This Week in TV: Torchwood, Taking the Flak, Getting On and You Have Been Watching

Welcome back dear readers I hope you’re well let’s crack on with another action-packed week in TV.

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The big T.V. event of the week was Torchwood’s Third series, only five episodes long it was shown every night last week. Having never been a Torchwood fan I would never commit to a whole series but as this was one continuing story I thought I’d give it a go. The story saw the Torchwood team investigating the case of all the world’s children stopping and then later on chanting ‘we are coming’. It later transpired that this was a group of aliens named the 456 who had contacted the government to let them know that they wanted something. It turned out that they wanted 10% of the world’s children and if they didn’t get them then they would declare war on the Earth. Meanwhile Home Secretary Civil Servant John Frobisher had ordered the deaths of several former military figures including Torchwood’s Captain Jack. It was later revealed that these figures had all been involved in giving children to the 456 last time they came to Earth. As Jack cannot die, a bomb is placed in his body, destroying the Cardiff Torchwood base and briefly separating Jack, Gwen and Ianto. Along with Gwen’s husband they reunite in Torchwood’s old base in London and discover the Government’s plans to give the 456 the 10% of children who’s schools perform worse in the league tables thanks to Frobisher’s P.A. Lois who has been recruited by the gang to be their eyes in the corridors of power (literally as she is wearing computer contact lenses). The 456 reveal they want the children as the chemicals in their bodies act as a drug-like substance to their race. As Ianto and Jack come to confront the 456, they release a poisonous gas killing everyone in the building. With Ianto dead and Jack and Lois jailed it’s up to Gwen to try and save as many children as possible including Ianto’s niece and nephew. Jack’s grown-up daughter convinces MI5 to let him out of jail and fight back against the aliens. He realises the only way to do this is to communicate through a child, his grandson, in the final episode the aliens die but so does Jack’s grandson as the frequency that Jack has broadcast through him has fried his brain. The series ends six months after the events as a heavily pregnant Gwen meets up with Jack who tells her he won’t be back for a while.

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If you can get over the comedy value of dozens of children chanting ‘we are coming’ as John Barrowman approaches then this was pretty good stuff. In the past Torchwood has employed an over-reliance on adult themes and dialogue however I found the main bulk of content in Children of Earth quite universal. Although there were some adult themes – Ianto and Jack’s same-sex relationship as well as Frobisher killing himself and his family when he finds out that his daughters are to be sacrificed to the 456, overall this was kept to a minimum. As a sporadic watcher of all the programmes involved in the Whoinverse, I prefer the programmes that don’t focus on stupid-looking aliens and instead on humanistic aspects and that’s why Children of Earth really succeeded. The 456 are mostly present through voice only and instead the programme focuses on the actions taken by others. Although they are quite broad, there are also themes of political self-interest, spin-doctoring, school league tables and the class divide as well as how the rest of the world and the universe view Great Britain. There is also a focus on the importance of the little people as it is lowly P.A. Lois who is involved in revealing the government plans. While it is Ianto’s family and other council estate residents who try and stand up to the army. Meanwhile the prime minister is revealed as a cowardly manipulator who is willing to sacrifice the children of one of his employees to spin the Government’s take on the 456 incident.

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Another of my problems with Torchwood in the past has been the over-exposure of John Barrowman although during Children of Earth he spends most of the time dying and regenerating and in episode two he spends most of his time in a concrete cell. He is also able to bring gravitas to his character as his lover Ianto dies in his arm and later he sacrifices his grandson for the greater good. The focus instead is on the other Torchwood team members, Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper is able to combine humanistic qualities with superhuman powers when it comes to saving the day while Gareth David-Lloyd’s Ianto is also able to save the day before dying tragically. From the guest cast, Peter Capaldi’s Frobisher starts out as a weasely yes man before being presented as a torn father in his final scenes. The writing although clunky at the beginning later developed providing both action and human drama so overall I really enjoyed Torchwood and think sci-fi shows should try and provide a complex story like this more often.

