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Primeval – S04E02 – Review

I got nothing.

The current series of Primeval is so ordinary that I have neither strong positive or negative feelings towards it. They aren’t screwing things up badly like they did last season, neither are they making me interested like they did in the first season. I’ve watched through this episode 3 times and still I’ve got nothing, so I decided to try my Fusion Patrol approach. I watch the show, take notes, fill in some comments and hope I have something to say.

Timeline/Notes

00:00 Five years ago a woman captures a bizarre baby anomaly animal and flushes it down the toilet. Yeah. I’m believing that. Looked too big to flush. Perhaps some kids would like to try some experimenting and report back to me on that one. What is the maximum size lizard you can flush. My guess is you’ll need to live in Australia or Indonesia to try that one.

00:04 Philip, “We’re poised on a new dawn” – hhhmmmmmmmm, New Dawn, that sounds fishy. What kind of scientific advancement is he hoping to get? Is it just an understanding of time, or is he perhaps trying to control time?

00:05 Danny Quinn still has a locker. They just keep reminding us about the missing Danny. Once again that seems to indicate Danny isn’t really gone yet.

00:06 Lot of old dumpy buildings in London, aren’t there? Actually, this looks like the same building they shot in during the second series.

00:07 Perky chick (what’s her name?) gives Conner the key to her apartment. Suspicious? Forward? Clueless? Not sure which. Isn’t she perky, though?

00:09 Rex is back. I hope he doesn’t feature in any more episodes. He’s such a technically stupid creature, that thing certainly couldn’t flap his wings and fly.

00:09 New guy (What’s his name?) is chatting with old guy (Is that an old Danny?) Clearly New Guy is spying for him.

00:10 We have our first fatality! Construction worker for dinner! It took 10 minutes for a fatality… this show is really slowing down.

00:11 Perky Girl’s apartment is nice. ARC must pay well well. At least she uses Macs.

00:14 Conner’s old friend, Duncan, has really moved up in the world, living rough and homeless and he has a collection of dinosaur poo! Nah, he’s not obsessing about the whole “best friend killed by dodo” thing at all.

00:20 Perky Girl has the hots for Becker!

00:21 “Are you (Abby) his (Connor’s) girlfriend?” “Wow, there’s hope for us all!” Best line in the entire series, although, I’m noticing that Abby is aging pretty fast, she’s never going to age well like Claudia Brown/Jenny Lewis. PLEASE bring Jenny back! At least we have Perky Girl.

00:24 It’s a Boar Croc (Kaprosuchus)

00:26 Abby has commandeered a boat. On what authority can she commandeer a boat? Do they carry ID?

00:27 Only the second killing. Not much of a body count. Ho hum

00:29 Becker to the rescue! Ever notice how the ARC has a team of crack military types, but none of them do anything except Becker?

00:30 Container breaks free with creature inside, falls 30+ feet… and the animal is still alive. Rubbish! Do we have to discuss the cube/square law?

00:32 I’m so glad the guys running this container port have stacked the containers in a convenient labyrinth pattern.

00:34 One utterly useless ARC soldier dead! Body count: 3

00:37 Conner has his job back! Was it ever in doubt? Wonder why they bothered with that subplot? Was it just to kill time?

00:39 Becker might have the hots for Perky Girl… and why not?

00:43 …and it’s all over. 43 minutes? That’s short!

Primeval – S04E01 – Review

All this tweeting and podcasting and suddenly I just don’t have time to review new science fictions shows – or, if I do, I do it on the podcast. That just doesn’t seem right, and one of the staples of my blog has always been reviewing episodes of Primeval. Pity they cancelled it, isn’t it?

Ah, but they didn’t, nearly two years later, Primeval is back. Is it better than before?

For those perhaps not in the loop, Primeval, an ITV science fiction program about temporal anomalies opening corridors between different times and the present, often allowing nasties such as dinosaurs into our own time, ran for 3 successful – if dubiously plotted and scientifically inaccurate – seasons, but, the global economic crisis combined with ITV financial difficulties lead to cost-cutting measures. Primeval, a CGI-heavy series, had to go, but creative financing has brought the show back to our screens. (Well, back to some people’s screens, anyway.)

