SJA: The Vault of Secrets

This series never fails to take me by surprise. The philosophy behind it seems to be to always go for the most fun option, and it’s presumably in this spirit that someone watched Dreamland and decided that the robotic Men In Black, who played an incredibly tiny role in proceedings, were ripe for a live action comeback. I can’t say I’d have drawn the same conclusion, but that’s why I don’t make Doctor Who spin-offs for a living, as Mr Dread and his gang were a fun and effective secondary villain.

The main villain was also a returnee – Androvax from the Judoon one last series – and much like the Men In Black, it’s an idea that was merely one of many in its original appearance, and is much improved by being fleshed out and made more prominent. Last time round he was a straightforward bad guy that simply needed to be chased down and captured, but here he’s more multi-faceted and his motives more equivocal. It means that while he’s still cunning and untrustworthy – something that Sarah Jane frustratingly falls victim to on slightly too many occasions – you can understand his reasons and sympathise with him to a degree.

Meanwhile, Luke is gone, but much like Maria before him, he’s not forgotten, appearing via webcam towards the start and never being far from the other characters’ thoughts throughtout. Shame the same can’t be said for K-9, but that’s hardly a surprise at this stage. Unlike with Maria, there’s no new character to take Luke’s place, but I guess “the kid over the road” is a lot easier to recast than “the title character’s only child”. It means we now have a gang of three, and it’ll be interesting to see how much this affects the dynamic. For a start, it’s clear that Rani and Clyde are getting closer. There’ll be a snog by the time this series is out, you mark my words.

I thought we were going to see Rani’s parents being brought into the fold, like how Maria’s dad gradually became an honourary member of the team, until Gita’s memory was wiped and she reverted to being the slightly annoying comic relief. I worry that with Luke gone, and Rani never having fully inhabited the audience avatar role that Maria had, we’re starting to lose some of the emotional stakes – this was a fun little story that zipped along nicely, but it ultimately felt inconsequential and lightweight. There’s always a place for that within a set of episodes, but I’m just concerned that Luke’s absence leaves too much of a hole.

Regardless, the main thing I’ll remember from this episode is the truly epic back-reference to Pyramids of Mars towards the start. One of those moments that would still have made sense to the kiddies, but that means so much more to the likes of us. It also explains why scientific developments in the real world are not always consistent with established facts from the Doctor Who universe – Sarah Jane and Mr Smith are there to cover everything up.

RATING: 7

SJA: The Nightmare Man

Aww. I’m slightly sad that I’m already on the last full series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, partly because of the awful reason behind it finishing, but also because I could happily watch more of it. It’s such a lovely show, plus it’s all new to me, and the shorter episodes are often more manageable than a full-length New Who episode if I’ve had a long day.

In retrospect, it feels like this story marks the beginning of the end, with Luke departing for university, despite the fact that he still only looks about fourteen. I had no idea he’d left before the end, and it means that Sarah Jane herself is the only original member of the gang left, aside from the odd alien supercomputer.

At least he had a decent send off, with a story that was structured like a Doctor Who two-parter, with the first half being one long set-up for the second. It spent a long time covering the character stuff before the plot kicked in, and it’s to its credit. After a brief introductory montage with an extremely green Slitheen to keep the kids interested, great care is taken to explore what Luke’s departure means for him and everybody else.

I remember my mum bawling her eyes out when she dropped me off at university, but at least we didn’t have to contend with Julian Bleach haunting our dreams. This is his third different villain across three different shows, and it’s a typically bonkers performance – basically Julian Bleach’s interpretation of The Joker. The nightmares he concocts ring so true to the fears we all face while growing up, and it keeps Luke front and centre by always having the scary bits interwoven with the domestic stuff, with each component of the story informing the other.

Then, much like the last Who story I watched, the first episode ends with one big event (in this case, the Nightmare Man crossing to the real world), before a full second episode devoted to the fall-out. Clyde and Rani are dragged into a dream world that features Sarah Jane as an old biddy, and Doon Mackichan as a newsreader. Obviously I was reminded of Collaterlie Sisters, and equally obviously I noted that the method used to escape the dream – simply imagining a door and walking through it – was also the method used to escape Better Than Life in the Red Dwarf novels.

