TORCHWOOD - Children Of Earth: Day Two

BBCHD - 7th July 2009 - 9.00pm

It's the little touches that impress in Torchwood.

Mucking about with the sound design and giving us Gwen's POV is such a neat idea, so that the audience can share her disorientation and the concussive effects of the explosion that's torn apart the Hub. John Fay's script for Day Two is very much about the public perception of authority, trust and control. It begins with poor Gwen confronted with the realisation that the two ambulance men who drag her from the wreckage of the Hub (stunningly realised on location) are simply there to ensure that she does not survive. Nigel Kneale played on these fears back in 1956, the fear that the public servants you trust have actually been compromised and are working against you or wish to suppress any criticism of your agenda. The opening action sequence is really thrilling with Gwen throwing herself out of the ambulance and firing at a rooftop sniper and then stealing the vehicle. And just hope if you're a paramedic that you don't end up with Gwen Cooper in the back of the vehicle. You don't stand a bloody chance. Trouble is, that sniper must have been trained in UNIT and can't shoot for bloody toffee even with a laser sight. To maintain the realism, either Gwen or Ianto should have been wounded. As it was they both escaped, a la Enemy Of The State, with barely a scratch.

The worst of it is that Frobisher's own wife and daughters are realising that he's deeply involved in the whole of the 'we are coming' business and have noticed those odd, defensive behaviour patterns that are a dead give away that something is, indeed, up. Peter Capaldi grabs the character and manages to create such a tortured government fall-guy that one minute you feel sorry and afraid for him and the next wishing he would die a horrible death for all the destruction he's unleashed upon Torchwood and their extended families. Q branch boffin Dekker, a deliciously slimy performance from Ian Gelder, turns up on Frobisher's doorstep and reinforces the retro science fiction paranoia by producing a hefty reference to Fred Hoyle's wonderful A For Andromeda series in which alien transmissions turn out to be the design blueprint for a super computer and an advanced life form. And off they go with their meccano set from outer space.

Bless, PC Andy. Does he even have a surname? (It's Davidson but he's never credited as such and therefore comes across as a sort of Cardiff equivalent of Camberwick Green's PC McGarry) How on earth did this man graduate from Hendon Police College anyway? He's not safe to be out on his own. Love his introduction as he cops a look at Agent Johnson, 'If she's anti-terrorist then I wouldn't mind being Uncle terrorist' because we know full well he'd run a mile if she showed even a flicker of interest. Tom Price provides great comedy value with Andy sitting in the pursuit vehicle next to Johnson and her troops espousing the values of a 'little bit of local knowledge' whilst clearly leading them directly and unwittingly to Gwen's flat. Gwen and Rhys decide to go into hiding whilst having a row about car keys, Ianto claims ice cream gives him a headache and Agent Johnson's tyres don't last five minutes. The dialogue at this point isn't going to win any prizes, 'What kind of terrorist shoots your wheels?' Deep Sigh. 'A clever one'. It's at this point that, try as she may, Liz May Brice is unable to prevent the character of Johnson from descending into a Sheriff Of Nottingham clone who has no other reason to be in the episode other than to be undermined by those pesky outlaws from Fay's script chucks away any attempt at actually making her a three dimensional character and it gets worse.

Disturbingly there seems to be some sort of tradition being carried over from Day One. Clearly, there is an ongoing obsession with male arses. In the raid on Rhiannon's house the troops unearth the equivalent of a beached whale protesting, rather hilariously, that he's a married man and you wouldn't find Ianto in his bed. No, I don't think you would. Later, a man more used to exposing himself, a certain Mr. Barrowman, dutifully fulfills a BBC Wales contract obligation to show us his...well...everything, really. This is Torchwood creeping back into adult comic book mode and Fay's script threatens to undo the sterling work of his boss on Day One. One of the problems here is that we're supposed to pretend that Jack's dead when most of us are just simply waiting for him to inevitably jump back into life. The aforementioned scene of Frobisher at breakfast with his daughters attempting to act as if he's about to have a normal day at the office is terrific, especially the two girls taking the piss out of the situation with their 'We want a pony' chant, and his ongoing agonising about dealing the death blow to Torchwood, realising that taking the Hub out was pointless and taking one for the government at the same time, makes for gripping viewing.

Unfortunately, Clem/Timothy White is somewhat sidelined in this episode and rather embarrasses himself in a pub by intimating, in a rather unintentionally amusing moment, that the bar maid has done an extremely smelly fart by announcing to her, 'Can you smell that?'. Despite the amusing, if not charming, repartee between Gwen and Rhys (the scene inside the haulage truck full of potatoes, perhaps inspired by Hitchcock's Frenzy, is delightful) by far the best character development in this episode is that of Lois Habiba. Cush Jumbo manages to effectively get across the woman's conscience and her concern at what's going on around her and it's a huge relief when she turns up at the meeting with Gwen and Rhys at the cafe after deciding to help them. We even get a bit of location filming in London thrown in for good measure. Another Torchwood recruit in waiting, I hope. Although it does stretch the credibility of the depiction of a government department that allows a temp on her second day of work to continue to access and remove classified files. Mind you, on the other hand, so many departments lose private data on a regular basis it may not be that far from the truth. Can I also say a good word for Susan Brown as the nasty Bridget Spears looking down her nose at everyone and everything? So, Lois to the rescue and a rather barmy sub-plot featuring Gwen and Rhys pretending to be undertakers. Meanwhile, we also get more of the great Katy Wix as Ianto's sister Rhiannon who does her bit to help out Ianto with a laptop and eventually tracking Jack's body down to a military facility.

Jack's reconstitution is downright creepy and disturbing as is the further scene of chanting children but it does turn into a bit of a comic book romp by the time Gwen and Rhys infiltrate the facility only to find Jack's been encased in concrete by the rather peeved Johnson. Never mind, Ianto to the rescue with a great big digging machine (a nod to Jack's similar action in Series One's Countrycide) and a very long drop into that Doctor Who cliche, a quarry. So, as Jack hobbles away, flashing his bits, the episode switches tone again to the very menacing conclusion as Mr. Dekker proudly demonstrates the arrival chamber for the visiting 456 whilst also posing the questions on the lips of the audience. Why are they coming for Britain? Just what did happen in 1965? It ends very unnervingly with that striking visual of Dekker breathing on the glass of the chamber and holding his arms out to embrace it.

Delivered with enormous visual panache by Euros Lyn and again played well by all the regulars and the guest artists, Day Two doesn't quite live up to the polished opening episode, preferring to veer off unevenly into a bit of farce, Scooby Doo villainy and comic book heroics. It doesn't completely reacquaint us with Torchwood's previous penchant for overblown adolescence and histrionics and that's still a bit of a blessing. It's highly entertaining, often spectacular and propelled by good, pacy direction, a thoroughly Bondian soundtrack from Ben Foster and the intriguing mystery of the 456 also ensures I'm still looking forward to Day Three.

Day One review

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