Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scorched Earth

I’ve just started watching Torchwood: Children of Earth.

And I’m having bad dreams.

I thought of Torchwood as a great lark of a show – a little edgy but leavened with frolic and ridiculous aliens and silly props and sets. It was getting darker by the end of season 2, but it was a sort of noble, heroic finale. COE is a different beast.

With regard to narrative, special effects, cinematography and acting, COE is light years beyond the first two seasons. It’s also far more grim and disturbing. Although I admire the advance in overall quality, I miss the playfulness and snarkiness of the previous episodes. They always seemed to say, even when touching on serious topics, “We’re having a jolly good romp here. Don’t worry, it’s just a game.” The atmosphere of COE is sinister and oppressive, and there’s no “we always pull through” optimism or swashbuckling “we’re here to save the day” action. I think that’s because this alien 456 isn’t nearly as scary as the government. The government in COE is ugly, self-serving, and vicious, happy to cover up past problems with assassinations, run by leaders who evade responsibility and blame by hiding behind civil servant scapegoats. All too real, in other words. I was more confident in Captain Jack Harkness when he was fighting creatures from outer space.

And the hub, that little sanctuary, the crazy repository of gadgets and artifacts, the center of Torchwood action, has been blown to smithereens, along with, I assume, all the aliens, former employees, and Jack’s homicidal brother who were cryogenically frozen in the morgue. I suppose the pterodactyl died, too. That’s like ripping the heart out of the show. That’s like a big flashing sign announcing “Fun’s over, folks!”

Now at the end of Day 3 we find out that back in the 60s Jack sent off a group of children as a gift to alien 456 – to heaven knows what fate, but it can’t be good, given the thrashing, acid-vomiting, lives-in-a-poisonous-fog nature of 456. No doubt there was some sort of hard choice involved but, well, that just sucks. Of course we sacrifice children every day to war, poverty, illness, exploitation and abuse, which I suppose is part of the message, that we don’t face up to that savage truth about ourselves. The last thing I expected Torchwood to deliver was a nasty, unanswerable moral conundrum of epic scale.

I will see Days 4 and 5 in the next few days. I know Ianto dies and am not looking forward to it, and I know generally what happens in the rest of the series. Ianto’s death sent fans into a tizzy, I gather, and some are worried the show is about to be “de-gayed” for BBC 1. No idea about that (though I’m cynical enough to think that is exactly what they intend to do), but I’m not particularly convinced by creator Russell Davies’ argument that Ianto’s death was inevitable, that it would have somehow been unrealistic for them all to survive. I mean, hello, fantasy sci fi here. Did you really need to sell the show’s soul to the existentialist devil? A season 4 is planned, but I’m having trouble imagining it. You can’t go back to playing scary tigers after this.

On the upside, we got to see John Barrowman naked.


  1. Oh my....think I'll skip this. (Word verification, terifyin...)

  2. had me at 'sacrifice children'.
    ..My evil word verification is 'torsomam'.

  3. I need to get you watching all my Sci-fi shows. Everyone could duel review the Episodes lol