Eventually, the monster is quite literally defeated by the power of friendship, which is a tad trite and perfunctory, but it kind of had to happen that way in order to resolve Luke’s anxieties, and allow him to leave with a smile on his face. However, I was not prepared for K-9 being packed off with him, which seemed very abrupt. While he featured slightly more than average, he didn’t get anywhere near the amount of focus and attention that Luke got. I know that’s fair enough – K-9’s only been in it for a relatively short time, and the kids are going to care much more about Luke – but me and that dog go back a long way, and I don’t feel we’ve got closure.

Mind you, I live in Ealing, and it’s about an hour away from Oxford by road, or you can even get a train directly from Ealing Broadway. They say they won’t see each other until Christmas, but Luke could come back every weekend if he wanted to. They’re all full of shit – they don’t actually care about each other after all.

RATING: 8

Dreamland

I’d never seen this curio before, and having finally caught up after eight years, I don’t feel like I’ve been missing out. With the cartoon-y art style rendered in clunky CGI, it felt like I was watching someone else play a computer game. The structure added to this, with the action jumping from place to place every six minutes, featuring such stock levels as the escape from an underground base, the flying saucer chase and the abandoned mine cart.

Luckily the setting was pretty good – I can’t believe it’s taken the show this long to visit Area 51 – and it was fun to hang around with the actual Roswell aliens. But frustratingly, the premise wasn’t done justice by the plot, which had plenty of good ideas but very little drama. It relied too heavily on scenes ending with one of the various baddies turning up unexpectedly, and it seemed like this was the only method used for moving the plot forward.

It also resorted to borrowing a lot of its imagery from elsewhere in popular culture. I’ll forgive the Men In Black, as they’re a phenomenon that predate Men In Black, but the discovery a giant alien queen and her eggs was extremely familiar. They might have got away with it had The Doctor not directly name-checked Aliens five minutes earlier. Then there was the big warehouse full of alien artifacts in crates, from which – just to further add to the video game vibe – The Doctor escapes by sneaking around in an upturned box, like he’s Solid Snake.

(Incidentally, the Cold War Americana setting really reminded me of The Impossible Astronaut, which was still a couple of years away. I bet there’s fan fiction that says the diner in this is Clara’s TARDIS.)

The most disappointing aspect was the two one-off companions, neither of whom had anything approaching a distinctive character – they were purely there as plot devices and nothing more. One was Georgia Moffett, sounding a lot like her mum, whereas the other guy just sounded like he was reading each line off a card one-by-one. There was no shortage of talent in the voice cast – although I didn’t notice until the credits that among them were spin-off legend Lisa Bowerman and Lester Freamon from The Wire – but several flat and dreary performances.

On the plus side, Tennant is pretty good, certainly the most confident of the performances on display. Which as just as well, seeing as by the time this weekend is out, I’ll have reached the end of his tenure…

RATING: 5

Today saw the sad news about Deborah Watling. She starred in a run of truly excellent stories, and was part of an iconic TARDIS team. In amongst the sadness, I was pleased to see this clip from Tomb of the Cybermen shared widely on social media; it stood out to me at the time as being particularly special, and it seems more poignant than ever now that neither of the actors are still with us. RIP.

SJA: The Gift

We start the big series finale with the gang chasing a fat lad through an industrial estate, an unmistakable sign that the Slitheen are back once again. They’re starting to become synonymous with the show, and while I don’t completely hate them, it’s a bit of a shame that they feel the need to keep bringing them back. There seemed to be a higher concentration of fart jokes too, even when the various Raxacoricofallapatorians were naked and thus not using the gas exchange thingy.

But at least there was a big variation on the theme, with the main Raxacoricofallapatorians in question being the Blathereen, voiced, quite remarkably, by Miriam Margolyes and Simon Callow. It’s a shame that they only appeared in voice over, but even so, bloody hell, they’ve got a great casting director to consistently attract such talent on what is presumably a flimsy budget.

