Tag Archives: Peter Capaldi

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Five (Spoilers)

No happy ending as Russell T Davies completes the most masterful BBC mini-series since ‘State of Play’, with perhaps the greatest writing of his career. Only one continuity error interrupts the otherwise overwhelming and horrific finale to Torchwood’s greatest triumph and their biggest failure. As Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) betrays Peter Capaldi’s John Frobisher, the inhumanity of the human race to itself becomes clear. And what it takes to tip into fascism turns out to be very little indeed – a casual prejudice here, an abuse of power there, a lie to cover everything up, all in the name of ambition and keeping the status quo. The political commentary veers between an allegory with Nazism, as the children are indeed bussed away to their deaths for a creature which deals in them as drugs, and an indictment of our real world government’s preparedness to sacrifice basic human rights and civil liberties in the name of ‘keeping us safe’. Its severity is surprising for a franchise which has been so flakey in its first two outings, but it couldn’t be more welcome. Writing series 3 for adults has transformed Torchwood beyond all recognition, and has interestingly again (as with Dead Set) proven the value of daily, serialised television.

Day 5 doesn’t end with RTD doesn’t after all reaching for easy answers to ensure the defeat of the 456 – indeed quite the opposite. Humanity may be validated in the small scale sacrifices made by the most vulnerable people, but they’re outweighed by or preparedness to destroy one another. And in between Jack realises he must do the unthinkable if he’s to save 6 billion people, and there’s no coming back from killing your grandson.

The scene where Jack ensures humanity’s final victory is absolutely horrific. And yet again the horror has nothing at all to do with the alien/sci-fi element – the most horrible things done in ‘Children of Earth’ are perpetrated by our hero, and it ensures the franchise cannot go on as before – this is now a series with consequences. It’s challenging television – a biting political thriller, a painful human drama, and laced with commentary by Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper acknowledging why the Doctor sometimes doesn’t intervene (as here), it really raises the bar for the future of the Whoniverse. If Davies really is to stay with Torchwood (which I hope is the case) he has set an extraordinary standard to maintain; similarly Steven Moffat will no doubt have watched ‘Children of Earth’ with Doctor Who series 5 in mind. I sincerely hope he takes his creation back on board – a broken yet immortal Captain Jack would be a very interesting addition to the cast alongside an unknown quantity eleventh Doctor…

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Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Four (Spoilers)

Day 4 descends into unexpected horror, in the best-written, acted and directed episode of ‘Torchwood’ since the franchise’s inception. Writer John Fay, director Euros Lyn and the cast never hit a wrong note and leave you slackjawed after an hour of dark twists, shocking turns and the sort of quality you’d expect from ‘Spooks’ at its best. But that’s the ground ‘Torchwood’ now occupies – edgy adult drama where anything really can happen.

I saw very little of day 4 coming. I didn’t see the strength of the team’s plot against the government catching even the evil henchwoman off guard. I never thought the government would so happily capitulate with the 456. I never thought the 456 would kill everyone in its path when stood up to, even Jack and Ianto.

Ianto?

I actually welled up. Gareth David-Lloyd and John Barrowman’s characters ironically show more love for each other when Ianto is killed than they did in life, bringing out the sheer horror that it is to be Captain Jack, the man who can’t die, and putting the lie to his daughter’s claim that a man who can’t die has nothing to fear. His previous appearances painted him as a cocky superhero – he’s now changed to a man who can’t risk feeling anything about anyone, cursed by Rose’s gift of immortality. But that wasn’t the only strength of day 4.

Fay’s detailed cabinet discussions on dispatching 10% of the child population of the country (and the world) are even more horrific. Their casual collusion with the murderous, unseen alien, with their talk of ‘units’, ‘mystery jabs’ (Peter Capaldi’s Frobisher now resembling his spin doctor of ‘In The Loop’) and ‘low achievers’ is unlike anything I’ve seen in a programme of this kind on the BBC before. In many ways the government’s discrimination-ridden attitudes in choosing to kill all poor children are even worse than the alien’s plans. ‘What (else) are the school league tables for?’ Woah now a fierce political/social commentary which doesn’t just make you wonder, but makes this government even more dangerous than The Master’s. I’ve seen this episode likened to ‘State of Play’ – it’s not an unfair comparison.

