It’s an interesting time to be a Torchwood fan. First of all, you have to be able to watch the show past that Cyberwoman episode. Which means you have to spend some time defending the show from the people who couldn’t watch past that episode. You also have to find some way to talk about how you’re glad that the show found a way to put a gay relationship in the foreground of a sci-fi action drama without sounding like an obsessive shipper who only watches the show as fodder for slash-fic stories.
Which all made the meltdown over the third series, broadcast over five nights as a mini-series, so interesting. Given it’s biggest audience and biggest venue yet, the show performed very well and attracted critical acclaim.
And fans raged.
As for the praise, it was well deserved. “Children of Earth” was a fantastically plotted, amazingly acted television event. A frequent point of criticism for the series is that, while it aspires to mature story-telling and was presented as a more “adult” take on Doctor Who, producers and writers seemed to think that all you needed to make a sci-fi series mature was add in lots of swearing, violence and sex. It’s a partly valid complaint, and the unevenness of the first season is testament to that. But by the second series most of the tonal problems had worked themselves out and the show was able to balance a sophistication in story and character with a self-deprecating sense of humor. That frequently focused on sex. This third series continued that evolution even more, and it’s probably telling that shortening the series to one story told over multiple episodes allowed for a more carefully crafted and thoughtful approach to the series than the need to get out thirteen weeks worth of episodes out the door.
The regular cast do a remarkable job, with Gareth David-Lloyd in particular turning in a excellent performance, and Eve Myles stepping up and showing us a Gwen that wasn’t quite always there in previous seasons but comes to the fore remarkably as well. The supporting cast, particularly Peter Capaldi as ill-fated civil servant John Frobisher, do excellent jobs as well. It’s a terribly well-acted show, and writers Russell T. Davies, James Moran and John Fay should be congratulated for giving such meaty roles for strong actors. If there is a fault to be found with the show, it’s in the rather laggy pacing, particularly in “Day Five”, which frequently felt like a thirty-minute story padded out to sixty.
There are some nice nods to the wider universe the show appears in as well, with Gwen making a fairly convincing case as to why, in certain times of deep crisis, the Doctor doesn’t appear on Earth. It’s a telling indictment, since for those who have been watching the new series of Doctor Who, a significant part of the problem faced here can be traced back to the Doctor upsetting history by removing Harriet Jones from power. And, of course, even if it is slightly selfish praise, it is nice to see a big, mainstream, action sci-fi show headlined by an openly gay man that places one of its heroic leads in a same-sex relationship.
And now, for those of you wishing to avoid spoilers, don’t read past the uncomfortable looking gentleman…
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