Thursday 21 March 2019

Thrills and spills to chill this summer

Torchwood: Children of Earth (BBC1)
Father & Son (RTE1)

Welcome to an edition of our occasional series Celebrities: Pah! What Would You Do With Them, Eh? This week's celebrity who needs something doing with them is John Barrowman.

One minute the multi-talented Barrowman is a regular in the West End; the next -- WHOOSH! -- he's all over the telly like a coating of dust. First he's in Doctor Who and then he's in the spin-off Torchwood and then he's hosting the variety show Tonight's the Night, and in the meantime he's in everything else: game shows, variety shows, chat shows, Strictly Come Dancing -- you name it, Barrowman's probably been in it.

And now here he is again in the five-part Torchwood mini-series Children of Earth, which is occupying the 9pm slot on BBC1 every night this week. Most actors would kill for this kind of exposure, but what's Barrowman doing? He's whining; he's complaining that the BBC is "killing" Torchwood by giving audiences too much of it in one big, great gulp. Altogether now: Celebrities: pah! What would you do with them, eh?

Actually, I don't think the BBC is trying to kill Torchwood at all but trying to sell it to a mass audience -- a backward few of who might still have a quibble about a sci-fi series with a bisexual hero -- after its Sunderland-like ascent from BBC3 to BBC2 to BBC1.

Barrowman should shush up and enjoy the ride along with the rest of us, because Children of Earth is cracking stuff. The BBC has given writer/producer Russell T Davies the whole box of toys to play with and he's come up with a ripping sci-fi yarn that takes the Torchwood formula and mashes it up with elements of Quatermass and John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, the novel about terrifying alien children that begat the cult movie Village of the Damned.

Suddenly one morning, every child in the world comes to a stop and just stands there, staring blankly ahead. Most harassed parents would probably welcome this little moment of quiet time, but not when the children start screeching and then creepily chanting "We are coming" in unison. Brrr!

It turns out that, back in 1965, an alien entity abducted a bunch of wee bairns from a Scottish village (we saw this happening in a pre-credits scene) and the government of the time -- Harold Wilson's, presumably -- let it happen, on condition that it didn't come knocking again.

But now it has come knocking again, and it's up to the immortal, ageless Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman) and the rest of the Torchwood team to stop it. Except someone in the government is out to stop Torchwood, and last night's episode ended with Harkness being blown, presumably to bits, in an explosion. A hectic summertime treat.

Children were also to the fore in Father & Son, which featured a chilling scene of a primary school kid, 10 or 11 at best, waving a gun in his teacher's face. Frank Deasy's four-parter has some serious things to say about the gun culture, but it's primarily a fantastically well-crafted thriller that shows no sign of letting up. That, too, is a treat at this barren time of year.


Torchwood: Children of Earth * * * *

Father & Son * * * *

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