Saturday, July 25, 2009

Torchwood jumps the shark

The grinding sound you hear is my gnashing teeth. I watched the finale of the five-part Torchwood mini-series, Children of Earth, on BBC America, and I think the producers have gone in the wrong direction. Here's why, and WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I didn't have any trouble with the main plot: aliens, called the 456, spoken as four-five-six, come to Earth for 1/10 of our world's children. The scene in Part 4 where the British government administrators, with help from an American general, figured out how to get those children away from their parents and into the aliens' hands, was a frightening and paranoid segment. They discussed the low yield segment of the population: those likely to grow up to be criminals, convicts, or living on the dole. Then of course they excused their own children from being part of the group given over.

I'm sure there was a comparable real-life scene in the 1950s, high-ranking U.S. government officials, military, scientific and government, discussing testing nuclear devices in the Nevada desert. They waited to detonate the bombs until the prevailing winds blew over Southern Utah. I'm familiar with this sort of high-handed attitude toward populations deemed not as important as the people making the life and death decisions.

What I found less realistic in Children of Earth were the plot contrivances, such as how Lois, a new character, was able to get into all of the important meetings and televise them, via alien technology, to Torchwood. This is after Torchwood has been blown out of their headquarters and gone into hiding. Why do that? Why does the government need to kill Captain Jack? But then, this is science fiction, so if you accept the initial premise then you have to accept the other unlikely things that are happening.

Another Torchwood character has been killed, which leaves Jack and Gwen, and Gwen's husband, Rhys.

Gwen is pregnant, and that mirrors real life for actress Eve Myles.

The final sequences turn into Greek tragedy, with a scene of sacrifice very profound to the future of the show and no, I'm not going to tell you about it because I don't even want to remember it.

In the first two seasons, even while occasionally tackling a more dramatic subject, Torchwood had a sense of humor like its parent show, Doctor Who. Children of Earth sucks all of the humor out of Torchwood. I like the show, but don't want it to go Shakespearean with its characters or plots.

Also...yes, I know I said it's science fiction and you accept the contrivances and plot turns, but I have some questions that go to the heart of Captain Jack's character. If he is from the 51st Century, then how come he didn't know that in 2009 aliens came to Earth looking to take our kids? He's from 3,000 years in the future, and we know quite a few high points of 3,000-year-old civilizations. With the mass communications of the 21st Century an incident like the arrival of the 456 and its demands would have been known in the future, so why didn't Captain Jack anticipate it and be ready? The show's catch phrase is, "The 21st Century is when everything changes," and that's because Jack ostensibly knows the future.

It would have made for a better story if Jack had been anticipating this attack by the 456 all through the early history of the Torchwood series, two seasons so far, not counting this mini-series. Don't you think it would make more sense? (Jack couldn't know because the show's writers didn't know.)

But then, I can't review what wasn't done, only what was, and I have found Children of Earth a disappointment for me. I'd like to see the series try to regain some of the direction it seems to have abandoned in this overwrought five-parter. In America there's a phrase, "jumping the shark," which is the moment at which a show loses its way and its appeal. In my opinion Torchwood has jumped the shark, but I see no reason it can't jump right back. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

As has been shown, Captain Jack can't be killed by bullets, disease, or even by being blown apart, but he could be killed by the show's producers.

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