Saturday, 11 July 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth - my review



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THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS - DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DON"T WANT SPOILED IN A MAJOR WAY!

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Of course, those who have watched will know the reason for my choice of first picture.

It's actually quite difficult now to retcon my brain to the feeling before this week's "Torchwood" special. Who was to know that no episode would gain less than 5 million viewers on BBC One alone? Who would have thought that people would seriously be talking about BAFTAs? That "Big Brother" fans would be forgoing a Friday eviction show in favour of seeing the finale last night? That Torchwood and one of its characters would be trending worldwide on Twitter above Michael Jackson ? That extreme fans would be issuing death threats to one of the writers on Thursday night and that, despite the ratings, people are already assuming the end for "Torchwood" yesterday?

Who'd have thought we'd truly have been given a "Quatermass" for our generation?



On paper, way back when the BBC Press Office issued the storyline last year, it looked so-so, a government cover-up of an alien abduction. Been there, done that. We were still smarting from "Torchwood" being 'cut' to a mere 5 episodes too.

And yet it was so much more.

Ironically, in hindsight I think it could have been cut to four episodes without losing too much. "Day Two" in particular was a bit of a runabout in the aftermath of events in the opener. Conversely, one of the best things in "Children of Earth" was Euros Lyn's generous direction, taking time to savour moments so perhaps that might have been lost.

In fact this was re-inventing "Torchwood" to become what it should have been all along as the adult offspring of "Doctor Who", simultaneously acknowledging and breaking that link via Gwen's video message in Day Five. The series had shown signs that it was capable of such depths, particularly in series two, but CofE carried it all the way through to the bitter end.

It has ultimately proved somewhat divisive. For all millions of new fans the series has gained via BBC One exposure, especially for those who'd sneered at what they'd previously heard, a section of the long-term fans were disgusted and felt betrayed by the amount of death and destruction it brought. Akin to Tegan Jovanka they now want off the ride.

The series had already been previewed to the media via a DVD containing the first three episodes. The 'nothing is sacred' tone is already set within those 180 minutes, with the dramatically dashed expectation by audience and Hub personnel alike that the cute Dr Rupesh is the perfect replacement for recently deceased Owen. Sortly after, the Hub itself is destroyed when Jack becomes a living bomb. I'd always thought the Hub (and all the wonders and terrors it housed) was a character in itself - we know it has been there since Victorian times - and here it was being casually killed off.

But that was just the beginning. And Jack being blown to little bits is just the beginning of his personal suffering. As the overnight ratings spiked to over 6m on for Thursday's Day Four we saw the alien 456 kill Ianto with poison gas, with Jack helplessly cradling him in his arms. And on Day Five Jack is obliged to gruesomely sacrifice his own innocent grandson to repel the 456. In the 'six months later' epilogue he appears to depart the Earth in disgust with himself, leaving Gwen in tears as the sole survivor of "Torchwood" as we knew it.

There was a parallel horror at work in "Children of Earth" though, for which the 456 were merely the facilitator. Us. OK, specifically this was the authorities, and very specifically the British government both now and in 1965.

There are two scenes in particular that put this head and shoulders above anything seen on "Torchwood", "Doctor Who" or possibly any TV drama this year. The first, obviously is the cabinet scene where they are coolly discussing how to give the 456 their 10% cut of the world's children, and eventually deciding upon school league tables as the indicator of who lives and who dies. This after they have already absented their own children from the equation.

With one exception.

On Day Five the venal PM decides an example must be set from above to secure an innoculation cover story, and loyal civil servant Frobisher - already put on the front line with the 456 negotiations - must submit his two daughters, knowing they are to be given over to the aliens. Topping off a magnificent performance from Peter Capaldi in the role, Frobisher instead decides to personally kill his family and himself. That scene is played spot on. Three shots behind a bedroom door, then a pause before the fourth. No blood and no mawkishness.

The BBC One announcer came on before the final episode reminding us that it was not suitable for children to watch. Indeed. Had it not been distressing enough to see the grown-ups in the authorities and the army giving up on and rounding up their generation, they were going to get the biggest shock of all when the programme's hero kills his grandson. In the same room, not in a comfortable 'out of sight' manner. And visually very disturbing. This was very brave television to show a child juddering and bleeding to his death. Poignantly, and perhaps not purposely, Steven featured anonymously in one of the trailers, but the YouTube version stills on his face which is now somewhat appropriate.

There was something else new in this, and that was the 456 themselves. One was that we never really saw them 100% and they didn't behave 'to order', notably a red-suited grunt goes into their tank and comes out alive. The second was that their purpose in all this tragedy was depressingly mundane. As well as operating a cosmic protection racket, they were actually 'shooting up' on the kid chemicals so were no more than junkies seeking a bigger fix.

Kudos to so many of the actors involved. As well as Peter Capaldi, who must be at the head of any BAFTA nominee queue, I would also single out Paul Copley, Susan Brown and Gareth David-Lloyd.

Apparently Gareth is accompanying John and Eve to a DVD signing at a London record store next Friday. I predict a riot.



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