I was obviously expecting the Blathereen to turn out to be evil, but even so I was slightly disappointed that they did. Even after their friendly gift had put Luke in a coma, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe they didn’t know the Rakweed would be dangerous, and it had mutated unexpectedly due to something in the Earth’s atmosphere or some such. Instead, they turn out to just be a palette-swapped version of the Slitheen, which makes the previous indications that this would be a unique twist seem like red herrings.

Still, the Rakweed itself was a surprisingly effective threat, and the scale was suitably epic for the end of a season. It was great to see K-9 take a much bigger role than we’re used to. Not only did him and Mr Smith resume snark-based hostilities, but I loved the unintentionally hilarious juxtaposition of cutting between Sarah Jane desperately trying to save her terminally ill son, and the comedic caper of Clyde sneaking K-9 into school in order to cheat on a science test.

More bizarre juxtaposition was used – in a way that seemed much more deliberate – in the climax, where Sarah Jane tries to appeal to the Blathereen’s better nature. After all, they were only doing this to fuel their debilitating addiction of Rakweed, like a vegetarian version of The 456. Sadly, it all ends in violence, as Mr Smith plays them the ultimate brown noise, the Blathereen literally fart themselves to death, and Sarah Jane is left guiltily contemplating that “there should have been another way”

…all while her, the kids, the two supercomputers and indeed the entire attic are dripping with tomato-soup-esque Raxacoricofallapatorian guts. That’s what I love about The Sarah Jane Adventures – it sometimes retreads old ground, and it sometimes struggles to match its ambitions, but throughout it all it’s so much fun. It’s a thing of absolute joy.

One last thing, however. Nothing much to do with this episode per se, but something that’s only just occurred to me. Every time you see a child Slitheen disguised as a human, that means an actual child has been murdered and skinned. What is this, Sarah Jane or Torchwood?

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.33

  • SJA series watched: 3 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 18 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 35 of 53

SJA: Mona Lisa’s Revenge

This was completely batshit, but in a good way. The Mona Lisa has never struck me as somebody who was particularly in need of revenge, but then I do share Luke’s lack of certainty as to why it’s considered so much more beautiful than all other paintings. With Luke, you can blame the fact he was created in a lab, but I’m afraid I’m just a philistine. Besides, it’s probably a fake anyway.

It’s becoming clear that this series is beset with a few limitations – it’s possible that they’re being too ambitious, but then that’s to be applauded. It’s a shame that in this story they couldn’t afford to show us the big monster that they’d spent all episode building up, and it feels like there’s a slightly higher ratio of cheaper episodes to balance out the big blockbusters this time round.

Luckily, the show usually gets around these limitations quite well, often in surprising ways. There’s hardly any Sarah Jane in this one, but her absence isn’t too conspicuous because it was inevitable that *someone* was going to get trapped in a painting. By the way, I’m assuming that the police officers were all trapped in Constables, am I right? Is this thing on?

Similarly, it’s bullshit that K-9 has once again been left out of the action, with Sarah Jane’s explanation that he’s not allowed out until Luke tidies his room being right up there with all those hastily-written excuses from Tom Baker’s days. But at least they found a way to get him involved at the climax, thanks to Clyde’s sketchbook containing Chekhov’s drawing of a robot dog.

And the one thing they’re not scrimping on this series is guest stars. Not only do we have George from Drop The Dead Donkey as the curator, Mona Lisa herself is none other than Suranne Jones, although I wasn’t sure it was her at first due to the slightly freaky lack of eyebrows. It’s a very northern portrayal of the Mona Lisa, with some rather eccentric and cartoonish tendencies, but a great deal of fun. Not quite hitting the heights of her later performance as an anthropomorphised objet d’art in Doctor Who, but nevertheless well suited to the purpose.

Finally, I wasn’t sure what to make of Miss Trupp, a somewhat stereotypical frumpy middle-aged spinster, desperately in love with her boss who barely notices she exists. A story we’ve all seen thousands of times before, and one which hardly does much to challenge the patriarchy. But once again my expectations were confounded when, after the man finally realises he’s in love with her too, she calls him a creep and tells him to get stuffed. Go on, Miss Trupp.

