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View Full Version : Torchwood: Children of Earth - When Final Acts Go Wrong.



Truculent Sheep
14th July 09, 04:39 AM
Note to all readers - this review is full of spoilers, so don't read if you still haven't seen it...


Torchwood: Children of Earth
BBC 1, 6-10 July 2009
A Review By Truculent Sheep


So that's it then: Torchwood is probably dead. It's definitely been blown up. Most of its main characters have joined the (Welsh) Choir Invisible, the Cardiff transdimensional rift has been left unattended and the inhouse Pteranodon is presumably now homeless and on the dole queue. While series creator and departing Doctor Who overlord Russell T Davis is claiming a new series might be commissioned, it's more likely that he will be pensioned off to a leek farm somewhere near a half-decent gay bar, with only his remote controlled K-9 replica to keep him happy in his twilight years, while Laird Moffatt ascends to the throne and lets the Time Toddler, aka Matt Smith, loose upon us in the form of the Eleventh Doctor.

Still, for the most part, it was a good way to go. Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off, started off painfully lame but over time demonstrated moments of class and was by the end of its second series showing signs of being a respectable TV franchise in its own right, even though the long lanky figure of the Doctor still cast its shadow over it.

The finale in this case took the form of Torchwood: The Children of Earth, a five part mini series shown on consecutive nights. I shan't go into too much plot detail as you've either seen it or will see it or will just look up the details on Wikipedia. Put simply - children are getting taken over by an alien force that makes them chant ominous predictions twice a day. This heralds nasty aliens who demand millions of said kiddies as a living source of narcotics. Torchwood's leader, the immortal Captain Jack Harkness (as played by Housewives' choice, John Barrowman), turns out to have already handed over 11 sprogs to the aliens in the 60s. (Bad Captain Jack!) Whitehall and Government plumb ever greater depths of depravity. Ianto Jones, Captain Jack's lover and all-round Mr. Fix-it, dies. Then even more people die. Captain Jack kills his grandson to save the world. Everybody feels rather glum. The End...

For all that, the first four episodes are wonderful - less a sci-fi drama and more a dirty, nasty political thriller, the mini series working best when the setting is banal rather than dramatic or silly in that cartoonish way Torchwood often wanders into. The scene where the cabinet convince themselves to allow the abduction and mutilation of thousands upon thousands of children from the least desirable schools is effective and disturbing, precisely because the logic used is so seductive and the performances by the actors so utterly convincing, so mundane. The chavved out grot and thickheadedness of the council estate where Ianto's resentful sister and lovable oaf of a brother-in-law live with their 'orrible kids is well observed too, yet the way we are made to sympathise and stand up even for these lumpenproles in the face of utter wickedness is a masterstroke.

The cast are impressive too, managing to keep a straight face when the alien absurdities hit the screen, but also able to remain strangely alive and convincing. The standout performance, of course, is Peter Calpaldi's utterly damned civil servant Frobisher, who blazes across the screen with a mixture of cold blooded ruthlessness and near-hysteria, under which lurks a palpable self-loathing and a realisation that his doom is all too near. Look into those haunted, bloodshot eyes. Keep looking into them. A pitiful monster slowly emerges until he finally pays the price for saying 'yes' too often. And dare I commit heresy and argue that John Barrowman is actually not bad? He brings an old fashioned leading man quality to his character, making him seem likeable even though he slumps far too often into a weedy despair and who is, at his worst, actually a bit of a turd at times and would certainly 'make a good dalek'.