The team is broken, humanity is at war with itself. Will RTD ruin everything with an awful, joyous reaffirmation of humanity’s shared solidarity again (as in ‘Last of the Time Lords‘), or will we get a thoroughly darker resolution? After this episode’s shocks and terrible sadness he has to tread very carefully indeed.

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Three (Spoilers)

I had my doubts about the daily format, but I have to say this works. Forcing the show daily has meant it has had to have energy the entire time – the story can’t let up or drift into soap operatics, there simply isn’t time. It has to have plot, plot and more plot, and Charlie Brooker showed the way last year with the sublime ‘Dead Set’…

Day 3 isn’t perfect. Russell T Davies lapses into some of the weaker storytelling techniques of Doctor Who, such as the Frank Miller-esque newsreader talking heads, but otherwise he and co-writer James Moran knock this episode out of the park again. Jack seems to know the 456, but how? Do Jack and Frobisher know the same dark secret, the secret from 1965 which Clem MacDonald (Paul Copley) was part of? The route to the answers is full of subterfuge, threats and moral ambiguity, and appears to put the entire basis of this Torchwood team under threat. But whose memories of 1965 can be trusted?

The 456 when they arrive, are suitably dramatic and evil, and again both the writing and series pacing work to best effect. They arrive in a burst of fire and without form; we never see them fully, and Davies, Moran and director Euros Lyn take their time to linger on the creepy environment they set up. It works for the same reason Alien does – you know there’s a dangerous alien, but you have no idea what it looks like, nor what its intentions are. But why should such a malevolent creature collude with Frobisher? If it is part of the dark secret, what does it have to gain by keeping it secret too? And how does Jack really fit in? Did he also collude in the horror of 1965, as Clem MacDonald believes (and Jack himself seems to admit), or is something else really going on? We have two more episodes to go, so I’d tend to believe the latter.

The character beats are stronger this episode – Jack’s and Ianto’s talk about Jack’s immortality is a finely observed exchange, and it was nice of RTD to refer directly to the Doctor for once. Keeping both series largely unconnected was a terrible mistake and it’s nice to see it corrected. It’s frustrating that the men’s relationship is still at arm’s length, but it’s reassuring that RTD is moving it on somewhere. Peter Capaldi meanwhile continues to shine as Frobisher – the civil servant who will do anything to make the secret from 1965 go away. The exchange he has with Jack in particular is chilling, and is a really effective counterpoint to his more dastardly henchwoman’s manoevres. His initiating diplomatic relations with the 456 is a very welcome insight into the politics of the post-Master Whoniverse, and is potentially revealing – another advantage of having the series paced in a daily, single-story fashion – things like that can be fleshed out when they would otherwise have been overlooked.

The three teammates (and Rhys) have a long way to go before this is resolved, and it’s difficult to see how RTD can do so cleanly, but he’s clearly introduced Lois Habiba as a new fourth member of the team for the future, even though in both this and last episode he uses her far too much as a deus ex machina. Can Children of Earth break RTD’s track record of starting well and ending poorly?

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Two (Spoilers)

Day 2 isn’t quite as frenetically paced as Day 1, and the writing by John Fay isn’t quite as tight, but the continuing government conspiracy about ‘the 456’ doesn’t let up, nor is it any the less intriguing. Bereft of headquarters and their government affiliation, Torchwood are on the run for their lives, but why? Gwen refers to Peter Capaldi’s John Frobisher as their man in the government, so why would he want to kill the only people who can help them tackle the 456? What is the dark, dirty secret only he knows? And what is it they’re building at Thames House?

