Weevil Time

If you have an overwhelming urge to construct you own Torchwood Weevil army, now would seem to be as good as time as any. Need to fill you Pandorica chamber with growling Weevil menaces – no problem. Get yourself down to your local branch of Toys R Us, and you’ll likely find – as I did – that Torchwood series action figures are currently half price. Maybe better than half price. I think the label said £2.99, but I could be wrong. Weevil, Cyberwoman, Jack or Gwen – you can take your pick. However, given neither Jack or Gwen look like the characters/actors, I’d stick with the Weevils.

No. No one in their right mind would want to buy even one Cyberwoman. Don’t. Just don’t.

The Beast Below

I think you could describe this as the first Marmite episode of the season, because you’ll either like it or you won’t – as like Prisoner Zeroes hiding out for 12 years in Amy’s house, you’ll either suspend disbelief or not.

Thinking on it, “The Beast Below” feels a little like a campaign supplement for a roleplaying game. The story contains a lot of new concepts, like a solar battered Earth, refugee ships based on nations, a monarchy surviving into the 33rd century, and smaller things like the Smilers. The setting has a richness to it that could all too easily have been forgotten or left to one side, concentrating on a story that would have felt far flatter and less satisfying for the lack of it. Those playing Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space could take this place and use it for an extended adventure, exploring in greater detail things like the ‘government’ control of the population, and giving the Smilers proper room to breath as a threat.

I think I’m still a little confused by the biology of the space whale, because all those threatening bits ‘leaking’ upwards into the city seemed at odds with a ‘whale’-shaped beast. At least it made the creature more exciting than the ‘hunk of food’ whale that Torchwood uncovered in the episode Meat. I suspect the species have nothing in common, as the one here certainly appeared far, far bigger with, as I’ve said, a far more bizarre physiology.

Amy Pond proves she can outdo previous companions with her insight and curiosity. I suspect her very nature ties into whatever the arc of the season is, but in the meantime it makes for solid, entertaining episodes. She serves as the humanity the Doctor lacks, serving as a sort of healing salve to the damage he had suffered by the end of his last regeneration where we saw him increasingly aloof as the last of the Time Lords.

Yes, the Smiler concept got utterly wasted, but – as I’ve said – I can see the setting getting recycled for roleplaying campaigns. Perhaps the tone of police state didn’t get reinforced enough, despite the Doctor referring to it specifically as such. The Smiler presence worked like the ever present tele-images of Big Brother in 1984 or (for role-players) omnipresent monitors of The Computer in PARANOIA. Moffat pulled another ‘ordinary object as enemy’ with the Smilers, taking the innocent ‘Tell Your Future’ machines of the fairground and making them something all the more sinister. I can’t fault him for his ability to do that – and the BBC might want to consider setting side some cash for future court claims against them for psychological trauma suffered by children watching Who at the moment.

Overall, I can piece together much to appreciate about this episode – and, yes, I’m one of those people who can paper over the cracks and engage with a story that really taxes my suspension of disbelief. One thing that did bother me was the crack in the Universe, which felt awfully tacked on at the end. I want something more like Bad Wolf or The Observer from Fringe – an oddity that I need to spot somewhere in the bustle of the episode, rather than an all too obvious thing that just sits at the end of every episode…

Make The End Sing

‘Tooth and Claw’ provides an excellent story, packed full of excitement, energy and classic elements aplenty. Heroism and deceit, violence and innovation, fear and elation. We know that Queen Victoria can’t die, mustn’t die, and yet we see the peril she faces and the people who give up their lives in her name.

However, the incredible episode really shines in the conclusion. If you want to have a model for your adventures, look here for how to handle your ending. Yes, you want resolution, the chance to set the world right again and put an end to the plans of the villain – and yet… There should be more. The ending of an adventure should provide threads to continue on beyond the bounds of the current story.

In ‘Tooth and Claw’, we have the obvious introduction of the Torchwood Institute and the implications of a British Empire aware of aliens threat. Also, Queen Victoria suffers an injury at the hands of the Lupine Wavelength Haemavariform, leading to the possibility that down through time the cells of the werewolf might surface again within the Royal bloodline. Further, what repercussions might Victoria’s banishing of the Doctor have. While we know that Torchwood will later seek him out, what impact might it have on later adventures – as any time spent in Victorian England after 1879 might attract the attention of people aware of Victoria’s edict.

Less obvious perhaps, but we also have the thread that Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father clearly had their own understanding and theories about the werewolf. Given Prince Albert’s meticulous preparation of the Koh-i-Noor diamond it would not be too much of a stretch to suggest something like an occult gentlemen’s club might exist, patronised by the Prince. Similar to the London-based Ghost Club, of which Charles Darwin was a member, such an organisation might seek to gather knowledge about matters of the Unknown and look to arm itself against it.

It’s a great episode – and by following it’s example you can create adventures that provide a great gateway to future encounters.

Children of Earth

Well, I just sat and watched the whole of Children of Earth in a single marathon sitting. Feel the need to sum up my thoughts without being too detailed or complete.

In truth, it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t quite work in the end. You know the scenario that we’ve seen so many times before in this and other series – how do you deliver the finale that matches all the build-up? Well, when you destroy the Hub in the first episode, how do you keep ramping up the action?

Characterisation was good. Frobisher troubled, the new PM self-serving and spineless. Pushy Americans and spunky young women PAs… Check! Keeping the 456 out of sight ensured we weren’t disappointed… And it had all the temper tantrums and attacks of projectile nausea you expect from a TV drug addict extraterrestial.

Is Captain Jack becoming too tortured now? Perhaps. You have to wonder why we never heard about the Torchwood extended families before now… That sort of thing is so Russel T, after all. Wouldn’t that have been an ideal target for Jack’s enemies in the past – like Captain John?

The conclusion. Well, it worked and didn’t come across as too forced, as some Who conclusions have in the recent past. However, all the sacrifice and torment came in the same few episodes as it was established. We didn’t know Jack’s family before, so areas as traumatized by the events of the final episode as we might have been if we’d met them earlier? I don’t know. I suspect not.

In short, worth watching and still better than some of the first season dross. Hope this isn’t the last we see of Torchwood…