So far so good. Then Ianto gets killed by a virus (NOOOOOOO!!!!) and Episode Five happens. What then occurs, as is often the case with RTD stories, is that the build-up is impressive but then he can't quite pull it off and reverts instead to a sort of bodged whizz-bang extravaganza of dead bodies and soap opera-esque misery. It collapses at the end of the fourth episode - as said, Ianto gets killed for little dramatic purpose - and it pretty much falls to bits from there on in. The Clement McDonald character, the one surviving child from the original handover, grown up and cursed by psychic interference from the aliens, is squandered too, probably because he might have got in the way of the cynical spectacle of Captain Jack having to whack his grandson to save 10% of the world's children. Yet it seems somehow natural, fitting, that he should have played a part in the denouement, even if it was in the clichéd form of a sacrificial lamb. Instead, he doesn't get the right send off so they can kill a child instead - how's that for quality scriptwriting? Nearly all the gits in government pretty much get away with it too, after all there must not be any natural justice in British drama,can there? There can only be pain, horror, misery, doom - that's the British way.

This does of course exclude the case of dodgy civil servant Frobisher whose deal with the devil finally leads him to snuff himself and his family out in a murder-suicide that is no doubt there to up the hand-wringing tragedy levels but appears instead as more of a lazy way of removing a loose end. (And a marvelous character.) There is no closure here, just an incredible sense of despair and paranoia. Pretty much par for the course as far as British drama with its 'Christmas In Walford' syndrome is concerned, but surely the audience deserves a better pay-off? If there is not a happier ending, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, then there should at least be one that seems logical and alive, rather than an ugly fudge whacked together once they realise they just aren't gonna top Episodes 1-3.

Perhaps it's a reflection of the times? Captain Jack is a weak and inept character, perhaps even a villain, his despair and inability to do the right thing at the right time making him part of the problem rather than its solution. Of course, it's true that RTD also hates the Doctor, given the level of misery he throws at him as a sort of non-stop punishment for having fun in a TARDIS, but he hates all his other characters too, which is every bit a bar to effective storytelling as liking them too much. Still in this regard, TCOE is like most popular entertainment these days - not so much about pointing out the feet o' clay that our heroes have, so much as focusing on them to the exclusion of the bigger picture. What will become apparent as time goes by, both for Torchwood and RTD-era Doctor Who, is how they reflect our petty, dysfunctional, celeb-obsessed and melodramatic times. They will age badly, because they are the products of an age that much prefers people shouting at each other to genuine, nuanced drama.

Nonetheless, the first three and three-quarter episodes were impressive, and the ending suggests a new path for the show. Captain Jack's right hand woman Gwen survives, her unborn child lives, her rather likeable husband pulls through and the children she has tried to protect survive too. She is untainted by Captain Jack's fall from grace and even forgives him. Maybe Torchwood should now be about these values: never giving in, optimism, hope, love and kindness? Perhaps this flies in the face of the luridly morbid times we live in. But isn't it time for the good guys to prevail once more? The alternative is the cynicism that leads a fictional but horribly realistic government to condemn children to a hideous fate simply because they go to the wrong school.

elipson
14th July 09, 07:39 AM
Can you make a non-spoiled one?

Ajamil
14th July 09, 08:12 AM
Never even heard of this. Game? Movie?

Edit: Nevermind, read the first paragraph - TV series.

Truculent Sheep
14th July 09, 10:55 AM
Can you make a non-spoiled one?

I have tried, but it's a right sod to review properly without giving away the plot at the same time. I'll give it a shot though.

Truculent Sheep
14th July 09, 01:33 PM
HERE'S a spoiler free version of the review:


Torchwood: Children of Earth
BBC 1, 6-10 July 2009
A (Now Spoiler Free!) Review By Truculent Sheep


So that's it then: Torchwood is probably dead. It's definitely been [SPOILER!!!]. Most of its main characters have joined the [SPOILER!!!], the Cardiff transdimensional rift has been [SPOILER!!!] and the inhouse Pteranodon is presumably now homeless and on the dole queue. While series creator and departing Doctor Who overlord Russell T Davis is claiming a new series might be commissioned, it's more likely that he will be pensioned off to a leek farm somewhere near a half-decent gay bar, with only his remote controlled K-9 replica to keep him happy in his twilight years, while Laird Moffatt ascends to the throne and lets the Time Toddler, aka Matt Smith, loose upon us in the form of the Eleventh Doctor.

