Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Four”
Posted by therebelprince on July 24, 2009
“Maybe the Gods were kind. Maybe they are in Paradise.”
“No such thing.”
Vanessa (Sophie Hunter) and Jack (John Barrowman)
We open in Scotland, 1965. Jack Harkness – looking exactly as we see him now – shepherds twelve children to be abducted by the 4 5 6. A strain of Indonesian flu, still under the public’s radar, will kill up to 25 million people – and the aliens can deliver a cure. All they’re asking is twelve children in return, whom they claim will live forever. It seems like a small price for the safety of the human race, and in truth it is. Jack and his colleague Vanessa deliver the children and leave with heavy hearts. Unbeknownst to them, one of the children – Clement McDonald – escapes, not willingly but simply because the aliens disappear without him.
Why they didn’t want him is anyone’s guess, but the adult Clem (Paul Copley) possesses a unique sense of smell which allowed him to know, for instance, that Gwen was pregnant. Was this a side effect of his encounter, or was this the reason he wasn’t taken? These questions will have to wait for tomorrow’s installment, but in the meantime there are plenty of other ones to be answered. (For me, the question no one onscreen is asking: Did the pterodactyl survive the explosion?)
Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd, above) is stunned that Jack never mentioned this encounter, and David-Lloyd gets some really great material this episode as he continues to learn about his lover. It’s pleasant to see the continued evolution of Ianto, given how minimal a character he was in season one – and how average the early excursions into his character were.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Jack hasn’t mentioned it: he’s done so much in his centuries of existence, that there’s only so much he could ever mention. What does happen is that Jack opens up, and tells Ianto about his daughter Alice (Lucy Cohu) and her son Steven. It’s painful for both of them: for Jack to open up, and for Ianto to realise how in the dark he has been – and remains – about the Captain. This episode allows Ianto and Jack to take the fore, while Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen) run backup, continuing “Children of Earth”‘s great use of its entire character palette.
Across town, the Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) and the Cabinet meet with Frobisher (Peter Capaldi, below) to brainstorm ideas: the 4 5 6 want 10% of Earth’s children. First, they try to haggle, offering a paltry 62 of England’s children – or “units” as they’re referred to in these meetings to avoid any undue emotional connection. Of course, this offer is rejected. The subsequent cabinet scenes, in which the ministers – no longer able to avoid the fact that they have no choice – must bluntly and unemotionally discuss how they will fill the demand, are utterly fascinating. First, there are vagrants, asylum seekers, orphans (kids no one will miss), and then there are the rest of the country’s kids, who must somehow be selected. Against some debate, the Prime Minister agrees that everyone involved in the discussion will be immune from having their children taken. Denise Riley (Deborah Findlay) points out: if their kids aren’t in the lottery, it’s no longer random. So, she suggests, how do you choose? Do you choose one per family? Or do you opt for practicality: entire schools, selected by those who have the least chance of becoming productive members of society? At the same time, Rick Yates (Nicholas Briggs) looks at it from a resource persepctive. The removal of 10% of the country’s children will mean a reduction in the future population which, global crises considered, can only be good for the country.
It’s a terrifying decision but, if we’re to be honest, what choice do they have? There is simply no way of launching an offensive against the 4 5 6 or even, at this point, defending. They have only a few days, and the fact of the matter is that it is these children, or the entire population of Earth. The choice is simple. The questions asked here run cold and deep. I remember a novel I read years ago, “Breakfast with the Nikolides” by Rumer Godden, in which a young girl asks her father “Why is it so much sadder when a child dies? Surely it takes a lot less time to make a child than it does an adult”. The question is a good one: are these people’s lives worth inherently more because they are children? Or is the real fear faced in this room that, because parents will fight so hard to save them, the world will fall apart over the issue? There are no answers, but its refreshing at least that neither Ianto nor Gwen turned against Jack for his involvement in 1965 (both in fact rush to assure him they will fight for his kidnapped child). When the stakes are that high, the decisions made must also reach outside of our moral spectrum, and if there is anyone aware of this fact, it’s agents of Torchwood.
“We’re not willing. No one in this room is a willing accomplice”.
