Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It's Torchwood's finest hour!

Well, five hours actually, stripped over five nights Monday to Friday, and telling a story that takes place over the same amount of time.

As a result, it can feel a little stretched-out to fit the format at times. Day One sets things up, Day Two has the aliens announcing that they will arrive on Earth tomorrow, Day Three sees them arrive, Day Four has them giving Earth a 24-hour ultimatum, and then Day Five wraps everything up in the usual manner. Had this been a three-parter, then maybe the aliens wouldn't have dragged their tentacles so much.

Day One is uphill work from the work go though. Less than two minutes into the first episode, every single child in the entire world freezes and becomes a zombie for a minute.

Yes, all two-billion-odd of them, including by implication Luke, Maria, Clyde and Rani from The Sarah Jane Adventures, but we don't see that. One of the inherent limitations of making an 'adult' version of a family show (Doctor Who) is that it just cannot go there, no matter how conspicuous the characters are by their absence. And, get this, yes, as usual, in the entire world, not one adult remembers this global-zombification afterwards!

Oduya: "Right now this thing's random enough to go unnoticed, and if anyone files a news-report, you'll be crushing it. So far we're the only ones with the software clever enough to piece this all together, well, us and Torchwood."

That's right – noone thought anything of all those kids freezing en masse at the zebra-crossing above. Eurghhh, it's going to be a long five hours...

Meanwhile at the hospital Jack and Ianto are rumbled as employees of Torchwood. Maybe they shouldn't hang around there so much.

Dr Rupesh Patanjali: (pointing at car with large 'TORCHWOOD' sign on front) "You're Torchwood!"

Jack: (getting into car with large 'TORCHWOOD' sign on front) "Never heard of them!"

This could have been directed for comedy, but instead the director kept the sign out of shot.

It transpires that in this story, far from being a top secret organisation, this week Torchwood's existence is known of by just about everyone.

- Rupesh: "This whole city talks about you!"
(Jack and Ianto eyeball their weariness)

- Ianto: "Ask about Torchwood and most people point towards the Bay."

- Jack: (sarcastically to Lois) "You're working for the home office and you've never heard of Torchwood?"

So much for, in The Christmas Invasion, Torchwood being so secret that even the PM wasn't supposed to know of their existence. I guess all the recent invasions have changed that. Still, at least they're no longer independent, and have gone back to being "paid by the Crown" again.

In a psychiatric ward, at another hospital, Clement MacDonald sniffs Gwen and declares her to be three weeks pregnant. Just how many pregnant women has he previously sniffed and known so much about to hone such accuracy?

Jack has a bomb planted inside of him by government baddies, who include the guy who I had been successfully fooled into thinking was a replacement for Owen. So Jack decides to stand in the middle of the Hub for it to detonate, presumably so that the team will lose as much stuff as possible. Maybe one of those compartments in the morgue might have been a more shielded place? Even the toilet?

Jack blows-up. Every child in the world chants "We are coming back." The 'next time' trailer comes on. Eurghhh, it's going to be a long week...

Or not - ignoring the world's amnesia of such high-profile zombie-wranglers the Sycorax and Trueman, Day Two is MUCH better!

The only real gripe I really have with it is that the government baddies, knowing of Jack's ability to reanimate, gather up his remains and actually put them all in the same body-bag. It's almost as if they want him to get better.

The government finishes decoding the schematics that the aliens have radioed through of a big glass tank that they want built for their arrival, and an inherent flaw in the plot gets addressed.

Frobisher: "When they can communicate like this, this kind of detail, why do the thing with the children?"

Decker: "Because they can, and because they want to scare us."

Whew for that.

The bulk of the second episode is about Gwen, Ianto and Rhys going on the run, and rescuing Jack. This is all good fun, particularly Rhys begging Lois for some money for chips.

Day Three finds our reunited heroes deciding to hide-out in, of all the dumb places, an old Torchwood warehouse. It's probably the stupidest place on the planet to pick, and it comes as no surprise whatsoever when a later instalment sees them inevitably busted there.

While waiting for the aliens to arrive, Jack and Ianto scheme to have sex. I don't know what this is supposed to make us think of the characters.

One of this story's greatest strengths is its opportunity to dwell on and explore its situations. The second half of Day Three concentrates on the British government's representation of the world in making "first contact" with the 456. (they remind me of the Macra) These scenes go on forever and are thoroughly absorbing. We get to observe these talks practically in real time – something that would have been very difficult in the regular 40-minute format.

Although communication with alien species is now a fairly everyday occurrence in the Doctor Who world, these scenes still hold all the awe and terror of Earth's first encounter with extra terrestrial life, making you wish they hadn't pulled that trigger so many, many times in recent years, devaluing it so.

