Torchwood's social critique and the education system

This week, many of us have been riveted to our TV screens more than usual. I have, certainly.


BBC experimented with a 5-part miniseries of the Doctor Who spin off show Torchwood, called Children of Earth. I’ve been a fan of Torchwood since the first season – while it hasn’t been a flawless show, it’s been interesting to see sci fi themes of a more adult nature (not in that way, you perv. Well, ok sometimes…) be approached.

This miniseries not only looked at the usual “alien invasion from the skies” theme, but also looked at Britain in a dark and disturbing way.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the issue in a nutshell:

Britain is forcefully approached by “The 456”, an alien lifeform that approached it over 40 years ago. In 1965, the 456 requested that they were given 12 children, assuring Britain that they would disappear forever, never to come back. In 2009, the 456 comes back, this time requesting millions of children – 10% of the entire child population of the world. Otherwise it would destroy the human race entirely.

When faced with no other option than to obey the 456, the British government, UNIT, the American forces and a number of other worldwide governing bodies come to the difficult decision of choosing the children who should be handed over.

After discussions of random lotteries and “one loss per family” to meet the 325,000 children to be taken from the UK, one government member suggests what many have been thinking: Use the school league tables to select the lower ranking schools and rid Britain of the scum.

The blunt suggestion is accepted and buses are driven to the disadvantaged schools, providing the media with a spin story that the children are being taken away for inoculations as a means of protection.

I won’t give away the ending for those who still may not have watched the last episode, but will instead look at this situation. Sure, aliens are unlikely to land in Thames House tomorrow to make such demands but what about that bottom 10% of school kids?

In the real world of here and now, are we failing our youth by accepting that disadvantaged areas of the country must necessarily mean lower ranking schools, poorer grades and children who will grow up to spend their life on the dole? In top schools, children are expected to go on to further education and get good, meaningful jobs. Of course, they have the added benefits of a childhood in an independent fee-based school and the likelihood of parents who are more actively involved in their education. These aside, are we taking away the disadvantaged kids’ changes by setting expectations too low?

In this fictive situation, the government made the decision for these kids that they would never amount to anything and were therefore the best group to sacrifice, for the sake of the other 90%.

I don’t have kids and I certainly don’t have an answer, but it was insightful to see Torchwood broach what is a rather controversial topic in between battling aliens and saving lives.

Asda makes cooking fish easier

Over the past few years, I’ve written quite a few posts about my amazement at many people’s fear of cooking unknown foods, resulting in Britain households cooking on average 4 meals each.

But while watching Hell’s Kitchen (the Marco Pierre White version, not the Gordon Ramsay one), which is a worthless show by the way, I saw an interesting advert by Asda which got me thinking.

Fish is a type of food many people have issues with. It’s wet. It’s slimey. It looks at you funny with its beady eyes. It can smell funny sometimes. So Asda found a low-cost solution for that problem.

They simply put the fish in a sealed bag which can be put straight into the oven, but also add a few bits of herbs and some lemon. This means a non-foodie can easily get a lovely steamed-in-the-bag meal without the hassle of touching fish.

Asda didn’t need to reinvent cooking or teach anyone to cook. Simply remarkable.

The death of the water cooler chat

Once upon a time, water cooler chat was a company-wide thing. Anyone could gather in the kitchen during their coffee break and talk about last night’s TV show. Gags and allusions to TV twists caused team-wide laughter or nods, and no one would really feel left out, since most would have watched the same thing.

Nowadays, it’s a whole different story. The market is so incredibly segmented. For some years now, there are hundreds of channels, catering to niche interests. On top of this, Sky Plus and other video recorders are growing in popularity, adding to the mix by enabling us to watch whenever we fancy it. “If you tell me what happened in last night’s Lost episode, I’m going to have to kill you!”

YouTubers lonelygirl15, James Nintendo Nerd and NaltsTo cause further fragmentation, YouTube and Google Video‘s user- generated content is beginning to rival commercially and professionally produced content in terms of appeal, watchability (let’s pretend that’s a word, mmkay?) and entertainment value. With broadband infiltrating British homes at the rate of 70,000 a week, downloading videos, movies or TV shows is becoming easier than ever.

In recent months, the only shows I can think of that have had wide enough appeal to reach across these itty bitty fragments have been Lost and Top Gear, really. (As an aside, if my license fee goes to financing the largest non-commercial rocket launch attempt in European history, I’m all for it!)

Otherwise, an unexpectedly popular topic of conversation is still the Nintendo Wii, which seems to have racked up fans from all ages and interest groups and endures as the best source of evening entertainment.

Personally, I’d be quite happy to see the couch-potato era come to an end to be replaced by interactive media and entertainment. Maybe the next water cooler chat will have to do with our tennis score next time.