Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth

I’ll admit, season one and two of Torchwood, was no Battlestar Galatica, but it filled my insatiable void for mainstream science fiction. Quirky characters, fun little stories, unbelievable conclusions, it was like Mulder and Scully got sexy and fun.

A pterodactyl? Check. A glove that brings people back to life? Check. A sex robot who lives on orgasmic energy and turns her victims to dust? Check. It was safe to say that the first two seasons of Torchwood were a nice distraction from everyday life.

However, Children of Earth, the five day mini-series event, changed all that. This post gets terribly spoilerific, so if you haven’t seen the newest installment by Russell T. Davies, go no further.

Day One starts out much like the original series. After a flashback from 1965 involving children walking into a strange light, we see Gwen standing at a Cardiff ATM when two children in her immediate vicinity just stop moving. Staring straight ahead, both sets of parents figure their children are playing a game. After a few moments, the kids move on as if nothing happened. It wouldn’t be Gwen if she didn’t find something odd about the situation, so she investigates on the down low. Turns out, reports have been coming in that it was not an isolated incident.

Later the same day, it happens again, except that all the kids start to scream and then speak in unison. Like a heavy antique circus train trying to chug up a hill, “We, we, we” is repeated, building slowly to the full sentence “We are coming.”

It’s one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever experienced in televised history. Having children of my own probably added to my visceral reaction. I wanted to check on my girls to make sure they were sleeping soundly in their beds.

As the series progresses, we learn that an alien entity named the 4,5,6,  (I’m still confused where they get the name — I know it’s the radio frequency on which the being transmits, but it also has 3 heads as well) has come back to Britain. Is it alone or part of an invading armada? All we know is that it’s extremely dangerous.

Continuing on, we find out a number of things. Gwen is pregnant. In the same moment we find she is  six weeks along, we find out Jack has been the victim of a nefarious scheme aimed at taking Torchwood out of the picture. A bomb has been planted in his stomach and he manages to get Gwen and Ianto out of the super secret lair before it blows sky high.

We learn Jack was to be contained (since he’s got that whole, immortality thing going on) in a cement prison because apparently, what you didn’t see in the beginning 1965 flashback, was that he was the person leading the children into the light.

More plot details unfold — hey, I have to leave some surprises, and ultimately we find out that the 4,5,6 want ten percent of the world’s children. Again, I’ll leave out the reason why as the discovery is one of the most disturbing moments in the series.

There is resignation from politicians,  balking by people who give a damn  and there are severe consequences related to both. One of the most insightful and horrifying things portrayed in CoE are how the heads of state react to this alien threat. The Americans rush over to Britain and hurl insults while screaming about “national security” and UN resolutions. Oh, how high and mighty we are in the face of something so vile. Noting the British incompetence, its the US which takes immediate control of the situation.

I can’t say I liked the portrayal very much, but with that said, I don’t doubt it would go differently. Depending on of course, who is president at the time.

My only other minor complaint had to deal with the lack of panic. A great big column of fire decends into London, the children of the world are mind controlled by an unknown entity and it’s business as usual? Where are the protests, where is the panic, where is the looting? Davies puts a lot of faith in the human spirit when the government asks for trust. As we’ve seen, it only takes something little to tip the scales and induce a mass hysteria. I still can’t turn on my news without hearing about Michael Jackson…

CoE is as much character driven as it is superb story. We find out that the British PM is a total coward, hiding behind small glasses, a polite accent and paperwork. He’s the kind of guy who retreats when it counts and leaves the most difficult decisions and work to other people, hoping to coming out unscathed in popular opinion.  It’s those kinds of people that make me sick and all to often, they are the people at the wheel of a sinking ship. It’s disheartening.

One of the most intriguing parts of the series was the character, John Frobisher, the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office. I wanted to hate him at first, but I slowly realized that he was a peon in the civil service, used as a pawn and thrown into a situation over his head. A complex character arc, he does what he thinks is necessary and right to protect his government and is ultimately betrayed in the end. I had to walk away on Day Five to control my crying and shaking in his last scene. I don’t think I’ve ever been that upset, moved, disappointed, and angry at what this man is forced to do.

As far as Torchwood is concerned, I find it interesting that throughout the whole event, they are ineffective as a group. In episodes past,  standing together was their strength and usually dictated how well they worked with one another. Not the case this time around. In this story, it comes down to the heartbreaking decision of one of the members that ultimately dictates the conclusion.

There are no happy endings in this series and I think this is one of the rare cases where I’m glad it happened as such. Had all the strings been neatly tied and organized into proper places, I would have been less satisfied. There are severe consequences for everyone involved and the chaos is at times overwhelming.

If you haven’t seen Torchwood: S1 & S2, I would at this point tell you not to bother unless you’re interested in something entirely different. While the original year series is everything that I mentioned, CoE is vastly different. Even the characters are different in spirit if not by name. It’s almost like watching a horny college student grow into adulthood and suddenly realizing that there are far more responsibilities out there than waving a gun, having sex and blowing up alien goo.

I hope there are more events like this going forward. There has been talk that the series will continue provided the success of this 5 day mini-series and if early numbers are any indication, I think we’ll see more Torchwood in the future.

I watched the conclusion on Friday and still, I’m asking myself questions and digesting the content. Would I have made the same decisions? This is one of those experiences from which you walk away thinking about everybody involved. You need to put yourself in their shoes and realize that while it’s unlikely in my lifetime to ever see an alien threat, it could be something as simple as war, or disease that sets a similar chain of events into action. In any effect, it made me squeeze my kids a little harder and hoping I’m never put into any such situation.

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