I just want to post this brief note as a counterbalance to my recent post on How much I hate Torchwood. Despite the delay described in that post, I did slog through to the end of the Series 2, and it was just as risible as I’d feared — I mean, astonishingly shallow and childish, appallingly written and dreadfully acted.
So I went into Series 3 (Children of Earth) with low expectations. But having now seen the first three of the five episodes, I have to admit it’s much, much better than I’d dared hope. Each of these three episodes has been far better than anything in either of the first two series.
Four things seem have happened.
First, the writers have finally wrapped their heads around what makes something “adult” — that it doesn’t just mean Snogging ‘N’ Swearing, but the careful use of tension and release to build into a story with real substance, even complexity, whose twists are unforeseen yet arise organically from what has gone before.
Second, the general level of the acting has gone up a couple of notches — partly because Owen is finally gone so that we no longer have to suffer through Burn Gorman’s plastic performances; partly because Captain Jack is kept offscreen for much of the time, so that John Barrowman’s inadequacies are less painfully apparent. Instead, we see much more of Gwen and Rhys, and of Ianto and his family, all of whom are much more naturalistic and believable. They behave as though they’re in a drama rather than a pantomime.
Third, there is much less reliance on special effects — and the effects in Torchwood have always been unconvincing, so that every time they come on screen, they make it hard to suspend disbelief. In Children of Earth, the sci-fi/supernatural elements are mostly portrayed simply by acting, and they are all the better for it.
Finally, and maybe most important, the format of five tightly interwoven episodes suits Torchwood much better than the usual approach of thirteen essentially standalone episodes. There is time for the ideas to live and breathe, for concepts to emerge gradually, for the minor characters to develop into people that we can care about, for real tension to develop as the nature of the threat gradually becomes apparent.
Taken together, these changes make a huge difference to the experience of watching, lifting a programme that I’d previously been watching out of sheer bloody-mindedness up to the level of a mid-to-good Doctor Who episode. And I mean that as very high praise. I even laughed out loud during episode 2 (at the line “we want a pony”), which is something I’ve never done before while watching Torchwood, except when laughing at the programme. And the cliffhanger at the end of episode 3 truly came as a shock.
So I just hope it keeps up the same high standard in the last two episodes — and that the whole, when I’ve seen it all, is at least equal to the sum of its parts.