|Production Code||Series One Episode Six|
|Dates||November 19 2006|
With John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori and Gareth
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Andy Goddard
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: Something is killing people in the Welsh countryside.|
Sick fun! by Joe Ford 19/1/07
Oh my what an awful pun that is! And on paper this is about the most cliched and trite Torchwood script yet, basically an extended stroll around the countryside with lots of blood and guts thrown in.
The fact that I thought it was absolutely fantastic is due to my secret love affair with the horror genre and the fact that it turns so many cliches to its advantage and succeeds in achieving something that television has not done to me for a long, long time. It really scared the shit out of me.
Let's see, it's all there. The girl alone in her car at night attacked. Abandoned in a dangerous location. Bodies in homes. A group separated and captured, one by one. A helpless woman chased through the countryside by a man with a very big knife. A gunfight. Villains without a motive. However, rather than apologising for these tired ideas it flaunts them with pride and takes them to their extremes and thus forgoes an apology to the audience.
There are lots of different types of horror and Countrycide dabbles with quite a few genres and gets them very right. Of course there is visceral horror, which is displayed brutally with a corpse stripped of its flesh and several other dismembered corpses hanging on meat hooks inside one of the villager's front room. Then there is psychological horror... which is at its most effective when you are asking the question: "How on Earth could they do that?" and when you realise exactly what the harvest is I was frozen with disgust. Then there is the horror of being killed, which is beautifully captured by Tosh and Ianto as they are tied up and threatened and with bodies lying around in a bloody state it is clear that their captors are more than capable of following through on their threats.
In fact this is a very good episode for the main cast, who all come out as stronger characters as a result of the horrors they face. The highlight is the relationship between Gwen and Owen, which has been heating up over several episodes but now hits boiling point. Both Eve Myles and Burn Gorman deserve credit for playing their relationship with such genuine emotion, the scene in which they are within a inch of kicking the shit out of each other in woods because they so badly want to sleep together is performed with real frisson. It's counter-pointed by the lovely moment where Owen is sorting out Gwen's bullet wound and she gently strokes his back. Whilst the last scene continues the general feeling that relationships are not worth sticking to, frankly the sight of Gwen and Owen getting it on whilst she admits there is nobody she can share her terrifying experiences with makes both characters far more interesting.
But Jack gets some moments to shine too, especially when he tortures one of the villagers into supplying some information. Ianto and Tosh share a few tense scenes, which makes you realise how green Ianto is at all the practical horror his job provides. In a revealing scene that sees the team discussing who they last kissed we realise just how little Tosh gets out and how obsessed she is with her work. Little nuggets like this are very necessary if they are going to keep this cast alive with interest.
I want to mention the musical score, which is a big movie horror blockbuster score that works a treat at getting you hiding behind the cushion. I love the scene where Tosh is being ravaged through the dark woods... the musical is very pacy and dramatic.
Direction as always is superb, but I would like highlight this episode as the strongest so far in their category because horror is a very hard genre to get right. The opening sequence is about as archetypal as horror comes, but with some very nice direction it subverts its cliches and transforms into a terrifying reality for the girl dragged away to her bloody death. Simple scenes are fraught with tension: someone watching the gang from the hilltop breathing heavily; the attack on the pub is furiously edited so we are as confused and as scared as the characters; Tosh's face as she looks into the fridge and sees the human remains tells us everything that we cannot see; the monster licking his lips as he approaches Ianto, suggesting a sexual interest when all he sees is a good meal. The location is used to its fullest effect and if anybody fancies a camping trip in the rugged Welsh countryside after this episode, they are a braver man than I.
Perhaps the ending is a little awkward with Jack once again caring so little about life, but frankly this is a big dumb scary horror movie of an episode and it deserves a big dumb horror movie conclusion. The music here is especially dynamic and I appreciated that these people were punished for the pain they had caused so many people.
Countrycide continues Torchwood's education. Some people (those who are not fond of horror) will probably hate this but, as a lifelong devotee to the genre, I can bypass a script which leaves its brain at the door and simply get sucked in to the atmosphere. As a chance to get to know some of our regular characters, there is no better method than seeing how they react when scared shitless.
Recommended, especially for fans of the genre.
Gwen Cooper meets Tobe Hooper by John Nor 7/2/07
This week the Torchwood team are stranded in a country village, stalked by a unknown enemy - with gruesome results.
Once again the tone of the show veers wildly off in a completely different direction.
Recent cinema trends appear to have influenced the style of this episode. After the recent "new wave" of Zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead, apparently there is now a "new wave" of cinema inspired by earlier gore-fests such as the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". I haven't really seen any of this gore-fest new wave. I am no great fan of graphic blood-and-guts horror.
