Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Russell T Davies: Torchwood Touches a Nerve

We are coming.”

If you’ve been watching BBC America, you’ve seen the promos for Torchwood: Children of Earth. That chilling voice over — Jack, Gwen and Ianto in a panic state. All those dead eyes staring back at you! It’s Torchwood’s creepiest monsters ever — kids!

“They just touch a nerve,” says Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies. “A threat to our children gets a primal reaction out of all of us. But beyond that, I think we can be scared of our kids, too. That they can seem unknowable, unreachable - that’s why a gang of young hoodies can seem more unnerving than an adult gang of thugs.”

It’s a story Davies has been wanting to tell for ages and finally he was given the opportunity when the BBC agreed to a five-part Torchwood mini-series instead of the normal run.

“Underneath the sci-fi and the aliens, there’s something very relevant to the world, I hope. The way we sit in the west, and watch footage of atrocities in different countries, and imagine it’s all so far away, and so impossible here. Which is a nice, comfy lie we tell ourselves. That was the heart of it. I wanted to tell a story in which civilization snaps, in which we turn on ourselves, in which nothing is safe. Plenty of people live like that, on this planet. In this story, it’s Britain’s turn.”

But writing an epic five-part mini wasn’t an easy job, even for a pro like Davies.

“I loved it, because it was a huge challenge. Lots of thrillers are written by just one writer, but we had three, across five episodes. Which meant a lot of emailing and late-night phone calls. But we really worked as a team, all locked in one room to thrash out the storyline and create the characters, and that’s my favorite way of working. We also had the Producer and Director inside the Writer’s Room, right from the very start, which is a very unusual way of working in this country, but with huge results - it meant we were all focused, we all knew the tone and the ambition of the piece, and we all aimed in the same direction.

“The size of this story, and the scale of it - spread across more than 40 years of history - means that we needed something bigger, a threat with real intelligence, a race with different protocols and standards. Some of my favorite material comes from Episode Three, where we have to see the government engage in genuine diplomatic relations with an alien species. You watch those scenes thinking, ‘That’s what it would really be like.’”

Aliens, massive destruction of a city, 40 years of history — all well and good, but what about the characters we’ve come to know and love?

Says Davies, “This whole story tears Torchwood down, and then watches them rebuild, but always questioning them, asking what sort of heroes they are, how far will they go? And what’s the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? At the same time, we get to know Jack, Gwen and Ianto more intimately than we ever have before - exploring their families, their history, their hopes and loves. And their failings, too. As the alien threat gets bigger, so Torchwood’s humanity is exposed, and threatened, and celebrated too. And their lives are on the line, none of them is safe!”

As for the relationship between Capt Jack and Ianto . . .?

“It just grew naturally out of the scripts and performances from John and Gareth. And it’s such a rich area - the sheer will-they-or-won’t-they tension of two men getting closer. But again, you can come to Torchwood as a new viewer and follow their relationship from the start, you won’t get lost. And it’s honestly a pleasure to write for two such fine actors, they make the whole process a delight.”

In addition to the usual suspects, Torchwood: Children of Earth has several scene-stealing guest stars.

“We’ve got great new talent, like Cush Jumbo as Lois - the innocent secretary who discovers state secrets on her computer - and wonderful stars such as Peter Capaldi, who makes his character of John Frobisher so detailed and so nuanced, and so heartbreaking in the end. Add to that, Susan Brown as Bridget Spears - keep an eye on her, she’s a slow burn - and Nicholas Farrell as the most clever and manipulative Prime Minister you could imagine. And then Liz May Brice as a truly ruthless assassin! We’ve also got Paul Copley as Clem, a character holding so many secrets from the past - Paul’s simply astonishing to work with. And then the greatest enigma of the whole series is Lucy Cohu, playing Alice, who’s no less than Captain Jack’s daughter… What a mix! Best cast I could have imagined!”

If you haven’t been a loyal Torchwood watcher before now, you can still plan to sit down and enjoy this special presentation. Says Davies, “There are fleeting references to the past, but from the moment it starts, we’re telling a brand new story. It’s been deliberately written so that no one will be lost - and at the same time, the faithful viewer will discover so much more about the members of the Torchwood team. There are plenty of rewards for the long-term fan.”

Torchwood: Children of Earth will air on BBC America beginning Monday, July 20 and running straight through to Friday, July 24, 9:00 - 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. The previous night’s episode will encore at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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