Saturday, July 11, 2009

Torchwood 1/5 - Suffer The Children

I remember when I was young
The world had just begun
And I was happy!
I used to wonder about the Earth
And how it moved around the sun
So snappy!

"Imagination go wild
Makes a very backward child,"
They told me
So back at school, I'd sit around
Just waiting for the sound
So I could go home.

Sometimes I think about it
It happens every day
I should think of the present
Cause the present's now...

First things first - thank god they've changed the opening titles: an acid wash of white with the title in black. Not like that godawful unsubtle pretentious muck of neon signs flashing "TORCHWOOD" over and over again against gritty black gravitas as John Barrowman whispers "Torchwood" over and over again. It's like that South Park episode full of trailers for Rob Schnieder films that get less and less detailed until one trailer is just "Schnieder Schnieder Schnieder! Schnieder? Schnieder Schnieder!!". The music too has lost that stupid whispering, leaving only the original music cue from Army of Ghosts (or the opening theme to Ghostbusters as anyone normal would recognize it).

For the first time since 2006, RTD finally bothers to turn his attention back to the neglected and abused fruit of Doctor Who's loins. Pity that it's at the end of his reign where his mighty powers are failing, but I suppose it's the thought that counts - and that's the problem really. It seems he's trying to make Children of Earth a stepping-on point for new viewers, despite all the signs being this is the last series. This means we get a relatively entertaining sequence where we discover two incredibly camp and unconvincing neighbours of a dead man are actually Ianto and Captain Jack harvesting an alien symbiote from the poor sucker's chest - um, why? Why not just shout "We're Torchwood! Hand over the body!" like they've done so many times before? Is it just Janto having fun? Or has RTD still found it impossible to work his Excalibur pitch after all these years. I mean, why the hell do we get "CARDIFF" superimposed over that same bloody shot of the bay, but not "LONDON" when shown the Houses of Parliament? Did they just forget?

Nevertheless, he has succeeded in making the cast likable and enjoyable and also having the Welsh portrayed as vaguely sentient - as a friendly and seemingly sane Gwen chats with the fishermen down at Mermaid Bay and discuss the chances of sea monsters attacking Cardiff (not entirely jokingly). The Torchwood gang are relaxed in their company, aware of their faults, and not as hair trigger as has been shown - mind you, Gwen kissing a VERY crumpled photo of Owen and Tosh looks rather strange, creepy and no doubt baffles new viewers. Jack and Ianto have returned from their pointlessly-undercover trip to the hospital, where they appear to have considered a passing medic as a possible replacement for Owen (but turn him down on the grounds he's NHS). "You're Torchwood, aren't you?" exclaims the medic at the oversexed gay couple shouting about aliens get into the SUV with the flashing neon Torchwood sign. "Never heard of them," Jack opines.

I'm honestly not sure if this is MEANT to be hilarious or not.

Some plot... admittedly, not a lot, but some: all across Cardiff children seemingly froze in mid-step at the exact same time. Typically, every single adult assumes the kids are winding them up, even Rhys who is the position of seeing a whole school turning into statues. Now, I don't want to bang on about this, but considering it's not that long since the EARTH VANISHED and ALIENS INVADED, that maybe, just maybe anyone over the age of 20 might suspect a non-terrestrial explanation. But after a minute or so, they all came back to life with no ill effects. The people of Wales saw nothing of interest in this but, in a fig leaf of non-Welsh-hatred, apparently everyone else on the planet chalked this one down to experience as well. However, UNIT (as established in the Sarah Jane Adventures, reconstituted with ruthless psychos and nutters after all the cool leaders were exterminated) have worked out from their funky software that this Midwich Cuckoos shite took place across the entire Earth. And they don't want anyone else to twig to this, and the only people that could possibly work it out as well are Torchwood.

Now, last year, did I not predict this in Reset? That the Institute would finally prove too much hassle for the other governments who rightly are sick and tired of these MIB-wannabes and unite against them? Clearly RTD is ripping me off, and I have a lot more evidence to support that theory than the ones Spara is peddling out with the self-restraint of Minime humping a giant death star laser. But is the ditzy Lois intern at Westminster REALLY a moron - does she not realize the big black general is in a UNIT uniform? Does she have no idea what UNIT is? Or is she just playing dumb and really undercover? Who knows?

Luckily, Gwen is the only person to have spotted two children acting zombified and thought it worth researching (that computer of theirs is amazing, just typing in "children" gives you an instant plot rather, say, than Jack's amazing hardcore porn collection he must surely possess?). Quickly working out that this business is global, Jack immediately pulls all his strings and... comes up with fuck all. Martha's on her honeymoon, Colonel Mace is in America, and no one wants to talk to them for some reason (maybe it was the way they immediately surrendered to the Daleks, hid underground and left everyone to their fate?).

