Maureen Ryan Column on Torchwood - July 1, 2009
Discussion of either the content of the plays or the miniseries needs spoiler
Originally posted: July 1, 2009
Air dates for 'Doctor Who' and a 'Torchwood' rave
I've now seen the first three episodes of "Torchwood: Children of Earth," and it's fantastic. I agree with TV Guide magazine critic Matt Roush, who calls it the "TV event of the summer."
Here's my take on the "Children of Earth," which airs five consecutive nights starting July 20: It's the best thing BBC America has broadcast since it aired the original British version of "The Office."
Two things you need to know about "Children of Earth": It's a thriller, one of the most effective ones I've seen on TV in some time. Yes, "Torchwood" is a spinoff of "Doctor Who" and thus could be classified as a sci-fi show, but these five episodes expertly rachet up the tension while providing the enjoyable character drama fans have come to know and love. If this is sci-fi, it's sci-fi that non-genre fans can definitely love.
Also, you don't need to have seen "Torchwood" before you watch "Children of Earth." It works fine if you've never seen the drama before. Of course, for fans of the irreverent show, it'll be extra-fun, but no previous knowledge is necessary.
Prior seasons of "Torchwood" have aired on BBC2 and BBC3 in the UK. But creator Russell T Davies said in a Tuesday interview that since "Children of Earth" will air on BBC 1 -- the biggest network in the UK -- the goal was to make it accessible to newcomers.
In the third season of a show, "there's a danger you can settle for preaching to the converted." But he wants to "reach out to absolutely everyone and hopefully get some new viewers," he said.
Viewers will learn some dark things about Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in "Children of Earth," and I asked Davies if there was a limit to how far he could take the frequently heroic character.
"With a good character and actor, as far as you want," he said. "I think the audience is very intelligent and they don't like it when you handle a character with kid gloves. Good drama exposes people's faults, that's what we empathize with."
Viewers will learn more about Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) and Gwen (Eve Myles) as well (and by the way, what a crackling core cast this show has). "This is what I would have done no matter what," even if Season 3 had not been a compressed 5-episode experiment, Davies said. "It's simply time to explore the backgrounds a bit... It was time to expand and explore every connection."
One final note: Peter Capaldi is fantastic as Mr. Frobisher, a man who seems like a gray bureaucrat at first but whose role becomes extremely ambiguous throughout the course of the series, which airs July 6-10 in England.
I'll have much more from Davies and from Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack, when I do a longer "Torchwood" piece later in July, but I had to share a couple of "Doctor Who" details I wrangled from Davies in that Tuesday interview (and there are a few bits and pieces from a recent Barrowman interview here).
Davies relaunched the "Doctor Who" franchise to great success four years ago, but after a series of 2009 specials starring the current Doctor, David Tennant, a new season of "Doctor Who" will begin in the spring of 2010 with Matt Smith as the title character and Steven Moffat as the head writer.
Regarding those Tennant "Doctor Who" specials, "Planet of the Dead" airs July 26 on BBC America. There are three specials after that, and BBC America has confirmed that they will air in this country in around the end of the year. (For a recent interview with Tennant, look here.)
"Waters of Mars" is expected to air in November in the UK, and it should air in this country that month as well. Tennant's last outing as the Doctor is in a two-parter that airs in England on or around Christmas Day and New Years' Day. And those final Tennant specials will air on BBC America around those dates in this country as well.
Davies would not say much about Tennant's final three episodes, except to confirm Lindsay Duncan as the companion in "Waters of Mars" and Bernard Cribben as the companion in the final two-parter.
Davies said there's "enormous amounts of fun" and some good comedy with the alien species in those last two episodes, but there's also an undercurrent of sadness. "It's not a matter of me saying, 'Shall I be dark?' There's this meta-textual game with 'Doctor Who' -- everyone knows David is leaving. You can't avoid that fact, you can't have him walk into a door and regenerate. Everyone knows death is coming. That informs the drama," Davies said.
The final two episodes are Tennant's "finest hour by a million miles," he added.
Would he confirm any of the other casting for the final two Tennant specials? No, with a genial Welsh laugh, he would not.
But he did say that, though he'll stick with "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures," his next project will not be a genre piece. He's "dying" to write a 9 p.m. BBC drama set in the modern-day, entirely real world, he said.
As I said, I'll have fuller transcripts from Davies and Barrowman soon.