Thursday, 4 March 2010

Torchwood: Countrycide

“What is that smell?”

“That would be grass.”

“It’s disgusting.”

Apologies for bothering those of you not based in the UK with a pop culture reference you many not get, but this story’s title reminds me of a certain quip made by the great Stephen Fry. I couldn’t possibly say anything about it without breaching the COC in no uncertain terms, but if you don’t instantly get the reference then Googling “Stephen Fry countryside joke” should do the trick. Anyway…

Might as well start as I mean to finish; I started watching this so unimpressed with Chris Chibnall’s script and, up to a point, the direction of the series (so much so that there’s been a little unintended hiatus…). But I unexpectedly ended up liking this rather a lot, which is odd for a number of reasons.

The opening sequence is great, with the use of “Monster” by The Automatic actually managing to give this rather annoying song a justification for its existence, which is no small achievement. And after the credits we’re thrown straight into a scene with the Torchwood team in the car, which demonstrates the great strengths of this episode; good characterisation and genuinely witty dialogue. After a bit of friction and unevenness with the writing of the characters (which really has to be laid, ironically, at Chibnall’s door), this is the episode where the team seems to gel. All the characters now feel fleshed out and, if not necessarily likeable as people (I’m talking about Owen here, of course), at least entertaining company as characters.

And we get some good character moments in the early scenes. Tosh’s attempt at innuendo (“Need a hand getting it up, Owen?”) gets an unnecessarily cruel single entendre in response (“If I did, I wouldn’t ask you,”), and she’s extremely jealous when Gwen admits to having snogged Owen. There’s also Gwen’s faux pas with Ianto, and the great scene with Owen using psychology to get inside Gwen’s pants. And it’s all just about the shagging, naturally. He may be a total git, but he’s entertaining for us viewers. That’s good writing.

Of course, the plot itself is basically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is not really my sort of thing, hence my initially not expecting to like this episode. I don’t necessarily find the genre unpleasantly violent (it’s done with too much staged artificiality for me to really suspend disbelief enough to be affected much), but I suspect there are all sort of standard slasher movie tropes here which are flying above my head. It doesn’t matter, though; the situation works in terms of how the characters react and how their relationships develop. Oh, and I liked James Moran’s Severance, of course.

Well, except for Jack; I’m getting a bit tired of this miserable git he seems to have turned into. Noticeably he’s the only member of the team who has nothing interesting going on character-wise right through this episode.

This is shot really quite well, with loads of suspense and sudden glimpses of threats suddenly moving in the corner of the screen. The whole situation reminds me of labyrinth-based computer game shooters like Doom. And yes, that really is the most up-to-date relevant computer games reference I can think of.

Ianto and Tosh are captured, where Tosh reveals that “I haven’t met a cell yet I couldn’t get out of.” So we can definitely expect there to be absolutely no long stretches in cells in her past whatsoever.

Of course, the big reveal is that the baddies are not aliens but people who harvest other people every ten years because, well, they’re country people and country people are weird like that. I remember back at the original viewing being genuinely surprised, especially that they’d pulled what seemed like a major genre-subverting trick so early on in the series. This time round, unsurprisingly, it seemed rather more signposted and rather less significant given the lack of surprise.

I like the ending, with the deliberate refusal to give us a psychobabble explanation; the baddies are just bad. And the final scene, with Gwen and Owen clearly having an actual affair, feels in keeping with what we’ve seen.

Not the best episode ever, perhaps- I still have concerns about the uneven tone of the show- but good characterisation earns this a 4/5.

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