I just finished watching Torchwood: Children of the Earth last night. And it was sooo cool! I feel the need to burble about it a little. But watch out, because there will be spoilers below.

[If you haven’t watched it yet, its on youtube, and some of it is on the pirate bay]

Ok, sure you want to read on? Here goes…

Holy hotness! Its Capin' Jack and his cute earthling groupies!

Holy hotness! Its Capin' Jack and his cute earthling groupies!

The new Torchwood mini series was just fantastic. Ok, so there were some pretty big holes in the plot and dead end leads that were untidily left lying about (the ominous caretaker guy who seemed to have all that ominousness for nothing? Or why the 456 didn’t take the 12th child back in 1965, but left him with some combination of super powers and an imaginary friend?). But still. It was damn entertaining, and I was jumping up and down in my seat right till the very end.

Ianto’s death felt a bit pointless – after all, he wasn’t sacrificing himself to save the world as Toshiko and Owen did – instead just being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the one hand, we could take that as a sign that his death (and therefore his character) is really more about Jack, and the theme of him having to sacrifice everyone he loves. This is a tad annoying because it takes away from Ianto as a character himself. On the other hand, we can see it as a theme that ordinary people without super heros do die in stupid, casual ways when they try to fight aliens. Torchwood (and Dr Who) have always been about emphasising the “normalness” of their characters, and in this sense are prepared to kill them off rather than twist believability in annoying “oh well he might be a trained sniper who has killed off plenty of extras, but the main characters will always be able to jump out of the way of his bullets” kind of way. So Ianto dying so unexpectedly is a way of saying, yeah, mortal people sometimes die when they fight aliens, and it sucks.

But Torchwood’s habit of killing off its characters – after all, it killed off the much promoted Suzie Costello in the first episode! – does seem like the series has a suicide wish. Despite the complaints that its all just a vehicle for Captain Jack, the original two series were ensemble pieces. The dynamics of the team were a huge part of the appeal – with only two of the original six left, even recruiting in spares from Dr Who won’t help. And while the new girl Lois looks promising… I don’t think its going to be enough. Having taken Torchwood out of obscurity with this prime time stunt, they seem to have inadvertently fucked themselves over by assuming it wouldn’t be as popular – or as good – as it always was. Its like the Frobisher character: things look rough so a glorious suicide seems the best idea, but in retrospect, it would have been better if they had hung on a little longer.

But anyway, back to the plot itself. Its obvious Russell Davies has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about politics these days. The whole civil service v. elected politicians looking out for their own skin theme was just fantastic, and very topical right now. But I did feel that they could have made it stronger by making Frobisher’s character a little less spineless. The point of the civil service, surely, is that is is less about single individual heroics or personalities in the way that the politicians are, and more about collective departments and groups who remain despite the changing fads of party politics. That Frobisher had no-one other than his secretaries to turn to failed to explore that dynamic. But then, I assumed they were making a veiled reference to David Kelly, particularly with his suicide.

(Don’t forget that Frobisher only stood up and did something when his own kids were threatened, implying that he was more than a spineless fool, he was also just as guilty for “following orders” to harm other’s without risk to himself. What do we do with that?)

That the real monsters are our politicians, who are prepared to calmly discuss how to cull 10% of other people’s children without touching their own, was a wonderful twist that added far more suspense than any goo squirting three headed alien could have. It was that moment of thinking: yes, yes they really are going to do it, its happening. Standing back in disbelief, feeling powerless to stop or shout out that its wrong. When everyone waits for a hero to stand up to say no, or a solution to appear that never comes. The feeling that surely this can’t happen, its so obviously wrong – but it still does.

Now where have we felt that before?

In that respect, the deux ex machine ending was rather a shame. Coming so close to the very end, in the last ten minutes, it was a bit holey even with the concept of the sacrifice of one for many thrown in. Given the theme of exploring Jack’s dark side it made sense, but in a plot based on the corruption of politics, it would have been better to have let the “gift” happen. To have had the children taken, and the people of the world rise up in anger and destroy their leaders. Now that would have been amazing. That would have underlined the feeling of powerlessness – not to aliens, but to the corruption of our own society.