Blood and guts are what we have here. Buckets of them. I don't know whether the makers of Torchwood think they are tapping into the interest around these "new wave" films, but although there are some fairly extreme images I suspect they have reigned themselves in for a more 70's film feel.
We only ever see the gory end products and never the actual process, thankfully. An effective feeling of unease and dread is built up.
These visceral shocks are put to a storytelling use: to underline the character development of Gwen. Without this element this episode would be floundering with little to recommend it.
The ongoing character development B-plots which sometimes surface alongside the weekly A-plots are economically covered in a single "truth or dare" chat early on. Owen reminds us of Owen and Gwen's snog in the mortuary drawer two episodes ago; Ianto reminds us of his simmering resentment about Cyber-Lisa, again from two episodes ago; and judging by the "next week" preview at the end of the episode, Toshiko's sexual timidness is set up for next week.
Of these three strands, the Owen/Gwen plotline is furthered in this episode, with their lust/hate sexual tension explained. Sure, the "hate" part has been clear so far, as Gwen's antagonism towards the laddish Owen was established in the first few episodes. Their snog in the episode Cyberwoman was bizarre and Gwen's reaction was hard to understand at the time, but it is now explained here as Gwen's first stirrings of attractions towards Owen.
The best scenes in this episode are to do with Gwen and Owen; the scene in the forest; the scene on the table with Owen tending to wounds (even though it is a cliche); and the final scene of the episode. These scenes are effective as they build upon the intensity of the surrounding horror.
Jack has a disturbing scene where he threatens torture, and hints at a "darker" back-story as he reveals that he has been trained in these techniques. The later scene where he ram-raids the building on a tractor(!) and saves the day was quite a good John Woo-style action sequence. However, one thing really bugged me about this scene, a very small thing: he exhausts his shotgun (the extreme close up of empty shotgun cartridge shell on ground), then delivers the coup de grace with his revolver - and then we see a mystifying extreme close up of empty shotgun cartridge shell. Eh?!
This is the first episode where the police are visibly called in to mop up. (Although they surely would have been involved off-screen with the previous episode.) How do Torchwood and the police interact? I now suspect this aspect of the show will continue to be left frustratingly fuzzy for the rest of the series, unfortunately.
So, in summary then, an interesting episode where the A-plot, and B-character-plot complement each other effectively.
A Review by Finn Clark 30/5/10
I think Chibnall is underrated. People talk as if he's the biggest problem with Torchwood, whereas so far I've thought his scripts weren't even the biggest problems with his own episodes. That doesn't mean he's good, mind you.
I like the fact that he'll have a clear plan for his episodes, which may be schlocky trash but are at least memorably so. I like his high concepts. I certainly wouldn't call him a good writer, but equally he's much better than the broadcast episodes make him look. Done right, they could have been a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the production team seem to have had an attack of prissiness and decided to backtrack on everything that could have made them all worth doing in the first place. Countrycide is the most successful of the three, having managed to make it to the screen with only flesh wounds rather than mortal injuries, but it's still crippled by a combination of (a) the show's half-heartedness and (b) bad direction.
Who was the director, by the way? Andy Goddard. Hmmm... oh dear, The Next Doctor. The problem is that Countrycide is basically The Hills Have Welshmen (aka. Torchwood goes to Emmerdale). It's trying to be a low-budget UK horror flick and in many respects it achieves this impressively. The setting is excellent, the cadavers are grisly and the whole thing manages to feel nicely horrible. Unfortunately, the director clearly doesn't understand slasher movies. Toshiko's disappearance is so badly shot and edited that you practically have to rewind the DVD to work out what's meant to have happened, while the scene where she's being chased through the woods gives almost no sense of geography.
The props, sets and effects look great. Unfortunately, the people behind the camera don't always seem to know what to do with them. I'm more forgiving of the people in front of the camera, even if they don't know how to handle a gun. Hey, they're Torchwood. We already knew they're amateurs who don't know what they're doing. Mind you, Barrowman's even more rubbish than usual, having been asked to turn into Captain Jack Bauer, a torturing badass who's a wild animal straining at the leash, man. Uh, yeah.
