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What is it? : Torchwood ("Above the police, beyond the government") is a spin off series from Doctor Who (which I've long intended to write an editorial about). It's about an organisation set up by Queen Victoria to protect Britain and its Empire against extra terrestrial threats (especially the Doctor himself). The series follows the activities of Torchwood 3 (Torchwood 1 was the London based part of the organisation, which was destroyed by the Daleks and Cybermen in season 2 of Doctor Who, and Torchwood 2 is in Glasgow ) and is set in Cardiff.
I'm specifically reviewing the recently broadcast story "Children of Earth", and I'll be spoiling the hell out of it, so if you ain't watched it, and plan to, then stop here.
As mentioned above, Torchwood is based around the exploits of a group of people who fight alien attacks on Earth. The group is somewhat reduced after the death of two main characters at the tail end of the last season, leaving only 3 operational characters. Captain Jack Harkness, a human from several thousand years in the future, he was a time agent (whatever that is still hasn't been explained), and has an excess of life force since he was brought back from the dead in season 1 of Doctor Who. Basically that amounts to him being unkillable, he is described as a "fixed point in time" which seems to mean that he will live until he is due to die, and until then nothing can kill him (he's been blown up, poisoned, shot, stabbed, exposed to radiation, buried for 3500 years, etc, etc).
Secondly there's Ianto Jones, who is one part tea boy, one part hitman and one part Captain Jack's gay lover. In the first episodes of Torchwood, he was the one who did all the dirty work, dumped bodies in the river, wiped witnesses memories, etc. A real nasty piece of work, but came across as the competent one in the team, who allowed all the others to be as messed up as they were, because at the end of the day, Ianto would tidy things up. As time went on, they softened the character, and he developed a truly wicked sense of humour, which earnt him the nickname (with me and my friends at least) of "Comedy Ianto".
Finally, there's Gwen Cooper, an ex-policewoman who was recruited into the team to bring both a human touch and police skills to the group. She was a bit wet to start off with, but has become a far more interesting character since she developed gun-fu skills.
Children of Earth was a 5 day "event" story, where each episode was broadcast across a week. The story is about an Alien species returning to Earth following a deal they made with the British government in the 1960's. The deal was, that the government gave the Aliens a group of children, in exchange for a cure to a flu which potentially would wipe out 5-10% of the planets population. The deal at the time was good, 20 or so kids for millions of lives, but now the Aliens are returning, the government is keen to cover up this deal, and sets out to kill everyone who knew about it, including the person they got to do the actual exchange itself, Captain Jack Harkness.
The first part is basically, the Torchwood team being re-introduced with both Ianto and Captain Jack having their families introduced for the first time, the threat being introduced (through lots of kids talking in unison), and the government starting its tidy up plan, which involves blowing up the Torchwood hub using a bomb they implant into Captain Jack (they shoot him, and do surgery before he heals the gunshot). It's tense gripping stuff, you know they can't kill Jack, but the destruction of the base, and all of the support equipment the team uses is quite shocking (especially more shocking I thought was the fact that Captain Jack put his psychotic brother in suspended animation in the Torchwood hub, who I guess now is dead (I actually thought that the remains they found in part 2 were going to be his brother, and they were going to have a DNA test done, and it was going to leave you in suspense for a couple of episodes about whether they'd actually managed to kill Jack, but alas, no)).
Day Two is the Torchwood team (both of them) now on the run from the government, trying to arrange support, Gwen tries to contact the government, not knowing that its them that are after her, while Ianto goes after Jack's remains. They meet up at the end of the episode and arrange a breakout (in the meantime, Jack has grown back from the head/shoulder/arm remains that have been found, and been encased in concrete to keep him out of the way).
Day Three, the Torchwood team take up petty crime to fund their operations, and set up in an abandoned Torchwood warehouse. Meanwhile the aliens, who have been spookily announcing their arrival through kids, arrive and loiter around in a smoky tank. Torchwood starts spying on the government, and meet up with a kid who was supposed to be handed over to the Aliens in the 60's and now has a link to them. The Aliens make their demand, they want 10% of the children of earth or else they kill everyone on the planet. They're not clear on how they'll do this, and no-one really seems to make any attempts to attack the aliens. The government also captures Jacks daughter and grandson, in an effort to force him to keep quiet.
