Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Prisoner of the Judoon

Part One

“Have nice day.”

Well, this is a bit of a contrast after Children of Earth! Not so much subtext. Not so many notes to write up. All this is quite a relief!

Up to now I’ve only seen the first two series of The Sarah Jane Adventures; three and four are new to me. For the first time since Meglos my Marathon viewing is for a story I’ve never seen before. It’s a somewhat odd experience not to know what happens next.

So it’s the first time I’ve seen the opening introductory spiel, narrated by Clyde, which I take it will be appearing before every episode of this series. It’s rather odd, particularly as it’s followed by another introduction to the series this episode and a recap next episode. There’s some rather cheap-looking CGI here, and that’s the first time that I’ve been moved to make a comment like that.

Still, this is an admirably structured semi-reboot from the pen of Phil Ford, nicely re-introducing our entire regular cast for new viewers. And the story takes no time in getting going: an alien spaceship crashes, with a prisoner and escort on board. It’s an inspired decision to play up the PC Plod aspect of the Judoon for comic purposes- love the “requisitioning” of the police car, the sticking to the speed limit, and the scene with the bloke playing loud music in the other car. Androvax looks good, but we don’t get to see much of him before he starts taking over other people’s bodies. This is an inspired bit of cost-cutting, as is using old costumes from Doctor Who, of course.

The most interesting obvious change for the new series seems to be a rethinking of the roles of Gita and Haresh, who now seem to be a comedy double act- logical enough, given the lovely Mina Anwar’s obvious talent for comedy. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues.

Part Two

“Nothing to see. Move along.”

Interesting comment about Roswell; it seems Dreamland is all proper canon and that. I’ll have to watch it at the end of my marathon then.

We’ve now established a threat; Androvax is going to use the Nanogenes to make himself a ship, and then destroy the world, as you do. There are loads more Judoon coming to stop him but, as in Smith and Jones, they don’t give a monkeys about human and so care nothing for the safety of the possessed Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the comedy double act stuff between Gita and Haresh continues, while the jokes at the expense of the Judoon’s law-abiding ways continue. This is very funny indeed, and perfectly pitched for children.

Most brilliant of all is Sladen’s extraordinary performance as a possessed Sarah Jane. This is a superb villainous performance, and shows us a range of acting from her we haven’t had a chance to see before. The way she delivers her lines, almost seductively, with carefully-chosen pauses, is fantastic.

The story ends rather satisfyingly, with a possible parallel between Androvax and the Doctor: both are the last of their kind, both have blood on their hands and both, especially now, are alone.

We end with Clyde, Rani and Luke sentenced by the Judoon to be confined to Earth, and with Gita and Haresh knowing about aliens. I suspect both of these things will be significant.

Solid stuff, which does a good job of subtly rebooting the show. 4/5.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Torchwood: Children of Earth (Day Five)

“You’re shooting up on children? Our children?”

And so it ends. It ends fittingly and satisfyingly, if horribly. Torchwood is suddenly a much, much more grown up drama. This episode is from the pen of Russell T Davies. But, for the first time in the marathon, although we’ve had glimpses, this is the Russell T Davies of The Second Coming, not of Doctor Who; the writer up there with the likes of Nigel Kneale and Paul Abbott.

Right from the flash-forward to Gwen’s monologue at the start it’s clear that the stakes have risen yet again. No longer are we merely faced with the loss of 10% of the world’s children. It’s implicit in everything that happens here that there’s no chance of this happening without a complete breakdown of civilisation itself.

Not that this burning city is without its fiddlers, of course. The prime minister is as contemptible as always while the American general, who seems to have taken charge in a coup, now dips his hands right into the blood and waves them about in the plasma, ordering troops in to catch the remaining children. It is, of course, implicit that a version of last episode’s scene around the cabinet table happened in every country in the world, and there are no doubt also events worldwide which parallel the experiences of Gwen and Rhys. And the motive of the 456, finally revealed, is the most contemptible possible. And yet, in spite of the bleakness of the events and indeed of both human and 456 nature as shown here, there is hope. Not in Jack, as morally complex as ever, but where we least expected it; in the apparently cold Bridget Spears.

It’s established early on that the threat to civilisation itself means Torchwood’s threat of exposing the powers that be is pointless; they’ve lost. And Gwen and Rhys’ attempts to save those kids with Ianto’s sister is also doomed to failure- although it does go to show what decent sorts they are, which matters. Poor Lois, in custody, her cries ignored, seems also to have lost. Everyone, in a successive series of beats, turns out to have lost, the sequence terminating with Frobisher. The prime minister completely outdoes himself by ordering Frobisher to sacrifice his own daughters’ lives and then dismissing him with “And I’m really very busy.” This scene, once again, shows Peter Capaldi’s sublimity; the way his face reacts to this is acting of the very highest calibre.

The scene where Bridget Spears visits Lois and delivers her valedictory monologue for Frobisher is so beautifully written and performed, as the camera cuts between the cells to Frobisher, walking into the room containing his wife and daughters with his gun behind his backs. We hear three shots, a pause, and then finally a fourth. This is extraordinarily effective and powerful, one of the finest scenes British television in recent years has produced.

