I had my doubts about the daily format, but I have to say this works. Forcing the show daily has meant it has had to have energy the entire time – the story can’t let up or drift into soap operatics, there simply isn’t time. It has to have plot, plot and more plot, and Charlie Brooker showed the way last year with the sublime ‘Dead Set’…
Day 3 isn’t perfect. Russell T Davies lapses into some of the weaker storytelling techniques of Doctor Who, such as the Frank Miller-esque newsreader talking heads, but otherwise he and co-writer James Moran knock this episode out of the park again. Jack seems to know the 456, but how? Do Jack and Frobisher know the same dark secret, the secret from 1965 which Clem MacDonald (Paul Copley) was part of? The route to the answers is full of subterfuge, threats and moral ambiguity, and appears to put the entire basis of this Torchwood team under threat. But whose memories of 1965 can be trusted?
The 456 when they arrive, are suitably dramatic and evil, and again both the writing and series pacing work to best effect. They arrive in a burst of fire and without form; we never see them fully, and Davies, Moran and director Euros Lyn take their time to linger on the creepy environment they set up. It works for the same reason Alien does – you know there’s a dangerous alien, but you have no idea what it looks like, nor what its intentions are. But why should such a malevolent creature collude with Frobisher? If it is part of the dark secret, what does it have to gain by keeping it secret too? And how does Jack really fit in? Did he also collude in the horror of 1965, as Clem MacDonald believes (and Jack himself seems to admit), or is something else really going on? We have two more episodes to go, so I’d tend to believe the latter.
The character beats are stronger this episode – Jack’s and Ianto’s talk about Jack’s immortality is a finely observed exchange, and it was nice of RTD to refer directly to the Doctor for once. Keeping both series largely unconnected was a terrible mistake and it’s nice to see it corrected. It’s frustrating that the men’s relationship is still at arm’s length, but it’s reassuring that RTD is moving it on somewhere. Peter Capaldi meanwhile continues to shine as Frobisher – the civil servant who will do anything to make the secret from 1965 go away. The exchange he has with Jack in particular is chilling, and is a really effective counterpoint to his more dastardly henchwoman’s manoevres. His initiating diplomatic relations with the 456 is a very welcome insight into the politics of the post-Master Whoniverse, and is potentially revealing – another advantage of having the series paced in a daily, single-story fashion – things like that can be fleshed out when they would otherwise have been overlooked.
The three teammates (and Rhys) have a long way to go before this is resolved, and it’s difficult to see how RTD can do so cleanly, but he’s clearly introduced Lois Habiba as a new fourth member of the team for the future, even though in both this and last episode he uses her far too much as a deus ex machina. Can Children of Earth break RTD’s track record of starting well and ending poorly?