Still, for the most part, it was a good way to go. Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off, started off painfully lame but over time demonstrated moments of class and was by the end of its second series showing signs of being a respectable TV franchise in its own right, even though the long lanky figure of the Doctor still cast its shadow over it.

The finale in this case took the form of Torchwood: The Children of Earth, a five part mini series shown on consecutive nights. I shan't go into too much plot detail as you've either seen it or will see it or will just look up the details on Wikipedia. Put simply - children are getting taken over by an alien force that makes them chant ominous predictions twice a day. This heralds nasty aliens who [SPOILER!!!] [SPOILER!!!] [SPOILER!!!] [SPOILER!!!] The End...

For all that, the first four episodes are wonderful - less a sci-fi drama and more a dirty, nasty political thriller, the mini series working best when the setting is banal rather than dramatic or silly in that cartoonish way Torchwood often wanders into. The scene where the [SPOILER!!!] is effective and disturbing, precisely because the logic used is so seductive and the performances by the actors so utterly convincing, so mundane. The chavved out grot and thickheadedness of the council estate where Ianto's resentful sister and lovable oaf of a brother-in-law live with their 'orrible kids is well observed too, yet the way we are [SPOILER!!!] is a masterstroke.

The cast are impressive too, managing to keep a straight face when the alien absurdities hit the screen, but also able to remain strangely alive and convincing. The standout performance, of course, is Peter Calpaldi's utterly damned civil servant Frobisher, who blazes across the screen with a mixture of cold blooded ruthlessness and near-hysteria, under which lurks a palpable self-loathing and a realisation that his doom is all too near. Look into those haunted, bloodshot eyes. Keep looking into them. A pitiful monster slowly emerges until he finally [SPOILER!!!]. And dare I commit heresy and argue that John Barrowman is actually not bad? He brings an old fashioned leading man quality to his character, making him seem likeable even though he slumps far too often into a weedy despair and who is, at his worst, actually a bit of a turd at times and would certainly 'make a good dalek'.

So far so good. Then [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] and Episode Five happens. What then occurs, as is often the case with RTD stories, is that the build-up is impressive but then he can't quite pull it off and reverts instead to a sort of bodged whizz-bang extravaganza of dead bodies and soap opera-esque misery. It collapses at the end of the fourth episode - as said, [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] - and it pretty much falls to bits from there on in. The Clement McDonald character, the one surviving [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!], is squandered too, probably because he might have got in the way of the cynical spectacle of Captain Jack having to [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!]. Yet it seems somehow natural, fitting, that he should have played a part in the denouement, even if it was in the clichéd form of a [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!]. Instead, he doesn't get the right[MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] so they can [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] instead - how's that for quality scriptwriting? Nearly all the [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!], after all there must not be any natural justice in British drama, can there? There can only be pain, horror, misery, doom - that's the British way.

This does of course exclude the case of dodgy civil servant Frobisher whose deal with the devil finally leads him to [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] that is no doubt there to up the [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] levels but appears instead as more of a [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!], There is no closure here, just an incredible sense of despair and paranoia. Pretty much par for the course as far as British drama with its 'Christmas In Walford' syndrome is concerned, but surely the audience deserves a better pay-off? If there is not a happier ending, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, then there should at least be one that seems logical and alive, rather than an ugly fudge whacked together once they realise they just aren't gonna top Episodes 1-3.

Perhaps it's a reflection of the times? Captain Jack is a weak and inept character, perhaps even a villain, his despair and inability to do the right thing at the right time making him part of the problem rather than its solution. Of course, it's true that RTD also hates the Doctor, given the level of misery he throws at him as a sort of non-stop punishment for having fun in a TARDIS, but he hates all his other characters too, which is every bit a bar to effective storytelling as liking them too much. Still in this regard, TCOE is like most popular entertainment these days - not so much about pointing out the feet o' clay that our heroes have, so much as focusing on them to the exclusion of the bigger picture. What will become apparent as time goes by, both for Torchwood and RTD-era Doctor Who, is how they reflect our petty, dysfunctional, celeb-obsessed and melodramatic times. They will age badly, because they are the products of an age that much prefers people shouting at each other to genuine, nuanced drama.