Day 2 retains strong characterisation – Ianto and Jack retain their greater depth through the involvement of their families – Jack’s grandaughter and Ianto’s sister and brother-in-law both play key roles in humanising characters which have for too long been one-note. And their unsuitedness for one another continues to be a theme – their inevitable post-regeneration reunion is as ambivalent (nice ass by the way, Mr Barrowman) as we’ve seen them treat one another before. Can an immortal man ever find love? It is Gwen though who is a revelation – how ruthless is she? I love it! Her’s and Rhys’ relationship is now (finally) the cornerstone of the franchise, now both characters are written consistently – they bring energy and heart to a series which has for too long tried merely to shock. And the sense of menace which envelops the cast, which wasn’t there when Jack was on the run from the Master’s government in Who series 3, works well here. The conspiracy, friends turning into enemies, not knowing who the 456 are or their motivations, keeps an eerie, unsettling quality largely missing when aliens invade in parent show Doctor Who. It’s a nice touch.

So why can’t anyone know about the 456 on pain of death? And how does a lowly civil servant like John Frobisher have the connections to take Torchwood out? Fay (occasionally too often and too obviously) has us constantly asking questions, and only drip-feeding us answers. For the first time we can take nothing for granted – even the tone (I really really liked the horror of Jack’s regeneration), and it oddly settles the show down. It’s an approach which has brought longevity to shows like Doctor Who and Spooks, and thankfully RTD has now given this show which has had so much potential the voice that it needs. So the 456 need a chamber with an acid atmosphere, and they need it tomorrow. Why does the government build it for them, and what do they need it for? We’ve had dark conspiracies at the heart of the Whoniverse government before, but this one is a real delight, and it’s a delight because the real baddies are human – the sci-fi element seems this time merely to be a device to frame a very dark, human drama. It’s just what the *ahem* doctor ordered. Bring on day 3!

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day One (Spoilers)

Characterisation at last, developing sub-plots at last, and genuine horror – who would have thought that this could have been written by series creator Russell T Davies? RTD has his serious hat on, to this opening episode of the daily mini-series’ considerable advantage, giving unexpected depth to Jack & Ianto’s relationship, stable characterisation to Gwen and twists and turns he hasn’t shown himself capable on Doctor Who for many a year. Torchwood has suffered from insufficient attention to character and sub-plot since the series’ inception – despite the risks of making series 3 a mini series, keeping it one story long looks like a brilliant idea after all.

The children of earth are stopping, stopping and saying ‘we are coming’ in unison across the planet. But who is coming? Who took the children in 1965? What is/was the 456 and why does the Home Office Permanant Secretary John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) want to kill Captain Jack for Torchwood’s stumbling onto a connection to it? Are the 456 the aliens on the way? If so, why put a bomb in Jack’s stomach and blow Torchwood HQ to kingdom come? Clem MacDonald (Paul Copley) might give them some answers, if they can keep him and themselves alive long enough! It’s an episode of creepiness, inexplicable double dealing and not just strong character interaction, but standout moments too. Eve Myles seems finally comfortable as Gwen, and although Barrowman is clearly not playing the Captain Jack he started out as in Who, he’s still hamming it to the limit and has charisma to spare. And to RTD’s credit he finally gives shape to his and Ianto’s relationship, showing the serious love Ianto has for his immortal boss. Will they embrace what they’ve got? Will Gwen’s baby survive? What will the future be for Torchwood at the end of this story (in 4 days’ time)? I’m looking forward to finding out!

Film Review: In The Loop (Spoilers)

