Friday, December 18, 2009

Torchwood: Countrycide - Wait, What? Is That Horror?

OK, wait a minute. This is a horror blog, right? I mean, in it, I like to discuss horror films, books, shows, comics...well, maybe I should include ideas as well. Something doesn't have to be classified in the horror genre for it to contain horror ideas. I never want to constrain myself by only taking one angle on a subject.

Take, for example, the episode of Torchwood called "Countrycide." First, a bit of a primer on this British show. Torchwood is a spin-off of the wildly successful modern reboot of Doctor Who. In fact, take a look at the spelling of Torchwood. Yep, it's an anagram for Doctor Who. There's a whole history in the parent show about why Torchwood was formed: something had to be in place in case the Doctor was not present to save the world. It had a few incarnations before the one the spin-off is based upon, mostly militaristic. This version is much smaller and only consists of five people out to prepare the world to defend itself against alien and supernatural threats. Oh, and it's a lot more...ahem..."sophisticated" than its parent show. There is frequent cursing, sex, violence, all sorts of good stuff.

The group consists of leader Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a former Time Agent who cannot be killed and is a bit of a smooth talker. There's former policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), tough and sensitive, trying to balance her personal life with the wildly insane life of Torchwood. Also in the group is the compassionate main tech Toshiko Sato a.k.a. Tosh (Naoko Mori), obedient and quiet assistant Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), and intensely forward medic Owen Harper (Burn Gorman). Those are your players, now let's set the stage for "Countrycide."

The episode begins in such a way, that it reminded me of the French horror thriller Ils that I recently reviewed. A woman drives down a lonely stretch of English country road when she comes across what appears to be a body. Upon investigation, she sees that it's a dummy. Someone's messing with her, that much is clear. She's hearing sounds, seeing shapes. Suddenly, the tires on her car are flat. When she realizes she's really, really in trouble, that's when a hooded figure attacks her.

The Torchwood team is called in to investigate not only that disappearance, but of 16 others in the same area. They're used to dealing with the strange and unusual, and this appears to be right up their alley. It could be UFO's, it could be ghosts, werewolves, who knows? Mysteries are their thing. Like the Scooby Gang, but with more sexual tension.

After setting up camp, they find a mutilated corpse in the woods. It's been skinned and much of the meat taken off its bones. They start to realize the gravity of what they might be dealing with, but don't have long to think about it when someone steals their swanky Range Rover as they look on. Fortunately for them, they're Torchwood, and handy gadgets are handy just for pickles such as this. Ianto tracks the Range Rover into a nearby town which appears to be a little more quiet than it should be.

It's a spooky little village, and it seems to be deserted. Not a single soul to be seen. As the team splits up, Jack, Owen, and Gwen surprise a young man named Kieran, who fires upon them with a shotgun and wounds Gwen. As Gwen is tended to by Owen - furthering their smoldering tension - Kieran tells his story, that he thought "they" had come back for him. He claims "they" aren't human, and he's in utter shock, only wanting to get away right now.

During this time, Ianto and Tosh have been taken hostage, but by whom, we have no idea. They're locked up in some kind of weird room with chains, hooks, and strange fluids. They also find remnants of other people: shoes, clothes. Upon opening the fridge they discover,'s another horror staple: it becomes clear to them that they are now food. There is a supply of meat inside the fridge, and it isn't a rack of lamb.

In the pub, someone or something tries to break in even as Jack and the others fire on it. Whatever it is, it takes the kid Kieran and leaves. They still have no idea what they're dealing with, despite Jack's vast knowledge of aliens and unknown.

Back in the meat locker, a scared lady opens the door and tells Ianto and Tosh she's there to help. She warns them of a "harvest" and says she's been sent to "collect" them, but wishes she could help them. Every ten years, apparently, the harvest "takes" them. She holds them at gunpoint and insists they come with her.

Cut to the pub (remember, this is a TV show, lots of cuts and such) and Jack is seeing this place isn't all it seems to be. There are jars of icky things and hey, a blood trail. It must be the one of the attackers, and it sure is. Jack interrogates him, but the guy is borderline insane and laughs in his face. But Jack, being somewhat immortal, has been around the block once or twice when it comes torture and amps it up a bit.

Gwen and Owen run into the woods and eventually meet a policeman, much to their relief. They insist on the police's help, that the village is in grave danger. Ianto and Tosh are taken to a horrible house, full of hanging plastic, blood splatters, and "that stench." The woman really didn't want to help them, obviously. It was just a spot of fun. They meet their attackers, the ones who have apparently cannibalized the village. They have met their attackers, and they are other words, they are all too human. Not aliens. Not demons or ghosts. Humans. And they love what they do. "See, the meat has to be tenderized first." But awesome Ianto headbutts the leader and Tosh gets away into the woods.

Tosh, handcuffed, is found by the leader, who gleefully bullies her until Owen and Gwen show up with the policeman. Finally, Tosh is saved! Well...until the policeman reveals his true colors and forces Owen and Gwen to disarm. Oh, great. Everyone's in on it.

It looks like curtains for our brave team. Back at the charnel house, the leader explains that the meat must be bled out, "like veal." He really enjoys this way too much as he holds a cleaver to Ianto's neck. A growing tremor distracts the band of bitey people. Seems they forgot about good ol' Jack, who storms in and wounds each one in a rage. Jack wants to kill them all. "People like this don't deserve a warning!" he exclaims, but Gwen wants to know. The same curiosity that got her the job with Torchwood compels her to know why.

She interrogates the leader by asking him that one question: why? The leader is playfully evil, toying with her, knowing he can scare her with words. And he does. He agrees to tell her why he does it, with a tear rolling from one eye, only if he can whisper it:

"Because it made me happy."

The expression on Gwen's face as he tells her that and as he's dragged away by Jack says it all. Utter and complete horror. See, horror? That a person could perpetrate this kind of evil on others, and that it had nothing to do with aliens or the supernatural, echoes in her head. And it changes her.

Torchwood is not a horror show, that's very true. It's sci-fi spun off from sci-fi. But that's not to say that you can't mix a little horror with your sci-fi. At the heart of this episode was a classic torture horror story about cannibals, a vanished village, and the shriveled heart of evil. No gadgets, no lasers, and no Doctor to bail them out.

I like it when I find horror in the least expected places.

Check out the video of the end of the episode to see some of those horror elements, a heroic save by Jack, and the chilling words from the leader of the cannibals.


  1. I love Torchwood, and Doctor Who for that matter. They don't get enough credit for being able to scare their audiences. Even subtle story lines like the children being taken by angels. Creepy.

  2. Torchwood is so much fun, and that episode with the "angels" was really creepy, too. It's classified as sci-fi, but I love it when they manage to up the creepiness factor.

    Doctor Who just captured my imagination - in fact, I thought about doing a write-up about the episode "Blink," which was incredibly intense.