Torchwood: Children of Earth
Monday, July 6, 2009 by Jack Kibble-White
Pretty 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.