9/8/09

Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009)

John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Peter Capaldi (John Frobisher)

Directed by Euros Lyn / Written by Russell T. Davies

IMDB: At 8:45AM, every child in the world suddenly stops and begins chanting the words "we are coming" again and again...

Keven and I, along with a number of our friends, were greatly looking forward to this five-part miniseries, which constitutes all of the new Torchwood episodes we'll receive until further notice. Too bad that I was disappointed overall.

Part one was very much the epitome of sci-fi storytelling: What the hell is going on? A great number of people, concepts, terms, and theories were thrown at us pretty nonstop. But I had no worries. Sci-fi is like that. Viewers or readers simply have to trust that the storytelling team will answer the many, many questions they raise. The concept was suitably creepy, and I like that Jack, Gwen, and Ianto were still fairly torn up about the loss of their teammates, but Tosh and Owen added a great deal. I'm afraid that simply adding Rhys to the lineup in an informal way, plus introducing new family members--Jack's daughter and grandson, and Ianto's sister and her family--did not make up for that loss.

But oh, Peter Capaldi was very, very good. The finale of his character was especially gruesome, reminding me of the murder scene in Heavenly Creatures--the sheer horror of going through it.

The 456 were also pretty grim. We never get a good glimpse of what these creatures look like, which added to the disgusting terror of their menace. The constant vomiting was particularly effective, hearkening to primal thoughts of disease, contagions, and uncleanliness. Very well done.

Also well done was one of Russell T. Davies created specialties: humans turning on one another. The scene where the government decides which 10% of the children will be sacrificed is terrifying in its simplicity. The potboiler atmosphere reminds me of the Doctor Who episode "Midnight," wherein the Doctor is trapped for several hours with a half-dozen humans and is very nearly killed because of their groupthink fear. The other allusion could be to the fantastic film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci as the man who conducted the meeting where the blueprints for the Final Solution were agreed upon in Nazi Germany. Simple ideas become hellish ideas with only a few small jumps. This scene was by far my favorite of the whole five part series.

And while there was much to be happy with--for example, I quite liked Gwen's monologue about the Doctor, and Ianto's working-class Welsh family was an endearing blend of homophobic and lovingly loyal--there was also much to deride. The issue of Gwen's pregnancy dominated far too much of the plot, and Lois was a particularly weak character assigned with far too many important roles. Her "contact lens" function was just lazy storytelling. And I could not suspend my disbelief to the point of accepting that a room full of concrete hardened in a matter of minutes, nor could I believe that a building's worth of people who had just been killed by an alien contagion would not be under extreme quarantine. Gwen simply walked in order to say her last goodbyes to Ianto. My furious headshaking got in the way of what was intended to be a very touching scene.

And Ianto. I know a great many people were extremely displeased by his fate, and how Jack never said that he loved him. I argued that no main Doctor Who-universe character can say "I love you," because it defeats the ongoing nature of the series and its lonely protagonists. My beef with the whole incident was that I didn't believe he was actually gone. It had all the hallmarks of a last-minute resurrection scenario, so I didn't get the full impact until the final credits rolled. By then, with its deeply unsatisfying ending, I was beyond caring.

I do hope they don't leave the series with this as its capstone. Season two, especially, was far too good to let this be our last taste. My hope is they'll go away, dream it all up again, and bring back the evil bitch played by Liz May Brice as a full cast member.

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