Sadly, Torchwood is still a BBC family friendly drama and not a call for revolution. But then, Dr Who has always suffered from Russell T. Davies’ inability to come up with satisfying endings – the most annoying episodes are always the ones written by him. He can build up a great story line (Bad Wolf. The whole Donna thing.) raising the suspense and curiosity bit by bit, drip by drip. But the finales are always stupid. I mean really – that hand thing in Journey’s End? What was that all about?!

(Having said that, I’ve been watching the last few series backwards so may have missed something essential. I saw series 4 first, then 2 and half of 1 last summer, and only got round to watching the end of series 1 and working out what had happened to Rose this christmas. Finally.)

At the end of the day though, this show has a lot going for it. Its fun, its thought provoking, its a change from the other special FX soaked, super hero, too serious for its own good sci-fi out there. And tts truly refreshing to see gay relationships portrayed so well – inserted into the plot to make a point about a relationship, not about ticking a “gay” box. In that respect, it has something in common with The Wire. Sure, John Barrowman is a tad on the hammy side. But he’s hot. And very entertaining.

Overall, I’m sad that this will probably be the end of Torchwood. But what a way to end! Now all we have to look forward to is the new pretty boy whose going to play the next Doctor. But on the plus side, at least we are rid of Russell T Davies annoying writing.

When asked by a judge at the beauty contest to name the person she would most like to meet, Camille replies, “I would meet Einstein because he never washed his hair, and nobody ever listened to him when he talked about a lot of important things that the military could have used in the United States.”

From a review in the NY Times of the otherwise uninspiring sounding “Queen Bees” reality TV show

I’ve got addicted to the HBO series The Wire in the last few days. While I was ill this weekend and home alone in the house in the countryside, I watched the whole first series while wrapped up in a pile of blankets in front of the electric fire one afternoon. Now I’m nearly done with the second series as well, though its not as good as the first.

If you’ve never heard of it – and I hadn’t till some of the guys here kept going on about it – The Wire is basically a cop show. But though I usually hate cop shows, this one’s got a sense of humour and a good plot that makes it very watchable. It shows both sides of a police case – the detectives who are all either corrupt or drunks but have heart, and the empire of drug dealers they are trying to catch. The story goes back and forwards from one perspective to another, and portrays both as sympathetically or negatively as the other. The name comes from its main preoccupation – the story is basically about the cops discovering the use of surveillance and wire tapping. It starts with them still writing reports on type writers, and follows them through the amazing discovery of how they can bring down criminal masterminds by looking at their phone records, tapping their phones, and – eventually in the second series – learning what text messages and GPS are. Somewhere near the end of the second series there is a big plot lurch forward when they realise they can track someone’s phone number and then get all their records if they know the place and time that they sent a single text message. This seems like fairly obvious stuff to me, but that’s probably because of the company I used to keep. To most people who watch it I guess it is quiet a revelation that so much can be learnt from tracking phones. The plot briefly explored the misuses of the wire tapping (the two ‘dumb cops’ listening in to a suspect having phone sex), but mostly it concentrates on everything that can be gained from such technology. The major obstacles are the oppressive and corrupt senior officers that don’t believe in the power of the wire and keep trying to close the investigation. The fact that the bad guys are obviously bad, and the audience knows this, means that there is never a more in depth questioning of the use of such technology.

Of course, its not surprising that a series like this comes at a time when the US and most other governments are flinging privacy laws out the window as fast as they can, and making it easier and easier to spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime. I never really like cop shows partly because I hate that thinly veiled attempt to get us to think the old copper is just a good guy really, and if he does turn you into a bloody pulp in a cell one night, its probably for your own good. The Wire is not so blatant as, say, 24, in pushing the message, and its refreshing in this day and age to not only have some non-Muslim bad-guys, but to also have the occasional snide remark about the effects of the ‘war on terror’. As far as propaganda goes, its well written and pretty entertaining propaganda, with just enough self-awareness to make it more than palatable.