That medic I mentioned earlier who I haven't been bothered to work out the name for decides to follow Gwen's example and stalk a secret underground organization - which, worryingly, seems entirely what Jack wanted. Presumably this is some kind of justification for why Gwen of all people was hired, as they need someone persistent, dogmatic, with no apparent social life and also seemingly with a short term memory less than Bernard Black on the piss. Why are we on a traffic island, anyway? As Ianto notes, Rupesh (that's his name, BTW) didn't actually have to look very hard to find them: "Ask someone about Torchwood, they point to the bay." Gwen, for her part, needs to bounce up and down pointing out to these "bastards" that "that's exactly what you first did to me!" which should surely be enough to put them off this course of action in future, but Psycho Cooper skips away, determined to make herself recruitment officer.

Left alone, Ianto gets a bit teary when it's clear Jack doesn't like the word "couple" and acts like the teaboy is stifling him. Way to go keeping with the continuity from the audios there, RTD, you REALLY give the impression you listened all the way through. A clue: no. Why do you even let these things get made if you have no interest in paying attention to them? I tell you, when the complete history of the Torchwood TV series is written, it'll be painfully obvious that production teams took more care and attention tying into TV Comic strips than Torchwood. And, yeah, some Quarks wouldn't go amiss either...

Rupesh (who, in his long blue coat looks way too much like dressing up as Jack) is left far from comfortable at Gwen's meet and greet and her cheerful "You know, ANYONE could have a disgusting alien symbiote inside them? Ain't that neat?" (mind you, as the symbiotes cause an almost psychotic happiness, maybe Gwen IS infected) before going on at length at the AMAZINGLY HUGE paychecks Torchwood gives out. This nugget of info might explain why Gwen stays on, but her admission that she immediately spent it all on clothes she never wears and all hidden under the bed so her boyfriend was kept ignorant starts to crack the "likable" factor we were really desperate for. She's also become a randy 14-year-old again, knocking back coffee disturbingly. Rupesh tries to cover awkward gaps in the conversation by telling us that, yep, everyone STILL believes aliens aren't real because they're all religious and don't want to admit science has won... so all the ones that DIDN'T instantly commit suicide are lost in denial.


You really don't want any of Torchwood to be canonical, do you, RTD?

Anyway, Rupesh is worried about bodies vanishing from the morgue, especially as they AREN'T being nicked by Torchwood for their own sadistic purposes, but suddenly the kids start freezing again. Actually, it's good they got the little actors to try and stand still (which they fail at miserably - just like they would in real life) so you know for sure that they're not using screencaps on pause. This lingers on just long enough for it to stop being wierd, start being funny, stop being funny and then become boring.

And then all the kids start screaming in a clear homage to Delta and the Bannermen. (You'd be amazed at how big some of the kids can get their mouths... while others don't even try (18m 10s in).) Before chanting "Wee-wee" for a few moments and then doing the "We are coming" in ridiculously deep, Nick Briggsian tones. Our heroes react with Gwen suffering acute "WTFitis", Ianto filming it all on a digital camera, and Jack not doing a sodding thing bar looking good in long shots bitching how "this has gone public".

Interesting, Matthews from Hornblower is similarly chanting this at the lunatic asulym (the only adult to be similarly effected) - but I'm more concerned that one of the nurses is more interested in filming this? Does Youtube offer cash rewards for uploaded close encounters of the third kind nowadays? In any case, she doesn't get much film before the effect vanishes: all the children are back to normal and Matthews frantic that they have finally found him... yeah, whatever.

With their usual consistency, Torchwood immediately abandon their new recruit to retreat inside their "gigant science fiction superbase", while the UK goes into chaos (honestly, don't they know a Chaser-style stunt when they see one?) and the British liason with UNIT, Mr. Frobisher, is getting all the crap put on him. Things are so serious, people are exchanging passwords (believe me, that's a HUGE step), and Frobisher's partner in crime Ms Bridget Spears (no relation to Britney, thankfully) gives all her workload to Loopy Lois to field calls from Jack, and even HE can't begin to comprehend the stupidity on offer: "Torchwood? How do you spell that?"

But, egads, Lois discovers Jack is already on the database and is redflagged under "Notorious Bastards We've All Slept With", and with B. Spears' password, Lois is able to access this mighty folder and discover... their wikipedia entry. I boggle. I really do. You cheap bastard, Russell, I have got to admire such half-assedness - given the way he wrote whole articles about Harold Saxon for props to be used, this is just... guh. A similar mindblowing event strikes Loopy Lois as she sees the word "extraterrestrial" and her tiny brain implodes.

Meanwhile, the Civil Service Cockroaches Of Government (a Sir Humphrey Appleby version of Torchwood still using traditional 1970s radar props) have worked out the cause of this extracirricular activity amongst children: a burst of compressed info on the refrequency 4-5-6. Torchwood meanwhile are puzzled at the fact that every single child chanted "We are coming!" in English, when technically speaking, as Ianto reminds us, Mandarin is the most-spoken language on Earth and thus unlikely to be chosen by aliens to communicate. (I feel duty bound to point out that, as About Time notes, aliens trying to communicate would be most likely to use English learnt off transmissions from BBC radio...) while Rhys once again proves too damn clever as he concludes the possessions are being planned for when kids are out of school to cause mass panic. Deeply embarrassed, Gwen immediately flees the country, babbling about how she wants to adopt a Phillipino girl to clean chimneys.