Actually, one more thing: why did BBC News send Entertainment Correspondent Lizo Mzimba along to cover an art theft?

RATING: 7

This series of Sarah Jane Adventures is not yet over, but as I’m going through all of this in as precise a chronological order as possible, it’s the traditional mid-November Doctor Who special next. Irritatingly, it might be a while before I find time to watch it, due to work and social commitments, but hopefully not too long. After all, I figured out the other day that if I stick to the current pace, I’ll be up-to-date by around Christmas, and that would work out very nicely…

SJA: The Eternity Trap

This is just bloody typical. K-9 turns up and is awesome, and then for the next story he’s left at home. Forty years of this shit. But not only that, Luke was left at home too, and we didn’t see hide nor hair of Mr Smith. It was weird that there wasn’t so much as a cutaway or a bookend featuring them, and also that, no offence to Clyde and Rani, apart from Sarah Jane herself, they elected to make an episode without any of the best characters.

Naturally this felt like a bit of a disappointment after the show hit new heights last time. It wasn’t that it was bad necessarily, more that it lacked anything particularly special. The haunted house is such a standard setting that it seemed rather by the numbers – a succession of stock scares that we’ve seen dozens of times before, including such cliches as the creepy toy room, books flying off the shelves, doors slamming, a stuck record, a secret passage behind a bookcase and creepy children down the end of a corridor. Although the self-playing snooker table was a nice touch.

One thing that it did have in its favour was none other than Donald Sumpter, another very big name for a CBBC show. He was having a lovely time camping it up and being daft, but it did feel like he wasn’t quite taking it seriously enough towards the end. Maybe it’s because he went on to be Rassilon very briefly, but I thought his character would turn out to be a rogue Time Lord. He had a home-made inter-dimensional device in a cellar and a face that hasn’t changed in 300 years, but then I remembered that the Time Lords are all supposed to be completely dead at this stage.

Elsewhere in the guest cast, Floella Benjamin is back as a part-time companion of sorts, for some reason. That’s all well and good, but her assistant is absolutely woeful. I spent most of the first part worrying about how I was going to approach this write-up, because I wasn’t sure whether he had something wrong with him or if he’s just shit. Thankfully, having looked him up and seen he’s just a normal man who’s gone on to have a half-decent career, it’s the latter, so I can take the piss. He’s *dreadful*. He sounds like Bob Mortimer’s impression of Harry Kane from Athletico Mince.

RATING: 5

SJA: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith

Wow. That was very special indeed, and not just because of the very special guest star. The annual Trickster episodes have always been the highlight of each series so far, and this is no exception – it’s quite easily the very best Sarah Jane story I’ve seen. It seems that at this particular period, the spin-offs were in better form than the main show.

It’s such a joy to have K-9 joining the gang properly that it’s hard not to rue the fact he wasn’t there from the beginning. Not only does he provide so many great moments on his own – such as when he’s trying to be inconspicuous by saying “do not look at me, everything is normal” – but he also improves Mr Smith immeasurably. You’d think that having two supercomputers around would make one of them redundant, but it turns out that giving each of them just half of the exposition to cover leaves them both free to fill the gaps with humour.

This episode is proper laugh-out-loud funny, and I could listen to John Leeson and Alexander Armstrong exchange insults all day. K-9 criticising Mr Smith for being too opinionated, the pair of them accidentally dobbing the kids in for spying on Sarah Jane, Mr Smith getting insecure about there being “no need to consult the dog”. Absolutely marvellous. Plus, K-9 now has an as-yet-unseen hover mode to negotiate the stairs in and out of the attic. I fucking love K-9.

While I’d have been happy with the show turning into a full-on supercomputer sitcom, this episode also had Nigel bloody Havers! He’s such a smooth bastard, and a great coup for the show. He’s so irresistibly charming that you really root for Sarah Jane and Peter as a couple, even though it’s perfectly clear throughout that something’s not right. This show has so much heart, from the way Sarah Jane slowly allows herself to fall in love, to her continually lovely relationship with Luke.