Synopsis

At the end of the previous series, Danny Quinn, team leader at the Anomaly Research Center (the ARC) was trapped, perhaps forever, in the Pleistocene, having defeated Helen Cutter’s evil plans to destroy mankind. Helen had been killed by a velociraptor that had followed them through the anomaly and Quinn was cut off.

Meanwhile, Abby and Conner had been trapped in the Cretaceous, also with little hope of an anomaly opening on its own.

One year later, with a Spinosaur on their trail, Conner and Abby find Helen Cutter’s anomaly control device and manage to return to the present day, brining a Spinosaur with them. They find themselves face-to-face with the new ARC team and must all work together to stop the Spinosaur.

Analysis

Typically the analysis section of these reviews is where I rip the piss-poor science and ridiculous temporal-plotting, but this episode is something new… there’s really nothing in it. It’s a straight-forward melodrama with no twists or turns and, once past the notion of the anomalies and creatures traveling through time there’s nothing in that to pick on, either.

There are a couple things to note, first, the ARC has been turned into a “public/private partnership” and new character, Philip, Nobel-prize winning genius and inventor of the room-temperature super-conductor now seems to co-own the ARC, and is clearly in a superior position – if equal on paper – with Ben Miller’s returning character of Lester.

Of the old crew, only Becker survived in the present, and he’s been made second-in-command to a new Irish guy who is so non-descript I have to wait for someone to call him by name before I can remember what it is. (OK, I just looked it up, his name is Matt.)

Matt has a secret, he seems to be collaborating with an elderly gentlemen and, if their remarks are to be believed, they’re working together to save the world, and Matt is searching for someone at the ARC.

My pet theory is that the old man is actually Danny Quinn, returned via anomaly to some point in the past and having lived his entire life waiting for this time. I’ve got nothing to support that; however, in the “summary” at the beginning of the episode, we saw the actors faces of Conner, Abby, even dead characters like Cutter and Helen, but we only ever saw the back of Danny Quinn’s head or a quick shot where his face was obscured. If the character has been written out of the show, why would they hide his face and not the others?

Considering it was such a long time coming, I’ve not got much to say about it.

Doctor Who – Review – Amy’s Choice – Spoilers

Low self-esteem reaches new heights.

Synopsis

Leadworth, circa 2015, Rory and Amy Wiliams (nee Pond) are on the verge of having their first baby when the Doctor returns to their lives, five years after leaving them.

Not everything is as it seems, though as they all wake up aboard the TARDIS back in “regular” time. The Doctor is confronted by the mysterious Dream Lord, who hates the Doctor, and he sets him a challenge: One of the two worlds is real, one a dream. If they die in the dream world, they awake in the real world. If they die in the real world, they die. To add an element of urgency to the proceedings, the TARDIS goes powerless and begins plummeting towards a “cold star” while in the Leadworth world, the OAPs reveal themselves to be alien-infested invaders and begin killing everyone in town. Ultimately, Amy must decide if her future lies with the Doctor or with Rory.

Analysis

This is an unusual Doctor Who story and one that deconstructs along interesting lines, but ultimately, the story fails for me, but only just.

We are presented with two different Doctor Who stories; the Leadworth and TARDIS stories. Their dilemma is to figure out which one is real, but as presented to the audience, there can only be one choice: Leadworth is the fake. (You’ll note, I said “…as presented to the audience” Consider, with Leadworth we have to take the most untold story to set it up. We know that the Doctor, Amy and Rory were on the TARDIS at the end of the previous story and Rory was going to travel with them. We have to accept that they’ve skipped five or more years to accept that they’re living back in Leadworth.

Also, the TARDIS storyline is fatalistic, in that (it appears) that the Doctor is powerless to stop them from dying and doesn’t even try. It is, in effect, the ticking clock on the time bomb. In 40 minutes, you die.

However, in Leadworth, they could go on forever, simply by escaping the town, or finding their way back into the TARDIS. From the standpoint of the story, this means that a decision needs to be made in Leadsworth.

It seems painfully obvious to me that you were supposed to decide that Leadworth was the dream and I came to that conclusion as soon as the nature of the threat was revealed in both storylines. There was just minor thing niggling at the back of my mind: Whenever something is “painfully obvious” I’m always suspicious that the writer is trying to trick the audience. The writer was “tricking”us, both worlds were dreams but in all fairness, I did not figure that out.)