Co-creator of The Day Today Armando Iannucci takes his other creation The Thick Of It and uses it to slam this vicious and often very funny satire about the run-up to the Iraq War into cinema screens. Tom Hollander is the Secretary of State for International Development, and in mouthing off inane New Labour slogans inadvertently comes to the attention of America’s neocons, led by Rumsfeld analogue David Rasche (an inspired piece of casting). There’s no grand (or at least not clever) conspiracy, just some vain and often very stupid people who don’t think they’ll get away with it trying it on. And to their utter, often farcical shock, and despite Hollander’s bumbling best intentions they get their invasion. But this story isn’t about the history, it’s a strong character piece, showing the utter normality of the people who drove us to the brink. It works because although director and co-writer Iannucci, with his TV background, falls back regularly on sit-com style gags, easy toilet humour and set pieces, the relationships which underpin the story ring true. Alistair Campbell et al probably did just chance their arm with the ‘dodgy dossier’. People who promised to resign didn’t, then did, then didn’t, caught as they were by naked ambition when confronted with the need for principle. The vanity, the ambition, the sheer incompetence, which noone stops because noone believes it’ll actually work, everything is here. And so is Peter Capaldi in a triumphant turn as Alistair Campbell analogue Malcolm Tucker, swearing at and manipulating everyone who he thinks it’ll take to get his boss what he wants. Except in doing so he’s unwittingly doing the US administration’s bidding.

It loses its way slightly with Hollander’s special adviser Chris Addison, who although he’s interesting as a narrative device and is often responsible for pushing the film forward, has very little to offer the political satire. So he cheats on his girlfriend when in Washington? Big deal. It just gives Iannucci opportunity for some very cheap, British gags, which don’t sit very well alongside the high quality of the satire. The time Hollander spends back in his constituency too, is also most likely to appeal to the upcoming American audience – a quaint, ramshackle British MP’s surgery is surely rarely that bleak and nigh Victorian! I shouldn’t finish the review without talking up James Gandolfini as the principled general (Powell anyone?), who knows full well there is no case for war, but simply can’t keep up with the skullduggery going on around him. He doesn’t try to mimic Colin Powell, rather creates a new, highly sympathetic national hero, with an iron fist, yet too big a heart. All acting in concert, it’s compelling viewing and really shouldn’t be missed. If it had just dared to take the risks which The Day Today thrived on, it would be a Great Film. As it is it’s pretty good. 8/10

Doctor Who 4:2 (Spoilers)

The Fires of Pompeii

Super super episode (you can tell RTD didn’t write it). The Doctor and Donna land in Pompeii the day before Vesuvius erupts, and when they rush to the Tardis to escape pre-eruption tremors they find it sold to Peter Capaldi. Not a major event, but when he unveils artwork resembling a computer circuit and both his daughter and the town’s Augur (Phil Davis) identify him as The Doctor, a Time Lord from Gallifrey, things start to get complicated.

In contrast to last week, the script is water tight and the banter between the Doctor and Donna is perfectly timed – Donna’s ‘ you have got to be kidding me’ helps knock so many time travel story conventions into touch, and her attempt to influence history in a very different way to Rose makes her very interesting very quickly. But it’s the acting which really make this episode special. Tennant and Tate have boundless chemistry between them, and Tate in particular takes to the role with unexpected authority, channelling many of her own characters entirely when called for and with charming precision. Rose offered a new beginning, Martha offered depth, whilst Donna in turn now offers a certainty of character she doesn’t even know she has. And she has a point – who does give the Doctor the right to condemn Pompeii to its certain death when while they’re there it’s the present? Having a rebel to take him down a peg seems to make the Tenth Doctor as edgy on occasion as the Sixth, which is a pleasant surprise. The Doctor/Rose love fest was the bedrock upon which the relaunched franchise based itself, but having a likable companion who is prepared to say ‘no’ on moral grounds is far more interesting.

Shooting this episode in Italy makes it all the more vital, and the production values really are impressive. And not only do we have a strong alien/monster concept, but weaving it into history works here in ways in which the Shakespeare episode last year failed so lamentably at. Using the dilemmas he faces to illustrate the Doctor’s ability to see every event in time for what it is, can be, must and mustn’t be even adds depth to him in ways not tried since Paul Cornell’s Family of Blood. Having that central truth of his character under pressure from Donna can only (ahem) augur well for an interesting rest of season four.

One last thing. Before my friends and longtime blog companions start to wonder if I’m going to speculate as wildly this season as the first…hell yeah.

“She is returning.” “There is something on your back.”

The first quote is clearly about Rose, the second about Donna. What they mean though is unclear. Folks we don’t just have a Bad Wolf for season four, we have at least two.