Friday, 10 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Five OR The Most Annoying Sound in the World

The conclusion to Torchwood is a morbid affair, don't expect any heroics in this episode...

Recap: After the death of Ianto and the civil servants in the 456 virus attack, Jack and Gwen are held by the government. Frobisher agrees to do a favour for Jack by releasing Gwen and having her transported back to Cardiff. Jack remains in custody and is locked away in a cell next to Lois who was also arrested after her defiant stand at the end of the previous episode. Lois calls out to Jack but he ignores her as he sits alone in his cell, contemplating Ianto's death and his role in the current crisis.

Prime Minister Green orders Frobisher to attend a press conference to add credibility to the inoculation excuse that will cover the school children abduction. Frobisher assumes that he will pretend to offer his children for 'inoculation' but the PM insists that Frobisher will have to sacrifice his kids for real to maintain the cover story. This head slappingly stupid moment from the PM (how did he think Frobisher was going to take this order?) leads to a distraught Frobisher arguing and pleading with the PM before storming out and ordering Spears to procure him a Requisition 31, which at first glance seems to be a plain biscuit tin.

UNIT visit the alien and ask what the 456 will use the children for, the answer is chilling as the aliens reveal that the children release chemicals that they enjoy. The 456 are junkies looking for a hit. That's a great idea but it doesn't hold up to logic. First of all, why don't the 456 ask for breeding couples so they can grow their own children and not rely on Earth to give into their demands every few decades? And don't tell me that the aliens breathe another atmosphere so it wouldn't work - they have space travel and are surely capable of creating environments for humans to live in. It'd be the equivalent of growing their own herbs and wouldn't be that hard to do (as long as they refrained from puking on their captives every time they talked to them.) Second, the 456 threat to eradicate the human race now carries no weight. Are the 456 really going to destroy their supply of wonder drugs? No. The government at this point could've negotiated a much better deal once they realised the aliens were twitchy junkies and were probably making empty threats.

Frobisher heads home to his family and gathers them all together in the main bedroom and we see that Frobisher's Requisition 31 was in fact a pistol. He guns down his family before turning the weapon on himself. Jesus. During this heart warming scene, Spears visits Lois in her cell and tells her what a great man Frobisher was. There is a lot of terrible emotive music all over this scene, "Oooooooo, woooooooo, ooooooo, etc."

Gwen and Rhys (the blackmail idea being dumped after Gwen's capture) head back to Cardiff and meet up with PC Andy to visit Ianto's family and deliver the news of his death. Ianto's sister Rhiannon decides to follow Ianto's warning from last episode and gathers up the neighbourhood kids so she can hide them in her house (conveniently hoarding them in one place for the government child catcher squad). Gwen and co inform Rhiannon about Ianto's death and then the army arrive to take away the council estate kids. Gwen and Rhys herd the kids away to hide in a big abandoned shed while PC Andy and Johnny (Rhiannon's husband) start a small riot against the army.

Agent Johnson has an expected change of heart and decides that she wants to fight the 456. She kidnaps Jack from his cell and Mr Dekker (the man who constructed the alien chamber and expert on the 456) is snatched from Thames House where he had survived the virus attack by hiding in a hazmat suit. Johnson convinces Jack that there must be some way of fighting off the 456. Jack works together with a sarcastic (and somewhat bizarrely supervillainesque) Dekker and discovers that they can use the same 456 frequency to send feedback to the alien and kill it. The logic isn't very clearly explained (because there isn't any) but suffice to say that it's the old cliche of 'reversing the polarity of the neutron flow'. The only problem is that in order to broadcast the signal they will have to use children and sacrifice one child to be the main transmitter as such an ordeal will kill said child (for some reason Dekker seems to revel in this).

Jack still has his family nearby and he sacrifices his grandson to death by psychic nosebleed. The annoying sound is transmitted through the children all around the world and this causes the junkie alien to explode. Case closed. Somehow all the parents that were fleeing with their children now know that the threat is over. Convenient. Jack's daughter understandably flees from Jack.

Six months later, Rhys and Gwen meet up with Jack. Jack has wandered the Earth but has grown tired of it, finding it too small a place to hide from his own guilt. He intends to hitchhike onboard a vessel on the edge of the solar system and wander the galaxy. Gwen provides Jack with his newly repaired Time Agent watch which Jack can use to send a signal to the alien craft. Gwen tells Jack that he can't run away from his problems but Jack states "watch me" and teleports off into space. Gwen cries a lot.