Day Four, brings together the information on the exact details of the deal made in the 60's, Jack's exact involvement, and Torchwood spies on the Governments plans to hand over the kids (choosing the lowest performing 10%). Torchwood then uses the recordings they've made of the governments planning meetings to blackmail them, and allow Captain Jack and Ianto access to the Alien. They threaten the Alien, which then releases a virus which kills everyone in the building (MI-5 headquarters I believe), including Captain Jack and Ianto (Captain Jack of course gets better). The aliens also uses their connection to the survivor of the 60's abductions to kill him, in a pointless but deus-ex-machina providing manner.
Day Five, a US General siezes control of the UK government, and prepares to hand over the requested 10% of kids (apart from a throwaway line about information being phoned in from Germany because the electronic systems are down, it's never mentioned about reactions from other countries, but it seems as if they're all happily handing over their kids as well). The Aliens reveal they want the kids, because they harvest chemicals from their brains which give them a nice feeling, admitting that basically they're intergalactic junkies. Gwen returns to Cardiff, to tell Ianto's family that he's dead, and to help protect his niece and nephew, while Jack gets locked up for treason. Meanwhile, the government hit squad who happily blew the hell out of the Torchwood hub in episode 1, and kidnapped Jacks daughter and grandson get all uppity about the government handing over kids, break Jack out of prison since he's the go-to guy for fighting aliens. Jack uses the energy wave the aliens used to kill the survivor in the last episode, and broadcasts it through his grandson (since the aliens are talking through the kids, they must be linked), killing his grandson. A weepy Jack is then seen 6 months later talking to Gwen, saying it was all his fault, and he's off intergalactic hitchhiking to get away from it all.
High Points : Okay, it was brilliantly written and acted, the script was sharp, funny, and action packed. I loved the characters as written, the plot twists were good (I never saw the doctor guy from the first episode as the spy he was), and although they forgot a lot of things, it was forgivable. Except for the ending, I really enjoyed Torchwood: Children of Earth, and right up to the ending I would have recommended it to anyone.
Low Points : Okay, so killing main characters is shocking, we're shocked already when you killed off two of the main cast at the end of season 2, now I'm just annoyed. While there's a good point to be made that "not everyone will make it through alive", why kill off the most popular character (except Jack) and in a pointless way. Ianto dies because all Torchwood do to fight the aliens in the first 4 episodes is shout at them a little. Also where's the threats from Jack, his daughter makes the point that Jack is immortal and therefore a very dangerous man to annoy, but no-one points this out to the Aliens (well, Ianto tells them to look through the history of Earth to see what Jack is capable of). If he was annoyed enough, Jack quite literally has the time to get every member of the Alien species and kill them in new and inventive ways.
They forget about all sorts of things to move the story along, but throwaway lines could have sorted all that out, what happened to the Torchwood Pterodactyl? what happened to Captain Jack's brother who was in deep freeze storage (as well as many other people according to previous episodes), what happened to all the aliens that Torchwood keeps in cages (the Weevils for example, Torchwood captures them, but can't return them home since they don't know where they originate), all of these were in the Torchwood hub when it went boom. Having someone finishing paperwork for the move while the hub was having maintenance done would have sorted this, a mention afterwards of condolences to Jack about his brother, etc. Just something to let us know that you haven't forgotten about these things, because we certainly haven't.
The shock ending I found didn't work for me, they went straight to the sacrificing a kid to save the world. No-one tried anything else? After all, this is the same "world" where UNIT threatened to blow the entire planet up (using something called the Osterhagen Key, a series of linked nuclear bombs on fault-lines) rather than let the Daleks take it over last year. No one tried killing the aliens, which after all were Junkies. If you threatened to kill the kids rather than let them take them, they'd cave in and request less kids. After all they'd want a fix, and the idea of the supply drying up completely would frighten them. The shock ending would have worked, if you'd seen people trying different solutions first, leaving the sacrifice as the only option. However, as shown, they went straight for the kiddie killing option without bothering to try anything else first.
