The Devil and Miss Carew
Gwen: I mean, really weird stuff…
Unlike Doctor Who, Torchwood didn’t start off on BBC One…
It’s had a much more convoluted broadcast history, though one with something like a natural progression. (By the way if you haven’t seen the third season, which is Torchwood: Children of Earth, you shouldn’t read this, just sayin’.)
From being a BBC Three show, to premiering on BBC Two for its second season, to being a BBC One 9pm drama, then to being a show produced and broadcast by the partnership of the BBC and Starz.
It’s been at the forefront of the BBC’s digital channel strategy, and its BBC America plans.
Across all these channels that Torchwood has been broadcast, there’s one more BBC channel in addition: BBC Radio 4.
Debatably the polar opposite of the brash vibrant young BBC Three that Torchwood began on, it’s seen by some as the ponderous radio channel for oldsters. (Which would be unfair. Radio 4 is one of the jewels in the BBC’s crown, an amazing range of programmes.)
This drama – styled as one of three Torchwood: The Lost Files – plays up to the image of Radio 4 as something that old people listen to over a mug of cocoa, as it begins with the elderly care-facility resident Bryn snoozing over the iconic musical strains of the Shipping Forecast tune, but waking to hear to forecast.
That the monster of this Torchwood drama is reciting “Portland, Plymouth, Trafalgar… and Fitzroy” (as any regular forecast would do) then starts to speak directly to Rhys’s Uncle Bryn is a genius idea.
The voice of many a Radio 4 drama Martin Jarvis voices the monster, which adds to the idea that it’s Radio 4 itself somehow which has transformed itself into Torchwood’s newest foe.
The title, “The Devil and Miss Carew” – the monster is styled as “the Devil”, and the 80-something Miss Carew is who Gwen Cooper first speaks to when investigating the mystery. She’s the main Torchwood character rather than Jack or Ianto of this drama. (Yes, Ianto. Perhaps as a nod to the incredible clamour for more adventures starring the character that died in Torchwood: Children of Earth, these 3 radio dramas are set before the events of that five-part story but after Season 2 and the other already existing three radio dramas. Another reason for doing this though is: it’s the only chronology that’s really feasible.)
Gwen eventually learns that Miss Carew “made a deal with the Devil”, (“Fitzroy”), that’s why she’s so sprightly in her 80s.
Meanwhile Jack and Ianto learn the true nature of “Fitzroy”. The idea that it’s “Radio 4 as the villain” isn’t continued with – rather, it’s a disembodied cosmic consciousness trying to “transmit” to Earth. (Which is sort of the plot of Doctor Who The Idiot’s Lantern but with radios instead of tellies.)
Electrical interference will stop the reception of Fitzroy, and so that’s why Miss Carew is trying to stop the electrical power grids from functioning. The blackouts are part of Fitzroy’s master plan.
If she’s 81 years old, does it make sense that she is a technological expert, that she’d retired from her computer systems company, (retired a few years ago)? I’m not saying her age would be a barrier to running a company, just that computer experts would logically be of a different generation to Miss Carew.
The story has some interesting things to say about people getting older and what that means for their lives, but like the “Radio 4 as a villain” aspect, it’s not developed much after the midpoint of the story, and it becomes something that’s not very new for Torchwood or Doctor Who, the team battling against transmitters and satellites and broadcasts.
There’s a running thread, a motif, through many a Torchwood story though, which is: death. What was she doing, asks Miss Carew of herself, “trying to fight death”.
So although its own themes as an episode of Torchwood seem undeveloped, at least it fits into the larger main theme of Torchwood.
Quantity-ratings (click here for guide to rating system):
Episode Quality-rating: 3/5