Torchwood: Children of Earth (Mon & Tue)
Welcome to Noise To Signal’s coverage for this week’s sci-fi spectacular, the five part ‘Torchwood: Russell’s Been Watching 24’. We’ll be posting short reviews of each instalment of the story after transmission.
Yes, I know that the episodes chart the story sequentially, but that still doesn’t make it a good idea to effectively give episode 3.1 the same title as 1.2. After a slow start, the first hour of story picks up dramatically after the half-way mark as series creator Russell T Davies blends together the disparate strands on display into one coherent whole. It seems odd that there’s not a more attention-grabbing opening, particularly given that we’ve had four full-cast radio plays to deal with the fallout from the climax of series two, but the writer seems determined to take the time to anchor story in the real world, before finally making good on the conspiracy theory vibe that the “outside the government” mission statement has always suggested.
Although the story only superficially refers to the deaths of Own and Toshiko during Exit Wounds, the first thirty minutes of the story is devoted to retooling the show in the absence of this intriguingly flawed pair. The expanding of Jack and Ianto’s characters is obvious but welcome, and the show works hard to turn their relationship from an implicit afterthought into something that possesses enough depth to drive the majority of the drama. Unfortunately, this earlier section of the programme is its weakest. It's easy to admire the skill with which the new elements are introduced, but the exercise feels a little over-intricate, and our slow-paced introduction to Mr Frobisher lasts too long for a role featuring such a distinctive actor in the environment for which he’s most famous. Rhys also gets a raw deal here- his first brief appearance raises a laugh, but his secondary role in foreshadowing the start of Gwen’s character arc for the series is a little too obvious. Hopes that the character would come into his own with the departure of much of the original cast are looking a little forlorn.
What pulls the episode into much stronger territory is the writer’s determination to inject thriller sensibilities into the sometimes too-cosy Cardiff setting. The smaller size of the team makes them more vulnerable, and the script skilfully exploits the fact that the gang are now forced to divide their resources for their investigations to be run effectively. The ‘Bauer Moment’ when Dr Patanjali shoots Jack in the back is obvious with hindsight, but the writer skilfully masks this by the red-herring retread of Gwen’s introduction to the series. It makes for a memorable introduction for the series’ first cardboard cut-out ‘black hat’, in the form of Liz May Brice’s Johnson. The sinister military operative will hopefully make for a compelling menace on the ground for the team to run from, and promises to keep the tempo up given the distance at which much of the action is taking- an episode of Gwen and Ianto sitting on the train to London for the climax would constitute something of a slackening of pace.
Euros Lynn does a very good job with the resources he’s been given, but there are moments when the effect breaks down at times. The children shown acting as channels for the 456’s transmission are all a little too cutesy for the horror that the script relies upon to fully come across, and the cliff-hanger destruction of the Hub is obviously forced to use some very tight cutting to mask the limited resources available to achieve what could have been a signature moment in the show’s history. By this point however, Children of Earth has gained more than enough momentum to make episode two required viewing.
I was feeling a bit guilty after setting up that preamble. At the BFI’s preview screening of the first episode of Children of Earth, Davies talked about how he drew his initial inspiration for the serial from Fox’s real-time spy drama, only for the story to diverge from the 24 template to follow its own path. After watching Day Two, however, it’s obvious that the adventures of Jack Bauer loomed large in the mind of the mastermind’s co-writers, even if he had dismissed the concept.
I like 24. I like Torchwood. My reaction to this episode?
Absolutely pure unadulterated fucking YES.
After the slow start of Day One, tonight’s instalment of CoE was an utterly magnificent tour de force, with only the smallest of stumbles in its progression. What made the story such a joy to watch was the way every time it looked in danger of taking itself too seriously or resorting to cliché, a sense of fun and degree of self awareness brought proceedings back down to Earth, and allowed the script to continue on its way. The only slightly ropey moment in the proceedings, where Lois was allowed far too many opportunities to pry when she was dragged along to the fun on Floor 13, was magnificently rectified by the tongue-in-cheek way she furnished Gwen and Rhys with everything they would need to stage the utterly wonderful undercover undertakers sequence. A similar effect was achieved by the pairing of cardboard cut out woman-in-black Johnson with the similarly shallow but far more endearing PC Andy.
Compared to the rapid-cutting we saw from Euros Lynn for the destruction of the Hub last night, the direction tonight was much-improved, with the effect of the wrecked base being as good as could be hoped for without the addition of a Who-scale budget. There were some moments of real flair from the director, with the straight-faced treatment of the Johnson/Gwen stand-off in the morgue perfectly setting up the truly wonderful forklift rescue. Lynn even indulges an in-joke here, with a pointed inclusion of the spikiest version of the Captain Jack theme we’ve heard yet. (In honour of the… memorable… dénouement of Countrycide, Ben Foster originally composed the piece around the words “Here he comes in a great big tractor”.) Gwen’s much-trailed Max Payne-style gun fighting didn’t disappoint either, with the actress and director more than capable of handling the unusually high quota of action sequences.
Where Torchwood has traditionally stopped to allow the inclusion of its human interest elements, here new writer John Fray manages to insert the drama and revelations without taking his foot off the accelerator. The rounding out of Ianto’s sister and brother -in-law was both subtle and well-timed, and more than made up for the way the overall series structure forced him to keep the plots of jack’s daughter Alice and fugitive psychiatric patient Clement simmering in the background, without much progression.
Without wanting to given ammunition to the curious group of individuals who appear to enjoy putting Torchwood down at every opportunity, Day Two is easily the greatest episode of the show to date.