But . . my main complaint is . . everyone gives up. If you've nothing to lose, then you've nothing to lose by fighting, but nobody bothered fighting.
The government guy who was told to hand over his kids, didn't bother fighting (by going to the press outside to tell all) he just blew his entire families brains out.
UNIT, who are supposedly the world wide force to fight alien menaces, didn't fight, they just rolled over and gave up (they happily fight Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, all of whom are mighty galactic empires feared across the universe, but a bunch of intergalactic junkies whose only demonstration of power is to kill a building worth of people . . .).
Torchwood, don't try to fight the aliens, just trying the age old mentod of shouting at them then going straight to the human sacrifice when that doesn't work (I know I've made that point before, but hell, the Aliens are called the 456, named after the frequency they broadcast on, and Jack doesn't even bother to try broadcasting the kill signal on that frequency first before transmitting it through his grandson even though he knows it'll but the kid to a crisp. A heroic ending would have been for them to storm the alien who has appeared on Earth, and use the kid from the 60's he's shown to be hooked up to, to broadcast the signal, freeing the kid and defeating the enemy at the same time.
Hell, even the government gives up, without a word of how to fight the aliens, they start discussing how to choose which kids to hand over (and no-one seems concerned that a "rogue state" might not hand its kids over, expecting someone else to take up the slack (which would start a domino effect as more and more nations thought they could get away with it. In fact the UK government doesn't even fight back when a US General seizes control of the country.
Everybody just gives up. I once read that drama is all about struggle, not necessarily violent struggle, but the struggle to overcome obstacles. Maybe the writer of Children of Earth was trying to prove that statement wrong, but at the end, no one struggles, they all just give in, and that just seemed pathetic to me (and its difficult to enjoy watching people being pathetic).
So what do you really think ? : Well I think you've probably got the idea if you've read this far. Four and a half good episodes, followed by an ending which kind of ruined everything that went before. They're releasing this on DVD this week, and friday evening I was in the DVD section of my local supermarket, and thought "on monday I'll buy Torchwood, it's been that good" (even though its all still recorded on my Sky+ box), after fridays episode, nahh, I won't bother. Watching people struggle with adversity is only really good if there is some kind of pay off at the end, there wasn't in this.
Russell T Davies (the writer of Torchwood and Doctor Who) has many times proven himself capable of writing amazingly good starts to multipart stories, followed by very dissapointing final parts.
In Doctor Who he wrote the amazingly good "Sound of Drums" which has the world conquered by humanity from the future, driven mad from the knowledge that at the end of the universe there is nothing. Only to end it with the Doctor becoming all powerful because everybody in the world chants his name, so he becomes all glowy and floats and fixes everything including wish the last year away (admittedly that part was actually set up sensibly (the future humans could only kill their ancestors without causing a paradox by use of a "paradox machine", when it is destroyed, they end up in a grandfather paradox, and dissappear)).
In The Second Coming, he sets up a fantastic premise of the second coming of Jesus (with the vatican trying to cover it up, governments and media corporations trying to control what he says, etc, etc), but then ruins it with a really stupid premise that Jesus has only returned so he can be murdered, so humanity can move on without religion, because no one does anything bad unless it's in gods name (or maybe that everyone would behave if there's no heaven, its not really explained that well), it never considers that people are bad for other reasons than religion, but blame it (the amount of murderers who say god told them to do it), or the possibility that many would claim that this was all another test to see who truly had faith.
But Children of Earth, just proves it again, he can write, and he can write well, but by heck he doesn't know how to wrap up a story to a satisfying conclusion.
Final Words : Nothing more to say really, guess despite all of what I've written, I'm still looking forwards to the final Doctor Who's written by Russell T Davies (although thats more because I really like David Tennants incarnation of the Doctor), but am prepared to be dissappointed.
First 4 episodes 9.5/10, last episode 3/10.
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