Countrycide

Posted in Episode by - June 06, 2018
Countrycide

Aired 19 November 2006

It’s easy for a science fiction show to use aliens and their technology to create parables about the strengths, weaknesses, and evils of humanity, but much less rarely are contemporary humans without enhanced measures the true culprit of any meaningful conflict or evil within these programmes. After a series of up and down episodes, however, Torchwood explores the darker potential of humanity with what is easily the strongest ensemble episode yet in Chris Chibnall’s ‘Countrycide.’

‘Countrycide’ is a story filled with horror clichés, but most work perfectly due to the brutal and incredibly anxious tone that the sharp direction creates. The Brecon Beacons are the perfect landscape in which to isolate these heroes, and the initial tease with a woman lured out of her car by a body in the road before being taken into the hills sets the scene superbly. When the members of Torchwood Three find a skinned body in the forest and the SUV stolen that they track to a nearby village, the terror continues to escalate with fleeting shadows just out of sight of the heroes and menacing first-person shots that only hint at the true horror on display. Indeed, ‘Countrycide’ pulls no punches with its bluntness, and the discovery of a kitchen and refrigerator filled with human meat is by far the darkest moment of this series and of anything related to Doctor Who in any official capacity. Shockingly, there is absolutely no alien influence at play at all; these cannibals are simply in it for their own enjoyment, and Owen Teale portrays this horrific aspect of humanity absolutely perfectly, proving with the character and the episode as a whole that sometimes a lack of subtlety and finesse can yield the most profound- and in this case disturbing- results.

As with most horror movies and sequences, there are moments of questionable actions and gullibility that one must be able to look past to accept that they serve the greater plot, so those looking for the Torchwood team at its sharpest will have to look elsewhere. Nonetheless, even as ‘Countrycide’ again insists on fixating on sex at certain points and tries to show a bit of a mean streak in Owen and to create tension between Gwen and Tosh with a game asking who everyone snogged last, it also makes the best use of its expanded cast yet, and Suzie’s death in the premiere means that there is a genuine sense of danger with almost any life potentially expendable. Each of the core cast members superbly portrays a fear that is rarely seen beneath the usual bluster and snarky confidence, and Torchwood Three must brutally accept that the rift cannot be blamed for all of the atrocities on Earth. Even Toshiko gets some great moments as she confronts the risks that she accepts must accompany her attempts to do right and save others, and Ianto seems to be far more in his element in this more rural setting than within the confines of the Hub, whether that be related to the fate of Lisa or not. As much as the story does right with its narrative, however, Gwen’s decision to give into Owen’s rough advances is one of the more questionable given how happy and comfortable she appears to be in her relationship with Rhys and the fact that the series has so far played up a burgeoning flirtatiousness between Gwen and Jack and a revulsion on Gwen’s part toward Owen. Torchwood has certainly not been afraid of portraying its leads as more ambiguously moral figures, but this is a development that seems rather arbitrary and quite harmful to Gwen’s own character at first glance without further explanation and exploration.

This is a story that could have easily collapsed under its simple premise and reliance on clichés, but ‘Countrycide’ is one of the rare stories that surpasses its individual parts and delivers an immensely tense and brutally effective tale that ends in much the same way with guns blazing. Though there are undoubtedly some very suspect decisions and actions throughout, this is the strongest episode featuring all of the core cast yet and proves that what has so far been a more direct means of storytelling has plenty of potential in the right circumstances.

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