On second viewing, I liked the story better, partially because it got to spend a little time examining what I call, “The Companions Dilemma.” The moment of a companion’s departure has always been problematic. The Doctor literally dumped his granddaughter, forcing her to stay on Earth with the man she fell in love with. Ian and Barbara finally got to go home back in the days when the Doctor could never, ever arrive when and where he wanted to be. After that, though, the companions rarely show any indication that they’re going to leave until moments before they do.

I ask you, is that what you’d do? I don’t think I would. I think I’d stay aboard the TARDIS forever. Why would you leave it? It’s the very question Amy asks Rory, “Why would we give up all this?” Since the series’ revival, this has become a very sticky problem, because the companions are obviously a lot more emotionally invested in the Doctor as a partner rather than as a father-figure. It’s terribly sad (and I’m not looking forward to it) but all little girls grow up and leave their fathers. There is an inevitability about it that we must expect. When someone leaves their chosen partner, it is a different dynamic. Few people go into relationships with the idea that someday they will leave and so when they do, it’s often a time of acrimony and disappointment.

In a TV series, no one wants to see a beloved companion depart on acrimonious terms – we want to remember our TV friends as they were, and so the departures of Rose and Donna were contrived to make it impossible for them to stay. The departure of Martha was so poorly realized that to this day one would think she’d been fired on the spur of a moment rather than as a planned departure from the show.

In any case, Amy’s Choice is partially an analysis of why people stay and what might make someone leave. Clearly Rory prefers Leadworth and Amy prefers the TARDIS. When she finally realizes that she really loves Rory and can’t live without him, she grows up a little bit right in front of our eyes.

The other major plot, and part of the reason the story ultimately fails for me, is the Doctor’s self-loathing. The Dream Lord is himself; his own deep, dark side that dislikes what he is and how he treats his friends. The story would have a lot more impact over the course of the episode if we knew this from the start, but instead, the reveal that the Dream Lord is the Doctor comes tacked on at the end like an afterthought.

If someone is making snide remarks about someone else, it has a certain weight to it. If they’re making comments about another person and you recognize those things to be to a certain degree truthful, it has more weight, but if a person is making comments about themself it opens up a whole insight on that person. By saving the reveal of the Dream Lord’s identify to the end, you have to go back and re-evaluate what you’d seen earlier. That’s why this episode is better on second viewing. What the Dream Lord says is much more important the second time through.

If I had to rate this episode on a scale of 0 to 100, where 50 equates to “approval”, I’d have to give it 49.9999. It just misses by the smallest of margin.


Ben and I chatted about this episode in greater detail over at the Fusion Patrol Podcast. You can listen to the episode here:



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Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

I’ll not review the finale of Ashes to Ashes as an episode, I never really reviewed the finale of Life on Mars, nor have I been reviewing either series on an episode by episode basis. There’s no reason for me to start that now. That notwithstanding, I’ve faithfully watched both series from day one. I had more affinity for Life on Mars probably because my age my closely matches Sam Tyler’s and because the mystery of the series was more unique and pronounced than then post-Life on Mars finale world of Ashes to Ashes.

If you’ve not watched these series, be aware that no discussion of the end of either of these series could be considered spoiler-free. You have been warned. Really, if you haven’t watched Life on Mars and you ever think you might (and you should) don’t read this post. It will ruin the show for you.

Read more after the break…

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The Hungry Earth – Not a Review

We’re holding off on the podcast and I’m holding off my review of this story until next week’s episode, Cold Blood has aired, but honestly, it’s driving me to distraction not at least giving some random thoughts that the program has brought up.

So this illustration is just me, putting some ideas up from this season on a whiteboard. See if they draw you to the same conclusion they do me:

Doctor Who Crack Mindmap

The Silurians – Lost in Time

The Silurians, a classic Doctor Who “monster” have returned to our screens in Chris Chibnall’s new story The Hungry Earth. Sadly, the story has not done anything, so far, to correct an unfortunately horrid series of errors placing them in geologic time. In fact, by adding one more piece, he’s compounded the error yet again.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to call them “Silurians” but as you’ll see, as things stand now, we’re no closer to giving them a correct name as we were when they first appeared 40 years ago.

