Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Torchwood: Children of the Earth (spoiler free)

I recently had the opportunity to watch Torchwood: Children of the Earth and I came away most impressed. I thought I'd ramble on a bit about it.

As a Doctor Who fan, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that Doctor Who was coming back. I loved the cheesy 70s and 80s episodes that I'd seen, but wasn't sure that the same level of magic could work in a modern setting. When I heard it was a fully in-continuity continuation, rather than a reboot, I warmed up a bit, though my skepticism remained. Watching it on the Sci-Fi channel, though, my doubts were dispelled. Here was a show with all the magic and charm and wit of the classic Who, but with modern aesthetics. The best of the old and new, coming together.

So, naturally, I had high hopes for Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off following alien investigators in Wales. They imported over Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, a break-away companion character introduced late in the first season. He did have some changes, though. He was immortal now, and a bit more serious than when we last saw him swashbuckling around with Rose and The Doctor. He was joined by a crew of four. Former policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), the female lead and newest member, was a proxy for the audience. Doctor Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) provides medical expertise and a generally unpleasant disposition. Toshiko 'Tosh' Sato (Naoko Mori) is a brilliant but insecure computer programmer. Rounding out the team is Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), the jack-of-all-trades administrator of the team. They are based around The Hub, a huge complex built around a time/space rift in Cardiff. Things drift in and out of the rift, giving the team plenty to do in any given season.

Unfortunately, Seasons 1 and 2 were both a bit disappointing. It lacks the child-like sense of wonder that Doctor Who does so well, trying instead for a grittier reality. Unfortunately, it commits the same sin that many programs do when trying to be 'adult'; it winds up being juvenile. More sex and violence does not equal more mature. Oh, sure, there are some great episodes here and there. Countrycide, in season 1, pits the team against an extremely terrestrial threat. Owen has some great character development in season 2. Season 2 also features some terrific guest spots by Buffy's James Marsters as Captain John Hart, foil fantastic for Captain Jack. Still, the general effect was one that left me a bit indifferent. Glad I watched them, but not really needing to get the DVDs. (I usually buy DVDs so that I can share a series with someone else; my family, my fiancee, my buddies, someone. I love rewatching a great show or movie with some fresh eyes.)

That all changed with Torchwood, Season 3. Instead of a full thirteen episode season, the producers opted instead for a more limited approach. Five episodes, but all telling one massive story. This, finally, is a tale where adult means adult. The drama is real, and human, and poignant. There is love, and loss, and sacrifice from many unexpected quarters. The stakes are higher than ever, somehow higher than the usual 'the universe might end' that is so often employed because the stakes are more relateable. The writers expertly jerk us around with some false leads, playing on the knowledge of how the show is structured to lead us down some blind alleys. The miniseries format really works well, allowing the whole story to build to a crescendo.

I don't want to say more, because it hasn't aired yet in America, but I highly recommend this series. Watch it, buy it, love it! Torchwood: Children of Earth is available from for under $20, and will be airing on BBC America starting 7/20 at 9:00 PM.

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