Thoughts: Phew, well that was hard to get through. This was an episode devoid of joy or light heartedness which made it miserable viewing. I don't mind a downbeat ending but it seemed out of place in a show like Torchwood. The story proved that Torchwood are bumbling amateurs that were incapable of ending the threat to Earth. Ultimately it was Jack working in conjunction with a specialised black ops team that saved the day (at great personal cost.) The conclusion turned the hero into a child murderer and gave the audience little hope for the future when Torchwood (who have already proved to be incompetent) are reduced down to Rhys and a pregnant Gwen (oh and I suppose Martha who was 'on holiday' throughout the whole incident.)

It's a shame that RTD didn't pen all of the scripts for this series as he seems to be the only writer capable of juggling the humour, relationships, and pathos and make it an entertaining mix. Although having said that this episode needed something to take away the unremitting misery as it adopted Battlestar Galactica's grim and humourless spirit. None of RTD's lightness of touch was in this episode but his deus ex machina ending was reigned in slightly as it didn't undo everything for once.

Still, it was a brave ending and I'll be interested to see where they go next with Torchwood. This storyline seems to have cast down the original light hearted and childish approach to its stories and I wonder how the writers will approach Torchwood from now on. It's clear that despite the opening blurb that Captain Jack would deliver at the start of every episode, Torchwood are most certainly NOT ready.

Performance wise, I have to say that Peter Capaldi was very good, in fact his performance was so great that it seemed as though he was in a different show. He really did act up a storm and overshadowed all of the other performances in comparison. Torchwood have a few vacancies now so perhaps a higher calibre of actors could be procured for the next series?

The music was appalling in this episode, every emotional point in the story (and there were a lot of them) was met with plaintive wailing. Torchwood really needs an overhaul in its music as the same old themes were used over and over in each episode and really began to grate.

Episode five was a decent conclusion to a disappointing storyline, I still don't think that this was a great show by any means and I think fans are getting a little carried away because we've had a mature story with real consequences for once. There still remains the usual weaknesses of Torchwood, poor dialogue, bad logic, lazy plotting and some weak performances from the cast. I think the format experiment hasn't worked, the episodes were overlong and the story was stretched to breaking point. If this had been a series finale, three part story then we could have had the best Torchwood plot so far, as it is it's a flabby meandering sci-fi thriller with a depressing finish.

It was better than Demons though.


Richard said...

Personally, I thought this whole miniseries was more about Frobisher rather than Torchwood. They spend four episodes comprehensively failing to do anything, when handed control reveal that they have absolutely no plan, and only really make things worse with their cack-handed arrogance and bumbling. Of course the government wants them out of the way.

Frobisher on the other hand gets a truly heartwrenching story that's actually effective (even the Prime Minister's unbelievably stupid order kinda works, because even though it's probably the stupidest moment in the entire show, his reaction is absolutely credible). He's a guy desperately struggling against all the odds, compared to Torchwood, which acts like a petulent child from start to finish despite never coming close to having a plan.

Seriously, the team combined managed about ten minutes of actual competence in the whole show, not including the bit where they turn into the crew from Hustle for no particular reason.

Even when they finally cut loose, it's only to be reinforced that they suck - that their tech advantage has gone. Gwen's personal run accomplishes nothing, Ianto's death is a net failure, and as for Jack, he completely and utterly fails as a leader.

Also: What's the bloody point of having a top-secret alien taskforce in a world that increasingly can't possibly deny the existence of aliens? I know it's handwaved, but seriously, these people were towed to an alien galaxy and evacuate London on a yearly basis...

Aaron said...

The whole alien coverup becomes even more ridiculous when you conisder that it exists in the same continuity as Old Who where there was an alien invasion every week during Pertwee's era.

But yes, you are right about Frobisher, he was an excellently portrayed character with a great personal story.

It's pity he didn't turn out to be a shape changing penguin though.

richard said...

Or use his hypnotic Demon Headmaster eyes. Not even once...

(And yeah, I know it's a different actor. Still couldn't shift the image every time he appeared...)

MediumRob said...

It's a given that Torchwood suck as a team. To be fair, they had all of their secret gizmos blown up in episode one, but they do all suck.

Liked it a lot, even though the ending was a bit "thank God the aliens were vulnerable to common tap water". I'd have preferred the 456 to just bugger off with all the kids and then the Doctor to turn up with them in the TARDIS and say to Jack and co "Repeat after me: we're shit and we know we are".

Honestly, though leagues ahead of all previous Torchwoods, even if Rusty's complete inability to understand anything serious or complicated or adult apart from sex and stuff you see in soap operas completely undermined all the attempts to ground the show in reality (I don't care what's going on, American generals don't do ambassadorial work and they don't tell the PM to sod off and take over the UK armed forces. They don't). Hell, the nob can't even get the name of our country right (it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you silly man).

Wonderfully bleak.

Aaron said...

The problem I have is that Rusty seems to have deliberately ruined our outlines for the fourth series. An hour of goofing around ruined!