Whilst there’s plenty of references to the previous two series, and the elements haven’t changed that much, he has a clearer understanding of how it should work tonally and the audience he’s writing for, that we love such things as subverted expectations and jaw dropping surprises (hey wait, no, he's supposed to be Owen's replacement etc).  There’s a detail to Russell’s dialogue, a clarity, and an ability to skip between the funny and the not funny (and less incongruously than when ex-producer Chris Chibnall had greater creative control).  He knows that people remember the incidental moments much more than the exposition, though if he can sneak some of that in, so much the better.  I laughed like a drain throughout and for a change with the show.  That’s a quite development.  The scene in which Ianto had his car stolen might well be the funniest moments on television this year.

Kids2 Elsewhere, Euros Lyn’s direction, particular in the prologue was startling, especially when he pulled the camera away from the action at a vital moment to underscore the grandeur of what’s occurring.  The acting was universally superb, with the reliables doing what they've always reliably done, Peter Capaldi offering a kind of anti-Malcolm Tucker who was no less menacing and Paul Copley presenting a study in mental health, the frightened child he once was seeping through his every facial expression.  Even John Barrowman somehow managed to produce a Captain Jack (aided by that script), who though still incongruous within his environment, finally worked as a coherent figure, pulling his performance back to the point that he was truly heartbreaking in the scene with his daughter, his hero gene terrifyingly attempting to take advantage of his family ties (whilst simultaneously explaining to the not-we some of his important character tropes, can’t die, always looks the same, promiscuous).

But what I cherished most is that’s it's not afraid to flaunt its Whoniversal backdrop, and not just by explaining to us why Martha Jones isn’t in this series or one of the characters crying over a hand.  During one of the many, many pre-broadcast interviews, Davies noted that he’d cut a line about the Daleks from the first episode because it seemed wrong going out in that slot.  I’d feared it meant that he’d be pulling back on such elements to try and keep it ‘accessible’, playing once again on the collective population wide amnesia that seems to conveniently afflict the human race so that each new menace can seem real and keep the lilt of reality or even the reset that article in a recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine was desperate for.  Not a bit of it.  Lance Parkin has his work cut out.

This was an episode about the effects these alien encounters are having on the planet from Journey’s End backwards with such oddities as the children stopping just an example of the kind of thing which happens in that version of our planet, Torchwood once again reaching out of its own series to take a whole universe perspective.  Most of the weirdness in the last series was fairly localised.  When the dodgy doctor is talking about the increase in suicide rates, it has to be as a reaction to the Sycorax, the Slitheen, the spaceship Titanic, the Daleks.  Half the planet knows about aliens and the other half have their suspicions.  When this new Prime Minister (himself a result of the Doctor bugger up the timeline) compares his premiership with his predessors and speaks of metal from the sky, it shows that the cork has firmly popped out of the bottle and with such force it's now orbiting the Earth.  

Tomorrow:  Running.  Lots of running.  And Rhys probably asks Gwen if their baby's another alien.

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