Things now take a turn for the worst, as the army is ordered in to forcibly take the 20% of children that remain uncollected. But suddenly there is also hope, as Liz Mary Brice’s increasingly ambiguous Black Ops Lady springs Jack. There is resistance, too; in the estate where Ianto’s sister lives but also among those who start pirate radio stations. All this is futile, though; the only hope is in Jack. And it’s a hopeless kind of hope. The sacrifice of Steven to the gods, Iphigenia style, is shown in all its horror, and the horrific visuals are as nothing compared to Alice’s reaction. Another stunningly shocking moment.

We then turn to the Caves of Androzani-style dénouement of this despicable prime minister’s career, as it turns out that Bridget Spears’ conversation with Lois was rather longer than the snippet we were shown, and she’s been recording the prime minister’s every self-incriminating statement on the Torchwood contact lenses. Perhaps the least likeable character turns out to be perhaps the most morally upright. And Lois, unexpectedly, is released.

The ending is inevitable; for Jack to just carry on would be to deny what he has done. But it’s hard to see where the series goes from here.

5/5, obviously. This is first class telly fit to stand alongside State of Play and The Second Coming.

So. Of the three Whoniverse shows, I’ve finally finished Torchwood. Only SJA and Doctor Who to go. Next: SJA series three, which I’ve never seen before…

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Torchwood: Children of Earth (Day Four)

“…And if we can’t identify the lowest achieving ten per cent of this country’s children, then what are the school league tables for?”

I love the comically stereotypical Scottish incidental music in the flashback this episode. There aren’t many laughs in this not-entirely-cheery hour of telly, but this made me chuckle.

Of course, Children of Earth continues to be superlative. John Fay has done a particularly good job; this episode has an awful lot of heavy lifting to do in getting the plot from A to B and yet there are some sublime set pieces, one in particular. Yes. That one.

Back to the, er, flashback, we get some very interesting dialogue invoking sacrifices of virgins to the “ancient gods”. If you’ll indulge me indulging my inner pretentious git once more, this reminds me of Iphigenia, sacrificed by her father so that he can sail to Troy. I suppose this makes Jack a sort of Agamemnon, and therefore a kind of Greek tragic hero. Gosh. Could this be foreshadowing some kind of similar sacrifice, perchance? Interestingly (my inner pretentious git has buggered off now), this also harks back to Jack’s decision at the end of Small Worlds.

Meanwhile, Frobisher is talking to the 456 again, and one of the people watching from the camera is played by Nick Briggs. We finally get to see inside the tank, although we still don’t see much, which again makes what we do see all the more effective. And the sight of the child is not something quickly forgotten. This is the fate which awaits one in ten of the world’s children.

Oh, and the 456 drops the UK right in it. Earlier in the series the possibility of exposure was a major source of dramatic tension; it’s a sign of just how much the stakes have been raised that this longer seems important beyond again establishing how slimy the Prime Minister is.

We get a scene with Jack and Ianto early on, establishing the now worsening hairline cracks in their relationship. Ianto is now realising that their relationship is but a momentary blip for the immortal Jack, who will have forgotten him centuries hence. Like all of Jack’s relationships, theirs is inherently doomed. One way or another, they would never have survived this series as a couple. But that’s drama for you; it thrives on conflict, not “happy ever after”.

Oh, and we finally learn the name of Jack’s daughter: Alice.

But the meat of the episode is, of course, the debate round the cabinet table. It’s a bleak yet believable dramatisation of how those in power would react. The terrible euphemism of referring to children as “units”, the horrible inevitability of the final decision, and worst of all the moral cowardice of a Prime Minister who insists on all of the hard choices being made by others make up one of the finest scenes I’ve ever seen in all of television. Appallingly, the only person who says aloud what “everyone else is thinking”, and urges the extermination of the underclass, is in fact the least despicable of the all; at least she has the courage of her convictions. The others just sit silently and try to half persuade themselves that they haven’t really dipped their hands in the blood. Cowards. But all too believable. Even worse, in a way, is the attitude that of course their own offspring will be spared.

Of course, there’s one person around the table who’s right at the other end of the moral spectrum. Poor Lois. So brave. So utterly doomed. Cush Jumbo is brilliant here.

Then things are moving fast. Torchwood’s makeshift HQ is apparently rumbled, but it’s all part of the plan. Except that, clever as the execution may be, it’s ultimately not a very good one. Just straightforwardly confronting the enemy may be old-fashioned and honourable, but it was never going to work. Jack is overreacting here; it’s the guilt from 1965. That time he sacrificed twelve children, this time he’s sacrificed the hundreds of inhabitants of the building. Including Ianto.

Ianto’s death is unbelievably heartbreaking. Not because it’s a cruel end to a potentially loving relationship, but because it isn’t. Their final words to each other are defined by the earlier scene, in which Ianto realises that Jack’s immortality means he will never mean as much to Jack as Jack means to him and their relationship cannot last much longer. The exchange of “I love you, I…” / “Don’t!” says it all. Ianto dies knowing Jack never loves him and will eventually forget him.

Still, perhaps things might cheer up a bit next episode?