Consider: These reptilian creatures were first dubbed “Silurians” in the original series story, “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” This is clearly a misnomer. The Silurian Period spanned from 430 million years ago (mya) to 408 mya. By the end of the Silurian period, land-dwelling reptiles didn’t exist yet. A gross misnomer.

It was also pointed out that the so-called Silurians went into hibernation when a small planetoid threatened the Earth. The planetoid instead went into orbit and became the moon. Although not known that the time of the writing of that story, the moon is the result of collision with the primordial Earth, over 4 billions years ago. One this is for sure, the moon has orbited Earth for as long as life has been present.

Later, the Silurians cousins turned up in the story, The Sea Devils. The Doctor helpfully pointed out that the Silurians should have been called The Eocenes.

Problem: The Eocene Epoch spans from 57.8 mya to 35.6 mya. That’s over 7 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. We know that the Silurians co-habitated the earth with dinosaurs which must put them into the late Triassic, the Jurrasic or the Cretaceous periods roughly 220 mya to 65 mya. Most likely they must have come from the end of that time as they have a pet Tyrannosaur, which only dates back about 68 mya.

Next problem: Even the original Silurians recognized apes, which didn’t evolve until just after the Eocene, in the Oligocene.

You’d think it couldn’t be any worse and then Hungry Earth comes along and not only does the Doctor call them Silurians and Eocenes, but he also refers to them as Homo Reptilia, and then suggest they’re from 300 mya – which is in the Carboniferious Period!

While the Carboniferous did have amphibians, the major reptilian lines didn’t really get going until the next period, the Permian.

Finally, I don’t know where he pulled the name Homo Reptilia from, but in biological classifications, you don’t just slap “homo” in front of a name if the creature is vaguely anthropomorphic. For it to be Homo Reptilia, these creatures would have to be our very close, mammalian relatives.

One could almost think Chibnall threw this stuff in just to push my buttons. Maybe he’ll fix it all better next week.

One thing in the original story’s favor. Although it was clearly intended and stated to have been the moon, time has given us an out. When the first Silurian story came out, nobody knew about the asteroid that struck the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous, now widely thought to have been the final straw in the extinction of the dinosaurs. It would be easy to retrofit the original explanation and say that it was that asteroid instead of the moon that the Silurians hid from.

But that just adds more fuel to the argument that the Silurians really should be called The Cretaceans.


Follow-up June 2, 2010:

There was no magical explanation in the final episode, Cold Blood and they even re-enforced the wandering moon problem, too. I guess I really was giving them too much credit.

Doctor Who – Review – Vampires in Venice – Spoilers

Summary

The Doctor decides that Rory needs to go on a date with Amy and so he picks him up at his stag night and whisks the two off to Venice in 1580. They encounter a mysterious Countess who runs a school for pale, slightly creepy girls who hate the sunlight. They are, of course, not really vampires but alien crayfish refugees intent on sinking venice and repopulating their race.

Analysis

No matter how hard I try, I just could not care less about this episode. I don’t actively hate it (like Love and Monsters – go on, read my review of that, at least I had some emotions about it) but I am completely and utterly apathetic about it. It killed the better part of an hour and little more.

…and… that’s… about… it.

Oh, surely I can come up with something to bitch about.

This reminds me a lot of Toby Whithouse’s other Doctor Who script, School Reunion, which was mostly enjoyable only for the return of Sarah Jane Smith and not for the imaginative story-telling. He’s got a thing for vampires and faux-vampires, though. Next thing you know, he’ll probably be writing a series about them…

I’m sick of the low-level perception filter gimmick. Let’s get back to aliens that either look human or look like guys in rubber suits.

The Doctor is completely trying to be Jerry Lewis in this episode. I hate Jerry Lewis.

Ben and I discuss this story on Episode 3 of the Fusion Patrol Podcast.


You can listen to it here



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Doctor Who – Review – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – Spoilers

We’ve heading into uncharted territory now. Historically, I’ve reviewed most new Doctor Who episodes right here on the blog, but now that we’re doing the Fusion Patrol Podcast, I’ve been letting it slip.

