Monday, July 20, 2009

Torchwood Children of Earth, part 1: Big science fiction super-mess

As I wrote this morning, I don't have time to give each episode of "Torchwood: Children of Earth" the proper review it deserves, so I'm going to offer up a few quick thoughts after the jump and then open it up to you. Spoilers for episode one coming up just as soon as I smell a hand...
"It's like the whole wide world is bigger. My life is bigger." -Gwen Cooper
I used that quote already in my "Torchwood" column, but Rupesh and Gwen's exchange neatly sums up the awesomeness of "Children of Earth." You can look at the BBC reducing the third season from 13 episodes to 5 as a demotion, or as an opportunity for Russell T. Davies and company to expand the boundaries of what they were doing before -- which is exactly what they've done here.

Some people have compared "Children of Earth" to Davies' annual end-of-season, end-of-the-world extravaganzas on "Doctor Who." While those were never my favorite parts of their respective "Who" seasons, the apocalyptic scope works here because "Torchwood" operates on a more human scale, even though its lead is a time-traveling immortal alien. When all the earth's children stop simultaneously, or when they start broadcasting a warning from The 4-5-6, or when the British government decides it's time to blow up Torchwood, it feels more ominous than if these events were occurring in The Doctor's more whimsical corner of this fictional universe.

The one point I want to dwell on with episode one was how completely suckered in I was by the introduction of Dr. Rupesh Patanjali. I just assumed -- as I was meant to -- that he was the producers means of coping with the unavailability of Freema Agyeman, and that Rupesh would either be a temporary or permanent addition to the team. So I was floored when he turned out to be working in cahoots with the black ops people, and then when he got killed by them to help preserve the story. Well-played, sirs.

Keep in mind, as always, that we're following the American broadcasting schedule of this show, so talk about episode one and only episode one, even if you've already seen the whole series because you live in England or are handy with illegal downloads. Any comment I consider the least bit over the line gets deleted, period.

Considering that, what did everybody else think?

35 comments:

Wallwriting said...

Is Capt. Jack an alien? He was part of Earth's time agency, no?

SNForrester said...

Capt. Jack is an omnisexual time-traveling con-man/time agent from the 51st century currently employed at Torchwood who just happens to be immortal but is definitely not an alien.

(Say that three times fast!)

Tom Dickinson said...

@Wallwriting

This summary of who Captain Jack is contains some spoilers for the last couple years of Doctor Who.

Jack is a human from the Boeshane Peninsula in the 51st century. When he came of age, he joined the Time Agency (which, presumably, is an interplanetary thing and not just Earth/human). He quite the Agency after he discovered that they'd been erasing his memories.

Jack became a con man and he was running a con on the Ninth Doctor and Rose in WWII London that went south and as a result he began traveling with them. They traveled to 200100 AD, where Jack was killed by a Dalek but Rose (who had gained godlike powers briefly -- if you don't know, don't ask) resurrected him.

The Doctor and Rose left him there but he managed to hop back to the 1860s where he joined Torchwood and later discussed that Rose had made him a "fixed point in time," ie, incapable of dying.

That's the most basic outline of Jack's personal history. Basically he is a human, but he is a "fixed point."

Myles said...

As a total Torchwood neophyte, I was more than hooked (and inspired to write some more detailed thoughts of my own on the first part).

I particularly enjoyed how they utilized the mystery of Captain Jack, ongoing for Torchwood viewers and brand new for us newbies, in a way that straddled both perspectives. Sure, the use of a new secretary to justify some exposition wasn't complex, but it was clever and got a lot accomplished.

I'm definitely excited to continue, and might even go back to the first two seasons - mission accomplished, I guess.

TxGowan said...

This is way spoilery, but there was already a spoiler warning on the original post.

@wallwriting - He's human. Mostly. He's from the future, but died and was brought back to life when Rose took the power of the Tardis into her at the end of Season 1. Being brought back to life made him seemingly immortal.

Since then, he got stuck in the past and had to live his life through time at a regular pace, aging very slowly, until he could meet up with The Doctor again at the end of Season 3 of Doctor Who.

It's implied that he will become the Face of Boe at some point and die in the far, far, far future.

DonBoy said...

The ending of this episode, culminating in the addition of the one final word to the children's chant, is my favorite TV moment in quite some time. My only disappointment is that it's followed by what you might call the "quiet mystery" version of the theme, when BY ALL THAT IS HOLY it should have been the "big" version as used in the opening credits of earlier seasons.

Nicole said...

I don't know if it was good for the first two seasons, but we have never really known much about Captain Jack, and so those who have watched everything up to now don't actually know much more than newbies. It certainly works for this mini-series.

I liked the brief acknowledgment of Tosh and Owen, and the children were very creepy. I think the super apocalyptic tone also works because there seem to be actual consequences to the "big things" that happen. In Doctor Who, the explosion would have been stopped at the last second.

