I don't claim to be a writer, but I would suggest that if writing drama, using bad puns for titles is inherently unwise. That is by far my least trivial criticism of 'Countrycide', which sees Torchwood meet The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the Welsh countryside and is almost unbelievably ludicrous.

Does Chris Chibnall actually know that Torchwood has other writers, or did he think that he is writing a string of consecutive episodes? This might explain why early scenes are riddled with references to 'Cyberwoman' in a way that suggests that 'Small Worlds' was just some kind of pleasant marijuana-induced dream I had about P.J. Hammond writing for the series. Suddenly, Ianto is talking about Lisa again, which would be fair enough considering the trauma he suffered in that episode had the script-editor not allowed him to be seen looking cheerful in the previous episode; here, he's as miserable as sin and keeps glowering at Jack. This is, incidentally, after the entire team (including those who are not, in fact, field agents) has driven out into the countryside to try and find a putative alien monster by camping in tents and bickering a lot. It's like Scooby fucking Doo. In the midst of all of this, we get the hitherto un-hinted at revelation that Tosh has a massive crush on Owen, who is trying to seduce Gwen, and manages to succeed as the episode progresses. Or rather, continues. Tosh thus starts bitching at Gwen and looking jealous, a piece of character development thrust deep into the bowels of the series like an unexpected dildo.

So deeply thrust is this strapped-on piece of character development that the rest of episode sees Gwen and Owen flirting and making double entendres at every single opportunities, including when Gwen is having pieces of lead shot pulled out of her side whilst Ianto and Toshiko are missing in a sinister village littered with butchered corpses, and again when they are both being roughed up by meat-hook wielding cannibals. Fortunately, Jack's on hand to shoot each cannibal in the foot with a shotgun, which is more or less what Chibnall does to himself with the plot.

Ah yes, the plot. Or rather, the plots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostage mixed together with a nod to Night of the Living Dead, resulting in an unsavory amount of pure sadism. If you ignore the bickering and flirting of the regulars, the first half of 'Countrycide' is quite effective, as an unseen something stalks first a young woman in a car and then the members of the Torchwood team. It should be effective, as it has been done so very many times before. The revelation that the team is being stalked not by monsters but by the local villagers is a genuinely unexpected and quite powerful moment ruined almost immediately by the incredibly hammy teeth-gnashing performances of Owen Teale and Maxine Evans as Evan and Helen, respectively. What follows is quite ghastly; 'Cyberwoman' saw Chibnall put Ianto through hell for the sake of character development, a worthy aim despite the paucity of the episode; 'Countrycide' sees Chibnall put Ianto, Toshiko, Gwen and Owen through hell purely to drive Gwen into Owen's trousers, a less laudable aim further compounded by the sheer sadism of the piece. The episode is so derivative that it is hard to take seriously, but the undiluted nastiness of the premise and the admittedly well-acted terror of the regulars are so gratuitous that it just becomes distasteful. The coup de grace in this respect is Evan gleefully telling Gwen that he "harvests" people once a decade because it makes him happy, a horrible moment the sole purpose of which is to traumatize her so that she will cheat on Rhys. With, incidentally, a man whose response to being threatened with butchery by cannibals is to role his eyes and mutter, "Only in the bloody countryside". Which is obviously a great comedy moment.

The director milks the tension promised by the script to technically impressive effect, and there are some genuinely creepy moments, but the tone of the whole episode is so badly off that any appreciation of the direction is purely clinical. Torchwood utilizing its "adult" remit to do a proper horror story is a great idea, but this ghastly mishmash of contrived characterization and witless brutality isn't the way to do it. This is dreadful, and the fact that Chibnall has written the season finale doesn't bode well.

Filters: Television Torchwood