Thursday, 28 January 2016

Children of Earth Day Two written by John Fay and directed by Euros Lyn


This story in a nutshell: The Hub has been destroyed, Jack is dead and Gwen and Ianto are on the run…


Hunky Hero: I don’t think it will come as a shock to anybody if I said that I don’t find John Barrowman a particularly convincing leading man. He’s a fabulous entertainer and very enjoyable to watch when he is a sidekick in Doctor Who but I just don’t feel he has the gravitas and that special something that commands your attention as a lead. So it came as a great surprise to me when I realised during Children of Earth that he really could convince as a lead but only when he has been stripped away of everything that made this show what it was in the first two years. With the Hub destroyed, his life constantly under threat and no chance to be generally abusive, heartless and blackly humorous at all the wrong times he comes across as a real person in a desperate situation and I really wanted to watch him. All it took to make this character work was for Russell T Davies (in typically unsubtle Torchwood style) to blow him up inside his place of safety and put him back together again as a fugitive. Go figure. Its not the only loss Jack will suffer this year but it seems the more this character endures the easier it is to like him. Wowza, finding bits of Jack in the wreckage is really nasty but blackly funny in a way that only Torchwood in its in yer face glory can be. For once Torchwood allows our imaginations to do some of the work rather than shoving the offal up our nose and the twitching body bag that sees Jack being Humpty Dumpty’d had me applauded for all its off screen grisliness. Drowning Jack in concrete that will set around his body and murder him over and over again is bloody quirky and quite wonderful and affords the show the chance to indulge in a great big silly set piece worthy of the first two season when Gwen and Ianto shatter the concrete block and release him. All this horror and the first sighting of John Barrowman’s flaccid penis and grubby ass! How much indignity can one character take?

Welsh Babe & Brilliant Boyfriend: they really have turned Gwen into an action heroine in the style of Lara Croft, haven’t they? Watch as she juggles two guns and takes down a sniper on the roof! Gwen has always been our eyes and ears on Torchwood so suffering is her rasion d’etre be it the culture shock of joining Torchwood, her agonising guilt over her affair with Owen, losing him and Tosh, now losing her place of work and later this season losing another friend. She’s got victim written all over her by simply associating herself with this insane organisation and yet what I love about her is that no matter what they throw at her she never loses that fighting spirit and always comes back kicking and screaming (and juggling pistols). You have to admire that kind of persistence and self inflicted pain! Poor Rhys is the doting husband who does as he’s told for the most part (but gives her a good slap, emotionally speaking, when she needs it) and when she comes home and orders him to get out as soon as possible he knows it has to be something serious. You have to feel sorry for the guy! Kai Owen is such a huge asset to the show (I can completely see why Gareth David-Lloyd got the push but they kept Owen on for Miracle Day) because he plays Rhys as such a wonderfully normal character – he’s like O’Brien on DS9. The every guy who you can completely invest and who can step up to the plate and be a hero when you least suspect it. The scene where Gwen tells Rhys that she is pregnant as they lie on a shifting load of raw spuds is delightful for its sheer incongruity but mostly because Owen’s smile and good humour is so infectious. Only Rhys would think about his stomach when their contact from inside the government is agonising over committing treason on her second day on the job! Steak pie and politics – brilliant!

Sexy Secretary: By invading his sisters house in the dead of night the horror extends to Ianto’s family and not just his own safety. It makes this feel very personal and invasive. I usually hate the way the working class man is portrayed in dramas as violent and uneducated but there is something about the sheer brio of using this rough Welsh neighbourhood violently that is a moment of triumph against the authority. Under any other circumstances watching a mob threatening the establishment would be despicable but it says something about this show that it can turn all that on its head so the thugs are the good guys. His brother in law admitting they are the only family Ianto has is quietly very touching. We learn that Ianto’s father was quite abusive but in very subtle ways. How comes he is only becoming interesting now he is on the way out? Being forced to listen to Jack’s screams as he is tortured means that Ianto’s tears for his lover mean something – compare this to his tears for Lisa in the ridiculous episode Cyberwoman where you just didn’t give a toss about his hysterics and you can see how far we have come.