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We conclude this edition with a trio of comedies starting with Taking the Flak a comedy all about war reporters. The action takes part in the fictional African province of Karibu. Reporter Harry Chambers is the local BBC anchor in Karibu however when conflict strikes the rest of the news team land in Karibu to trump Chambers. Top foreign correspondent is David Bradburn who has very little knowledge on anything he covers but manages to blag his way through most broadcasts thanks to help from the locals and using his natural charm. The BBC team also includes hassled producer Jane Thomason, World Service reporter Margaret Hollis and Bradburn’s loyal cameraman and Thomason’s lover Rory Wallace. While in Karibu there is Harry’s hotel receptionist girlfriend Grace and the local fixer Joyful. It is said Taking the Flak is based on a lot of stories from BBC news correspondents and most of the script seems to be stringed together of anecdotes. The young Chambers is slightly reminiscent of Drop the Dead Donkey’s Damian Day, he has some of the best lines and always feels hard-done by. Meanwhile David Bradburn is basically John Simpson as played by Martin Jarvis, it is nice to see Jarvis playing someone who isn’t a nice old man and Bradburn is anything but he is smarmy, charming at the right time and overall a classic sitcom character. Meanwhile Doon Mackichan as Jane has the best ear for comedy and so delivers her lines the best and Mackenzie Crook pops up in some nice cameos as the producer of the news back in the U.K. My main problem with Taking the Flak was the run-time. An hour is too much for most sitcoms even if they have good material, which this didn’t always provide for example Margaret Hollis seemed to exist mainly to have fits of diarrhoea. If the cheap jokes were weeded out and some of the minor characters scrapped this would’ve been a nice neat 30 minute sitcom. As it is this is seven hours of comedy which will probably go downhill as the show continues which is a shame as beneath all the crap is a decent sitcom.

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Crap also featured heavily in the second sitcom in this bunch. Entitled Getting On this was part of the pensioner season on BBC4 and was set on the geriatric ward of a hospital. The title refers to the patients who are Getting On and the staff who are just getting on with it. The crap comes into it as one of the patients drops some excrement early on and the nurses have to fill in a form so the female doctor can use it for her research. The two nurses on the ward are Sister Den Flixter and Nurse Kim Wilde, who have to agonise over what the Indian woman on the ward is saying and whether to eat the birthday cake of a deceased patient as her sister hasn’t yet come along to pick up her belongings. Above the two nurses is Dr. Pippa Moore who of course is interested in her faeces research and nothing more so she completely misreads the signals when one of the patients is about to go off to Switzerland to be euthanised. The only male member of the cast is the imposing Ricky Grover as new male matron Hilary Loftus who is not happy with the state of the ward and wants things done differently. Unlike Taking the Flak, Getting On has more of an ear for language and takes things at the pace that they would in the surroundings. Although not laugh-a-minute there are some big laughs and some big shocks. The setting of the ward also adds to the feeling of isolation it is dimly shot and the wide angles suggest that there is no life outside for the patients or the staff. The three central actresses lead by Jo Brand as Kim all co-wrote the show and are able to deliver their lines perfectly. Although I don’t know if this will survive past its three episode run it is definitely a dark horse.

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And what would this site be without ending with a bit of Charlie Brooker. The bitter TV critic is back with a new show but this time he is a hosting a panel quiz show type thing entitled You Have Been Watching. However the questions are fired randomly and the points are given at the host’s approval. This being Brooker the subject of the show is obviously T.V. and here he mocks The One Show, Come Dine with Me and an odd American programme called The Deadliest Warrior in which computer reconstructions show us who would win in certain battles e.g. between a pirate and a ninja. Brooker fires questions at three guests who this week included the unfunny but pretty Jamelia and the generally unpleasant Rufus Hound. But you can put up with these two when you have the presence of Brooker and Richard Herring’s Hitler moustache. Brooker always caustic takes the mick out of how The One Show switches between lovely subjects and deadly subjects before asking the panel how they would add a million viewers to Come Dine. Although a little overlong, I could watch Brooker for ages, while You Have Been Watching isn’t as intelligent as Screenwipe or Newswipe those were on BBC4 and this is on Channel 4. And although he may be pandering to a demographic this was still the funniest thing that Channel 4 has given us in the way of ‘original comedy’ but that isn’t hard compared to 8 out of 10 cats and Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night.

Next Time: Freefall, The Street and Who Do You Think You Are

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