Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Five (Spoilers)

No happy ending as Russell T Davies completes the most masterful BBC mini-series since ‘State of Play’, with perhaps the greatest writing of his career. Only one continuity error interrupts the otherwise overwhelming and horrific finale to Torchwood’s greatest triumph and their biggest failure. As Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) betrays Peter Capaldi’s John Frobisher, the inhumanity of the human race to itself becomes clear. And what it takes to tip into fascism turns out to be very little indeed – a casual prejudice here, an abuse of power there, a lie to cover everything up, all in the name of ambition and keeping the status quo. The political commentary veers between an allegory with Nazism, as the children are indeed bussed away to their deaths for a creature which deals in them as drugs, and an indictment of our real world government’s preparedness to sacrifice basic human rights and civil liberties in the name of ‘keeping us safe’. Its severity is surprising for a franchise which has been so flakey in its first two outings, but it couldn’t be more welcome. Writing series 3 for adults has transformed Torchwood beyond all recognition, and has interestingly again (as with Dead Set) proven the value of daily, serialised television.

Day 5 doesn’t end with RTD doesn’t after all reaching for easy answers to ensure the defeat of the 456 – indeed quite the opposite. Humanity may be validated in the small scale sacrifices made by the most vulnerable people, but they’re outweighed by or preparedness to destroy one another. And in between Jack realises he must do the unthinkable if he’s to save 6 billion people, and there’s no coming back from killing your grandson.

The scene where Jack ensures humanity’s final victory is absolutely horrific. And yet again the horror has nothing at all to do with the alien/sci-fi element – the most horrible things done in ‘Children of Earth’ are perpetrated by our hero, and it ensures the franchise cannot go on as before – this is now a series with consequences. It’s challenging television – a biting political thriller, a painful human drama, and laced with commentary by Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper acknowledging why the Doctor sometimes doesn’t intervene (as here), it really raises the bar for the future of the Whoniverse. If Davies really is to stay with Torchwood (which I hope is the case) he has set an extraordinary standard to maintain; similarly Steven Moffat will no doubt have watched ‘Children of Earth’ with Doctor Who series 5 in mind. I sincerely hope he takes his creation back on board – a broken yet immortal Captain Jack would be a very interesting addition to the cast alongside an unknown quantity eleventh Doctor…

5 responses to “Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Five (Spoilers)

  1. I get where you’re coming from, and I largely agree.

    However I did still find the way the 456 issue was resolved to be a bit of a cop-out in terms of the “ooh let’s spout a bit of technobabble and invert the frequency and they’ll go away” type thing.

    Not the way it was done, which, as you rightly pointed out, was quite horrifying.

    I just think, to really be absolutely shocking, the solution shouldn’t have worked and the 10% was taken anyway – and his grandson still died.

    But perhaps that was a step too far for them – as you say, this was already perhaps pushing the envelope.

    All in all I felt it was well worth the effort to watch it – by far the best Torchwood to date.

    Apparently series 4 is written and they’re waiting on the response to series 3 before deciding whether to commision it (whether that’s true or not, don’t know). But if they’re going to write stories like that, I’ll come back for more. Of course the problem is they’ve now killed off virtually all the cast.

  2. Well yes. The 456 hardly put up a struggle and the resolution depended on far too much being known far too quickly. Jack really was the only person on earth who knew how to defeat them? How convenient – he’d never mentioned that before. I also got annoyed at the way the army boys suddenly stopped rounding up the children after their Jack-created assault on the 456 – who told them to stop? How did they know the crisis was over?

    I found that relatively easy to put to one side though, given the sheer horror of what Jack actually did, and knowing what that would do to him. You don’t expect your superheroes to be put into Hobson’s choices like these – they’re supposed to have triumphant discoveries and come out winners. Bravo again to RTD for choosing not to go down that route – he’s gained credibility with me here I’d never dreamed he’d have in his career.

  3. I have to agree, Jason. One of my first comments was “who told the squaddies to stop chasing the kids?” I can understand they’d be freaked out by them all singing in unison(ish), but we train our armies to be able to operate whilst being freaked out, surely?

    I also found it quite difficult to believe a handful of other things:

    1: Why would you not expect some kids not to be found? Wouldn’t you aim to round up 120% of your quota, to allow for some kids to slip through the net?

    2: Why would the soldiers acquiesce in this plot? Sure, we were told that they were threatened with their kids going too, but would that really work? Lots of soldiers don’t have kids and threatening a load of soldiers sounds like the perfect way to prompt a military coup d’état, rather than the perfect way to get them to do what you want.

    3: And that’s before you come to the story leaking to the press — does anyone really think that you could threaten all the soldiers in the UK (in the world?!) that they have to round up 10% of the planet’s offspring and that noone, noone would have leaked that to the press?!

    There were far too many of these convenient plot choices for my liking. But Jack facing an actual no-win solution to the issue made up for it all, for me. I was very impressed that not only did Jack have to make that choice, but that the consequences really were as dire as we’d feared.

  4. See, I don’t want to be rude, but…

    I thought the performances from just about everyone were astonishingly good. Peter Capaldi has been a favourite of mine ever since Local Hero (many long years ago).

    But the story itself was drivel.

    There were so many plot holes that it looked like moths had been feeding on it while it was sitting on RTD’s hard drive while he waited for a chance to spring it on the public.

    And any area that involved the Torchwood team and their history was particularly lacy, with both large holes and small. Large holes like – if the whole purpose of the Torchwood organisation is to guard against the menace of aliens from the stars, and if they were involved back in 1965 so they knew all about the threat from the 456, how come they weren’t monitoring that frequency to guard against their return? And small ones like just how did Jack get his teleport wrist strap working again after the doctor dismantled it at the end of DWS4?

    And all of that, of course, leaves out the giant elephant in the room question of why, if the 456 are so powerful, didn’t they just snatch the kids?

    No, I’m sorry – despite the exellent performances, and the for the most part fast paced direction, any TV show that has such a flawed major premise is NOT, IMO, “masterful” story-telling. It’s very ordinary story telling lifted a little by the performances.

    And overall, it left me personally feeling that the whole thing was just hollow.

  5. “There were so many plot holes that it looked like moths had been feeding on it while it was sitting on RTD’s hard drive while he waited for a chance to spring it on the public.”

    That’s because he apparently had had the idea for ages and shoehorned the Torchwood team into it when given the 5 nights x 1 storyline format.

    “And small ones like just how did Jack get his teleport wrist strap working again after the doctor dismantled it at the end of DWS4?”

    That’s actually not a plot hole. Jack didn’t use the teleport function, he signalled a passing ship and they presumably teleported him up.

    As for the show, days 1 through parts of 4 were interesting enough, except for the parts where it felt like Torchwood were basically guest stars in their own show)
    Then they killed Ianto Jones, and really, that was it for me.
    The show has been left with no Hub, no Ianto, and now maybe no Captain Jack. I will not tune in to watch ‘Gwen-wood’

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