Also, the couple/not a couple thing with Ianto and Jack is also refreshing in that it's not being done in a "very special episode" kind of way.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, by "alien," I really meant "non-Earthling."

BigTed said...

As someone who can barely tell the difference between "Dr. Who" and "Power Rangers," but a minor-league fan of "Torchwood" the series, I was surprised at how great this first episode was. It really did rank up there with the best of "The X-Files." And given how little there is worth watching at all this summer, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the week.

cf said...

Is this post title referencing Gwen's line? Because I thought she said, 'big science fiction super-base," like, base of operations.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is this post title referencing Gwen's line? Because I thought she said, 'big science fiction super-base," like, base of operations.

You could very well be right. Eve Myles' accent is often a challenge for me to decipher. But "mess" is funnier.

Anonymous said...

I did watch the entire show the week it aired in the UK, but I'm watching again with the captions on because of the problems I have with some of the Welsh accents.

Anonymous said...

I'm becoming hooked on the Welsh accent and slang that Gwen and Rhys employ - I really really wish I could pull off 'what's occurring', but it just sounds like crap with an American accent!

Katie said...

The ending of this episode, culminating in the addition of the one final word to the children's chant, is my favorite TV moment in quite some time.

My DVR cut it off! What was the additional final word, please?

Alan Sepinwall said...

My DVR cut it off! What was the additional final word, please?

"...BACK."

Mandy said...

Thanks Alan! My DVR cut it off as well, so I wasn't sure what I missed!

Anonymous said...

Well take it from me. You really have some quality television to look forward to here. I won't say another word.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Based on how it ended last night, I'd advise everybody to tack at least a minute onto their DVR recordings for the rest of the week.

Rachel said...

I, too, was totally sucked in by the introduction of Rupesh, knowing that Martha wasn't actually coming on permanently, as had been hinted at in the last episode. So all that was a complete shock to me - and a welcome one. It's awesome when a switch like that actually works.

But I was sad at the same time, because I was looking forward to the introduction of a new team member, and specifically of a new team member who didn't already know about aliens and all that. I think the show needs some of that wide-eyed innocence again. (Although I wonder if that's even possible, given that after all the events of Doctor Who and Torchwood, no-one seems surprised by anything that happens anymore.)

Alex Mullane said...

As a first episode, this was better than I had expected, but doesn't even come close to revealing quite how good this mini-series becomes over the next few nights.

I agree about the introduction of Dr. Rupesh, it had me completely and utterly fooled. A brilliant bluff from the writers. So many times before we have seen the introduction of new characters done in just this way, and in the first episode of an event series like this, which would obviously be watched by many first-time viewers, it made total sense to introduce a new one. But to then, without warning, switch the convention on its head... Well, it was very refreshing, and gave me hope that this might just be something special I was watching.

I was right.

(I'm from England btw, so I watched them as broadcast.)

Andrew said...

This was supposed to be the big event that the Beeb was using to launch BBC America HD, except that no cable or satellite provider has agreed to carry it yet. Blergh. I don't have much to add, as this was the first Torchwood episode I've watched in its entirety. (I've seen most of the Davies/Eccleston/Tennant Dr. Who, but tried Torchwood during its first season, when it just didn't work.) But, it certainly seemed like Dr. Patanjali was going to be The New Guy in Torchwood, and a very effective twist to have him work with whoever wants to blow up Captain Jack/Torchwood.

Pirate Alice said...

I watched the "inside the hub" refresher/behind the scenes stuff before this first ep of Torchwood ran, and I totally didn't realize that Eve Myles was in an episode of Doctor Who. But I think it's really cool.
I loved this first episode and I can't wait for the rest!

Alan Sepinwall said...

I totally didn't realize that Eve Myles was in an episode of Doctor Who.

I had forgotten about that, too, until The Doctor met Gwen at the end of season three and asked about her ancestor, whom he met in that earlier episode. As with Freema Agyeman playing Martha Jones after already playing her cousin who was murdered by Cybermen, Russell T. Davies clearly subscribes to the Patty Duke Show theory of DNA.

7s Tim said...

If DVRs are cuting off, maybe try the later that night rebroadcast? I recorded the 2:30 a.m. showing on Comcast in Hudson county, things worked out fine.

Also, they have the two part finale of season (erm, series..?) 2 On Demand, which served as a nice introduction to the show and the Torchwood organization (lotsa flashbacks). Part one ends On Demand tomorrow, part two the next day. Liked the first part of Children of Earth, and "big science fiction super-mess" seemed to aptly describe the situation in this show, if taken as not being derogatory. Kinda glad the undercover doctor bit was revealed, since I thought the subplot that seemed to be building-- the missing people-- might distract from the main narrative, which already has many pieces being laid out. Nice.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I was fooled by Rupesh, too -- even though a scene in which the government types were talking about how they were about to initiate contact with Torchwood was immediately followed by Rupesh trying to find Torchwood.

