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Is it just me or was that excellent?

Damn you, Torchwood. Every time I think I have you pigeonholed as the slightly crap, campy show, the show that makes little sense but is fun to go for a ride with, you go and do something extraordinary that makes me care. Occasionally, it is something dreadful -- yes, Cyberwoman, I'm looking at you -- but lately, it's been something great. And it might just be me, but I thought Children of Earth was *fantastic*. Can't wait until tomorrow.

True, there were plotholes and one development required a mighty disregard for data protection and common sense, but this is a country where you can find national secrets on eBay hard drives and on the Silverlink train at Clapham Junction, so it's not, you know, *out* of the realms of possibility.

I didn't get home from work until 10.30pm tonight, but I watched it straight away and, having finished it, wanted to watch it all over again on iPlayer. Which I am now doing, only with the subtitles turned on, because there were two bits I missed.

This is important: watch it unspoiled. This review is tl;dr.


Okay, so there was inappropriate laughter once. When there was the big reveal that the bad guys had implanted a bomb inside Jack in order to destroy the Hub and the entire Torchwood team, I did mutter "there's a bomb in the boss" in a Keanu Reeves voice. I have watched Speed too many times and I used to write horrible puns for a living and I am very, very sorry. It will probably happen again.

So, Children of Earth...

Have you ever rolled something heavy down a hill? Day One worked in the same way -- starting so slowly with reintroducing the characters for a primetime audience, and gaining momentum until by the end it was a breathless sprint to the final explosion.

The idea of all the children in the world stopping dead and speaking with one voice at the behest of the alien 456s worked really well. Possession, whether demonic or alien, is always terrifying. RTD must have noted how creepy using sound was in Midnight and reworked the idea. I only hope that their announcement of the aliens' return turns out to have a reason, rather than being something that sounded cool in the writer's room, like the evil overlord explaining his plans to the hero before the hero's demise turns out to be rather less inevitable than hoped.

Day One came on like a Spooks crossover, with the sense of subterranean intelligence services with their own agendas. It's hard to judge how good the plot is yet, but the set-up was excellent. In 1965, an alien force arrived, was named after the radio frequency it communicated on as '456' and some kind of deal was done in which Her Majesty's government played a very shady role. Now the 456 are back, and factions -- we don't know who yet -- are making their power plays.

The government, as ever, is all sharky smiles and knives in the back. At the heart of it is the mysterious Mr Frobisher, played by Peter Capaldi (Excuse me, I must go away and swoon for a bit. Okay, back now) There are secret assassination orders, plausible deniability, and at the heart of it, I fear, is lovely old Unit. I suspect that the reason that excuses have been made for Col Mace and Martha Jones -- the two Unit officers who we know to be decent and unimpeachable and on active duty -- is to facilitate this plot. This makes me grumpy but I'll go with it for now. I am intrigued.

The second fine piece of work RTD does is to introduce Rupesh Patanjali as the bright, observant and curious doctor. He's funny and charming in an ordinary way, smart and persistant, and an ideal replacement for Owen Harper. So ideal, in fact, that he turns out to have been a plant by whichever faction wants Jack dead, and what is more, a plant who has murdered to sucker Jack into the morgue.

When Rupesh killed Jack I was utterly surprised. When he, in his turn, was murdered, I was shocked and thought it was a real waste. How good would Rupesh have been as a Turlough-like Torchwood operative, turned after treachery and working for the object of his previous murderous attentions? It could've been season one Ianto done right. I lament the offing of yet another interesting character of colour in Torchwood, but as a twist, killing the handsome young doctor worked.

The third reason to watch is Paul Copley as Clem MacDonald, the damaged child who didn't meet the 456 in 1965, and the only adult who detects them now. Copley played Clem as someone who was deeply unsettling while all the while inspiring pity. His hyperosmia was played first for oddness, then for suspense. The idea that someone could smell when someone was lying or detect pregnancy isn't entirely out of the realms of possibility.

The treat, though, was the way it treated the regulars. Day One sets up three dynamics: Jack and Ianto's tentative moves into declared coupledom; Gwen's affectionate, bickering sibling relationship with both of them; and Gwen and Rhys as rock-solid team.