And I haven’t even mentioned the headline act yet. It’s a superb entrance from The Doctor at the end of Part One – let’s face it, that particular moment in the wedding ceremony was designed for people like him – and it’s exciting to see him running around with Luke, Clyde and Rani. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more of him and Sarah Jane together, but you can’t have everything; it felt like Tennant wasn’t available for more than a couple of days, with his scenes being relatively simple and self-contained.

But it really didn’t matter; it’s a testament to the quality of the story that the presence of the greatest hero in television history wasn’t really the main attraction. What Sarah Jane and Peter have to do to defeat The Trickster is so sad, partly down to the gravitas and style that Havers brings to proceedings, and also because I love Sarah Jane so much that I can’t bear the thought of her going through so much pain.

(Incidentally, it’s just occurred to me that The Trickster’s thing about needing consent in order to bring his chaos makes him very similar to the Monks from Who Series Ten. Only better.)

The moment that finally made me cry, however, wasn’t intended to be a sad one. It was The Doctor’s latest goodbye to Sarah Jane, with him talking about the things she’ll do that are still to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about Elisabeth Sladen recently, and how tragic it was that she was taken from us just when she was back where she belonged. This just brought it home – she was still so young, and had so much more to give.

A bittersweet experience then, but make no mistake that this has got absolutely everything you want from a Doctor Who-based story: laughs, twists, timey-wimey stuff, a great villain, heartbreak, K-9, back-references to Metebelis III and The Key to Time, and even The Doctor himself. Never mind the fact that it’s from a spin-off – this is simply solid Doctor Who.

RATING: 10

SJA: The Mad Woman in the Attic

I’m glad that I stopped watching Sarah Jane when it was originally on, simply because it’s a joy to have something completely fresh to watch at this stage of the project. Surprises have been short on the ground of late, and this story’s first one was that the eponymous mad woman isn’t Sarah Jane herself.

Instead it’s a timely opportunity for Rani to take centre stage, as she’s been slightly peripheral since settling in so quickly. It’s a shame that the future Rani was played by an older actress, rather than sticking Anjli Mohindra in make-up and giving her the chance to really try something different. Her anxieties about the gang not treating her with the same respect as Maria are reasonable, although I did feel she got let off rather lightly on the whole “telling some kid absolutely everything about your secret double life” thing.

Eve was an interesting alien – one of those morally ambiguous ones I like, where they’re doing bad things but have innocent intentions. She’s a victim of the Time War, and you know I’m also a fan of exploring the consequences of The Doctor’s actions, and of those occasions where things that happen in the main show have an impact on the spin-offs.

The story kept you guessing about the nature of what we were seeing of Rani’s future. Was it a cautionary tale about what would happen if she didn’t improve her relationship with the others, or was it something that the aliens were actively making happen? In the end, it was down to a misunderstanding on the part of Ship, the evil face in the mirror that was revealed to be essentially a slightly malevolent Holly. This was a pretty satisfying reveal, although I did totally call it from the way Rani said “I wish” in a way that was almost asking to be taken literally.

Less satisfying was the fact that it was all reversed within a minute or so of this revelation, but that wasn’t important at this stage, because we’d just had the second big surprise: K-9 is back! And for good this time, having successfully completed his mission to piss about with a black hole / unsuccessfully completed his unofficial Australian spin-off. We didn’t get to see much of him initially – although it was all worth it for Mr Smith’s sarcastic “oh good” on his return – but it’ll be interesting to see how the SJA team handle the same logistical and storytelling challenges that the DW team faced in the 70s.

It all ended with Eve going off on adventures new, alongside Rani’s best mate (with whom she’ll one day have a mixed-species son), the old man from the fairground and their wacky on-board computer. If Big Finish ever run out of spin-offs, there’s a sitcom right there. The revelation that the lad from the future is Sam’s son explains why the two of them look so alike, but not why they both look so similar to Luke. There must have been a fashion for teenage boys to all have the same big emo hair in 2009.

One more thing: with the silly intro and a particularly lengthy “previously” recap, episode two didn’t actually start until two minutes and 30 seconds in. This is ridiculous, although pretty much the first thing you see is footage of Sarah Jane with Pertwee and Baker, so all is forgiven.

