Torchwood: Children of Earth could be best Torchwood yet

Although I have been blogging on sci-fi for more than a year now, this is my first post on Torchwood ahead of its truncated but excitingly scheduled third series, Children of Earth.

I tried to work out why it had missed out earlier, and I think the reason is for large parts of its first series and some of its second, it just wasn’t very good. And for wasn’t very good, read a total fucking mess.

It started with a great premise – Captain Jack leading a team defending the earth from alien menaces by using alien technology, with a more adult vibe than Doctor Who. So far, so cool … but … where to begin?

For starters, huge chunks of the show didn’t make sense, I mean, you’re a top secret team, but you drive a big car with your name on it and tell everyone who you are. You keep a pterodactyl for no reason? You stand on top of the Welsh Assembly building, again for no reason?

Secondly you’re supposed to be using alien technology to save the earth, but – presumably for budget reasons – we never saw much of it.

In fact their standard tactics were argue, swear, shag, get Jack killed or kill Jack themselves, Jack comes back to life and saves the day, which is fine, but for a supposedly top secret anti-alien team I was expecting something more, like a sense they knew what they were doing and had some sort of clue.

The swearing bothered me, because it felt like they were a middle-class teenager having a party when their parents were away who thought saying fuck was so shitting cool, yah! Fuck yah, we just said fuck!! It takes more than that to make a programme an adult drama.

John Barrowman was overpowering as Captain Jack, which meant that the rest of the team withered next to the power of his awesome, indestructible jazz hands.

And then there was Owen. He was supposedly the ladies man, but was such a rat-faced little turd that it was hard to imagine any woman – alien or not – going within 10 yards of him.

Christ he got on my nerves, right up until he was vapourised in a nuclear meltdown. Normally when a central cast member dies it is a moment for sadness and reflection but I was wooting with delight.

It added up to a wildly uneven programme with the very talented Eve Myles and handful of good episodes – They Keep Killing Suzie was the best from S1 – being lost amid some very poor writing, effects and undeveloped ideas, like the episode where the bloke was knocked down and died, but didn’t, but then he did, or something. I’ve seen school plays with a better storyline.

However it did enough to justify the second series and the bar was raised massively, mostly by the introduction of James Marsters as Captain John, who was brilliant whenever he appeared.

Along with other guest stars, much better plots and better use of Cardiff as a location, it meant I no longer had to watch through my hands and could actually talk about it in work the next day without people pointing and laughing.

Not everything worked – the Meat episode featuring the whale from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a clunker – but the show felt more comfortable and sure of itself.

Which brings us to series three, Children of Earth, which looks nice and creepy if the trailer is anything to go by – kids are always creepy in sci-fi.

It has actually had some buzz built up around it by the BBC’s delays in deciding when to broadcast it.

Although they only have five shows – presumably to save money – they turned that potential weakness into a strength by broadcasting on consecutive nights.

That was a brilliant decision by whoever made it, meaning the show is now a BBC1 prime-time event.

Of course the flip side of that is it has to deliver, but without Who to work on, all the energy of the creative team down in Cardiff is focused on Torchwood for the first time.

To me, Torchwood has improved but it has never really delivered what it promised to do when it started out, but the success of series two and what I have seen so far gives me real hope it will finally step up.

Roll on Monday July 6!

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