I very much like the fact that the script is motivating characters with false but perfectly plausible deductions: Jack doesn't know Rupesh shot him, or that the deaths were not really suspicious. The black ops folk sensibly think Jack's regenerations are tied to the rift. Etc. It's a smart approach that is rarely used for some reason.

jim treacher said...

The Rupesh fakeout got me. "Oh, okay, here's the new guy. WHOOPS!" Well done, Russell.

pgillan said...

I think Torchwood may hold the record for being the show with the highest enjoyment-to-problems ratio. There are things about the mythology and the actors and the plot that really bug me, but when it comes down to it, I like the show despite them.

One thing I can't quite figure out, though, is what Torchwood's deal is. They're a secret government organization, but there are only five of them (now three)? When they used to appear in Dr. Who, I thought they were a big organization. And are they secret, or not? Last season, I specifically went back and checked, and it very clearly says "Torchwood" on the side of their car (and though it's the same car, I couldn't confirm that for this season.)

And speaking of vehicles, what kind of government organization only has one car?

Craig Ranapia said...

I, too, was totally sucked in by the introduction of Rupesh, knowing that Martha wasn't actually coming on permanently, as had been hinted at in the last episode. So all that was a complete shock to me - and a welcome one. It's awesome when a switch like that actually works.

Yeah, I was kind of p***ed off about that, but as Davis himself said even his ego isn't big enough to expect Frema Ageyman to sit around on the dole until he calls. She was offered one of the leads on 'Law and Order: UK' -- 13 episodes, and the best odds possible in the current environment that it would turn out to be a long-term gig. Couldn't blame her for jumping on board.

Though, having said that, I do hope they find a way to have The Doctor say a proper farewell to Martha and Mickey. I'm fully expecting one of RTD's everything AND the kitchen sink efforts that barely hangs together, but you don't care. :)

Karen said...

I was TOTALLY fooled by the Rupesh fakeout.

I thought this episode was brilliant. More brilliant by several orders of magnitude than any Torchwood episode that preceded it. So brilliant that it made me think less of big, impressive Doctor Who finale arcs (brilliant tho' many of them have been) and more of Russell T Davies pre-Who miniseries The Second Coming, which is brilliant like the light of a thousand thousand suns.

Norm N. Conquest said...

The clip special last night had me thinking that Jack became boss after the whole previous generation got wiped out. He had to rebuild from scratch. And he lost two of his four team members (Owen and Toshiko) at the end of last season. But I suspect Lois Habiba won't last very long at the Home Office. And Rhys is proving to be smarter than he looks.

Norm N. Conquest said...

Alan! Law and Order UK? Inquiring minds want to know!

Norm N. Conquest said...

Alan! Law and Order UK? Inquiring minds want to know!

pgillan said...

The clip special last night had me thinking that Jack became boss after the whole previous generation got wiped out. He had to rebuild from scratch. And he lost two of his four team members (Owen and Toshiko) at the end of last season. But I suspect Lois Habiba won't last very long at the Home Office. And Rhys is proving to be smarter than he looks.

I'm glad you brought that up. I didn't understand what they meant by Home Office. My first assumption was that it was Torchwood's home office, but Jack says to the girl on the phone, "Tell him it's Torchwood." Even before that, the guy says to the army-guy: "We're the only ones with computers who can figure this out- except for Torchwood." I ultimately came to believe that this Home Office was some sort of analog to the Pentagon in the US- a central military thingee.

In fact, Wikipedia states "The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security and order." So, yeah. I was right. But I still don't understand the organizational structure.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the episode. I was also suckered in by the Rupesh fake-out, and disappointed--the show could've used more male eye-candy.

But am I the only one driven crazy by all the onscreen text going on on BBCA? The bug in the bottom right I've learned to cope with. But on top of it was an ad for "Dr Who", which stayed on THE WHOLE TIME. Even worse, I'm seeing the widescreen version, which on my TV means black bands across the top & bottom. Those I'm happy with--it means I'm seeing the whole image. But then they have WHITE text with the name of the very show I'm watching, and it STAYED ON the whole time! A minute or two after a commercial I'm used to, but for the whole show? Then there were the big ads for other shows that exploded in the bottom left corner every so often.

The whole effect was like I was watching a bloody web page for an hour, and fighting to keep my concentration on the video itself and away from all the horrible distractions. It's enough to make me consider waiting a few weeks and just renting the DVD. If I were a director, cinematographer, or anyone else responsible for the high-quality production, I'd be appalled. As a viewer, I'm utterly turned off. I feel like I'm being told to get used to such a high level of crap on the screen. It's just going to push me away.

Craig Ranapia said...

Alan! Law and Order UK? Inquiring minds want to know!

Well, pretty much what it says on the box -- the venerable L&O franchise translated across the Atlantic, with some tweaks for the British legal system. And if you're a SF geek, you not only get Frema Ageyman as a young barrister, but Jamie Bamber as a cop.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=15032952