The fact is, we’re not really doing reviews at the podcast. I’ve likened to a book club discussion, although, not having attended a book club, how would I know? Basically, we’re just having a discussion about what we think about the episode – so, maybe it is a review. In any case, I’ll try to synthesize some of that down here as my “review.”

Summary

In Time of Angels, the Doctor is re-united with River Song, the archaeologist from the Doctor’s future, first introduced in Silence in the Library. River has cleverly arranged for the Doctor to answer her call and come to her assistance, where she is helping a crack military squad of clerics to neutralize a Weeping Angel: a bizarre quantum-locked alien species that can only move when they’re not being observed. The starliner Byzantium was carrying the angel, but it crashed on a planet, releasing the angel.

As the clerics attempt to work their way through catacombs towards the wrecked ship, Amy is unwittingly infected by one of the angels. The clerics are being killed off one-by-one and only too late does the Doctor realize that all the statues in the catacombs are angels, and they are being brought back to life by the energy from the wrecked starliner. Surrounded, and trapped in a cave just meters below the wrecked ship, things look very bleak indeed.

In Flesh and Stone, the Doctor manages to get the survivors aboard the ship, but the angels are aboard, too. As they make their way through an artificial forest inside the ship, the mysterious crack from Amy’s bedroom wall puts in an appearance, threatening to swallow everything.

Amy must keep her eyes shut to stay alive, and she is left in the care of the cleric, but one-by-one, they are swallowed by the crack and cease to have ever existed. Amy must pretend to be able to see, to fool the angels into leaving her alone, and navigate blindly through the forest to reach the Doctor and River.

Can the Doctor stop the angels and close the crack which threatens to devour the entire universe?

Analysis

From my point of view, this two-parter was an exemplary episode of Doctor Who. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d almost say the best episode since the series returned in 2005.

In pacing, it is unlike any new series episode to date. Even though it maintains suspense from end to end, it is slower than most new series episodes. Midpoint during each 45 minute episode, comes an almost perfect “cliffhanger” point – as if this story was written to be four, 22 minute episodes ala the classic series. I much prefer this pacing and really wish Steven Moffat would convert all the stories into two-parters. That said, the resolution to the problem of both the angels and the crack did present itself rather quickly and conveniently right at the end and wasn’t really any of the Doctor’s doing. In effect, his cleverness just kept them alive long enough for them to get lucky. That was probably the most dissatisfying part of the whole story to me.

We (the audience and the Doctor) are meeting River Song for only the second time, but from her timeline, she’s met the Doctor many times before, and knows about his future. Last time, we learned that she was someone very, very important to the Doctor in his future and that he trusted her with enough knowing his real name. This time, which is much earlier in her timeline, we learn that she is a murderer and is being held in prison for that crime. She has only been released so that she can help the expedition, “control” the Doctor and try to earn herself a pardon.

During the first episode, it’s not revealed that she’s a prisoner, but it is revealed that the Doctor might not help her if he knew “…who and what [she is]…” At that point, I began to suspect that a beautiful piece of plot contrivance on the Grand Moff’s part would be to have had River die in the first episode that the Doctor meets (which she did) and for the Doctor to die the first time River meets him. That idea was bolstered in my mind when she stated that she had “pictures of all his incarnations” which is only possible if she’s in a timeline after the Doctor is dead. That she was his killer also fit with the “who and what” comment, in that what she is is his murderer. Logical to assume that he’d not want to help her under those conditions.

I thought I was being particularly clever reasoning that out in the first episode, but then they started beating it over our heads in the second episode. Revealing that she was in prison for murder, they she’d murdered a great man, a hero to many. She herself even tells the Doctor, when confronted, that she killed the greatest man she’s ever known.

In slippery Grand Moff style, though, the crack in time has put the idea in the Doctor’s head that time can be “unwritten” and he seems oddly comforted by that idea. Perhaps he thinks he can unwrite River’s crime, or, on a bigger scale, perhaps he can unwrite the Time War, the rise of Rassilon and the destruction of Gallifrey.

On the other hand, if he tries something that big, perhaps he causes the crack himself?

