Torchwood: Children of Earth

Monday, July 6, 2009 by

BBC1Pretty much everything that’s wrong with Torchwood: Children of Earth can be summed up by one shot near the beginning of the first episode. 

We pan across a Cardiff street where Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is standing in front of a cash machine.  A mundane tableau, except that Gwen looks just like a character out of a TV drama.  Is it her immaculately styled hair? Or perhaps the way she seems to be wearing a costume rather than clothes?  The best science fiction succeeds in making the incredible feel credible, but that’s something that from the evidence of this opening episode is still beyond Torchwood‘s grasp.

It’s not obvious whether this level of stylisation is deliberate, or whether the production team are earnestly trying to make the world of Torchwood appear authentic.  If it’s the latter, it’s just not working.  In this episode we’re presented with Peter Capaldi (playing Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, John Frobisher), who is clearly a character that is meant to be steeped in sophisticated politicking.  However, this is all rather undermined by the fact he is dressed to look like a cross between the Demon Headmaster and an all too archetypal civil servant.

Then there’s the government computer system.  If a common-or-garden university network can track which accounts are active on which computers, you’d think the government’s PCs could at least do something similar.  Here, armed only with someone else’s log in details, junior PA Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) is able to access all sorts of confidential information – it just doesn’t feel believable.

We’re not asking here for authenticity – merely credibility.  It is said that when writing State of Play Paul Abbott didn’t research how investigative journalism actually works, he just made it up.  Whilst he might have got things wrong, there was always an air of plausibility to his newsroom.  Conversely the government machinations in Torchwood never feel authentic.

Mind you, in other aspects Torchwood: Children of Earth was really quite good.  Doctor Rupesh Patanjali (Rik Makarem) looked for all the world as if he was destined to become a Torchwood operative but – in a neat twist on our expectations – he was revealed in the episode’s last act as something more sinister.

Paul Copley’s performance as Clem MacDonald was also well worth watching, but then Copley is the type of actor that Torchwood needs – able to live up to the over-inflated realism of the lead characters, while still grounding his performance in authenticity.

And it all moved along at quite a pace too – this speediness in part thanks to the fact that the central storyline of (what seems to be) an oncoming alien invasion is one that most viewers will be very familiar with, meaning we could quickly fill in the gaps in the plotline as they came and went.

From here it’s going to whip along, such that by the end of the week it’ll all be done – and that perhaps is the most commendable thing about this third series – it’s probably going to be great fun. You’ve seen the (flawed) series, now enjoy the (equally flawed) rollercoaster ride – just don’t look too closely at the joins.


7 Responses to “Torchwood: Children of Earth”

  1. Applemask on July 7th, 2009 6:19 pm

    Now you’re just trying too hard. Criticising it for getting Peter Garibaldibiscuit’s costume right?

  2. Michelle on July 10th, 2009 5:23 pm

    Have to say I didn’t think Children of Earth started off too well, but don’t you think it’s got stronger (presuming you continued watching) as the week has gone on? I agree that some of it’s unbelievable in terms of what Lois was able to view, but then isn’t that what the show is all about – I mean we don’t actually have aliens on Earth… do we??

  3. Keith on July 10th, 2009 6:02 pm

    You’re concentrating way too hard on the little things like the costumes- which are meant to be campy and overdrawn. It’s a spinoff of a sci-fi kid’s show for goodness sakes! Of course it’s ridiculous, that’s why we love it. It’s the characters that are the best thing about Torchwood- Captain Jack will certainly go down in the history books- and Children of Earth has brought us a host of brilliant new characters (Capaldi and Jack’s Daughter in particular) while continuing to develop more and more layers to the characters we already know. In this amazing mini-series Ianto has really come into his own, and John Barrowman is finally getting to show off some of his amazing acting abilities. Plus the aliens are incredibly creepy :) This is a great show that has only gotten better with the move to BBC1.

  4. Martin on July 11th, 2009 8:23 am

    Care to revisit your opinion now, after 5 episodes of the best drama on TV, in my opinion, this year?

    In fact the most surprising thing was throughout the 5 episodes my wife and I were asking each other “Is this really Torchwood?”…the previous series were mediocre (“forgettable” was my wife’s opinion) but this was adult in the right way – not swearing and shagging, but unremitting bleakness caused by adults being forced to make the “right” choice.

    Doctor Who fans have always claimed it to be an adult show (c.f. Genesis of The Daleks)…how does it feel when you see a real adult show?

  5. Jack Kibble-White on July 12th, 2009 7:38 pm

    Hello Martin – just finished watching the fifth episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth and consider my opinion revised. Eps 2 to 5 were really brilliant, and like you, my wife and I were similarly surprised that this was indeed Torchwood. It reminded me in scale and tone of the John Mills’ Quatermass – which is obviously a good thing. In fact, you could almost describe it as a remake. Really excellent stuff, and I hope if they do decide to make another series, they keep to this sort of event format.

  6. Nick H on July 12th, 2009 10:34 pm

    Doctor Who is/was a children’s show, but it did tackle more grown up themes (Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Silurians etc). In many ways, this was Torchwood’s ‘Genesis’ and indeed it’s the other story which might provide the key for the next story if they do it…

  7. Carmen on July 19th, 2009 9:53 pm

    Would pay my TV licence purely on the strength of this series. Got rid of Sky just as it finished, I was still blubbing. Very brave I thought, everybody (I mean EVERYBODY) loves Capt Jack in some way or other, to put him in that situation and give him that non-choice, soul destroying, epic brave TV. The paradox now is the same as Cadbury and the drum playing gorilla, nothing will ever come close.