TV EYE: Torching the Wood – ‘Children of Earth’ : Day One

Hard as it may be to believe, but I’m giving Torchwood’s third season – the five-night miniseries ‘Children of Earth’ – a try. I watched the first episode last night, and prior to watching the second, I thought I’d jot down some quick reactions just so I can chart whether this goes quite as badly as my previous Torchwood experiences. But, at least for the moment… it’s going fairly well. ‘Day One’ was RTD’s first script for Torchwood since the first ever episode, and it’s safe to say that this is a major improvement – but one of the biggest shocks is simply that it actually (at least for now) feels like they know what kind of show they’re trying to make. Torchwood has been characterised by some jaw-dropping shifts in atmosphere and tone over its past two seasons, and it’s always felt like a really awkward blend of cheery comedy, hard-edged SF and bloody horror. The gore was severely ratcheted back in S2, and now they seem to have dumped a good portion of the nonsensical cartoonishness – what we’ve essentially got now is Spooks crossed with The X-Files, and so far the result is actually pretty good.

Giving the story a much bigger scope is a good idea, widening it out from being stuck in Cardiff is an excellent idea, and trimming down the team to a trio is one of the best ideas they’ve had in ages (pity we had to go through Owen and Tosh’s hilariously overblown death scene in order to get here, though). We’ve got political shenanigans, mysterious killers, and an alien threat that feels genuinely threatening and isn’t in any way being played for laughs – in fact, aside from the somewhat dumb sequence with the pimped-up Torchwood-movile being stolen, most of the comedy worked fairly well, and while there was a slight overdose of soap opera, it wasn’t enough to grind the episode to a standstill. Annoyances? Well, it’s a shame we’re back with “Dark Jack”, considering how poorly that worked out last time (and that, as I keep saying, Barrowman really doesn’t have the chops as a dramatic actor), and there are points where the storytelling is both predictable and slightly dumb (The whole ‘blank page’ idea for the death order was nicely played, but it did seem a bit silly to then write “ORDER TO KILL” in big letters at the top of the relevant e-mail, simply so that new-and-suspicious secretary knows what’s going on).

And yet, we’ve got a couple of decent surprises (I didn’t expect friendly Casualty doctor to turn out to be a traitor – in fact, I was slightly dreading him being drafted into Torchwood as a new audience identification figure, so was rather happy when he got killed off), some good guest stars (particularly Peter Capaldi, playing the anti-Malcom Tucker), and for the first time this does actually feel like the grown-up extension of Doctor Who that Torchwood always claimed it was going to be – it doesn’t seem insane that this is taking place in the same universe as Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and it’s pacy and energetic enough so far to overlook most of the flaws. For now, consider me entertained. Of course, there’s four more hours to go, and plenty of ways in which it could all go hideously wrong. This is Torchwood, after all…

Okay. Time for Day Two. Let’s see how this pans out…

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