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TV: Torchwood – Children of Earth \ BBC

July 13, 2009

Some years ago – back when I thought the path to a glittering career in broadcasting could be followed by producing a weekly, highly amateurish and largely rambling podcast – I bid for an interview with Doctor Who head-honcho Russell T Davies and his executive producing associate Julie Gardner.

How could they resist, I thought to myself. Here I am. A smashing chap, desperate to make his way in the broadcasting world, equally desperate to break into the BBC, possessing an unfailing ability to spot exactly when a spot of ego massage is both timely and pragmatic. One hand washes the other, I thought. I’ll interview them on my little podcast and then people will go, “Oooooooh.”

Not so. Not only was Julie Gardner and Russell T Davies less than keen to be interviewed by a nobody like me, the thought of a podcast about the much-anticipated launch of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood was something they were even less enthusiastic about.

One or two people with potentially important broadcasting links took me to one side in the kitchen at work. “Whatever you’re planning on doing, take my advice and don’t. It’s not a good idea.” “But I like Doctor Who and I’m looking forward to Torchwood. It’s like Doctor Who but for me .. for a 30 something desperate to rekindle the fear he experienced in his spotty youth.”

“Forget it. Pick something else. Do something about that smoothie company in Shepherd’s Bush.”

I responded in typically adult and considered fashion, putting my first season DVD set of Doctor Who on eBay and channelling all my bitterness and resentment into a personal scathing assessment of the first episode of Torchwood. I recall no more from the first episode of the series than seemingly never-ending shots of an SUV (nobody calls it an SUV for God’s sake – it’s a four-by-four) and being unable to find an answer to the very simple question: “Why is this damn rift in Cardiff exactly?”

I didn’t watch past the first episode, told the person who advised me about the podcast the same and from then on fostered an unreasonably and unjustifiably mean dislike of John Barrowman with his white teeth, layers of make-up and tiresome attempt at hero-running in a trench coat. (Avoid the puddles man! Just because you think you’re a hero, doesn’t mean you should run through puddles. Think of your appearance.)

I didn’t listen to the Torchwood play on Radio 4 last year on the CERN day that never was nor did I commit to any more than the first 12 minutes of last week’s play entitled Asylum. I failed to catch up on the rest on the BBC’s iPlayeritAgain thing.

But .. I did resolve to watching Torchwood: Children of Earth which ran Monday to Friday last week Would I enjoy it? Would I still hate it?

Those dark feelings from nearly three years ago may well have hung around during the first episode.

I was skeptical about Peter Capaldi (has he now reached the point in his career when he’s rolled out to do everything high profile?), occasionally irritated by naff rock music intended to ramp up the tension and in the days following London’s Pride March I remained utterly unconvinced that a permanently non-aging alien-fighting hero’s on-screen romance was convincing or necessary.

Clearly demonstrating that I had come a long way in a few short years, I did however embrace the unexpectedly positive thoughts I had about the first episode. The story had pace; it felt like there was time to expand on things in this five day story; there wasn’t too much gratuitous running around; and it did look utterly fantastic (especially the helicopter shots of London government) in High Definition. It might even be a reason to go out and get HD if you haven’t already.

To pour over the detail of each and every episode would be pointless, difficult and almost certainly ring alarm bells in various people’s offices.

However, there was one point when I had what might be described as a mild, low-key road to Damascus experience.

Quite apart from the scene in which Captain Jack really is being punished (this was the first piece of horror inflicted on the character in which I genuinely felt villified), there was one scene in which the government of the day is forced to decide how to select the sacrificial lambs for the gruesome slimey thing with the insatiable appetite in the greenhouse downstairs. Within a space of a few seconds, the full horror of this ridiculous dilemma flicked the appropriate switches. Writers and producers clicked their fingers and stared into the eyes of the audience: what criteria would you use to feed that hideous thing downstairs?

As any sneery, childish old-school wanton Doctor Who fan will tell you, that scene was the kind of moment we all yearn for. It’s the moment when us fans are transported from the mere entertainment daubed all over the screen to a thought provoking place. Instead of physical motion on the screen, there was an emotional depth delivered quite unexpectedly.

The idea was plausible, one presented on screen without a single chance of a sneer interrupting the flow. The idea was planted in the mind of the audience who were in a split second left to think through the implications. It was showing not telling. It was kick-starting the imagination. It was classic “Who” (even if this was only a “Who” spin-off). It was a Genesis of the Daleks moment.

It was a moment which quite simply a prelude to some quite simply executed yet fundamentally dark and disturbing scenes in which vulnerability plays a very big part and the viewer is furtively wiping a tear from the eye.

It was a corker.

Do I regret the reaction I had to the first series? Could I in fact return to it having seen how good this five-parter was and drastically reassess the rest?

The answer to that is no. I may be self-deprecating and I may be quite open to change, but there are limits. The grauitous shot of John Barrowman’s backside at the beginning of one episode was a step too far no matter how good the fourth episode was.

Oh .. and in case you’re wondering, I didn’t find a buyer for the DVD set of the first series of Doctor Who. Any interested parties, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is available via Amazon. Go on. Buy it.

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