I would like to point out that, while I don’t really give a toss about season-spanning story arcs, I am pleased that this seasons story arc at least appears to be playing out meaningfully during the season, rather than just being a series of catchphrases badly interjected into the scripts with no bearing on the stories. The Bad Wolf syndrome has a been a great, dead albatross hanging around the nexk of the past four series, and I hope it’s gone forever.

Amy, in this episode, is both playful, brilliant and somewhat useless in equal measures. The later is not really her fault, as she’s blind, about to die, all alone in a forest full of angels and terrified out of her wits. Who wouldn’t be useless under those conditions?

All-in-all, one of the best episodes for a long, long time.

No review of this episode would be complete without discussing the final scene, set in Amy’s bedroom, on the night before her wedding (also the night she left with the Doctor.) In no uncertain terms, Amy, having just been terrified for her life, tries to get a leg over on the Doctor.

Prudish I might be, but the tone and content of the scene just felt wrong to me. It didn’t really have a place in a program aimed (partially) at such a young audience, but this is a criticism I’ve had ever since the series returned in 2005. This was just the single most overt expression of it yet.

While I didn’t like it, it was logical. It’s the logical extension (at least in the TV world) of Amy’s lifelong obsession with the Doctor, her fears about marriage and her very near brush with death. It was a accurate portrayal of humanity.

What I did appreciate, though, was that the Doctor clearly felt the same way: This is a totally inappropriate Doctor/Companion interaction, and he puts a stop to it. My hope is that this is the Grand Moff telling us that, “…we’ve pushed the issue to it’s logical conclusion and there’ll no more of that going on in the TARDIS while I’m at the helm.”

Torchwood – Who are the monsters? (Er, Children of Earth) review, spoilers

I loathe Torchwood. It is the Slitheen of the Doctor Who universe… oh, wait, the Slitheen are the Slitheen of the Doctor Who universe. In that case, Torchwood are the fart jokes of the Doctor Who universe – crude, boorish and juvenile. (While, at the same time, attempting to be all grown-up. “See, I can tell fart jokes, I’m an adult!”)

A program so awful that, after series 2, episode 1, I just gave up, and apart from a few clips here and there that I’ve seen on TV or online, I banished it from consideration of watching ever again.

…and then along came the reviews of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Reviews so positive and glowing, from blogs I generally trust to be reasonably compatible with my viewpoint, that it seemed impossible to reconcile with the train wreck that was Torchwood, series 1 and 2.

Well, I just had to see for myself.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is more of a mini-series than a normal year’s worth of episodes. It is one single story, aired (and told in five parts) over 5 consecutive days.

Brief Synopsis without a lot of the details

Nasty aliens come to Earth. They’ve been here before in the 1960′s and the British government gave in to blackmail back then and gave them 12 orphaned children to make them go away. Now the aliens are back and have announced themselves by “stopping” every child on Earth and speaking the words, “We are coming back.”

The first order of business: The British government must find a way to cover up what they did back in 1965, that begins with killing everyone that might talk. One of them, the man who actually handed the children over, was Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood. Torchwood, being what it is, an organization that investigates alien threats, must also be eliminated.

Captain Jack, being immortal, cannot be killed. Or can he?

A bomb is planted in his stomach (they have to kill him twice to get the bomb in him) and then he, and Torchwood’s HQ are blown into tiny parts. Ianto, Gwen and her husband Rhys go on the run from the assassins.

The aliens arrive and demand 10% of all children on the planet Earth. The alternative: the total extinction of the human species.

Jack pulls himself together (literally), so they encase him in cement, but Ianto and Co. rescue him.

The governments of the world reluctantly agree to the aliens’ terms and begin planning how to deliver 10% of the children to the aliens. Meanwhile, Torchwood uses the last of their Torchwood technology to record what’s being discussed regarding the plans. They use this information to blackmail the British into letting them fight the aliens.

Jack takes a valiant stand in front of the aliens, telling them that we’ll not give them our children and that we’ll fight. They aliens respond by killing the entire human race. Or they would have done if Thames House (where the aliens are represented) hadn’t been a bio-hazard lockable building. Instead of killing the whole world, they just kill everyone in the building, including Jack and Ianto.

Jack gets better. Ianto doesn’t.

Beaten and depleted, Torchwood gives up, and the government begins a campaign to round up 10% of the children, who will not be killed or eaten by the aliens, but will be permanently attached to the aliens’ bodies as a form of narcotic, where they will live as possibly still-sentient children indefinitely.

