Shiny Shelf

Torchwood: Small Worlds/ Countrycide

By Jim Smith on 29 November 2006

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

A few years ago I was visiting my grandparents of a Sunday evening and eventually the time for ‘Midsomer Murders’ rolled around. The writers’ credit said it was by one ‘Peter J Hammond’ and I idly wondered if this was the ‘PJ Hammond’ who had created and written ‘Sapphire and Steel’. A few minute later, after a discussion between two characters about the psychological origins of nursery rhymes and the appearance a tramp character babbling folk wisdom, there was no doubt at all in my mind. Hammond’s scripts are as distinctive as any in the history of television, with their own concerns, interests, tropes and themes which are allowed to permeate his episodes of any series he writes for.

This is certainly the case with his ‘Torchwood’ installment ‘Small Worlds’ touching on the hidden fears and hopes of childhood, folklore, the ability of human emotions to transcend and outlast the human beings who created them and other elements that Hammond has used in the past. A plot concerning a little girl who wants to run away with murderous faeries who can travel in time and have psychic powers is about the most ‘by PJ Hammond’ thing imaginable.

The result of a combination of a script from an experienced old hand like Hammond and the assured direction of Alice Troughton was the best episode of the series so far, a mini-epic spanning a century or so which was also a great episode for Jack’s character. The ‘Highlander’ style flashbacks to elements of his previous life as a time-traveling conman and revelations about his past that seem to contradict things we already know but are assuredly actually part of some deceptively clever ongoing retcon/character plot. They also give Barrowman a chance to shine and show a bit of range and emotion; things he’s been often denied in what is ostensibly his show.

‘Small Worlds” creepy scenes using the pagan-anthem-turned-hymn ‘Lord of the Dance’ as the background to schoolyard supernatural shenanigans are exactly as cruel and unusual as they sound, while the unsettling final scene offers more questions than answers but is in no way unsatisfying. Very PJH. Very much unlike anything else on TV.

‘Countrycide’ on the other hand was an hour of almost blissfully obvious gibberish. Tobe Hooper-meets-‘Pobol-y-Cym’, with a willfully bonkers turn from former RSC heart-throb Owen Teale. Much of the dialogue bordered on ghastly but the climax with Jack proving capable of Heroic Bloodshed was the most entertaining thing on television all week.

Twisty, nasty and icky with an ending that should (but won’t) get people who don’t see that the actions of the ‘Torchwood’ personnel reflect the characters’ increasing debasement as they sink further into the breakneck and grisly word of their ‘adventures’, pause for thought, ‘Countrycide’ is a largely successful attempt to do a grisly horror movie on a British cable TV budget.

Or maybe I just liked the title. I like a nice pun, me.

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