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While investigating several disappearances in the Brecon Beacons, the Torchwood team become separated and have to face a monstrous enemy...
After the awful Day One and the witless hokum of Cyberwoman, writer Chris Chibnall returns with Countrycide. Countryside/homocide, geddit? Groan. Is it third time unlucky for Chibnall?
The opening scene is actually rather good fun, focusing on a motorist travelling through the lonely Brecon Beacons and stops to help someone lying in the road. The body is revealed as bait and the unfortunate driver becomes victim to an unseen predator.
With the feel of an urban myth and clear nods to the slasher genre, it's an attention-grabbing opening salvo, and for awhile Countrycide moves with a different vibe that's refreshing to watch. The investigating Torchwood team make camp and, (after Chibnall references his own Cyberwoman episode ad nauesum) there's some nice characterisation for badly-fringed Gwen and Owen.
The tone is spot on, with the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons evoking just the right amount of eeriness and alienation. Upon discovering the first of a few fleshless skeletons, the episode seems to be aiming for a British version of Jeepers Creepers, given further credence once Ianto and Toshiko are locked in a cellar with refrigerated limbs. Talk of a "harvest every decade" further cements the loose homage. Or blatant rip-off. You decide.
However, monster mythology rarely equals originality (Jeepers Creepers itself is the bastard child of a thousand movies), and the sub-genre is rife with blatant plagiarism. For this reason, it's easy to overlook Countrycide's continual nods to scary movies, particularly when the show's tone genuinely seems to be working for once. I was getting bored with the low-rent CSI-meets-X-Files vibe.
Countrycide edges into unoriginal-but-fun territory for a time, until it all begins to unravel at the mid-way point. The monsters, wisely kept hidden, are revealed to be Welsh yokels with a decadal bloodlust to slaughter travellers passing through their land. This leap from the supernatural to natural has mixed success...
It's nice that the villains are people because Torchwood has been having a problem creating believable antagonists (CGI fairies, smoke monsters, and women dressed as egg-whisks don't cut it), so it's great to see some acting malice in the show. Heroes are only as good as their villains, after all.
The shift into cannibal territory doesn't work because the lurch from competent creature-feature into a Welsh Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Toshiko even jokes about meat-hooks) is disappointing after such an effective build-up. It's particularly annoying because the change goes against one survivor's claim that the enemy are "not human!" I hate it when a character hides a plot twist by denying it with a lie. It's an unforgivable cheat on the writer's part.
Once the human face of evil has been unmasked, any tension quickly turns into tedious thrills. John Barrowman, who managed to restrained himself so well, re-emerges in bombastic style by crashing a tractor through a wall and shooting everyone in sight. Then a policeman, who appears from nowhere, is revealed to be in cahoots with the cannibals (whoever didn't see that coming deserves to be slapped).
Eve Myles' Gwen gets to flex her investigative muscles again by... well, presumably telling Ianto to unravel yellow crime scene tape, writing the words "17 deaths" on a pub blackboard for dramatic effect, and performing the most undercooked interview with a psycho ever to grace the airwaves. Clarice Starling, she ain't.
There are positives: Burn Gormley again transcends his cliched character to remain the most engaging person on the show, the atmosphere throughout is pleasingly nihilistic, there's the odd spark of tension, and Owen Teale clearly relishes playing the lead villain (so full marks for enthusiasm).
Chris Chibnall comes painfully close to nailing the story at times, but only the first 25 minutes really work. Still, at least the episode ends with some much-needed character development for Gwen. Countrycide is a tale of two distinct halves: an unoriginal guilty pleasure... that shoots itself in the foot and limps to its end.