The round ups begin, and Gwen and Rhys try to save Ianto’s niece and nephew and several other neighborhood children from the cull. Meanwhile Jack’s daughter convinces the one-time assassin who was trying to kill Jack that he is the only one who can save the world. They spring him from prison and he hits upon an idea that could kill the aliens, but it will require a sacrifice. He send a signal back at the aliens using the brain of a child and the only child available is his grandson.

He saves the children of Earth by using his grandson and kills him in the process.

The story ends with Jack leaving the Earth, perhaps forever.

Analysis

Here’s a series that is saved – no, lifted up – by some truly awesome performances.

The supporting cast in this story, particularly the members of the British government, are exceptional. I can’t think of a better word for it. They are deep and nuanced in a way that has for decades set British acting above the rest in the world. Not the performances of the one-dimension heroes, but the performances of the “ordinary” people caught in extra-ordinary circumstances. Director Euros Lyn has also provided them a tight, dramatic canvas to work within and it comes off perfectly.

If there’s a weak spot, it’s the story logic, but even that isn’t bad and it’s punctuated with moments of real, human dialog that rings so real as you might think it was surreptitiously recorded from strangers rather than scripted.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way first before we get into the big questions. This series should not be set in the Doctor Who universe. This has become a major problem with the Doctor Who spin-offs. We can forgive the Doctor for not showing up for every Earth destructing event, but where was Martha Jones? Answer: on her honeymoon and Jack is forbidden to call her by Gwen. I must say, Martha’s husband’s “technique” must be mightily overwhelming that he was able to keep her totally oblivious to all the children on the whole planet stopping and chanting over the period of five days! For cryin’ out loud, didn’t those two at least stop to eat meals? Surely long enough to make a quick phone call to the Doctor. (I told you that damn inter-time, inter-universe cell phone was a stupid plot device that would kick them in the ass later, didn’t I?)

What about Sarah Jane Smith. She’s got a kid in that age group, she hangs out with kids in that age group. Didn’t she notice? Where was Mr. Smith identifying the aliens, or at least the location of their ships or just finding ways to block their signal?

No, this story needed to be isolated to convey the full menace of the situation and it wasn’t sufficiently. Further, by bringing up the Doctor once or twice, they reaffirm the interconnectedness of the whole thing.

From this point forward, I’m going to grant them their isolation and pretend the rest of the Doctor Who universe doesn’t exist.

A lot of the commentary I’ve read about this story revolves around the question of, “Who are the monsters?” That’s what I want to concentrate on mostly.

The argument goes that the British government (and presumably the other governments of the world, too) are the monsters in this story, because of their machinations or perhaps Jack is for killing his own grandson. I want to be very clear on this point – The aliens are the monsters.

The aliens come to Earth, threaten to kill everyone and demand blackmail. For the sake of this story, we have to take it as read that the alien threat is credible and that there is no doubt that they would follow-through. Also, we have to recognize that there is no time to craft an adequate defense plan. In the five days since the beginning of the incident, the knowledge of the aliens obtained is virtually nil. We don’t know where they’re from, how many there are, what the total of the defensive and offensive military might be. There’s no one to fight, no time to fight them, nothing to fight them with and no second chance.  Given that premise, what would you do?

It’s all well and good to say, “Yeah, I’d fight back.” Jack started to do that, and it was foolhardy and stupid. What was he going to do? Pose until the aliens we awed by his movie-star good looks?

Sometimes in this world you’re beaten and the phrase, “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day,” is never more relevant. Sometimes capitulation is the only option.

To give up 10% of the children to be used in what promises to be a horribly agonizing not-quite-death is distasteful (putting it mildly) but is that worse than condemning those same children to certain death, along with the other 90% and along with the rest of the planet?

It’s not a simple economic equation but, to Russell T. Davies’ credit, that’s the point of the whole story. People making very difficult decisions makes for good drama. And when the difficult decisions have no good answer, the drama can be even more intense. This choice between 10% of the kids and the entire species isn’t reality. It’s an absurd exaggeration that allows writers to explore human nature. That is, at its best, what Science Fiction is all about – the ability to play out scenarios that simply cannot happen and deconstruct the human element.