Gwen and Rhys continue to be the world's most adorable couple. Rhys is allowed to thrive and be clever in what would have been the 'wife' role twenty years ago. I do not understand Torchwood fans who do not like Gwen. She is funny, a good friend, agreeably flawed and only stupid when the script fouls up. Moreover, you can see why she and Rhys make a good couple now that she has let him into the Torchwood secret -- they're great friends who can talk to each other. Their relationship only doesn't work when they can't talk.

Meanwhile, as predicted by everyone who listened to the last of the radio plays, Jack and Ianto are no longer 'dabbling', but rather have moved to a level of commitment that neither can accurately gauge. Ianto, bless his librarian self, seems to want to place the relationship in a category, voicing the word 'couple' to see what Jack does. Jack's impatience with this is the only note of doubt.

Their backgrounds were also fleshed out a little more: Ianto gained a sister and Jack gained an estranged daughter. I loved that Jack went to visit his daughter in order to use his grandson to help find the 456. I like the little reminders that Jack used to be a conman and is not above a spot of ruthless expediency or using. I don't think it's out of character. I like that he loves and he's noble despite his instincts, not because of them, and oftentimes, he messes up because of his arrogance and sociopathic bent.

The scenes with Ianto and his sister were lovely: she wasn't that arsed whether he was gay or not, only hurt that he hadn't talked to her about it. When her husband came in, I was all ready for some kind of bigotry when it turned out that he wasn't that bothered either, except in the interests of taking the piss out of Ianto. It was a lovely subversion of expectations. And by the way, the actor who played Ianto's sister played that scene beautifully. There was a real shimmer of hurt when she spoke about him never talking to her any more.

Given Torchwood's fearless and stupid record of killing off great characters, and the giant anvils of 'They Really Love Each Other' that were raining from the sky in each scene where their relationship was mentioned, this would suggest that Ianto is destined for the Great Refrigerator In The Sky. I can only hope that RTD will not be so *bloody obvious*. Let the gay couple survive. And do not, under pain of something quite bad, kill Rhys.


I only hope that by Day Five I am not looking back on this review and shaking my head at the credulous, hopeful fool who watched Day One and thought this was going to be a coherently plotted week of glorious telly. For Doctor Who RTD has always written knock-out set-ups and pisspoor denouements. Let this be the exception. Let this be a QAF: series one or Second Coming. Not another Journey's End.

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Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
kirbyfest
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
I am watching unspoiled, but am excited at the thought of Torchwood that doesn't suck! Seriously, that's like... I don't know. Something impossibly impossible.
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
I know! Don't worry, I'm sure it will suck at some point. It's Torchwood.
cofax7
Jul. 7th, 2009 05:17 am (UTC)
Hmm. Skipping the spoilers: should I ahem and watch this, given that I have seen only 2 or 3 episodes of TW from series 1?
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
Yes. You know all you need to know through fannish osmosis and they retooled it for a BBC1 audience tuning in for the first time -- though Lord only knows what they made of it. It's worth watching it swiftly so as not to get spoiled and it's running every night this week. Also, whatever network in the US gets it will probably cut it to shreds because it's 59 solid minutes, and half the charm is the character stuff.
laurashapiro
Jul. 7th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
It works without any prior knowledge - P. watched it with me and enjoyed it a lot.
sweetsyren
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:20 am (UTC)
Lovely review. I am right there with you on the not-killing-Rhys thing. I might react decidedly unfavourably to that...

I would very much like for this to be an awesome week with every night as awesome as last night but I have the same fear as you in that RTD will come up with some crappy Deus Ex machina to "fix" the ending. He has a bad habit of doing that.

(Side note: I still have not forgiven him for Journeys End...If he doesn't do right by Donna in the finale I have sworn an oath to go and sit on him and beat him with his autobiography until he makes it better.)
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC)
i keep thinking that one of them has to be a goner because it's *Torchwood*, you know?

(Sit on him? More like batter him to small wriggly bits with a copy of The Writer's Tale. Yeah. It turns out that I'm still a bit annoyed as well)
sweetsyren
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:56 am (UTC)
Yeah I know what you mean. He's been taking lessons from Joss.