Nonetheless, the first three and three-quarter episodes were impressive, and the ending suggests a new path for the show. Captain Jack's right hand woman Gwen {MORE FUCKING SPOILERS THAN PROFESSOR FUCKING RIVERSONG FUCKING LOOKING UP THE FUCKING 2010 DOCTOR FUCKING WHO SEASON ON WIKI-FUCKING-PEDIA!]. She is [SPOILER!!!] by Captain Jack's [SPOILERS!!!] and even [SPOILERS!!!] him. Maybe Torchwood should now be about these values: never giving in, optimism, hope, love and kindness? Perhaps this flies in the face of the luridly morbid times we live in. But isn't it time for the good guys to prevail once more? The alternative is the cynicism that leads a [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!] to [SPOILER!!!] children to a [SPOILER!!!] simply because they go to the [MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER!!!].

elipson
14th July 09, 05:01 PM
Thanks for the non-spoiler review. I wasn't that interested in seeing this, but now im curious and might look it up on Space.

EuropIan
19th July 09, 05:01 AM
You could drive a truck through the gap in that Welsh woman's teeth.

And everyone has sex with everyone on this show.

DAYoung
19th July 09, 06:06 AM
Nothing wrong with gap teeth. Gwen's beautiful.

Leave her alone.

YOU BULLY.

EuropIan
19th July 09, 06:11 AM
I'm intolerant of the Welsh. It must be all that British television.

DAYoung
19th July 09, 06:23 AM
You shut your cruel, wrinkled mouth.

Truculent Sheep
20th July 09, 06:47 PM
Rumour has it that noted boy-o Ianto could return in series 4, in a Gandalf-The-White stylee! Let's all rejoice with a cup of coffee!

elipson
22nd July 09, 10:16 PM
Well I just finished day 3 on space. I didn't really like day 2, but day 3 seemed to kick ass.

Truculent Sheep
23rd July 09, 04:35 AM
Once you've seen it all, do tell us what you think...

elipson
25th July 09, 12:55 PM
I didn't think the last episode was as bad as you say it was. But then again, these were the only torchwood episodes I've seen. You make it sound like they pulled a sienfeld ending or something. It's honestly not THAT bad, although I can't figure out why they didn't know the chamber had bullet proof glass, why they didn't have enough C4 under it to leave the building a smoldering crater, and why there were so many people left in the building in the first place. Wouldn't they evact the place as a matter of national security? And I did think the way Jack was all like "I take it back!" kind of stupid. He starts a fight, looses, and then wants to go back. Corny.

You are right about Frobisher. Great character and acter. The character has a suprising amount of balls even though he came off as just a simple public servant. I would have liked to have seen the public stoning of the PM.

I've never seen any of the Doctor Who so those references were lost on me.

Truculent Sheep
25th July 09, 02:46 PM
The point about CoE is that it did an effective job of building up night by night until the last episode on Friday night, which did and does effect how it was received by its UK audience. Being a Nu Who survivor, I'm all too aware about how Russell T Davies (who writes both series) builds things up brilliantly only to flop in the final act.

I am however very taken by this 'week long series format' - the other example of this new format is of course Dead Set, which did a better job of maintaining the quality to the end with a fitting (if brutal) ending. If there's more of this on UK TV then I will be a very happy Sheep.

Truculent Sheep
25th July 09, 02:50 PM
Oops, almost forgot:

http://www.saveiantojones.com/

And here's Peter Capaldi in his most well-known role, as psycho government PR man Malcolm Tucker...

2T0Ofr6VYMI

elipson
25th July 09, 03:02 PM
I remember hearing about Dead Set but we didn't get it over here in Canada.

Know where i can find it online?

Truculent Sheep
25th July 09, 03:06 PM
Hmmm... Bit of a bugger, I think, but here's the official 'watch online' site which may or may not work outside the UK:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dead-set/4od