Friday, July 17, 2009

You Don't Know Jack

For months now I've been looking forward to the third series of Torchwood. I don't really know why as I'm not Torchwood's biggest fan. If you've never seen Torchwood, it's a BBC show (shown in the U.S. on BBC America) about a high level government organization responsible for monitoring and dealing with alien activity on Earth. The team is led by Captain Jack Harkness, a character first introduced on Doctor Who, who became frozen in time by the Doctor's time machine and now cannot die. Torchwood has had some great episodes but, ultimately, I've found it to be a broken show. It's storylines are too often depressing are sometimes just dumb, like the time an alien arrived on Earth, possessed a pretty young woman and used her to screw men to death and absorb their sexual energy. That's more like something you'd read in a fanfic though the fanfic would have crossed over with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars. Still, the show has been just good enough to hold my attention.

When Executive Producer Russell T. Davies announced that series 3 of Torchwood would be a five episode story arc instead of a full season of individual episodes, I thought that was a great idea. Sure, we don't get as much but since each of the two previous series only had around five really good episodes each anyway, I figured this was the perfect model for the show. It turns out I was right.

The five episode mini-series Torchwood: Children of the Earth is pretty damn good. Not great, but close. Due to plot of the series two finale, the Torchwood team is now down to three members. Jack, ex-cop Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones who formerly acted more as the team's caretaker but, through attrition, now does a great deal of field work. He also became Jack's boyfriend, something that redefines the words, "field work." The story opens in 1965 when a group of pre-teens is being bused out to the Scottish countryside. When the bus stops, a light appears and the kids walk into it with only one looking back. We jump to 2009 when Gwen Cooper spots of couple of kids standing silently. Just standing. Their parents thought they were just being difficult kids. It didn't last too long and no one thought much of it until Torchwood and another branch of the government figured out that this happened to every child on the planet at the same time.

And...that's about as far as I want to go into plot specifics. There's five hours worth of stuff and I could reveal a little more without entering true spoiler territory but I really believe you'll enjoy it more if I don't. I will say that, during the five hour run, you'll see action, adventure, humor, sadness, triumph, tragedy, truly casual evil on the part of both the aliens and the humans and a lead character doing something that can only be described as both necessary and unforgivable.

Torchwood: Children of the Earth reaffirms my love for the BBC. They are just as capable as the U.S. of creating disgustingly stupid television programming but I truly believe that the very best of what they do is better than the very best of what we do. I also can't see this storyline having been done in America. Oh, we do some good stuff, but we don't do anything that has the guts and takes the risks that Torchwood does. At the very least, the networks would have wanted the ending changed and almost certainly would wanted the homosexual relationship between Jack and Ianto shelved.

I'm not sure what the future of Torchwood will be now. This is an excellent redemption for what was a broken show and, if it ended here, that would be fine with me. Still, maybe they'll be back next year. If this were made in America, they'd move the location to Hollywood and add a kid and a cigar smoking chimp to the cast and maybe do a Very Special Episode where Gwen goes blind or we find out that Jack never learned to read. Fortunately, this is made in England which means to worst we can expect is that they'll boil all the flavor out of their vegetables.

Torchwood: Children of the Earth
is showing next week, July 20-24, on BBC America. As they say, check your local listings for the time.

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