(lol Our bitterness: let us show you it.)
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 7th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)
(I shall wish to beat him into a fine paste if he messes stuff up for Donna. A FINE PASTE. My bitterness is widescreen, surround-sound and constant in a sort of pathetic way)
sweetsyren
Jul. 7th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)
(If you're pathetic then so am I. I share your rage. Maybe the sheer magnitude of our rage combined will send silent subliminal waves to RTD's brain and subconsciously he'll know that he has to make it good for Donna or his testicles hang in the balance (no pun intended...well maybe a little bit.))
predictivememo
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
I did mutter "there's a bomb in the boss" in a Keanu Reeves voice.

Were I a) not already married and b) not straight I'd ask you to marry me for that comment right there and make myself 3,226,871 kinds of trouble in the process. The fact I've had to edit this three times now for clarity (4 for punctuation!) and to wipe the drink off the monitor... well it should speak volumes really.

I want to see it all coz I am getting the VERY strong impression on my 4th rewatch that something very VERY big is hidden in the plot, iceberg like and is just waiting to appear.

I will be buying Torchwood on DVD now as well. Feck you RTD, you sneaky bastard.

Edited at 2009-07-07 02:26 pm (UTC)
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 8th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
See, I am in the same position, except for the part where I always end up buying the damned DVDs while rolling my eyes at myself. I think you might be right about the iceberg in the plot. I really hope so. I would love it *so* much if there was something in open sight that actually meant something else. When it comes to fiction, I love being honestly misdirected. (If that's not some kind of contradiction in terms)
laurashapiro
Jul. 7th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
I should never read your reviews before writing my own -- I've nothing left to post about!

As ever, you are a pleasure.
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 8th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you and likewise. Have you watched last night's yet? I mocked with total abandon the promo picture of flying Gwen with guns but she actually *kicked bottom* to the point where the picture was rendered only slightly ludicrous. Dodgy jokes aside, I am loving this series so far.
laurashapiro
Jul. 8th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
I'm loving it, too. I watched Day Two when I got home last night and I think I liked it even better than Day One -- I vastly prefer Gwen-kicking-ass to Gwen-talking-racist-shit.

I keep meaning to post...
muridae_x
Jul. 7th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Day One came on like a Spooks crossover, with the sense of subterranean intelligence services with their own agendas.

It even featured the front door and basement of Thames House.

I hope you're wrong about UNIT, though that's probably just my nostalgic childhood love of the Brig and Captain Yates talking. The other thought I had was that perhaps - after the brilliant fake-out of setting us up with a potential Owen-replacement who turned out to be a plant - the Tosh-replacement candidate might also be. Was Lois just a bit too innocent in not recognising the UNIT uniform? It's not implausible that she wouldn't be up on military detail, of course, as she's just an IT temp, but might she be working for them?

And I too think that killing Rupesh was a waste.

I find it ironic that after two series of 13 hour long episodes Torchwood has struggled to show us much about what makes any of the characters tick other than Gwen, but with only 5 episodes to play with they've already given us a whole heap more insight into Jack and Ianto. There were some great lines in the course of it, though I think Gwen and Rhys's "Farewell forever!" exchange as she left Wales and drove into England was my favourite. They're adorable when they're on speaking terms.

Thumbs up so far. I hope that Day Two is as good.
infinitemonkeys
Jul. 8th, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
I hope Lois has a secret but I also hope that she's on the side of good. I think she might be. I would also like it if her recognising the Unit uniform was about more than RTD wanting to show her being observant.

You're so right about them raising their game in the compact format. I have seen some "It's anti-English!" cries in parts of the internet but I thought it was fantastic and funny. I now would like to arrange that I live in a menage a trois with Gwen and Rhys. I will do all the washing, Rhys can do the cooking and Gwen can shoot out the tyres of intruders and door to door salesmen
muridae_x
Jul. 8th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
If Welsh anti-English jokes can be as funny as parts of this programme were - I fell about laughing at Gwen and Rhys's suspicious venturing forth from the safe haven of Cardiff - then I'm all for it. We are nothing if we can't laugh at ourselves.

...and Gwen can shoot out the tyres of intruders and door to door salesmen

Sounds like a plan. Does she get extra points if it's copies of Watchtower that they're selling?
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )