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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.

Day One

"Team, spread out, and find who nicked the eight other episodes."

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.

Day Two

Ianto helps his partner shed some unwanted pounds

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.

Second Opinion: Days 1 & 2

By Michael Lacey

There appears to have been some retooling behind the scenes at Torchwood. I sat down on Monday night to watch the first episode of Children Of Earth with about six tin buckets full of rotting fruit and veg, excrement, and disgusting things fished out of ponds, as usual. I find that constructing a Perspex screen in front of my set and actually being able to hurl such foul-smelling waste at the Torchwood team's cross-eyed, vacant faces while they plod their way through another hour of MY LIFE enhances my enjoyment of that hour. Yet eventually, the credits rolled, and I noticed that there were still five and half buckets full of shite next to me – I’d been so engrossed in the goings on that I’d actually starting eating what I hope was rotten beetroot, and flung very little at all.

Whilst Torchwood hasn’t exactly been at a loss for critics since it’s inception (being described by one hot-headed internet scribe as “as engaging as the ingredients list on the back of one apple” and “a big load of balls”) it has displayed the occasional ability to turn in a passable episode, particularly with a second series that displayed an endearing willingness to tinker with it’s own central premise, resulting in the deaths of world's most boring woman Toshiko Something and un-dead Doctor Owen Something, who looked like a pervert doing an impression of a frog. Tosh was at the centre of some god-awful episodes and never did anything interesting, so she’s no great loss. But Burn Gorman's performance was one of the most watchable elements of the show, even when the scripts were nonsensical, and even when you could tell he was wearing several inches of foundation. Perhaps that’s the real reason for his departure - did the switch to HD make him look like Joan Rivers? His death felt like more of a gamble, anyway. In a character-based drama with such broadly-drawn characters, an actor of his calibre was a strong asset.

New Torchwood has filled up the gaps left by these characters with plot, and it’s no bad thing. Tangled up in a Government conspiracy, the remaining Torchwood three (or four, if you count Rhys) seem a lot more capable and convincing than when scripts are requiring them to change allegiances for the sake of an intergalactic leg-over at the drop of a hat.

One major flaw in Russell’s writing (if not the major flaw) has always been the patronising and crass dialogue he crams into the mouths of his working-class characters, to emphasise that his programme is about “normal” people, who he “gets”. When discussing the “craft” of his “writing”, it’s this “special relationship” with the audience that he most often congratulates himself on. This is of course, absolute bollocks; Russell’s insight into the working class appears to be that they talk endlessly about food (or, more frequently, just chips), gossip in over-the-top voices, wear crap clothes, have difficulty understanding new things, and have poxy houses and lives which can only be made more interesting by the intervention of alien ephemera. If you think about it for a little while, it’s downright offensive (Ianto’s sister fits the mold, but his awkward relationship with her makes these scenes quite watchable). On the other hand, actors like Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri managed, eventually, to turn these characters into people I genuinely wouldn’t try and push down a staircase, and whose fates I cared about. Torchwood similarly has built on the strengths of the remaining lead trio, and they all seem to have a much more cohesive idea of who they’re actually playing. Gwen and Rhys’ relationship is believable, and now that she’s been in the business a couple of years her action-heroine credentials seem slightly less ridiculous. Rhys is now effective comic relief. Ianto finally has a discernable personality, and Gareth David-Lloyd’s performance is the unlikely heart of the show. Jack is Jack, as ever, which is more or less fine. It’s an unusual group of lead characters, but no longer one I literally resent watching. Although I still wonder why Jack’s old-fashioned outfits are always teamed with those terrible, bright yellow Timberland boots and funky gelled-up hair.

The mini-series format seems to suit Torchwood, too. The previous season finales have been such damp squibs that it really feels fresh to see the show deal with a crisis of this magnitude, and the consistent direction and supporting cast add a level of depth and confidence that was sorely lacking. With a story which charges ahead at this thunderous speed, the character development has to be woven neatly throughout – there’s no room for Jack to stand about moralising at the end of the episode, which is great. Neither do they need to try and shuffle things back into order for next weeks episode in the final five minutes, which was often quite ridiculous when members of the team had been shooting guns at each other. It’s like a proper television programme written by competent adults. If they go back to sex-gas aliens after this, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

About this entry


I thought it was rather good. And I thought the pacing was fine. A bit of a slow build up, but as this is a five part story it made sense.

Quite often RTD stories start very well and fall over later on though. On the plus side (or negative depending on how you look at it) there are three different writers working on these episodes. Hopefully that’ll keep the story quality dipping in later chapters.

By ChrisM
July 07, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

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Yes, I thought the second episode really kicked things into gear. One thing; didn’t Ianto arrive in the quarry in a different car to the one he left the park in? I could have sworn the numberplates are different…

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By Tanya Jones
July 07, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

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“Here he comes in a ruddy great tractor” - I did not know about that lyric, but it’s bloody brilliant!

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By monkeyson
July 08, 2009 @ 1:08 am

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Great second episode. We didn’t see how Clement escaped though did we? Last we saw he was suddenly aware of the government people coming for him. No doubt his special powers of nasal intuition (borrowed from The Cat no doubt) gave him enough time to make his gettaway. I can’t help thinking the security at that institution was pretty ropey though…

I really enjoyed it though. Good fun mixed in with the angst. And still plenty of mystery to go on with. I’m curious if the aliens something we’ve encountered in past Who. If they are, they must be pre-Ecclestone as I don’t remember any gas breathing alien menaces. If that’s what the room is for….

By ChrisM
July 08, 2009 @ 1:45 am

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Liz May Brice is abysmal.

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By Dave
July 08, 2009 @ 11:57 am

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Yeah, I’m finding her rather one-note myself…

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By Tanya Jones
July 08, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

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This is easily the best we’ve seen ‘Torchwood’. Easily. My enjoyment is only really tempered by the annoyance that series one and two (especially series two which had largely learnt from the mistakes of series one) couldn’t have kept it this sort of pace, underlying sense of seriousness and good storytelling.

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By Zagrebo
July 08, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

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I’m in the weird position of agreeing that Liz Brcie May is terrible, but not finding that this detracts from my enjoyment at all. The fact that she’s just there to be outwitted by the regulars means it’s all the more fun…

By Julian Hazeldine
July 08, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

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Second opinion on Days 1 and 2 now added.

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By John Hoare
July 08, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

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Also: Gwen’s “Oh my God!” during the children chanting in Episode 1 was very, very, very, very funny.

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By John Hoare
July 08, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

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Oh, and finally: I totally agree that the destruction of the Hub at the end of Day 1 is lame, and is only rescued by the fact that the aftermath is so stunningly put together. (Beautiful debris falling down, too, which really sold it.) But there’s a similar problem at the end of Day 2 - the explosion at the end during the chase sequence is so tightly-shot that I got slightly confused as to what was going on. Which isn’t good.

I know, I know, they’re saving their money to do the other effects well. Any series can do explosions - but only in Torchwood will you get people encased in concrete chucked off cliffs. Spend your money on the more interesting stuff, I get it. But it’s still irritating. (Although not as bad as the excerable petrol station explosion in the first episode of the Survivors remake…)

To the series’ credit, I thought the alien effects in Day 3 were *perfect* - both the quality of the effects, but also in the direction. You saw *exactly* enough of them - not too little, so it felt like a complete cheat, but not too much, so it spoils the mystery…

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By John Hoare
July 09, 2009 @ 1:04 am

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