Children of Earth: Day Two.



TV Day Two was a demonstration of how a writer can get away with an awful lot if what they’re showing us is entertaining enough. In the main, this was the kind of episode Terrance Dicks describes on the dvd of The War Games as capture and release, in which some of our heroes are thrown in a prison cell and we have to watch them being rescued by the rest of our heroes to play for narrative time. Though it has to be said that it's not often the cell has to not only be broken into but hurled into a quarry.

Closely adhering to the old Doctor Who story structure, not much happened in this second episode in terms of the main plot; we found out a bit about the 456 (that they could be ambassadors of death or the people who top up an Orange mobile phone or something) and their timetable for approach and that the government have been aware of this kind of thing for ages (obviously) but mainly this was about re-emphasising the threat and putting some of the human shaped chess pieces in place ready for later in the week.

New writer John Fay took the baton from Russell T and blazed into the bend with it, delivering an episode in which our heroes might not have been running anywhere in particular but did so in just as appealing a way. I must have mentioned this before, but one of my favourite ever moments in new-Who is the chip shop scene in The Parting of the Ways. While Rose silently ponders the battle that is being waged in the future which she’s been exiled from, Jackie and Mickey chat about a new pizza shop which is opening nearby. We discover that it sells pizzas. It’s one of those nonsensical bits of small talk which happens between people who don’t have much else to say and it’s an example of what Russell T Davies has promoted so well throughout his version of the franchise, clashing and comparing the mundane with the fantastic.

What I love most about this new iteration of Torchwood is that it takes that approach and daubs it across every scene. I’ve already seen some complaints that it means that the series lacks that Spooksian sheen of reality (yeah, right), but personally I’d be annoyed if anything set in the Whoniverse did suddenly descend into a more visceral sense of reality and the kind of cartoon humour we saw tonight which balances on a tightrope somewhere between 24, Gavin & Stacey (I expect since I haven’t seen it), Outnumbered and Viz Comic. I’d much rather have anti-Tucker’s kids taking the piss out of him than cowering in terror and if BBC Cymru have any sense they’ll give Ianto’s brother-in-law his own series. I’m sure there would be quite some mileage in watching him and PC Andy chasing weevils.

In most other scenarios Agent Johnson would be a deadly assassin but isn’t it more fun that she just keeps missing our heroes like a leatherclad Wile E Coyote not at all suspecting that they’d have some way of making off with a concrete cell containing the man who cannot die? That the flakey manager of a haulage firm is the linchpin of that plan, a plan predicated on fortuitous information passed down by a governmental Huggy Bear/Deep Throat/PA with a password across a dinner table during the scoffing of pie dinner? Was that even a question?

The point is that whilst other franchises try to pretend that they’re on some dramatic cutting edge but are simply disingenuously burying this stuff under a mountain of technobabble and wizzy special effects, Torchwood’s wearing its goofiness on its sleeve. Except for Jack who at the end of the episode, once he'd been smashed out of the Rachel Whiteread sculpture, didn’t have any sleeves or anything else on for that matter much to the delight of Gwen and presumably Ianto who'll start cracking a smile again. Gareth's face never looks quite right when it has to frown all of the time.

The slow reveal of the aliens is remarkable what with the propensity of the franchise to throw them as soon as possible. If there's a potential weak point its that Mr Dekker (played with all of the charm of a British Leo McGarry by Ian Gelder) is building up tension about them so well that their appearance, as with most mysterious alien races from the Cloverfield monstrosity backwards to the beginning of time, can only be a disappointment.

That's what ultimately ruined The X-Files -- the war on Earth we were shown couldn't match up to the hints and ideas rattling around our heads; arguably the best shows have put the alien menace up front and made the surprise what their plan is. Given the title of the series and the themes, I'm expecting it to be the return of the kids we saw abducted at the opening of the first episode. Hopefully we're not looking forward to the higher production value CGI remergance of some humanoids covered in tin foil who just turn out to be friends of the Sontarans or the Daleks yet again.

Also, how would these first episodes have differed if Sweet FA had been available? Would she have been working undercover within the anti-Tucker's office and if so are we seeing a slightly more depthful version through her replacement, one in which we're getting to see the kind of ethical choices whoever had the MPs expenses cd need to make when trying to decide if the public had a right to know (see John, I can do politics too). The poetically named Cush Jumbo (who surely would have owned an airline in another life) was very fresh and witty and a worthy replacement so hopefully her character will survive beyond the end of the series.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t noticed a couple of in-universe implausibilities. Yes me. Watching that crater which fills the space where the Hub used to be I did wonder about were all of the alien artefacts have gone and why the emergency services were so readily allowed to trample all over the area. When the bits of Jack were carried away on the stretcher I’d half expected them to be revealed to be bits of Suzie or one of the dozens of other people from the vault. How come the guards at the facility holding Jack didn’t know what his other colleagues, still at large looked like, why the security cameras didn’t have some kind of facial recognition software, in other words rather than trying to chat Gwen up why wasn’t he arresting her?

Tomorrow: They're here. Though we probably won't actually get to see them until Friday.

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