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Torchwood: Children Of Earth Review

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Torchwood, what happened to you?

Moved from the obscurity of BBC3 to BBC1. Shown at primetime, and on consecutive nights no less. This has turned from it’s “sexy scifi” origins into a real TV event.

And, boy – did it deliver!

I, and many other Dr. Who / Torchwood fans, did not expect much from this. Of course the previous two series had it’s surprises and stand-out episodes but in the main it was a fun, silly blast. Russell T. Davies, the head writer and the man responsible for bringing Who back from the dead, said it was his attempt at a US-style show, something along the lines of Buffy. You can see what he meant.

Torchwood: Children Of Earth is a different matter entirely.

This is a moral story, painfully so. It’s unrelentlessly bleak and depressing. It’s brave, moreso because of the peak time and channel it’s shown on. You might be forgiven for thinking it would be to Torchwood as the Who Christmas specials are to it’s parent show – light, entertaining fluff. You’d be seriously wrong.

The plot concerns an alien visitor coming to London and demanding that we turn over 10% of the worlds children – or our entire race will die. It soon turns out that a similar event happened in 1965, where we gave it 12 children in exchange for an antidote to a virulent form of influenza it used to threaten us.

John Frobisher, brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi, is a government paper-pusher tasked with dealing with the menace, mainly to keep the Prime Minister’s hands clean. The alien, called the 456 because of the frequency it used to communicate, sends instructions for a special room and airtight tank to be built so it can visit and hold court. But before this is done Frobisher has to ensure all details of the 1965 meeting are kept secret. He signs the assassination order for all those involved, including one Jack Harkness.

Jack is the leader of Torchwood, an organisation formed by Queen Victoria to protect Britain from alien threats. He has a long and convoluted story. Jack is “outside of time”, and is therefore immortal. And his assassins are aware of this. Lured into a meeting with Dr. Rupesh Patanjali he is shot and a bomb is implanted in his body. Upon resurrecting Jack returns to Torchwood, discovers the bomb, and all hell breaks loose.

The plot is brilliantly paced across the five days. What begins as the children of earth simply stopping in their tracks quickly escalates to them chanting in unison “We Are Coming”.

Although this is a science fiction story, it isn’t in your face. We have an alien visitor, but it’s not the true evil here. That is reserved for the higher echelons of government. This is character-driven. A weak Prime Minister excellently played by Nicholas Farrell is more concerned with keeping his job and his reputation. The Americans and Who favourites UNIT also become involved.

There are many stand out moments. The cabinet committee, coolly discussing which children we should hand over and deciding that we should give the 456 the children from the sink estates, from the lowest-performing schools. And deciding to keep their own children safe in the meantime.

There’s the character Clement McDonald, sole survivor of the 1965 abduction. He is, as are all the portrayals in this series, excellently plaid by Paul Copley. ┬áThe moment he sees Jack is a stand out moment, as are all the scenes where he appears as much more than simply a token “crazy”.

Then there’s Frobisher himself, who starts out as a mere pawn of the Prime Minister and who is eventually moved to shoot his entire family and commit suicide in order to protect his two daughters from the alien. This is a scene reminiscent of the dark ending in “The Mist”.

And there’s the moment when we discover why the 456 want our children. It’s because of the chemicals they produce , says the alien chillingly. It makes us feel good .

Then there’s the scene where Ianto, Jack’s lover and Torchwood stalwart dies. We almost cannot believe this, expecting some miracle cure to be discovered or some magical remedy to surface but no – he remains dead. Of course Torchwood is not afraid to kill off major characters, right from the pilot episode.

And, finally, we get to the end where Jack is forced to sacrifice his own Grandson in order to transmit some killer sound wave back to the alien, and thus save the earth. This kind of moral argument is prevalent in the series. The needs of the many over the needs of the few. Kill one, to save millions. Again, we expect the poor defenceless boy to resurrect, since he’s Jack’s grandson, but no. He dies.

We do eventually defeat the alien. I’d like to say that was a given, but because of the bleakness so far I wouldn’t have put it as a certainty. Even the prime minister gets his comeuppance as he pathetically states how “lucky” he is that the Americans took charge and that it’s their vault. We, as the viewer, can afford a smug grin as we realise that everything was recorded.

So Torchwood: Children of Earth is a must-see. It’s intelligent Science Fiction, unafraid to take risks, and it makes the most of it’s five-day story arc. Will there be more? I’m not sure, but I think there will. CoE was a ratings hit. It had nearly 6m viewers for the first day, but more importantly it kept most of the viewers right through to the final day, even increasing that count as it went. It’s debatable whether the BBC should be in the ratings game at all, but there’s no doubt this was a success. Doctor Who proved that SciFi can be mainstream, and with CoE Torchwood has shown it can reach those heights too.

The danger is, of course, we won’t get a full series again. It may be another five day story, because of the success of this. In many ways Torchwood benefited greatly from this. It has been done before, notably in the beebs historical adaptations or in two-parters of shows like Waking The Dead, but a five dayer is a rarity. However I’d like there to be a full 13 or so episode series, even though I know it would mostly be single stories. We don’t make shows like 24 or Lost in this country, with 20+ episodes and continuing story lines, but surely something like Torchwood would be ripe for that kind of treatment.

Russell T. Davies has shown us how great a scriptwriter he can be. He personally wrote days 1 and 5, and plotted the whole arc. Sometimes in the past he has faced criticism from fans for various Who episodes he has helmed, but with CoE and given free reign by the BBC he has shot those critics down.

If Torchwood continues it will be a new crew. Already in this series we lacked Toshiko and Owen. Then we lost Ianto. Gwen is pregnant, so maybe she’ll return and maybe she won’t. But John Barrowman, a star sometimes accused of overacting and who is maybe in danger of overexposure, is likely to want to continue. There are options we have seen already: Johnson the government fixer would be a great addition to the crew, as would Lois Habiba (who acted as Torchwood’s government insider) and even Jack’s daughter, Alice.

If you didn’t catch Torchwood and – even though you’ve read this far and now know most of the plot – you can see it at Iplayer. If you’re in the US it will be shown on BBC America later this month. Everyone else will have to grab the DVD , use a proxy to access iPlayer , or (ahem) use the usual sources.

Torchwood: Children of Earth gets a 10 / 10 from me.

For more information visit the official BBC mini-site or check out the always dependable IMDB and Wikipedia .