BBC America showed the 5-part miniseries, Torchwood: Children of Earth, last week. I'm a big Torchwood fan so I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it no matter what. My sister, however, tends be quite indifferent about the shows I choose so I didn't expect much reaction out of her. There's a long story behind it, but she prefers things she's familiar with.
It opens with a mother having trouble getting her child to move. They're on the way to school and the kid has just stopped. Not moving, speaking, nothing. One of the Torchwood agents notices this, smiles at the naughty child and goes about getting to work. The shot changes to two girls sitting at the breakfast table, not moving or speaking. Their father bids them a good day and, without noticing their state, leaves. Then a line of children stopped in the process of crossing the street. As the adults reach the peak of frustration, all the children from all the scenes resume moving and talking as if nothing has happened.
My interest is definitely piqued. We have an opening hook. Why are the children doing this?
As the story goes on, it happens again at recess time. This starts to bring more attention from more quarters. And some of those people seem to know why it's happening. Of course, Torchwood gets involved, and we're off. Interest not just piqued, they've got me.
The suspense builds throughout the first episode. The second episode builds on that with a lovely personal reveal near the end followed by gut-wrenching devastation. Oh my god, how are they going to come back from this? Episode three brings us a little hope, but then dashes it to bits. At this point, my sister says, "How the hell are they going to wrap this up in just two more nights?" Seems as if they hooked her, too. Fourth episode our heroes leap into action, we're feeling pretty good, then they're left in an even worse position than they were the night before. Ye gods and small fishes, they aren't going to fail, are they? Then a satisfying conclusion. I won't say whether they succeed or fail. Just that the ending was right.
There is much more going on than what I've summarized here, of course, but it gives a good indication of how the action and suspense build to the climax. It just keeps ratcheting up with only slight breathers here and there. There's a lot of humor in the series, and it's used to good effect. Russell T. Davies, the screenwriter and man behind the new Dr. Who and the whole Torchwood series, also gives enough backstory through character interaction that those who haven't seen the first two seasons will understand a bit why they all relate to each other the way they do. But much more is revealed about two of the characters than we've known. And it's integral to the story, moves it forward and adds another layer of tension to the whole thing.
Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. Another fine template for how to tell a story. Even if the story isn't a SF/F action thriller. It still works. And it has me pumped to get back to it myself.