I was always disappointed by Torchwood. It had its moments, but mostly it was just very silly. I heard that series creator Davies (who I should say here is generally an exceptional writer/producer) thought Death Ray couldn’t get over the gay sex. That is not the case. We couldn’t give a monkeys, and the most moving relationship in Torchwood was a homosexual one. What bugged us was that everybody was shagging everybody else all the time, and that the team was so damned incompetent. Torchwood was arch farce, not the “grown-up” SF we were promised.This miniseries, however, was really rather good. A highpoint for the show. This review of it was originally published in Death Ray #21 in the autumn of 2009.
Directors: Euros Lyn
Writers: Russel T Davies, John Fay, James Moran,
Starring: John Barrowman, Eve Miles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, Peter Capaldi, Liz May Brice, Cush Jumbo, Lucy Cohu, Paul Copley
It’s shiny! It’s scary! It’s exciting! It’s got a lot less silly sex! Torchwoooood! Lemme hear you sing it Torchwoooooooooood!
Torchwood! Oh how much you have promised, and so little you have delivered, until now. What can we say? We can say: ‘Well done!’
Personally, aside from a few episodes, I’ve loathed the show. It promised us ‘adult science fiction’. Torchwood has not been adult, it has had the sensibilities of a randy teenager, and its welter of bi-curious bonking was a poor stand-in for characterisation. We don’t care who our characters are boffing, but we do like is my characters to be believable. A lot of the time, the sex was in there purely because it could be, not because it should be. It never really helped itself, Torchwood, undermining the bits that did work, like the tender relationship between Jack and Ianto. Lastly, they’re a bunch of clowns, unprofessional to the end. Above the UN? Responsible for the security of planet Earth? Bollocks. They couldn’t run a branch of Gregg’s The Bakers.
Some of this remains true in Children of Earth, where evil aliens known only as ‘the 456’ demand 10% of Earth’s children. The klutzy Torchwood are nearly destroyed. Although they put themselves back together quite neatly, the special ops outfit run by the stern-faced Johnson (Liz May Brice) is more how we’d imagine Earth’s frontline defences to work. She’s an A-grade grafter compared to Torchwood’s common room slackers. I mean, the Hubmobile gets stolen by kids. Torchwood are chumps.
There are other weaknesses in Children of Earth. Like, the Earth has stood up to bigger threats before. Would a government really destroy its best anti-ET agency to cover up something that happened 40 years ago? Would the Americans really be able to waltz in and take over? Nope.
Then there’s Ianto’s death scene. It’s very moving until until Jack (Barrowman), crouched over his dead lover, looks as if he is about to burst into song…
But it’s breakneck, and it piles on the tension. The Torchwood moments are still ridiculous, but they entertain and they’re exciting. (The epitome of both Torchwood’s general incompetence and the series pep has to be the moment when Captain Jack blackmails his way into the alien’s audience chamber. Cock out, metaphorically speaking, he tries to out macho them, and it goes horribly, horribly wrong).
There’s a dissonance between Torchwood’s Keystone cops adventures and the sober, sweaty scenes where the cabinet debate how to fulfil the aliens’ terrible demands. Peter Capaldi’s Frobisher, a hardworking mid-level civil servant ground up in the cogs of history, is a marvellous character. Ironically, when Torchwood are not on screen, it’s great televison. But mostly, the mix works well.
This is what adult means, not giggly snogging precipitated by alien jizz. This is a story no-one comes out of well, the pressure of the story stamps out well-moulded characters and good performances from all. When Captain Jack is called upon to make a sacrifice of unconscionable magnitude at the end, that is the moment Torchwood finally grows up.
Extras: ‘Children of Earth: Declassified’ (30 mins) takes us behind the scenes of the show, and Eve Myles gives us a few pages of breathy Welshness with a Torchwood audio book extract.