– The Prime Minister
Underlying these discussions is the dark, unmentioned question: what do they want the children for? There’s a heartbreaking scene where a redshirt is sent into the goo chamber. He briefly encounters the creature itself – monstrous, slimy, non-humanoid – although it primarily remains concealed in the mist (wisely echoing H.P. Lovecraft or Alfred Hitchcock in keeping our predator unseen) . But also inside is a child: one of those from 1965. The child is still the same age; it is cadaverous and doll-like. But it’s wearing an oxygen mask and, to the horror of everyone watching, it’s still alive. If I had to guess, I would assume that the “life force” of the children (or some equivalent sci-fi babble) is needed for the perpetuation of the alien race. Thankfully, the monster itself is still scary as we don’t see enough of it, and it appears to be genuinely non-humanoid. It’s not perhaps what the Dalek was back when it first appeared on television screens, but it has an impact nonetheless.
Adding to the strain for government and Torchwood alike is that the 4 5 6 aren’t too worried about secrecy. First, the alien blurts out some details of the 1965 contact, enough to make the Prime Minister a hated man in the international political community. Then, it doesn’t take long for the press to figure out that the numbers Earth’s children are chanting – different in each country – amount to 10% of the pre-pubescent population. People want answers, and if they don’t get them things are going to go from worse to disastrous.
Perhaps this is what leads to such clamouring and confusion when Lois (Cush Jumbo) boldly stands up in the Cabinet meeting and announces that Torchwood have been filming the entire discussion through her eyes. If their advice is not sought, the entire proceedings will be made public. It’s the absolute worst case scenario in this situation (bar, of course, extinction) and the PM reluctantly allows for everything to be halted while Jack Harkness makes his play. Along with Ianto, he speeds to MI-5 to confront the creature.
In the meantime, Torchwood deliberately allow Johnson (Liz May Brice) to find their warehouse. Rhys has gone into hiding with copies of the blackmail information, allowing Gwen to confront Johnson and resist arrest.
(Incidentally, there is a reference to the fact that Ianto used to work for Torchwood 1, which is where the warehouse came from. If we’re going to see any of our deceased former agents again – particularly Jones himself – I suspect it will be when the vague mystery about the other Torchwood agencies is further probed into. Perfect opportunity for Russell T. Davies to bring back his cast, as he has proven with Doctor Who he loves to do!)
Jack’s move is really nothing more than a risky bet: he’s banking on the fact that the 4 5 6 don’t want public hysteria anymore than the Cabinet do, and so all he has is to threaten to release the truth to the public. It’s a laughable idea to the alien, who can only keep repeating that Jack will surrender as he did before. It’s nice to see Jack wrong this time around (and that’s a flaw that puts him a notch above the Doctor some of the time), but the consequences are worse than he could have imagined. During the monster’s vitriolic, spewing mockery, Clem – who is watching with Gwen and has been frantically claiming that the aliens know he’s there – collapses in pain, blood pouring out of his ears and nose. Gwen and Johnson look on in horror as he dies.
Back at MI-5, meanwhile, the 4 5 6 seal off the building and release a virus inside. Mr. Dekker (Ian Gelder) is among the hundreds who fall within minutes (UPDATE: Oops! My bad, he does in fact get to a HAZMAT suit in time), and he’s closely followed by Ianto, and then Jack.
The latter, of course, awakens again a few hours later – but his lover is cold and dead in a military body bag. Ianto’s death scene is heartbreaking, as the last thing he can think of is that Jack will forget him: in one hundred years, two hundred years, however long it takes. Gareth David-Lloyd and John Barrowman shattered my icy facade, I’ll admit, in their last scene together. Barrowman may be a big, beautiful old Broadway ham, but he’s been well grounded by David-Lloyd’s subtlety, and their two styles have worked well in tandem.
Jack wakes with Gwen by his side – his look is either one of determination and vengeance, or of complete and utter exhaustion from losing everyone he has ever loved.
And then there were two. I’d love to say that I can anticipate how things will unravel but I can’t. I’m more certain than ever now that Lois will survive, but the question of whether she’ll subsequently join Torchwood is more open. I’d argue that we won’t lose any more of our primary cast, but I do suspect Gwen will take the lead in Torchwood’s defence. How do you beat a predator who has no known weaknesses, and whose entire army are invisible to your strongest satellites? I assume the answer lies within Jack’s immortality or Gwen’s pregnancy, but it would be beyond me to guess.
More importantly, will “Children of Earth” end with a reset button? I really don’t think so – although I’d accept any contrivance if I could have beautiful Ianto back with the man he loved so much. No, this has really happened. Jack is going from dark to despairing, and with him goes the world of Torchwood.
Next time: the world goes to hell in a handbasket. It’s the end of “Children of Earth”. And I’ll talk a little about the destruction of Torchwood and everything in it, and what that may mean for the show.