Doctor Who #744: Countrycide

"Let me question him. I have to understand. I want to know why. Otherwise this, this is too much."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.19 2006.

IN THIS ONE... There are cannibals in the Welsh countryside.

REVIEW: Cyberwoman was Chibnall's bottle show, this is his all-location episode, and it's not QUITE as much of a misstep. But I wouldn't recommend it regardless. It does feature at least an attempt at character development, with Tosh's unrequited love for Owen showing, and his cruelty deeply wounding her. Unfortunately, Chibnall also uses this as a sequel to Cyberwoman's objectionable character bits. This is where Gwen's affair with Owen ignites, and it at least moves away from violent sex and towards a sort of kinship, mutual respect and maybe even a certain amount of warmth. But I still can't get behind it. When Gwen says the job is changing her, yes, of course, it would, but the WAY she's changed isn't earned, in my opinion. And then there's the moment Gwen's campfire game thoughtlessly brings up the whole Lisa issue for Ianto, something we hardly need reminding of. It's a good thing Ianto goes on to headbutt the lead cannibal, because otherwise, he looks like a proper Torchwood agent, but does a lot of whining and scared acting. Chibnall definitely has him on the slow track (just compare him to Gwen). And what's this about Jack being a master torturer now? Jeezus, it's Harkness, not Bauer!

Of course, everyone's freaking out in this episode, and yes, man-eaters are unsettling, but the show plays them as a supernatural threat, which they aren't. For some reason, eating human meat makes them super-strong and super-stealthy, able to get the better of trained, armed Torchwood agents while snarling like animals. The production's just not playing fair with the audience. Just look at the scene where Ma Cannibal gets Ianto and Tosh out of storage as an example. She plays scared and is utterly convincing. That's because we're not allowed to realize the threat isn't alien after all. When you know the mystery's solution, the first half hour feels especially cheap and manipulative. Even when you don't, it take way too long to show its hand and becomes a collection of sequences where characters run around, open creaky doors and find gory body parts or corpses. With the reveal, we're left wondering why Torchwood even went to the country, outside of rift's usual influence, and how they can be such rubbish when facing a non-alien threat, from leaving the keys in the SUV to getting Gwen shot. Good thing Jack was there, though the American action hero moment with the shells flying was fairly cheesy. Ironically, it's the case that's most "police work" that sends Gwen flipping over the edge.

If the episode is saved from ignominy at all, it's thanks to Owen Teale's performance as the lead cannibal. Unfortunately, he shows up really late. Can that last moment where he tells Gwen he ate people because it made him happy, as surprising, creepy and somehow poignant as it is, redeem Countrycide? Well, that's up to you to decide. I like the moment, but hardly anything that comes before. It's just too early to pull the un-supernatural twist on the series, and the hicksploitation angle wouldn't be so bad if 1) Owen didn't have that whole rant about the country, implying all country folk are barbaric hicks and 2) the Welsh weren't the butt of the UK's jokes (just as the people of Newfoundland are Canada's, or the Belgians France's). It's a slick city show taking cheap shots. It's all too smug for my tastes.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Much suspense about nothing. Teale rescues it from the Low column, just.


Madeley said...

I'm glad I'd stopped watching by this point, because from the sounds of it the Backwards Cannibal Hick portrayal of rural Welsh people would have sent me off my nut. I'd add the fact that Torchwood's status as a BBC Wales production underlines the fact that sometimes we the Welsh are pretty good at punching ourselves in the face.

Siskoid said...

Common of ridiculed peoples the world over. You get so used to the joke, it becomes something you say about others in your ethnic group.

But I think we're out of the woods now (literally), because my memories of the show are that the worst is behind us.


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