Monday, 6 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day One OR How Not To Kidnap A Child

Torchwood has returned as a five part, daily show on BBC One. Has the format improved the show or has it regressed from the progress made in season two? Let's find out...

Recap: In 1965 Scotland a group of children are unloaded from a bus to meet with a large ball of light. All the children, bar one, advance into the light and disappear. In the present day, children all across the world suddenly stop still and chant "We are coming" in English (no matter their native language.) Torchwood investigate when Gwen and Rhys (of all people) notices a strange pattern in the children's behaviour. Jack and Ianto decide to help by kidnapping family members. We find out that Jack has an adult daughter and a young grandson whereas Ianto has a sister who lives on an estate where the Torchwood SUV is stolen (again.) They both fail to obtain children to experiment with.

A young doctor by the name of Rapesh comes close to joining Torchwood after witnessing Jack and Ianto removing an alien parasite from a dead body. Rapesh also claims that a racist alien is killing non-whites in Cardiff. Unfortunately Rapesh fails the Torchwood job interview when he starts talking about suicides.

The government spend the day panicking about something called the 456 (an alien radio frequency), which sounds disturbingly similar to The 4400 given the subject matter of alien abduction. The government (in the shape of Mr Frobisher, who I hope turns out to be a shape changing penguin) decide to terminate Torchwood before they uncover anything about their dealings with the aliens.

Gwen investigates the children phenomenon and discovers that one adult succumbed to the mass chanting, Clement McDonald. He was the boy from 1965 that didn't step into the light. He is living in a mental hospital, scared to mention his real name and possesses the power of supersmell. He can sniff out lies, pregnancy, aliens, and government agents. I don't know why.

Rapesh meets up with Jack to try and provide him with a child for experimentation (after Jack and Ianto fail at borrowing family members) but Rapesh shoots Jack dead and summons Johnson, a government agent who kills Jack again for good measure and implants a bomb in his chest. Johnson then kills Rapesh to tidy up the loose ends. She also orders agents to pick up Clement McDonald but he uses his supersmell powers to escape capture.

Gwen races back to the Hub to use the advanced technology there to confirm she's pregnant. Jack is scanned too and it's revealed there's a bomb in his chest. Gwen and Ianto flee the Hub as Jack explodes and destroys the building (no one mentions Myfanwy the pterodactyl though, did she survive?)

Thoughts: Well, it was okay. Sort of. It was a different Torchwood to the usual fare, being slower paced and more down to earth. This episode focused more on character than events as the show reintroduced Jack and Ianto's relationship and progressed Gwen and Rhys's marriage to the next step via a pregnancy. The government scenes were sketchy enough not to actually explain anything other than providing some vague motivation for a cover up that involves the destruction of Torchwood.

All of this would be fine and well in a slower paced mystery but this is Torchwood and we expect something a bit more exciting and ridiculous! This episode seems to be caught between a political thriller and a Torchwood investigation and it never really manages to convince as either. The performances and tone seem to shift too frequently to really get a feel for what the story should be, one moment Gwen is trying to connect with a disturbed man and the next he's sniffing her hand and giggling at 'gizmos'. Ianto's home life was a terrible scene as the council estate cliches leap to the fore with dialogue such as, "Have you gone bender?" and the theft of the Torchwood mobile, which makes the organisation look comically inept during a serious story about government conspiracy. As such, the episode never really settles into a rhythm.

The episode, for me, wasn't sufficiently entertaining on its own as it seemed to lay the foundations for the rest of the story. Hopefully things will pick up in the second episode (the trailer suggests that Gwen indulges in some violence) and the show can provide some action to go with the somewhat dated story of alien abductions and conspiracy theories (because this story seems to have come from the X-Files circa 1994.)

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