July 19, 2009

TV Review | Torchwood: Children of Earth 1.1

I go into Torchwood: Children of Earth (SPACE: July 20-24, 10:00 PM ET) not being a Torchwood fan.  This is due to the first-series episodes I watched, which I felt were terrible.  The show struck me then as trying to be Doctor Who The Alien Slayer, failing miserably in the process.  Torchwood allegedly improved in its second series, not that I watched to find out.

Torchwood: Children of Earth has done exceedingly well for BBC One.  Viewers think it’s just awesome, enough that Torchwood: Children of Earth grabbed viewing figures of almost 6 million and held on to them by week’s end.  The New York Times thinks Torchwood: Children of Earth is silly, not that the Times gives a damn about proper arts criticism.

The question remains: do I like Torchwood now, as it gains its best-ever standing?  Emphatically, yes.  This is the first episode of Torchwood I’ve seen that feels properly adult as opposed to “here’s an alien, I’m gay, you’re gay, let’s have an orgy.”

I’m not going overboard with praise for Torchwood: Children of Earth.  The children-presage-alien-invasion angle takes its cue from John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos,” running it through a Quatermass II filter.  It’s bluntly obvious the ideas aren’t new.  Being derivative is one of Russell T. Davies’ main faults, so no big surprise there.

What makes Torchwood: Children of Earth promising is the fact that, even though it’s derivative apocalyptic storytelling, it’s damn good apocalyptic storytelling.  The alien menace, at least in the first episode, is abstract.  There is proper setup for the episodes to come.  Main protagonist Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) even keeps the man-kissing to a minimum.

While the soap opera elements aren’t removed from Torchwood, the human reaction to an alien invasion comes first.  Torchwood: Children of Earth finds the balance between science fiction and its brand of human drama, adding a layer of government conspiracy in the process.  Even the sight of children standing and screaming doesn’t hurt proceedings.

Russell T. Davies’ work on Doctor Who and Torchwood has been all over the map.  His Doctor Who specials and episodes are normally heavy on spectacle, light on coherent plot.  With Torchwood: Children of Earth, he delivers the whole package.  Perhaps it’s due to two characters dying at the end of the second series, but Torchwood: Children of Earth is not afraid to blow itself up at this point.  It’s event programming that actually delivers on its promises.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is off to a great start.  Either the show is wrapping up or rebooting itself, but Torchwood has definitely improved from its debut.  Past history be damned, Torchwood: Children of Earth is great television.

Aside: why do people refer to this series as Torchwood: Children of Men?  I’ve made mistakes like this before.  I only recently realized Martha Jones’ actor was Freema Agyeman, not Agyema Freeman.  Children of Men, though?!  I’ve seen professionals make this mistake.

Ah, well.  Stay tuned this week as I review Doctor House: Planet of the Dead.  It’ll be excoriating!

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