Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day One”
Posted by therebelprince on July 22, 2009
Torchwood – Russell T. Davies‘ omnisexual spin-off of Doctor Who – has veered up and down in quality since it premiered. The first two seasons – although freed of the “family friendly” aura that must surround the Doctor -only rarely seemed to find truly stimulating drama, succumbing too often to Davies-esque confrontations, which are always mostly style and little substance.
“Children of Earth” – the five part miniseries which kicks off here with Day One – appears to have shaken that problem, and it’s genuinely absorbing from start to finish.
One Monday morning starts as usual with Gwen (Eve Myles), Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) arriving at the Torchwood offices. Only today, every single child in the world – and one old man – have sporadically frozen in place and started chanting “We…are…coming”. These scenes alone, followed by a piercing scream, are creepy enough, but it becomes clear that this is no ordinary alien invasion. Indeed, forces inside several government departments seem to know all about this.
On the Torchwood side of things, we get some great character work. The loss of Owen and Tosh in last season’s finale has allowed the show to focus more on each character. So Ianto visits his sister Rhiannon (Katy Wix) and her family to try and get information on the children, where he has an unexpected coming out of sorts. Interestingly, he points out that he isn’t generally into men – it’s just Jack. Ianto and Jack’s relationship is a new step for both of them, and its wonderful to see a mature all-male relationship explored on mainstream television.
The Captain himself visits a woman, Alice (Lucy Cohu), who we learn is his daughter. It’s a well-written sequence in which she laments their relationship and explains why she hasn’t told her own son the truth. Jack’s immortality has always been an interesting element of the show – and one which is, surprisingly, rarely overplayed – but it works best in those few moments where we see the consequences it has had on his life. I’ll be interested to see what becomes of his relationship with Alice, and whether the primary reason for introducing these various family members is just as hostages in the climactic episodes.
Meanwhile, Gwen holds down the investigative side of things by visiting the old man – Clement McDonald (Paul Copley) – who also chanted the words. Alone with her, he confesses that he had an alien encounter as a child and believes that these same creatures are back for him. He also somehow divines that she is pregnant, before being taken back to his ward.
Gwen’s relationship with Rhys (Kai Owen) is going along smoothly (her ecstatic reaction to the pregnancy news is refreshing) and it’s good to see him now aware of her place in Torchwood, providing the occasional supporting hint. I really hope Rhys survives the season, because it’s been a nice touch to see his relationship with Gwen grow stronger throuhgout the show, rather than outright losing her to Jack.
Meanwhile all around we have new characters to add to the mix. Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) begins a secretarial position in a government department under the icy Ms. Spears (Susan Brown, right), but her boss Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) appears to have a history with these aliens. He, his boss Mr. Dekker (Ian Gelder) and a UNIT Colonel (Charles Abomeli) set about destroying evidence of a previous encounter with “The 456”, named after the frequency that was used to communicate with them. Among that evidence? Jack Harkness, who has been ordered dead.
And then there’s Dr. Rupesh Patanjali (Rik Makarem, top of page), a handsome young doctor who discovers the nature of Torchwood – deliberately staged like Gwen’s discovery in the series’ first episode – and tries to join the organisation. His third-act turncoat revelation is truly shocking, when he lures Jack into a morgue and then shoots him. Patanjali gets his own comeuppance, dying at the hands of his boss who subsequently plants a bomb inside Jack’s body before he comes back to life. This bomb lies at the centre of the episode’s climactic sequence, and throws us into the next episode.
What do the children have to do with this? Why do the aliens seem to be working on British time and the English language? And what happens to a seemingly-immortal person who is blown into a thousand pieces? All these questions and more…
Russell T. Davies‘ script is solid and engaging, and it’s all very mysterious. Will it live up to its opening? Doctor Who two-parters notoriously never do, but I’m optimistic for this miniseries. It’s supplied a good collection of supporting characters while being honest and revelatory about our regulars.
Perhaps the nicest touch are nods throughout to the fact that existence of aliens is no longer a state secret. Ever since The Doctor was stranded on Earth during the 70s (but mostly since he was revived as Christopher Eccleston and then David Tennant), the producers have focused more and more on storylines happening on our planet. Torchwood, of course, took that to the logical extreme by basing its entire action in Cardiff. With every passing season finale and Christmas special in which the entire city, country, world etc is affected, the producers must choose between the “Reset button” of a memory-wipe or a time shift, or must simply go on with the show. To their credit, they generally choose the latter. Until now, though, it has mainly been only small nods to the fact that people must be cottoning on – Donna (Catherine Tate)’s grandfather Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins), for instance, in Doctor Who. Here, through Patanjali’s discussion with Gwen – even if his motivation is actually feigned – we’re given a bit more of a hint into the world reaction, and what it means for us. His touching story of a Christian woman who gave up on her religion, stating that “It’s like science has won”, is a sad but true little anecdote. I really do hope that in the coming episodes of both Torchwood and Doctor Who, we get to explore an Earth that is waking up to its realities.
I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on the second day of “Children of Earth”, where we’ll come to understand the nature of the 456 and their relationship with Frobisher.