In a nutshell:- Doctor Who's underacheiving cousin re-invents itself as an actual drama.
The Basics:- Torchwood is a prime example of a show that's been struggling to live up to it's potential but has been getting closer as it goes along. The first series was mostly awful with the occasional glimmer of promise in there to bring you back*. The second series was vastly improved but still clung on to some of the clunkier moments that made you want to cringe and stop watching in the first place. The third series, by stripping it from a thirteen episode season with an ongoing story-arc down to a single storyline broadcast over the space of five consecutive nights, has taken a big leap forward; oddly, one it's performed by harking back to TV long past...
The Good:- At long last, after three years of promising an "adult" spin-off, Russell T Davies has managed to deliver. For the previous two series, "adult" has, for the most part, been confused with "adolescent"; that general writing consensus seeming to be that by having sex and swearing, it automatically makes it adult as opposed to Hollyoaks with aliens. This is a genuine drama serial, much in the same vein as drama serials of days gone by and has much of the feel of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials about it. The serial takes the opportunity to develop a nicely rounded set of supporting characters to complement the main cast and even wisely sidelines John Barrowman for pretty much a whole episode. Standout amongst the supporting cast are Peter Capaldi as Mr Frobisher and Paul Copley as Clement McDonald. There's a suitably creepy feel about the serial, as well - from the kids chanting in unison to the never-fully-revealed alien presence - which brings to mind other serials of the past such as Chocky and The Day Of The Triffids. It also doesn't cop out and go with a neat, tidy, happy-ever-after ending after the grim build-up.
The Bad:- It suffers from one of the usual problems with Russell T Davies' writing - an insistence of emotion over plot logic. There are a couple of moments where it's obvious that they've decided to go for the bleak emotional choice and it does pack a punch but it doesn't necessarily feel like that was the only option available. There's also still that slightly casual disdain for the actual science part of it - the resolution to how to defeat the 456 seems to come a little bit out of nowhere and be set up just that little bit too easily. The whole thing feels just a little bit too long overall - it could have been four episodes or even five 45 minute episodes instead of five hour long episodes.
Closing Remarks:- It's an impressive achievement - turning a campy, adolescent sci-fi spin-off into a genuine gripping drama - and one that's been borne out by the high ratings the series received on BBC1; no mean feat for a country that's still fairly sci-fi phobic in the main when it comes to TV (Doctor Who is very much the exception rather than the rule). The question has been asked of where next for the show, given the seemingly final resolution. I'm one of those who would be quite happy for there not to be a next as, a few minor niggles aside, this is a high quality finale for the show to go out on. Anything following it runs the risk of being something of an anti-climax.
* I actually gave up on it after about four episodes only to give it another chance a bit later on.