The discussion around the cabinet table about how to choose the children was the high point of the show. It rang so very real and, given the lack of time, I probably would have come to a similar solution. Given more time, other solutions (whole or partial) might come to mind – children dying in hospital, families with many children who really are on the dole, starving children in third-world countries. Again, nothing tasteful, but recognizing the reality of the situation and trying to minimize the overall damage as much as possible.

All that is to the writers’ credit (and what’s up with a single story being written in parts by different people?) for using the medium of Science Fiction to its potential.

But… Why did the aliens go about things the way they did? Did that really make sense? They can make the kids all stop and talk and point. It seems reasonable that they could make them walk. We know that have some level of granularity over their control because they can make different nations’ children speak different numbers. Why did they need to go through the ambassadorial rigamarole? Why not just walk the kids to collection points and hoover them up before anybody could even figure out what they were doing?

And, assuming they had some reason to go to the government, why establish quotas for each one? Why not go to India or China and force them to turn over 50% of their kids?

I think the answer is that this is just a contrived convenience to try to tell the story about the British government (oh, ahh, that’s obvious.)   

Obvious though that may be, it does make the alien threat seem more implausible. Rather than just do the job themselves, the aliens are forcing all the governments to do the dirty work, despite the fact that the approach would be inefficient and unlikely to achieve their goals in the shortest length of time, What if one single government refused or failed? Would they kill the whole human race? Would another government cough up additional children to make up the difference to avoid annihilation? Would that be more wrong than turning over the 10%? Does that then raise the issue of “not my kids” as was raised at the cabinet?

No, I’ll argue that the solution that the cabinet came up with does not make them monsters. What was monstrous was the attempts to cover it up. Oh, I don’t mean the false inoculation program, obviously the had to lie in order to get the children, but the unwillingness to stand behind their decisions, difficult though they were, made the Prime Minister, in particular, abhorrent.

So let’s turn, finally, to Captain Jack Harkness – immortal man.

One of my complaints about Torchwood is that Jack is… wrong. I don’t mean wrong in the same way a Time Lord just feels he’s wrong, but wrong in the sense that he isn’t portrayed accurately. This is not an indictment of John Barrowman.

Consider: As the series has progressed, we know more and more about how old Jack really is. I gather he was buried under Cardiff for a thousand years or so, but I’m not sure if he was conscious, but at the very least Jack has 150+ years of consciousness, and he’s used to seeing everyone die around him. It’s hard to imagine that Jack would behave recognizably like a human at all. The fact that he does act, for the most part, normal, leaves a deceptively false sense of familiarity.

Jack’s solution to the alien 456 is to destructively use his grandson as a weapon. Is that morally different from being willing to sacrifice 10%? Jack wasn’t willing to give up the 10% to save the others, but he was willing to kill one. The moral dilemma is the same, but his choice is the opposite. What changed his mind? Recognition of the futility of his earlier position? Revenge for the death of Ianto? Or a different perspective on death? Does he see a moral difference because in both cases he chose to fight? If he could have poisoned the 10% of the children so that they would have killed the 456, would he have gone along with that?

Heroically, I have no doubt that Jack would have laid down his life (such as it is) to save the children. I’m sure Gwen or Ianto, or perhaps even Froebisher would have laid down their lives too.

But that wasn’t the choice available to any of them.

Does the immortal Jack Harkness even comprehend death as we do? A mortal man could easily imagine that, in the normal course of life, his children or grandchildren will outlive him. Not so with Jack. He knows that it is just a matter of time before the boy dies anyway. Does that perspective change the morality of his decision?

In this, ultimately, the writers of Torchwood: Children of Earth have left us with more questions than answers and they have given us the chance to look, briefly, into the depths of the human mind.

For that reason, I recommend this series as an exceptional throwback to the days Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham.

But whatever you do… Don’t watch Torchwood series one or two!

What’s in your melon?


So the other day I was introduced to That Mitchell and Webb Look through the (science/atheistic) website Pharyngula, with this Mitchell and Webb skit about homeopathy, a subject of particular derision in the skeptic crowd.

So I tracked down that show, and that particular episode and I found this sketch that would be right up the same alley…