RATING: 8

SJA: Prisoner of the Judoon

A complete change of tone now, with the return of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which this time comes with a little briefing at the start of each episode, recapping the premise of the show. Fair enough for the first episode back, but it seems it’s appended to the start of every episode from now on, and that’s going to get annoying pretty sharpish. I didn’t see the need for it in the first two series of Torchwood either, but this one is longer.

Anyway, this story follows the template set by the previous series opener in kicking things off with a guest monster from the main show. With it being the Judoon, it’s perhaps not quite as exciting as when it’s a Sontaran, but then the aim seemed to be to use it for laughs rather than scares. This particular Judoon sounded like the Cookie Monster, but the comedy worked, especially the slavish devotion to obeying all laws, including those regarding paying and displaying.

The scares were provided by the eponymous prisoner, who promptly took over Sarah Jane’s body. Or, as Luke unfortunately phrased it at one point: “the prisoner’s inside my mum”. Lis seemed to be having a lovely time playing the villain for once, but dare I say it, it wasn’t her strongest work. It all seemed a bit route one, hissing and shrieking like a cross between an Ice Warrior and Angelica Houston in The Witches.

In addition to all of this, there was this whole extra bit with nanobots poised to destroy the world (thanks in part to Jason’s dad from Corrie doing an awful American accent), but that threat never felt real because so little time was spent on it. A lot more could have been done with the concept, so why waste it when you’ve already got so much to deal with? Similarly, the scenes with Rani’s parents getting into Judoon-based scrapes were funny, but also superfluous – every element was OK, but it could have been better if the others weren’t jostling with it for screen time.

Also, an awful lot of the threats in this story were resolved by Luke being a genius and pressing the right buttons in the nick of time. When you’ve got a character with that much ability, you have to come up with problems that can’t be solved by just wheeling him in and saying “fix it”, otherwise there’s just no tension.

Besides, wouldn’t it have been better for Sarah Jane to use her special skills – compassion, determination and mental strength – to break free of the Androvax herself, rather than it deciding to let her go? As it was, she was just a victim and a bystander in this story, and I don’t feel I’ve got my complete Sarah Jane fix.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Children of Earth

I remember sitting down to watch the first episode of this back in 2009, thinking “this will be shit, but at least it’ll be over by the end of the week”. I was half right. This mini-series does not make sense. The first series was garbage. The second series was only marginally better. I didn’t even make it to half way through Miracle Day before giving up completely. So how is it that Children of Earth is so gripping, thought-provoking, scary, intense and generally brilliant?

This is an adult version of Doctor Who done right, and if this is what Torchwood had been like from the start, my complaints would have been very few. Watching it back now, it’s clear that the new format is a huge advantage. Only telling one story over five hours allows time to deal with both character and plot development, whereas previously it often seemed to be a choice between one or the other. There’s also the necessity to raise the stakes higher and higher by the end of each hour, always pushing the story forward in imaginative and surprising ways.

There’s the new team dynamic too, although obviously this in itself would develop over the course of the story. The two worst characters are gone, and in their place is the ever-improving Rhys. But more than that, the story length means that the guest cast are around for long enough to really play a big part, resulting in an ensemble cast that was just as important to the narrative as the main team.

Basically, it wasn’t very much like Torchwood, and therefore it was good. This is an over-simplification, of course, so let’s go through the details one day at a time. I’ve been writing up my notes after each episode throughout the week, so here’s a recap of the story as it unfolded:

Day One

* Peter Capaldi appearing in a Doctor Who spin-off as a civil servant makes this exactly halfway between his two most famous roles.

* Wow, those screaming children are certainly very creepy. Although the unfortunate side-effect of their “we are coming” message manifesting itself one word at a time was that I couldn’t help but hear them shout “wee-wee” over and over again.

* Who’s this Rupesh, then? He’s being set up as a potential new recruit, but I don’t remember him at all, so – much like any time The Doctor offers to take someone on board, but you know they’re not a new companion – he’s doomed.

* I see the UK’s new Prime Minister is Mr A. Genericman. Still, I suppose it’s an improvement on Harold Saxon.