The actor playing the Prime-Minister sadly pantomimes the role like he's Anthony Hopkins. Just what kind of comedy must have resulted from his über-ruthless pre-election TV clashes against that lunatic clown Harold Saxon? It must have been like watching an episode of Pinky and the Brain. Now if only the Master had been played so dry. Not ideal, but close enough.

Day Four reveals that in 1965 Jack traded eleven children to the 456 in return for the lives of the rest of Earth's population.

Jack in 1965: "Why do you need me?"

Human agent: "Well, assuming twelve children can be found, then we need someone to deliver them."

Jack: "What in case the aliens are hostile? You need someone who can't die?"

Agent: "Actually we need someone who doesn't care."

Today the aliens' demand is a little higher. Today the aliens want 10% of Earth's children, (fortunately they seem to like base ten as well - maybe they have ten tentacles each) or they'll kill everyone. A bit daft really – they should just kill the other 90%, but hey, they were a bit high at the time, and can hardly be expected to think straight.

Once more the action remains, at length, in Whitehall, and it's riveting. The powers that be initially discuss the obvious option of attacking the alien negotiator in the tank at Thames House, but discard the idea because it would be "a declaration of war - a war we can't win." It's so refreshing to see the characters in this story having time to brainstorm alternative options.

Next they're onto haggling over the number of kids they can "get away with", before eventually conceding and moving onto a concrete selection strategy for actually sacrificing 10% of Earth's children (or "units") without their own complicity becoming public.

Lois is present throughout, wearing the secret video-camera contact-lenses from Reset, which enable Jack, Gwen, Ianto, Rhys and Clement to eavesdrop on the whole thing. Much of these episodes are so shakily filmed that the lenses appear to have been used by the BBC too. Gwen sums up the whole dark conversation in amazement.

Gwen: "God, they're really gonna do this."

We never really find out how the rest of the world deals with the crisis, or why no-one plots to exploit a less-defended land-mass like Africa.

And so to Day Five. After the dreary start, days two, three and four have been brilliant. But then they didn't have to resolve anything. Final episodes are always much tougher to tie-up. Would Torchwood manage it?

Not entirely.

It's still quite watchable, but when, about twenty minutes in, the Prime Minister tells Permanent Secretary Frobisher to sacrifice his own children for PR purposes, it's clear that believability has been dropped. What possible reason could the PM have for thinking that Frobisher would ever permit this? There can be none.

And sure enough, from this point onwards, it becomes hard to reconcile many of the other characters' decisions too.

Our heroes threaten to expose the recording of the government's scheme, but then chicken-out and don't. Then they’re trying to think of ways to tell the public what's happening. Dur.

The government issue the cover story that the kids are going to be bussed-off to have jabs against the aliens' influence. Yet when the army show-up with buses, they're taken by force and noone has any idea why.

And it is fairly public information, because the tens of thousands of army troops have all been told what's going on.

I guess it goes without saying that the aliens can just make the zombie-kids board their spaceship, and can even take their spaceship around all the schools to pick them up themselves.

Then Jack saves everyone by, as usual, building a machine that reverses the alien negotiator's control and blows it up, forcing it to retreat back to its ship. It just does. It doesn't matter how.

Worst of all, this is exactly the "declaration of war – a war we can't win", as avoided in episode four. Naw, the aliens just don't retaliate. They just don't. They don't carry out their threat to wipe out our species. That's it. That's yer ending.

Overall, this was an excellent five-part story, marred by awkward shaky camerawork, some mistaken direction (the director repeatedly doesn't get the difference between analogue and digital signals – something you'd expect a TV man to) and, above all, a plot that is as standard as they come.

Once more – I really enjoyed this – but the story is a straight remake of The Sound Of Drums / Last Of The Time Lords.


Both stories open with one of our friends (Tish / Lois) starting a job working with the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Both stories feature the evil British government planting a time-bomb in and blowing-up our heroes' base. (Martha's flat / The Hub)

Both stories see our heroes immediately going on the run from the government, changing cars to avoid detection, getting found via a CCTV camera, and then choosing to hide-out in an abandoned warehouse.

Both stories feature the US berating the British Prime Minister for initiating first contact with an alien race independently of the UN.

Both stories feature our heroes' invisible observation of said first contact.

Both stories feature an alien vessel unexpectedly turning out to contain a human child from earlier in the story, wired into a gasmask.

Both stories are resolved by the main protagonist reversing the aliens' own technology against them.

Both stories conclude with the death of someone who the main protagonist is both responsible for, and attached to by birth.

I don't mean this unkindly, but both stories are written by the same author.

For all that, although the similarity of the first half couldn't avoid giving away the probable events of the second, it was much, much better executed this time, and as I say, I really enjoyed it.

More Torchwood of this detail would be a good thing.

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