The other problem I mentioned was the show's half-heartedness. Yet again we have a Chibnall script, clearly set in a sleazy exploitationist genre, but the production team would have been more comfortable with Scooby Doo. I'll give them credit for being gross. Ten out of ten there. It's hard to imagine a BBC show managing to go much further with the cadavers and body parts, so they impressed me. The episode does a good impression of being gory, which is arguably more important than actually being so, but it never gets around to the good stuff. There's gun action, but no one uses those knives and cleavers. No one even dies. Now admittedly, up to a point, this isn't a problem. Buildup is important in a horror film, but this story feels as if it's all buildup. I'd been looking forward to a nice juicy ending when suddenly Captain Jack showed up, went on his comedy rampage and it was all over.
Until that point, I'd been rating the story as a respectable eight out of ten which, if it weren't for the director, could have been even higher. Even as it stands, this is a halfway decent UK slasher flick that would rank about midway in the Hills Have Eyes franchise and easily outdoes nonsense like Eliza Dushku's Wrong Turn (2003). That got shown in cinemas and will be getting its second direct-to-DVD sequel later this year, you know. Nonetheless, Countrycide desperately needs a proper ending. Sad to say, it's another Torchwood missed opportunity. Just imagine another five or ten minutes spliced into the finale, in which the cannibals kill Ianto with a machete and make Tosh eat his flesh. Oh, and it might be nice if said finale didn't have Jack SHOOTING EVERYONE IN THE LEG. Yeah, that's great tactics when single-handedly taking on an entire roomful of enemies and hostages. It's particularly unconvincing when Jack's next action is to put his gun to someone's head and be unstoppably enraged while Gwen tries to talk him down again. If he'd been that driven by bloodlust, somehow I think he might have been going for headshots a few moments earlier.
Then there's the prissiness. Torchwood's nudity phobia isn't damaging the plot this time, but there is a bizarre scene where (I think) a cannibal fondles Toshiko's breast while she's fully clothed and we don't even see that. That's my best guess as to what happens, anyway. Note that this links into her character story, in which she hasn't kissed anyone since Christmas and is carrying a torch for Owen despite the fact that he's focused on Gwen. I liked all that. Yet again Torchwood shoots themselves in the foot with their unwillingness to go all the way with their "adult" content.
Chibnall's script does its job. I like the high concept and I like the theme, which he develops quite well. I've no idea why that woman in the pre-credits sequence had a baseball bat in her car, but it's clever once you've accepted that she's a character in a horror movie. Without that, we'd have been screaming that she was an idiot to get out of the car in the first place. The Gwen-Owen sex stuff feels juvenile, but to an extent it's also uncomfortable in a good way and brings in the far more effective and subtler undertones with Tosh. The problem is probably Myles and Gorman as much as anything. I'm a big fan of Gorman, but he and Myles have no sexual tension at all.
No, the real problem is the post-9/11 torture and the gun fetishism. Jack's torture scene is completely gratuitous, as well as being slightly embarrassing and confusing for the audience since it hasn't been made particularly clear that the person he's torturing is a villain. You could cut it from the story and never miss it. In addition to that, there's the ludicrousness of Jack's final rampage and the earlier Reservoir Dogs standoff. Why didn't Gwen just shoot? As with Cyberwoman, this episode could have been improved 500% by taking away the guns.
I adore the villains, who are far more compelling than any of the mutants in The Hills Have Eyes franchise. Gwen's last scene with them in particular is a knockout. Maxine Evans and Owen Teale (Maldack in Vengeance on Varos) are full of ghastly personality and it's they who sell the horror. They're the story's greatest strength, in fact. I admire the way that they're so monstrous and yet completely plausible, never tipping over the edge into cartoonishness and killing the episode.
Come to think of it, if we're judging this as an unofficial Hills With Eyes sequel, then even our heroes are pretty good protagonists. That franchise never had a Burn Gorman, although I do like Robert Houston in 1977. Surprisingly, Naoki Mori fares the best of the rest of the Torchwood crew, with Ianto giving me Cyberwoman flashbacks and Gwen being Gwen. It's quite a good Tosh episode, in fact.
Overall, I rather like this episode. It's clear in its goals and to a large extent succeeds in them, with some cock-ups from the director but a "stand up and cheer" performance from the Welsh cannibals. Admittedly, it's not a genre that's going to appeal to everyone, but I think that's a good thing. It should be in the show's remit to push the boat out from time to time. It's been Torchwooded, but not actually sunk. In many ways, it's impressively wholehearted. This kind of genre depends more on the production than the script and, despite some flaws, I admire the tone of the finished episode. You've got to admire any BBC episode that has a bloody shotgun victim getting the pellets pulled out on a kitchen table. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes at the sex stuff, but it makes sense within the story and fails mostly because of the actors rather than the script. Besides, Owen's meant to be a creep.
This is apparently one of very few Torchwood episodes with no CGI. Great title, too.