Meantime, the successor to Aubrey Fairchild (the successor to Harold Saxon) is bitching about how earlier PMs only had to deal with the Cold War and Communism, not Daleks and Slitheen, and rejects Frobisher's suggestions about how to deal with Dark Secret Covert Stuff from the 1940s that have here and now come to bite them all in the arse. Jack and Ianto meantime, split up to meet their respective families, and it's both amusing and pitiful to see how the teaboy is so awkward around his own family (the children of whom communicate with him by taking cash from his wallet - well, it's less awkward than chatting, isn't it?). Ianto's sister is a big, generous, common-as-muck Welsh girl who is intensely interested in what her "bender" brother is doing with someone who looks like a movie star...

But Jack's family is even MOTE awkward. Turns out that he unsurprisingly fathered a family who are understandably pissed off the children now look older than the parent, with Jack's grandson assuming he's just a rather metrosexual uncle. Understandably, his ever-aging daughter has politely told Jack to sod off and stop reminding her how doomed she is, which is why she's never been mentioned or even hitherto-hinted at (I have to say, it's a better excuse for Jack to remain in Naughties Cardiff in Last of the Time Lords than the useless tossers he worked with). Jack has a fig-leaf in that oft-mentioned grey hair (hmm, yet after 2000 years, not another grey hair? I think he's fibbing), but the inlaws aren't THAT impressed. Especially as they know Jack is only around to get a kid to experiment on rather than for family time. Indeed, it seems they might overlook his immortality if he wasn't a totally ruthless amoral bastard working for the scum of the anti-alien workforces. Wow, Jack, how many people close to you need to tell you Torchwood is just plain crap before you get the message? Even the Master thought you could do better for fuck's sake!!

Meanwhile, Ianto discovers that triple-deadlock seals on the company car might defeat the Last of the Time Lords, but not common chavs who immediately steal the car for a laugh. Oh, the lack of irony. Especially as Ianto's brother-in-law starts hurling bricks at the idiot showing his arse out the passenger window. Yep, HIS arse. Damn gay agenda.

Gwen turns up at that mental hospital where she goes to chat with Matthews the Totally Unpredictable Nutter that the days about aliens being fake "are long gone" (Rusty, make your mind up), and Matthew licks Eve Myles to establish whether or not she's telling him the truth. Um. Full fist? Turns out Matthews was one of a busload of Scottish children that was abducted by aliens in the 1940s - but Matthews thinks they were all being set up by "the staff" that send them to be collected by Xtro-wannabes. Matthews managed to escape and has been in looney bins ever since, but now those damned aliens have come back for more! Yep, it shows that Gwen works best with the mentally unsound - so that nervous breakdown worked for the best. But what's this? One of Matthews' licks has revealed that Gwen got lucky eight weeks ago and is now up the duff!

The revelation leaves Gwen catatonic (mmm, forget that thing about the breakdown being a good thing) and she unintentionally gives away to UNIT - who are monitoring their phones - that she has found Matthews, who never revealed his real name of Clement McDonald so the conspiracy could never catch up with him. But now they have. Only took Torchwood twenty seconds and that's HIS life screwed forever. New record, Cooper!

While the increasingly-freaking out Frobisher and Spears "white page" people (seemingly by putting a blank A4 page into government files which no doubt has a huge hidden meaning), Lois remains mildly suspicious and decides to hack into the computers AGAIN. This time she discovers an email "blank page" - an assassination order put out on someone called Ellen Page, Colonel Andrew Staines, and Captain Jack Harkness (Active).

Jack (having stolen a car apparently) turns up to meet Rupesh and suggests kidnapping a few kids for medical experiments, wipe their minds, it's all good. But Rupesh is more concerned about another mysterious death, and as Jack examines the body, a woman hereby referred to as Tough Bitch blows Jack's brains out... twice... and then surgically implants something inside his body. You see, Rupesh was in on the conspiracy all along, luring Jack into this trap. Unsurprisingly he is now dispensable and, to cover their tracks, Tough Bitch kills Rupesh as well. When Jack snaps back to life, he assumes there's been a usual machine gun massacre and returns to the hub - where Gwen has somehow found a way for a photocopier to confirm her maternity (um... okaaaay....) while the man who told her is now on the run from Tough Bitch and her men as they storm the looney bin after him. Luckily Matthews' psychic sniffing warns him and he can escape.

Anyone reckon that RTD likes The Star Beast comic strip? He's certainly busy homaging its major cliffhanger, and, I'm sorry, if Jack can reset his body back to life... how come he doesn't expel the bomb (for it is a bomb) along with the numerous bullets, knives, etc? Oh, well, in any case, everyone's far too busy being domestic and congratulating Gwen on her newfound motherhood, until that funky photocopier reveals Jack is primed to explode. As all the children end dinner with more ominous chanting, Jack gets Gwen and Ianto to safety while he locks himself in the Hub for one massive and explosive redecorating job...

Rhoald Dahl Plass will never be quite the same again.

NEXT TIME: Um... MORE Children of Earth
"There are real aliens!"
Gwen's on the run. The Prime Minister's freaking out. The kids are chanting. And Jack's regrowing his epidermis.
So... pretty much the usual then, huh?

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