The Good:
· Lets put this into perspective because it is so nice to be able to say good things about Torchwood – this is a show that is willing to take risks in order to win. At the end of the last episode Russell T Davies blew up the central location which will never be seen again, killed off the main character who wont be around for a little while and forced the remaining team members to go on the run. Not many shows would shake up the format to that extent and in cult TV I can only think of a few examples when it is done this well (Blakes’ 7 destroyed the Liberator in a devastating season three finale and DS9 kicked all of its regular cast off the station and moved in all the enemies for quite a period) and it really shows what Davies has been saying all along about this show. That nothing and nobody is safe, characters come and go and the format can be changed on a sixpence. Its refreshing to find a show that takes those kind of risks (I don’t think Stargate SG-1 surprised me in any way to this extent until its ninth season) and it means that if you don’t like the show as it is now (although why that should be because it’s the best it would ever be at the this point) there will be a new premise, location and regular cast next year. Not good for those who enjoy continuity but like Doctor Who it has proven to have a malleable format that gives it staying power. The story literally doesn’t give you a second to breathe and take in these developments, opening on a fantastic action set piece with Ianto and Gwen on the run from assassins.
· Graeme Harper aside, Euros Lyn is the greatest find for NuWho and he has the ability to capture beautiful images on a budget and still pace a story beautifully whilst encouraging the actors to give their best. If this story was a gift to him for bringing such gems as The Girl in the Fireplace to life so vividly it is a massive compliment to his skill. Look at the POV shots of Gwen in the wreckage of Torchwood – her sound as muffled by the explosion and the flames flicker and wobbles as she tried to get her bearings. You’ve got dynamic action set pieces, intimate moments between characters and ambitious plot twists (the children freezing, Jack’s reassembling, smashing the concrete block) and Euros Lyn barely breaks a sweat in bringing these very different styles together into one cohesive whole.
· I love the idea of the government trying to destroy Torchwood. When Gwen asks the question you have to wonder if she has been paying attention for the last two seasons where they have been pissing off the authorities at every single turn and offering a two finger salute at anybody who thought they could criticise them! There comes a time when the real power will no longer indulge a controversial element and has to crush it and using a national emergency to cover their tracks is just about the best way to do it.
· Nice to see PC Andy turning up but the poor bugger is trapped on the wrong side and finds himself dodging bullets that Gwen is shooting!
· There’s a fascinating titbit of information on the write up of Torchwood that Lois reads – Torchwood Glasgow is thought to have disbanded. Perhaps if a fifth series was to go ahead we could relocate there with the characters who survived Miracle Day and build up a new regular cast with the rogue members of this team.
· The ‘we want a pony’ gag is sifted pleasingly from the horrific child possession plotline and shows how sophisticated the humour is compared to the ‘the end of the world is nigh, lets have sex’ crap last year.
· Peter Capaldi is just so good in this role, just like he is in every role he takes. I loved the moment where he thanked the Prime Minister for giving him a chance to be the middle man in these affairs and he learns he has been put in the front line because they are the first to fall. His reaction is gorgeously simpering. Thank goodness Capaldi isn’t playing his character from The Thick of It otherwise he would have unloaded a barrage of expletives that would have made Gordon Ramsey blush down to his toenails!
· Now we have experienced the children freezing act a couple of times we know that only unpleasant information is going to be imparted each time it happens. Which means around the 32 minute mark my buttocks clenched in anticipation when they began intoning in that horrid alien tone. Having the show originally take place over five days means that lines like ‘we are coming tomorrow’ takes on a whole new meaning.

The Bad: Lois is such a fine addition to the cast and her slow induction into Torchwood is beautifully done so it seems such a shame that she vanished between this story and Miracle Day.

Result: Day Two is a transitional episode switching the attention onto the government characters whilst exploring life on the run with Gwen and Ianto and it says something about the skill with which this story has been put together that it is still packed full of exciting set pieces, memorable imagery, striking character moments and a feeling of momentum. Giving Peter Capaldi such a large slice of the action was a winning notion because he drives this season with a nuanced performance that really grabs your attention. The Jack-in-a-bag subplot is fantastic also because whilst the series is busy sophisticatedly rewriting its DNA, these darkly funny moments remind us there is still enough room for grisly madness in here. I remember at the time loving the fact that the dramatic impetus that the episode introduces was going to continue throughout the week and how the writers managed to include just the right balance to subplots to give the story some real substance. In previous seasons I found myself fighting against the current of ridiculous plotlines and childish extremes (you know the sex’n’swearing’n’blood) but now it is so easy to just go with the flow and enjoy the classy storyline. They manage to eek out the surprises and developments a bit at a time so you are always desperate for more (Ian Gelder is so menacing he deserves the cliffhanger here). Torchwood has done a complete u-turn in terms of quality it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was the only series to gain viewers as it continued: 9/10

5 comments:

Ed Azad said...

"...very enjoyable to watch when he is a sidekick in Doctor Who but I just don’t feel he has the gravitas and that special something that commands your attention as a lead."

Hm, it's David Boreanaz again. Credit where it's due, though, Angel wasn't called on to do much emoting, even in his own show.

Even if Barrowman was the next Olivier, his real strength lies in the opposite direction. That's what fans (or at least this fan) really want to see. I'm sure you can think up some other examples on your own.

Worse yet, this was the mid-2000s, when writers wanted to have their cake and eat it to: you can be a cocky, wisecracking bastard, but only because you're a functioning sociopath of some sort.

Anonymous said...

The sex and swearing bored me during the Doctor Who NAs period and bores me now.Maybe that's why I prefer TSJA to Torchwood despite me being in my thirties.
Btw, I grew tirem of DW forums out there who state that the RTD era was crap and now Doc Oho Reviews is like my second home on the net.

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