* Jack has a daughter! That’s a nice little twist, and a good opportunity to explore an interesting issue that his immortality raises: he’s her dad, but she looks older than him.

* Ah, so Rupesh is a bad un. Should have seen that coming, considering Jack’s tendency to walk into obvious traps. And look, his mate is the Hitchhikers woman off that episode of Peep Show. Oh, she’s not his mate. She’s killed him.

* Jack blowing up is hell of a cliffhanger. I can’t remember if they go into the gory detail of how his body resurrects itself when it’s been blown to smithereens, but I do hope so.

Day Two

* Ah, so Jack grows back bit by bit – an assortment of body parts in a bag can grow into a new Jack skellington. Shame, I was hoping the various chunks of him would make their way through the rubble to join together and slot into place. Having Jack wake up before his skin had grown back was pretty horrific, but not as horrific as the sight of his penis when he was fully recovered.

* Torchwood, the organisation, is now *completely* fucked. No silly SUV, no Hub, no money, and they’re being hunted down by their own government. It’s still weird that the guy in charge of killing them is Peter Capaldi. The Torchwood team as powerless fugitives is an interesting new dynamic; maybe things were a little too easy for them before, when they had a vast array of alien tech at their disposal.

* Also, Gwen’s up the duff. As good as it is overall to have Rhys along for the ride, his function at times is to tell his wife what she can and can’t do. Obviously he wants to protect her, especially given her condition, but the connotations of this tie in to the old cliché about women not being able to have it all. Although admittedly, most careers don’t involve chasing down aliens, or being chased down yourself by government bounty hunters.

* Possibly the most amusing and joyful sequence in Torchwood to date was Ianto turning up in a JCB to steal a big block of concrete, and then freeing Jack by throwing the fucker down a quarry.

Day Three

* Did Jack’s daughter attract the attention of the police deliberately as some sort of gambit, or is she just a fucking idiot? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to springing traps, or indeed when it comes to a penchant for running around with a gun in a big blue coat.

* The 456 are probably the first Torchwood alien to be actually scary. It’s because they’re so bloody *weird*; we can barely see them, so all we’ve got to go off is them making the occasional guttural noises and vomiting on the glass for seemingly no particular reason. It’s another example of the new format being beneficial; they can afford to take the time to eke the mystery out, and therefore it’s so much more effective than usual.

* Ah, Colin McFarlane has turned up! No matter how many Batman films he’s been in, he’ll always be the token black guy on The Fast Show to me. Did you know he’s also the voice of The Cube? Also, I’ve just remembered that he was in Doctor Who recently – with Capaldi, no less.

* Turns out the team do have one bit of advanced tech at their disposal – those contact lenses from when Martha turned up. But is there any bit of alien kit that Torchwood won’t use for sex?

* Every bit of Capaldi’s interactions with The 456 is utterly superb; it’s a great performance from him, unsurprisingly. But the highlight has to be the bit where they repeat his line back at him in a sarcastic voice. I feel like the first two series would have milked that moment, but here they have the restraint to just let it linger in silence for a few seconds, completely unmentioned, before moving on. It becomes another aspect to the unpredictable weirdness that makes them scary, rather than being played for mood-breaking laughs.

* The gloriously resurrected prodigal son ups and fucks off again for most of the episode, leaving the team to figure out what’s going on without his help, which would have been pretty useful considering he already knows exactly what the situation is. Then he comes back right at the end, after Lois has put herself in danger and Clem has been traumatised, to tell them the thing that they’ve spent ages figuring out, with the added information that he once sent twelve innocent children to their deaths. I’m being facetious, mind; that scene was tense as fuck, and another great cliffhanger.

Day Four

* After four series and five specials of the main show, and two series each of Torchwood and SJA, it’s finally time to unveil Nick Briggs’s face. I like Nick Briggs’s face, and he’s very good. His character is the spin doctor who proposes selling a child cull as a measure against overpopulation. I don’t think even Malcolm Tucker would go that far.

* The political discussions are the main feature of this episode, and all of those cabinet scenes are just brilliant. They’ve stuck with me for all this time, as they’re disconcertingly realistic, even more so after seven years of Tory austerity. Of course they propose using asylum seekers. Of course the only thing they agree on is that their own kids shouldn’t at stake. Much like The Thick Of It, they don’t actually say which party are in power, but the ultimate decision to sacrifice the poorest and most vulnerable children makes it perfectly clear.

* Torchwood’s convoluted plan to take control is clever, and the reveal that they’ve done so is triumphant. This is a really good thriller. This is not like Torchwood at all.

* Ah, but their confrontation with The 456 is. Their big plan is to blackmail them into leaving, but why should The 456 give a shit about their ultimatum being made public? It’s of no political concern to them, and they can easily crush any resistance. And yes, Jack, they are also capable of developing bullet-proof glass.

* And then Ianto dies. Obviously I knew it was coming, but I’d forgotten that it was in the penultimate episode, so it did still come as a bit of a surprise. After being a bit nothingy for the first series, Ianto has grown into a far better character than any of the previous casualties, and will be a genuine loss to the show. It’s all very sad, but I’m not sure it warranted a shrine. Much less a shrine that’s been maintained for eight years and counting:

Me in Cardiff, February 2017

* It’s a bit of a shame that, ultimately, Ianto died for nothing. Jack’s plan comprehensively failed; the cabinet were in exactly the same position afterwards that they were before Torchwood’s intervention, and all they achieved was a sports hall full of corpses. Nice one, Jack.

* Still, eh? Susie, Owen, Tosh, Ianto. Gwen is still pretty much the new girl, and yet other than the immortal one, every single member of the team that she joined is dead. Torchwood is an institute that desperately needs to revise its health and safety policies.

Day Five

* Ah, The 456 are off their tits on child-smack. That certainly explains their unpredictable behaviour, and the random bouts of vomiting.

* Frobisher’s downfall is the darkest that any Doctor Who-related series has ever been, and likely ever will be. I mean, fucking hell. I had to pause it and compose myself – I wasn’t crying, because I was too stunned, even though I knew what was coming. It’s yet another incredible performance by Capaldi (possibly the only Doctor to have turned in so many incredible performances before he was actually The Doctor), and brilliantly directed. No need for words, just gestures, expressions and four gunshots.

* Well, I say that’s the darkest it’s ever going to get, but it’s not often that a plot is resolved by the protagonist killing his own grandson. While he was obviously in an impossible position, and even taking into account the logic of sacrificing one child to save millions, after everything that happened in the 60s and with Ianto, Jack doesn’t come out of this story particularly well.

* It’s good to see the PM get his comeuppance in the immediate aftermath, but the godawful woman who advocates culling the poor gets to take over? RTD predicted the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

* As with the last finale, zero time was taken to explore the consequences of the catastrophic events. The story ends the second The 456 disappear – the army immediately stops trying to capture the Welsh kids, despite not having received any orders to do so. How the hell does society come back from this? From having parents watch as the government round up their children at gunpoint? Because you can bet it’ll never be mentioned in proper Doctor Who or Sarah Jane, despite supposedly taking place in the same universe.

* Either way, off Jack fucks, leaving the people of Cardiff completely undefended from whatever comes out of the Rift. With only a heavily-pregnant Gwen left (presumably the pterodactyl died when the Hub exploded), Torchwood – the organisation – is effectively over now. Really, Torchwood the TV show should have been too. Much like how Del Boy and Rodney walking off into the sunset was the perfect ending to Only Fools And Horses, I can’t think of anything more apt to round off Torchwood than the complete dismantling of everything it ever built, against a backdrop of harrowing death and destruction.

So perhaps elements of the conclusion prove that no matter how much Torchwood changes, it still can’t quite escape from its main pitfall: being Torchwood. Nevertheless, it’s a truly spectacular piece of television, standing head and shoulders above everything that came before and after. For one brief, glorious week in 2009, Torchwood was the best show on TV. Two thousand words later, I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but I’m very glad it did.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 9, I SUPPOSE.

  • Torchwood series watched: 3 of 4
  • Torchwood stories watched: 27 of 37
  • Individual Torchwood episodes watched: 31 of 41